POSTSCRIPT / September 24, 1998 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Don't worry, PAL will fly again soon

AT midnight last Wednesday, Philippine Airlines folded the Filipino flag that it has carried proudly the past 57 years. The last planes out have taxied reluctantly to their hangars, while teary-eyed staffers lingered for a last glimpse of the work places where they had served PAL’s loyal passengers.

But wipe away the tears and flash that world-famous smile, for as sure as the warm Philippine sun rises each day, the flag carrier is likely to fly again. At least, that’s the view of this optimist.

Some details are worth noting to understand what’s going on:

One, the Estrada administration cannot allow the flag carrier to die in its hands.

Two, PAL chairman Lucio Tan and his nemesis the pilots can no longer work together, so it looks like either of them, or both, have to go.

And three, the government rescue package does not appear to be for Tan, but partly for the affected employees and mainly for the economy.

* * *

COMMUTERS are incredulous (“Why was this allowed to happen?”). People are sometimes angry at the situation, but mostly sympathetic to the displaced ground personnel (the pilots are another matter).

The competition, of course, is smacking its lips. The smaller domestic airlines are expanding and positioning to fill the gap in provincial service.

Despite the suspension of operations, negotiators of management and labor are still talking, with government as a necessary third voice. They are in search of a formula whose form and substance nobody as yet knows.

Hovering unseen over the goings-on are still unidentified investors who reportedly want to come in and salvage the situation — and of course make money.

* * *

THERE was an earlier plan for government to come in with a bridge fund, a loan of at least P1.5 billion, to be contributed by government financial institutions.

The money will be used by a receivership committee — not the Tan management — to salvage 14 vital domestic routes in the next three months until a white knight rides onto the scene for the eventual rescue.

But the bridge fund idea was dropped when union members rejected in a referendum PAL chairman Lucio Tan’s solution of giving them for free 20 percent of PAL shares in exchange for a 10-year suspension of their collective bargaining agreement.

What happens now to the 9,000 or so remaining employees? Some options open to them are to collect separation pay and cut clean, or stick it out for possible reinstatement without loss of vested rights under a new management or even a new company.

* * *

PRESIDENT Estrada, meanwhile, continues to sound optimistic. “Huwag kayong mag-alala,” he said. “Everything will be normal.” It better be, as the total collapse of PAL would inflict incalculable damage to the economy and make the President’s job more difficult.

Some measures are being put in place to cushion the impact of PAL’s closure. Air Philippines plans to lease 10 of PAL’s sidelined planes for domestic flights.

Air Philippines, Cebu Pacific, GandAir and Asian Spirit are set to increase their capacity from the present 230,000 seats to 550,000 a year to fill part of the 700,000 seats to be left unserved by PAL.

Government agencies had been asked to make aircraft available for emergency or vital operations such as the moving of mail, money and medicine. The air force is ready to field two of its C-130 cargo planes, but it will cost P300,000 an hour.

* * *

ON another subject, we predicted sometime back that President Estrada would relent on his hard position against legislative pork barrel in the P580-billion budget for 1999.

We said that since it is not just black and white in the world of politics and since the President needs Congress to push his programs, he would have to compromise and eventually allow some pork but disguised under another name.

Well, the President recently talked with congressmen at the Pasig penthouse of Speaker Manuel Villar and told them they could now identify projects in their districts that would receive funding in the Estrada budget.

We said then that if the President wanted to have Villar stay as Speaker and push MalacaƱang’s legislative agenda, he better throw them some pork. Otherwise, we said, he would have a revolt on his hands.

It seems there isn’t going to be a revolt.

* * *

FORD, which pulled an ungraceful exit in 1985 and left countless owners of its vehicles scrounging around for parts, is making a soft reentry with its light trucks and utility vehicles.

Leading its comeback are the F-150 pickup and the Expedition SUV. A local dealer said that more models would follow in 1999 — the Ranger pickup, Laser Liata sedan and the Econovan truck.

When the Expedition’s price was slashed from P2 million to P1.6 million, Japanese SUVs followed: Mitsubishi Pajero, down to P1.2 million from P1.4 million; Nissan Safari Patrol, P1.3 million from P1.5 million; Toyota Prado, P1.4 million from P1.6 million). Other Fords running around are the Club Wagon van and the luxurious Lincoln Town car.

Service and parts could be a problem, but this was somewhat relieved with the opening of a Ford dealer on EDSA.

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