Skyline pigeon blues

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

As I thought about how to introduce my first topic, the first thing that came to mind was Elton John’s classic song “Skyline Pigeon.” Call it coincidence but the first part of the song really captured the sentiment and experience of several hundred travelers flying to the Middle East and Europe out of the NAIA Terminal 3. Here goes the lyrics:

“Turn me loose from your hands, let me fly to distant lands. Over green fields, trees and mountains, flowers and forest fountains. Home along the lanes of the skyway. For this dark and lonely room projects a shadow cast in gloom…”

That about sums up the experience of numerous passengers who headed out to Dubai, Qatar and European destinations in the last three weeks if not more. Excited as many of them were to travel for work as OFWs, students or as tourists, their excitement quickly grounded and grinded to a two-and-a -half-hour wait standing in line with no clear explanation as to why. It was not as if all the flights to the Middle East or Europe were scheduled at the same hour.

Some said it was strict security, others thought it had to do with many OFWs with excess baggage, the rest said it was just so slow. What made the experience excruciating was the fact that these flights were scheduled late at night, between 10 p.m. and midnight. Combining the lateness and the unreasonable delay for passengers made to show up two to three hours before the flight is almost an act of cruel and unusual punishment.

Based on accounts of passengers and my own family members who flew on two different flights and two different weeks and airlines, the obvious reasons were that the airline counters were undermanned and their slow-motion processing of passengers indicate that they were not all experienced check-in personnel.

All the advanced or online check-in became meaningless as you had to wait for the passengers ahead of you to settle their check in activity and baggage issues, instead of a dedicated lane for online checked-in travelers. From what I picked up from Facebook posts, there were not enough open counters, no counters for senior citizens and no numbers issued to passengers in the line which would allow them to dash to a toilet as many of them wanted to. And by the way, two passengers mentioned the aircon was either not working or had been turned off early because it was already late in the evening. Even in the rainy season, a terminal with many passengers can still get warm or hot.

Someone who was a frequent traveler and aware of the terminal situation pointed out that the airlines could have worked out a deal with airport authorities to provide chairs and bollards since the problem has been ongoing for several weeks or a month. The sad part is that all the blame is being placed on the NAIA management instead of holding the Middle Eastern airlines responsible for the matter. Is this the way airlines should treat the predominantly OFW passengers that patronize their airlines? I hope that someone calls the attention of the new NAIA general manager Cesar Chiong to do something about the “customer nightmare experience” at NAIA 3 caused by airlines.

*      *      *

Last Wednesday morning, as I hosted the daily show AGENDA on Cignal TV, I went about reading through the front page coverage of The Philippine STAR and nearly choked as I read a story stating that during his state visit to Indonesia, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. had reached out to the Indonesians to help the Philippines in developing our fisheries industry. The story emphasized the President’s frustrations that the country still continues to IMPORT GALUNGONG from China and other ASEAN countries.

PBBM’s transparency and humility is admirable given his position, but the story makes me wonder who is giving PBBM information and advice on the subject matter. We have historically been quite adept at catching galunggong in the past decades and as I wrote in previous columns, Filipino experts and technicians can hold up their end against the best in the region when it comes to fisheries and aquatic resource management. Our problem has never been about knowledge and expertise. What brought us down to the gutter is vested interest, lobby groups and policies taken up by government that resulted in the domestic fishing industry crumbling year by year from lack of support and government development initiatives.

While poorer countries in Africa, Asia and South America started adapting fiberglass and resin boats and modern engines, the country got stuck on plywood fishing boats using bamboo outriggers with 25 hp gas engines or surplus engines that would run out of parts after two years or break down out at sea. All these boats were primarily owned by private individuals, often a small-time businessman saving up capital through the years, slowly expanding his barangay-based fleet of fishing bancas. That level of inefficiency, which is nationwide, may have fed fisherfolk and local entrepreneurs, but it did nothing to elevate and expand our fishing industry. Even the bigger and commercial fishing companies have largely been reliant and operate “surplus” or used old boats out of Japan.

Then when the country jumped head-first into trade agreements, totally disregarding the need to prioritize safeguards and lack of competitiveness of local fisheries, businessmen or opportunists worked quick to set up their trading firms, hired lobbyists and drove the policies toward import dependency instead of self-reliance. Yes, business can build the nation, but it can also destroy industries and republics. And so, we find ourselves like mentally conditioned dogs reacting to the terms “shortage” and “high prices” by allowing importation of fish, chicken, sugar, etc. and electing leaders believing we can’t produce what we already have!


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