Malacañang should have declared an APEC week holiday

SPYBITS (The Philippine Star) - November 18, 2015 - 9:00am

As early as two years ago, the government knew the Philippines would be host the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit – a mammoth event with the leaders of the 21 member economies arriving along with thousands of participants and delegates for the various side meetings, not to mention the security people and members of the press covering the event. Add to that the delegation of those who were invited as observers like Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos who brought some of his key officials as well.

When the Philippines hosted the APEC almost two decades ago, in 1996 to be exact, President Fidel Ramos had foresight and held the event in Subic with villas constructed well ahead of time to house the heads of state, the logistics planned and the routes determined so that no disruptions and traffic would inconvenience the people or cause businesses to lose money.

No doubt, Filipinos are patient and hospitable. They fully understand the significance of hosting a major event like the APEC, an opportunity for the country to shine before the global stage and showcase the best we have to offer as well as convince the international business community the Philippines is an attractive investment destination with plenty of potential in various sectors and industries.

But when people – especially the residents of Metro Manila – have to second-guess the government about the APEC because of the lack of clear planning and foresight, then we hear never-ending expletives. Traffic in Metro Manila during ordinary days is horrific enough as it is, but Monday was a total nightmare, and chaotic with many motorists trying to navigate through the designated alternative routes to the roads that were closed to make way for the “APEC express lanes.”

Social media was buzzing incessantly with netizens telling us that even those that were not included in the previous advisories were suddenly blocked off for some reason, angering drivers who found themselves suddenly stuck in streets they thought was “APEC safe.” The closure of roads seemed arbitrary with no specific schedule given as to what time certain roads would be blocked off. Imagine, some would be navigating through certain roads and intersections when they would suddenly get directed to take a turn because the road is being closed? It became very obvious there was no coordination. But what made people angrier was to see certain cars waved through even without the APEC plates – why, were these car owners chummy with those manning the traffic?

But the most affected (and that’s a mild word, for lack of a better one) were the commuters who found themselves having to walk for hours under the sun because the MRT acted up again with one of those infernal glitches occurring early in the morning. Employees living in Cavite showed up for work way after lunchtime because they were forced to walk – either that or lose a whole day’s pay. Tuesday was not any better, with stranded commuters walking the whole length of EDSA from Shaw Boulevard to Santolan area because there were no buses.

People are angry, disappointed and frustrated, venting their frustration on social media, saying Malacañang should just have declared the whole week a holiday instead of limiting it to just Wednesday and Thursday. True, people were advised to just stay at home to avoid the hassle and inconvenience, but the authorities contradicted themselves because people had to report for work. Malacañang was apologetic, asking for understanding because the APEC would bring a lot of “benefits” to Filipinos – but “sorry” does not cut it with the people because this kind of situation could have been avoided. It seemed nobody was in control and the administration failed to see this.

We can’t really blame the people for feeling the government failed overwhelmingly in terms of giving them information – timely information – that could have allowed them to plan their activities. According to latest reports, Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific stand to lose over P1.2 billion due to cancelled flights that have now reached more than 1,500 – affecting up to 80,000 passengers for the duration of the APEC because the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines declared the airports “no fly zones” to give way to the arrival (and departure) of the private aircraft of the attending heads of state. 

While it is true the exact date and arrival time of the delegates could not be known ahead of time primarily for security reasons, Malacañang early on should have anticipated such an occurrence and coordinated with the flag carriers on the deferment of certain flights for the whole APEC Summit week. Instead, we see people stranded and losing livelihood and business opportunities because they missed what we call “milestone” flights – a once-in-a-lifetime trip that cannot be rescheduled.

Spy tidbit: Economic impact of terrorism at $53 billion

While it is impossible to place a cost on the thousands of lives all over the world that were lost due to acts of terrorism, a report compiled by the Global Terrorism Index sourced from data collected by the University of Maryland disclosed that the economic cost of terrorism is placed at $53 billion, with the terrorist groups ISIS and Boko Haram responsible for more than 50 percent of the deaths, while those caused by “lone wolf” attackers – political extremists, nationalists, racists and religious supremacists account for over 70 percent of deaths in the past 10 years. According to the same report, the cost of preventing terrorism has reached $117 billion in 2014 alone. Expect the number to go higher with billions more spent in enhancing security in the wake of the Paris attacks.

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