‘Patay-gutom’ scare away cruise ships

MGA LAMAS SA KINABUHI - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

With international cruises planning to dock in the Philippines, tourism authorities had better ask them why only now. Those cruise operators are sharp. They know their clientele would swell by including Philippine attractions in their itineraries. Yet they have shunned our shores for years. What could be the reason?

It’s an open secret among Asian tour operators. Cruises used to dock in Manila more than a decade ago, but were scared away by rapacious Customs men.

The Customs men boarded the vessels not so much to inspect than to wine and dine in the well-stocked restaurants. At first it was tolerable: just three or four of them at a time. But then, the “patay-gutom” couldn’t help themselves. Soon, in succeeding cruise stops, they took to bringing onboard their families and friends. Not content, they even demanded take-home steaks and lobsters, and stole tableware. The shame they brought to the Philippines is incalculable. Cruises avoided the Philippines. Tourism suffered. They’re no different from crooked airport policemen, cabbies and security x-ray screeners who rip off foreign arrivals and departures.

Forewarned is forearmed. When tourism officials learn the modus operandi of the insatiable Customs men, they’d know how to prevent recurrence. There’s word that at the international airports to this day some Customs men board newly landed foreign airlines and head straight for the business-class pantry to demand untouched leftovers. Installing CCTVs would help pinpoint them; they carry huge loot bags.

Hong Kong and Singapore cruise companies reportedly are in discussions with tourism authorities to map out possible destinations. One outfit intends to operate out of Manila, and sail to Laoag, Kaohsiung in Taiwan, Hong Kong, then back, The STAR’s Iris Gonzales wrote last Monday. Foreign and domestic tourists would have countless sights to see in Manila’s Intramuros and Malate districts, and in surrounding provinces. Laoag has the La Paz sand dunes, and is the jump-off to cultural heritage structures like the church in Paoay and the lighthouse in Burgos towns.

In time, tourist officials can bring the cruises farther south to Cebu, Dumaguete, Boracay, Kalibo, and Coron. Already fitted with deep-water ports are Subic in Zambales and Silay in Negros Occidental. The former can be a landing for the eats and treats of Central Luzon. In the latter, an international port in the 1800s, are three dozen well-preserved Spanish-era manors, plus World War II ruins.

Given the right boost for operators and protection against extortionists, cruises should boom. There were only about 24,000 cruise tourists last year, a mere third of the targeted 72,000. The tourism department is aiming for 75,000 foreign cruise visitors this year.

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Why were air assets never used, President Rodrigo Duterte wonders aloud about the Mamasapano Massacre. That’s something to ponder on this second anniversary of the decimation of 44 police commandos who had taken down two international terrorists in the Moro separatists heartland. Why indeed were military aircraft not scrambled to help repel the rebels who had encircled the commandos? Why did it have to take choppers of US military advisers to evacuate the corpses at one of two clash sites at dusk of Jan. 25, 2015?

Gen. Getulio Napeñas, the commando chief whom then-President Noynoy Aquino blamed for the fiasco, already gave part of the answer to investigators. “The Armed Forces is compromised,” swore the head of the PNP-Special Action Force then. He was referring to the Army division head in Maguindanao, who from dawn to dusk had rejected his pleas for artillery cover to extricate the beleaguered commandos.

This column also quoted other police generals then as saying that some Air Force bases too were compromised. Well before the battle of Mamasapano a police general’s contingent was ambushed by the separatists. At once he radioed his military academy ex-classmates in Davao to help them escape with fly-bys. Two aircraft swiftly were dispatched, but recalled by superiors before aiding the policemen. Another time in Basilan the police secretly requested the air command in nearby Zamboanga to bomb the camp of kidnapper-terrorists. Fifteen minutes before the aircraft took off, the terrorists, apparently alerted, abandoned their base. In Awang, Cotabato, whenever military aircraft take off for bombing runs, separatists clear out of their bases nearby. The police surmise that the enemy is alerted either by infiltrators among the civilian employees, or by spies in surrounding communities who have studied the air tactics.

Perhaps President Duterte should ask too if the military already has fixed the problem. Otherwise the air assets forever will be useless.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website http://www.philstar.com/author/Jarius%20Bondoc/GOTCHA

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