17jan08-Epiphany: Deadline for receiving bribes?

POSTSCRIPT / January 8, 2017 / Sunday
Epiphany: Deadline for receiving bribes?
By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

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EPIPHANY celebrates the revelation of God to man and the abiding presence of God in man. The feast last Friday marked the day when the three wise men, the Magi from the east, went to Bethlehem to find and worship the new-born Christ.

Many of us in this materialistic world associate the day with gift-giving, recalling that the Magi went to Jesus bearing offerings.

We thus remark at times, albeit in a light vein, that Epiphany is the deadline for bureaucrats to receive valuable gifts without being accused of extortion or bribery — as if implying that the laws on corruption are relaxed during the extended Christmas gift-giving from Dec. 16 to Jan. 6.

In his homily Friday at the Mass for the Epiphany in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis draws us back to a where the star at Bethlehem actually meant to lead us, whether wise men or plain folk:

“In our life there are different stars, lights that shine and orientate. It is for us to choose which one we will follow. There are intermittent lights, which come and go, like the little satisfactions of life: even though good, they are not enough, because they last little and do not leave the peace we seek.

“Then there are the bright lights of the limelight, of money and success, which promise everything immediately: they are seductive, but they blind with their force and make one pass from dreams of glory to the densest darkness.

“Instead, the Magi invite us to follow a stable light, a gentle light, which does not set, because it is not of this world: it comes from Heaven and shines … where? In the heart.”

Are we ready for Miss U, ASEAN?

WE HAVE this notorious “mañana” habit of putting off till tomorrow what we should have done yesterday. Soon we will be rushing last-minute preparations for such upcoming events as the Miss Universe pageant (Jan. 30) and the ASEAN summit and related meetings in the country.

The summit and the side conferences of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which marks this year its 50th anniversary with the Philippines as chairman and host, will be one multi-venue spread-out undertaking.

With the theme “We are Partners for Change, Engaging the World,” ASEAN 2017 will be launched Jan. 15 at the Davao SMX Convention Center in Davao City, the home ground of President Rodrigo Duterte putting his best foot forward.

Aside from the security and logistics networks, are the airports, hotels, conference venues and other needed sites and facilities ready for the horde of world leaders, lower-level officials, media and the rest of the foreign crowd drawn by international events?

To foreign visitors, the airport experience leaves the first and lasting impression. Air traffic congestion, not to mention the vehicular mess around airports, is likely to be one horrendous problem, especially with the arrival of several heads of government and other VIPs.

There are again calls to rush the Emergency Powers bill addressing the long-festering traffic and air congestion. Proposed by the Department of Transportation, the measure calls for massive infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges, airports and seaports.

But since there are just too many things to do with such limited time and resources, maybe priority should be given to the front door — the Ninoy Aquino International Airport — the country’s main international gateway.

Despite cosmetic improvements, NAIA still ranked 5th worst airport in Asia in a recent survey conducted by “The Guide to Sleeping in Airports.

Prioritize, upgrade NAIA as front door

AS EARLY as September 2016, the National Economic and Development Authority in its first meeting under the Duterte administration approved nine big-ticket projects with an estimated total cost of P171.14 billion.

Three of them are for the upgrading of airports: the Bicol International Airport in Daraga, Albay (P4.8 billion), the relocation of the domestic Tagbilaran Airport to a new facility of international standards on Panglao island (P7.8 billion), and the NAIA in Pasay City (P74.6 billion).

The NAIA project calls for the rehabilitation and upgrading of its four overworked terminals. At this late date, however, the Department of Transportation has yet to release the terms of reference or an invitation to bid for it.

The optimal capacity of the country’s main international gateway is 30 million passengers annually, while its maximum rated capacity is 35 million. Last year, 37 million flyers arrived or departed through NAIA’s terminals — seven percent higher than the year before.

Flights in excess of the optimal number experienced some delay or, worse, were diverted to the Clark International Airport in Pampanga, a grave inconvenience to many. Without a dedicated link to Manila, Clark is more than an hour’s drive away from the national capital.

Because of runway congestion, NAIA can accommodate only 40 air transport movements (takeoff or landing) per hour. The only way to increase this number is to upgrade the runways and the air traffic control equipment. The government must move faster in this area.

Flight slotting has improved lately, but efficiency can only do so much. Most departures are still delayed, and incoming flights are often forced to circle the aerodrome for up to an hour, exposing passengers to unwarranted risks and aggravation.

Without any new modern international airport in the horizon, upgrading NAIA’s facilities appears to be the only viable, and quickest, option to minimize delays and ensure passenger safety.

(First published in The Philippine STAR of January 8, 2017)

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