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Same old story

One reason why I no longer want to attend public discussions of this administration’s transport infrastructure program is that I get terribly bored. I hear the same old stories of grand plans. I am aware of hindrances to the projects like right of way issues that I know are not being addressed. Most presentations do not include or breeze through expected dates of completion.

The aviation industry conference last Friday organized by IATA and the local association of airlines turned out to be no different. I attended principally because my colleague and friend, Sara Soliven de Guzman asked me to join her.

I arrived late because traffic was moving ever so slowly on EDSA last Friday morning. I missed the speech of Sec. Art Tugade, but I watched a recording of Tugade’s speech that was posted on Facebook. I agree with the plans he enumerated but he said nothing I didn’t already know.

I sat quietly at the back of the conference venue listening to Usec for Aviation Skee Tamayo and NAIA GM Ed Monreal deliver their spiels. Nothing new there too.

An official of Philippine Airlines talked about their proposal to decongest NAIA T2 by building additional terminal space. I was the first to break that news early this year. No new development there also.

Question and answer portion came around. There were polite questions being asked, which is expected. The airline officials in the audience could not ask the hard questions because the panelists are their regulators. I was getting nothing new from the give and take.

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I was getting bored. I didn’t suffer mid morning EDSA Friday traffic for nothing.  Against my original plan to just sit down and listen, I decided to ask a question.

I pointed out that the problem with DOTr presentations is that it’s all motherhood. We can’t argue against having all those plans happen. The big question is when would DOTr deliver on their grand plans.

I think it was Monreal who said they have a list of plans and target completion dates because Tugade insists on having those. So I said those completion dates should be made public, otherwise they can just keep on pushing back those dates.

Monreal said they have printed materials on the programs with target dates. The moderator, a foreigner, asked for a show of hands as to who in the audience has seen that document of projects with completion dates. Not one hand was raised from a roomful of people whose business is to know such details of government intentions.

Maybe that’s because they have amateurs running DOTr’s communications program. I remember some powerpoint presentations with very rough dates included, but not enough for an investor to make a decision to invest money.

I raised other problems. What will DOTr do between now and the time San Miguel’s Bulacan airport starts operations? NAIA is hopelessly congested and inadequate. It is now handling over 40 million passengers a year when its rated capacity is 30 million. A new airport of the caliber Ramon Ang wants to build at no cost or guarantee from government will take 10 years to build.

I know RSA said he could make his Bulacan airport operational in five years from the day he gets a go signal from government, assuming all government approvals are expedited. I think our neighbors took at least eight years to build their modern airports. Ten years is a reasonable time for a major international airport to get built.

Of course, the DOTr officials in the panel had no answers. They can’t even commit on the interim proposal of Philippine Airlines. That’s understandable. President Duterte hates Lucio Tan, and as long as Tan owns PAL, government can’t be expected to deal with him or the airline.

But the additional terminal capacity is urgently needed. Even if we break ground today, it will take three years to complete the facilities PAL wants to build. The legal issues being cited with Pagcor and Philippine Village Hotel are non issues because a simple one page executive order from President Duterte will fix all that, if he wants to.

They talked about Clark and how Clark would relieve pressure from NAIA. Usec. Skee even mentioned the NLEX-SLEX connector road cutting travel time significantly between Clark and NAIA.

So I pointed out that right of way issues are delaying the completion of that vital connector road project. RSA has personally negotiated a ROW problem with Sincere Lumber in Paco and that’s the only progress so far.

DPWH has not delivered on everything else. It took the TRB quite a bit of time to approve the diversion of the alignment to go over the San Juan River to avoid the ROW problems affecting the motel row in Sta. Mesa.

I understand San Miguel is targeting completion of the NLEX-SLEX connector road by end-2019. But the ramps will be completed only in 2020, assuming ROW and utilities relocation issues are immediately addressed. The same issues delayed the NAIA Expressway’s early completion.

It is clear that if government really wants to deliver its grand infrastructure plans, they have to tie up all loose ends. Duterte must appoint a very senior official with clout, like the role played by Rene Diaz under former PGMA, to focus on ROW issues. Otherwise, puro laway lang. Pinapa-asa lang tayo pero wala.

In the end, our skepticism is justified.  The DOTr officials always ask for our understanding and support. I am sure they have that because no one in his right mind will want them to fail. But… show us some movement!

Tourism ad

From Barcelona… I received this e-mail from a well-travelled Filipino former investment banker who has also invested his own money in our tourism industry.

He is dismayed at the quality of the tourism department’s advertorial published in the New York Times. It is the print version of the horrible TV commercial “anak.” I agree with him. Here is his e-mail:

 Dear Boo,

1. The readership of the print edition of the international New York Times is almost 100 percent affluent businessmen. Not a single part of the advertisement is of any interest to them. This is simply the wrong medium for a tourism pitch.

2. The point of a slogan is to fix a simple, single thought, expressed succinctly in as few words as possible. The advertisement had three different slogans.

3. The picture is of a place that almost no past, present, or future tourist will ever get to.

4. The picture reinforces a racial stereotype of Filipinos fawning over whites. It is personally distasteful to me, and probably off-putting to all the Asians - families, groups of singles, incentive groups – who constitute a much larger potential market than young white backpackers.

5. The advertisement picture and text violate the first principle of advertising, which is to identify a specific target audience and then talk to that audience. The ad could be likened to a BMW ad that targets rich people, women, old people, sporty drivers, teens, mothers, companies, and ecology-conscious people all in one go. It winds up being utterly unconvincing.

6. The ad was written by someone whose command of English idiom frequently wavers. For example: “Relax, rejuvenate and be prepared for a dose of adrenaline rush in Cebu”;

“For honeymooners, experience a unique island dining by the beach. . .”;

“Today, Kalesa is still visible. . . for tourists’ cultural experience “; “. . . Spanish occupation.”

Hardly a paragraph goes by without some new grammatical or usage error. This would not matter much if the words were spoken on a TV show, but the typical highly-literate New York Times reader will just cringe at seeing the phrases in print, in a newspaper noted for its English-language style.

7. Not that an advertorial is a good way to promote a country’s tourism, but if you are going to have an advertorial, it must have exactly the same font, format, and look as the rest of the publication. If it is immediately evident that it is a paid advertisement, it loses all the benefit of being an advertorial.

8. Who is Jack Ellis? Who cares?

Thanks for listening.

Regards, Manny

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco.

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