POSTSCRIPT / June 11, 1998 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

Share This

Tan to close PAL? Erap cans Gordon

HOW would you feel if you were the Philippine Airlines captain whose forced retirement by management is the central issue of the week-old PAL pilots’ strike that may yet force the hemorrhaging owners to declare bankruptcy?

How would you, if were that retired pilot, feel about the other 13,500 PAL employees belonging to two other unions possibly losing their good-paying jobs with the closure of the flag carrier?

Closure is one of the options left for beer and tobacco taipan Lucio Tan, the controlling interest whose multi-billion-peso rehabilitation program for the limping airline ran smack into the turbulence of a stubborn pilots’ union.

With management having fired the union officers and the union defying the Department of Labor’s return-to-work order, there is a hardening of positions.

As this is written June 10, somebody still has to come up with a Solomonic formula that will (1) save face for the union when its members go back to work while (2) enabling management to drill some discipline into hardheaded workers.

* * *

IN the eye of the storm is Airbus A330 Capt. Albino Collantes, who was retired by management last year after he completed the minimum requirement of 20 years in the service.

Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement between PAL and the pilots’ union, management has the prerogative to retire a pilot — without having to give a reason — who has completed 20 years of service or has logged more than 20,000 flying hours.

With the Centennial celebration just a few days away, the Department of Labor assumed jurisdiction over the debilitating dispute and ordered the union members to go back to work. Some members returned, but the union defied the order.

This prompted PAL to fire on June 5 the 29 officers of the pilots’ union, citing the Labor Code and pertinent Supreme Court decisions saying that “a strike that is undertaken despite the issuance by the Secretary of Labor of an assumption and/or certification is a prohibited activity and thus illegal. The Union officers and members, as a result, are deemed to have lost their employment status for knowingly participated in an illegal act.”

* * *

EXPERTS earlier advised Tan to just let the bleeding company die, but he embarked last year on a $4-billion refleeting program under which the airline is acquiring 36 brand-new aircraft to raise it back to competitive position. He said his team is set on turning the company around with everybody doing his share.

Now with foreign and domestic flights suspended, PAL is losing up to P200 million a day from unrealized revenue. On top of this, it is reeling from the P8-billion loss it took in 1997.

The regional financial crunch that saw the peso plunging in value to P40 (from P26) to the dollar has made it even more difficult to recoup losses and straighten out finances. Investors who had been talking about buying into PAL were suddenly noncommittal.

People close to Tan say the man may soon lose his patience and just declare bankruptcy. In such an event, even the gargantuan retirement benefits that pilots imagine would fall like manna from heaven may just be mere pieces of paper.

But even with a protracted strike, most PAL pilots will not really feel the pinch. They are the highest paid among workers of all businesses in the Philippines. Although they comprise just 4.6 percent of PAL personnel, they gobble up 20 percent of the P4-billion annual payroll of the airline.

Their union owns at least three buildings: one in Makati’s Salcedo Village, another in Ayala Alabang, and the union headquarters on Andrews Avenue in Pasay City.

* * *

BY the time you read this, the June 12 Araw ng Kalayaan celebrations would have begun to recede in our national memory. Our span of attention is that short, really, pero huwag lang ninyong ipagsabi sa ibang tao.

It has been pointed out in an earlier Manila Mail, but it bears repeating that this is not the centennial of our independence but the centennial of our declaration of independence.

You all know what we mean. In fact, in the same defiant declaration in Kawit, Cavite, the supposedly new republic (actually a dictatorship) was to be launched under the benign patronage of the great North American nation, meaning Uncle Sam. That’s independence?

Yes, that early – and long before that – malalim na ang ating “mental colony” (Eraptalk for colonial mentality).

Hopefully, President-in-jueteng, este, in-waiting, Joseph “Erap” Estrada — co-star of Senator Nikki Coseteng in the anti-bases film “Sa Kuko ng mga Lawin” — would wean us away from this embarrassing lapdog position.

* * *

THIS brings to mind Flash Gordon, the talkathon kid running Subic Bay like a family-owned R&R liberty town. Estrada has said very clearly that Chairman Richard Gordon of the Subic Bay Management Authority better pack up because he would replace him.

Although he could be forgiving to a fault, it seems Estrada cannot forget having been hit below the belt by Gordon on many occasions. And to rub salt, Estrada said he would name Bataan congressman Tong Payumo, the archrival of Gordon in the area, to replace da Flash.

But “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?” asks some defenders of Gordon who point out that he has been a good Subic manager. Well, Estrada is not fixing it, but totally throwing it away for replacement.

Already diminutive, Gordon is being further cut down to size.

* * *

Share your thoughts.

Your email address will not be published.