POSTSCRIPT / December 9, 2001 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Security taking the fun out of modern air travel

ABOVE ALASKA — We’re back to the old reliable ballpen and pad paper as we write this advancer some 11 kilometers above the frigid iceland of the so-called polar route. A laptop could disturb fellow passengers and the plane’s avionics.

By the time you read this, we’d be back in Manila — back to grinding traffic, to dust, heat, pollution and garbage. And politics. But make no mistake about it, we’re glad to be back home.

We apologize to readers whose email to us had bounced back. Although our email was automatically being forwarded to our roving location, our principal PacificNet mailbox in Manila filled up in our absence. We underestimated the output and outpourings of our readers/correspondents.

We also want to say sorry and thank you to readers and friends in the US who emailed us their invitation for us to drop by. We just did not have the time. Maybe next time.

We were using our alternate AOL (America Online) Internet connection while in the US. We didn’t have the time to figure out how to access PacificNet without spending a fortune attempting an overseas dial-up connection just to purge mail that had been piling up.

We’re mentioning this in the hope that the experts out there among our techie readers could share with us their secrets for handling such situations.

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OFFENDING NAIL CLIPPER: Some friends who had been flying lately told us of their embarkation being delayed just because of a long-forgotten nail clipper left in one of the deeper pockets of their carry-on bags.

Since 911 (the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the US), paranoid airport authorities have come to regard all pointed and bladed metal as potential terrorist weapons. Recall that the suicide gangs that slammed loaded jetliners on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center twin towers were armed with plain paper cutters.

We wonder when jittery authorities would ban karate experts boarding planes with their deadly hands exposed. Also passengers with turbans.

Re the nail clipper, the poor thing showed in the x-ray and security insisted on disarming it — except that locating it in a bag with multiple pockets stuffed with a million items was like looking for the proverbial needle. Most airlines now advise passengers to show up at least three hours before takeoff, because of tedious security checks.

On this flight, however, metal nail files, not clippers, are the ones listed as verboten together with ice picks, umbrellas, canes (unless shown to have no hidden weapon), scissors and the like. Anything bladed — such as my ever loyal Swiss knife — must go into the check-in luggage.

Even the silver (stainless, if you will) cutlery in First Class has been replaced on many planes by plastic wares, although they are a bit bigger than those toy-like spoons, forks and knives in Economy. How’s that for the democratizing effects of 911?

A cabin attendant has told us that even wine bottles, which could be broken into weapons, may have to go soon. But lately we heard that the silverware is back on First Class of some airlines that are so finicky about their service.

Some planes had been equipped stronger cockpit doors and their pilots issued stun guns. The scare all around is really stunning.

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GRINCH VETOES PAROL: When we flew to the US last November, we brought a Pampanga parol tenderly padded and packed in a box. Because the x-ray showed wirings and roundish objects (the bulbs, idiot!), the box had to be gingerly opened and its content examined despite our stout assurance that it was just an innocent parol.

The lantern, bless it, passed the bomb test. But still they insisted that it be checked in. We argued that we had hand-carried similar lanterns a number of times before, tucking the fragile pasalubong beside the stewardess’ jump seat at the rear. But since it was not a friendly Philippine Airlines plane, the Grinch would not listen.

The business-minded reader might be interested to know that a two-foot-tall parol made of capiz bought in Quiapo sa lalim-ng-tulay for P1,200 can sell in the States for at least $120. When they first spot it blinking in the wintry night, American neighbors of Pinoys displaying a parol usually stop, gawk at it and ask where they could buy one.

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MILITARIZED AIRPORTS: In US airports, soldiers in camouflage combat uniform toting long arms walk around in buddy pairs, adding an air of militarization so uncharacteristic of an American setting. But what the heck, if it would mean safer travel.

Somebody should tell airport personnel, however, not to look so grim and overbearing. It seems to us that Americans are losing their sense of humor. That’s bad since tourism, as it is across the business board, is down.

Even pre-Christmas shopping is down by some two percent, compared to the same period last year. Many firms, Ford for example, have stopped contributing their usual share in employees’ mutual funds. That’s not as bad as having the business fold up altogether and leave the workers jobless at a time when they are supposed to be suffused with Yule cheer.

When he finds time during the lull in his war of vengeance in Afghanistan, President George W. Bush tries whipping up the economy — which is in recession– by telling everybody to go out and buy, buy, buy! With the magnitude of the nation’s consumer base, a buying spree can do much to perk up the economy.

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WORK, WORK WORK!: If only we could do that in the Philippines. But how do we tell Filipinos to go out and shop when, we heard, one needs money to buy anything these days? Instead of Buy, buy, buy!, we think our battle cry should be Work, work, work!

What work, what jobs, are you talking about, the infidels might ask. Don’t ask us, ask Malacañang. Like his father Cong Dadong, who put up the Emergency Employment Administration (EEA) to address an economic slump during his term, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo may want to scatter labor-intensive projects in strategic sites all over the country.

The billions poured into such projects won’t be wasted in the economic sense, since the money paid to workers will go back into the stream and help keep things moving when they spend it. The only caveat is to make sure — very sure — that graft does not eat into the labor fund and dull its direct market impact.

The figures we’ve seen indicate that — despite optimism voiced by GMA’s economic managers — we should be prepared to dig in for the hard times ahead. Still, we want to echo the optimism and not allow ourselves to be swallowed by the depression.

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ANTS WORKING UNDERGROUND: One thing we should thank ourselves for is the robust informal or underground economy. We’re talking of the millions of workers — the handyman, plumber, driver, modista, labandera, wash-your-car boy, all active small hands — making a living unmindful of the government.

They don’t issue receipts nor pay taxes, but this huge colony of ants tirelessly working underground contribute to the economy, we think, no less than 45 percent of the national product.

We should not forget to add, of course, the millions of Filipinos laboring abroad who chip in something like $7 billion each year through remittances to their families back home. Much of their earnings remain unrecorded and untaxed, like that of the workers in the local underground, as the money is not sent through the banks but through other informal means of padala.

Overseas workers, plus those in the underground, make our nation resilient. They enable us to survive economic crises despite our supposed weaknesses.

Should we flush out their hidden income? For statistical purposes, yes. But to tax it? Normally we should , but… let’s leave the subject for some other time.

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WOOING TAXPAYERS: There are figures to go by, but we can’t reach them from this plane now descending for a technical stop in Nagoya. We’re referring to data analyses showing that in many cases, the government needs only to improve collection and cut down corruption to boost revenue without having to raise or impose new taxes.

We remember then Mayor Mel Lopez who attacked Manila’s revenue problem upon his becoming city executive by appealing not so much to the patriotism but to the pragmatism of businessmen dealing with City Hall.

Lopez promised that he would not impose new taxes or raise existing ones. Also, he promised that he would shield them from City Hall inspectors who usually go caroling even when it’s not this time of the year. In return, the mayor asked them to increase each year (if we remember right, by not less than 10 percent of the previous year’s payments) the taxes and fees they pay the city government.

The deal worked, and the mayor met his revenue targets. By the time he stepped down, city finances were in the pink of health. On their last day of work, retirees got their checks in full payment of their benefits. Creditors were being paid on time and a huge surplus and savings awaited his successor Fred Lim.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 9, 2001)

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