The APEC experience
(The Philippine Star) - November 21, 2015 - 9:00am

The APEC summit is over and it’s time to call it a day – with all the heads of state gone including P-Noy who’s in Kuala Lumpur for the ASEAN meeting. But we still hear a lot of angry noise and finger pointing on who to blame for all the inconvenience that Metro Manilans had to endure. There’s really no point in blaming anyone, but I think a review is warranted to see how we could have done better as far as hosting the APEC is concerned.

People did not mind the necessary sacrifices for the country to put its best foot forward and shine before the international stage. However, the real source of the complaint is the piecemeal information about the road closures, the flight delays, and confusing statements over the holiday schedules. Obviously, the first order of the day would have been for Malacañang to declare an APEC week holiday to avoid all that confusion and lack of coordination.

People having to go to work with major thoroughfares closed was a disaster. Several employees from Cavite who were dropped off at the MOA in Pasay had to walk all the way to Buendia. When asked why they persisted, they said they had to get to work due to pending deadlines, while others admitted they could not afford the full-day salary deduction because of the “no work, no pay” policy. 

There were many similar situations, but among the worst affected were people who had to go to hospitals for one reason or another, like this woman who gave birth on the street because she could not get a ride. Another person who had a meeting at the Peninsula Hotel for Tuesday had originally cancelled the meeting anticipating the no-work APEC week but rescheduled it back. He never made it to the meeting. Worse, it took him another three hours to get back to his home in Alabang.   

The bottom line is that Metro Manila with its 15 million residents will never be ready to host a major undertaking like the APEC with 21 heads of state and an estimated 8,000 delegates. For one thing, we do not have the necessary road infrastructure that would have made traveling from the hotels to the venue of the APEC leaders’ meeting easier. Some of those who attended the main events also told us about instances that confirmed perceptions that Metro Manila was not ready for the hosting requirements. A staff from one delegation complained that the soup during the welcome dinner at the Mall of Asia Arena was cold – well, the MOA Arena was not meant to have a huge kitchen because it is a concert venue. A visiting presidential assistant complained the program was too long for his jet-lagged boss. In other words, we “overdid the show with too many performers during the dinner,” according to one APEC organizer.

FVR had warned – and he was right after all – that Metro Manila was not the best place to hold the APEC. Subic and Clark would have been a better option because it would not have disrupted the already disruptive life of Metro Manila residents. Meantime, major businesses like the airlines had to take a shave of over P1.5 billion in revenues due to flight cancellations that reached thousands. Worse, Cebu Pacific is now facing a lawsuit from lawyer Raymond Fortun for being stranded in Saigon.

The APEC cost the country P10 billion with supposedly a lot of projected benefits than what was spent. But the peripheral costs are estimated to be much more. Some say as much P20 billion was lost in revenues and income for a lot of people.

But we have to admit, contrary to rallyists’ assertions that the P10 billion was a useless expense, there were definitely a lot of positive experiences and consequences whose value cannot be quantified. For instance, a lot of heads of state made the effort to come to the APEC and were actually impressed on how the Philippines was doing in terms of the economy and other areas. One of those was Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos who was invited as an observer through the efforts of Consul Jorge Araneta and Charge d’Affaires Stella Marquez-Araneta (see photos in “This week on PeopleAsia” of the Allure section today).

We have to congratulate and give full credit to General Rick Marquez for the way the PNP handled the security of all the heads of state and delegates. It would have been unthinkable for any “incident” to happen while the APEC was ongoing, with security troops placed on red alert because of the terrorist attacks in Paris.  

Then there were the good stories about Good Samaritans who picked up stranded commuters and ferried them free of charge, surprising many who are now used to paying usurious rates from opportunists. A bright spot was the young computer engineer from La Salle, Aisa Mijeno, who impressed US President Barack Obama with her ingenious project to provide lamps to the people in Kalinga using saltwater. Japanese First Lady Akie Abe impressed everyone when she quietly visited a depressed community in Payatas where residents are experiencing changed lives because a Japanese NGO gave the women livelihood opportunities.  

The next time the Philippines will host another APEC meeting is about 20 years from now. “Siguro naman mag-iisip na tayo,” one senator told me. “We can be more creative and practical in hosting such big events,” he said. Let’s not pretend anymore – Metro Manila will never be ready for events like these. A longtime Manila resident simply summed it up: “Everyday is already a struggle, please don’t make it a living hell.”

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