POSTSCRIPT / April 22, 2004 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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RP troops in Iraq without consent of sovereign Iraqis

PINOYS IN IRAQ: A basic flaw in the decision to send a Philippine military-police team to serve with the American occupation forces in Iraq is that Iraq as a sovereign state never asked the Philippines to send over such a contingent.

The sending of the Filipino force was under an agreement between the United States and the Philippines, not with Iraq. It is highly improper for two countries to agree to engage in military operations in the territory of a passive third country.

To justify our continued military presence in Iraq, we should get the consent of the receiving country (Iraq) or co-operate under the auspices of the United Nations. Neither of these two elements is present in our case.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is actually just hanging on, hoping no Filipino is kidnapped, wounded or killed in Iraq before our May 10 elections. After that date — whether she wins or not — the ground rules can be altered altogether.

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THREE-TERM CASE: The Commission on Elections will finalize in one week the list of candidates for the May 10 elections, yet the 83,000-plus voters of Mabalacat, Pampanga, still do not know if Mayor Marino “Boking” Morales who is running for a fourth term is still eligible.

Three petitions and two urgent motions are pending with the Comelec’s 2nd Division for Morales’ disqualification, because he has served his limit of three terms having been elected mayor in three consecutive elections (in 1995, 1998 and 2001). There has been no gap in his service.

Information reaching us has it that the 2nd Division has decided the case, but that an influential lobby is holding back its publication. Voters of Mabalacat say, “Ilabas na po ninyo. Para na ninyong awa!” (“Out with the decision, for pity’s sake!”)

Issuing the decision after the list of candidates is published, or when the elections are over, will just complicate matters. It should be easy for the Comelec to resolve the question since term limits are set by the Constitution no less and reiterated in the Local Government Code.

The other candidates for mayor are Moc Candelaria, Anthony Dee, Ed Lopez and Armando de Guzman.

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STOPOVER BLUES: Shortly before the Lenten break, friends who booked for European tours were surprised when told that they would have to temporarily disembark either in Dubai, Doha or Kuwait City before they can proceed to Europe.

For those not in a hurry, longer and more inconvenient options may include a prior side trip to Bangkok, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur.

Upon inquiring about the cumbersome layovers and their being booked on Middle Eastern airlines when their destination is Europe, they were told there are no more direct, non-stop flights between the Philippines and any point in Europe since the last carrier — Air France — ceased operating non-stop Manila-Paris flights last April 1.

As with German carrier Lufthansa, Bangkok is now the choice layover point of Air France before it flies on to Europe.

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R.P. CUT OFF: Wow! This is the 21st Century and poor Philippines is cut off from the rich European market in this rather crude manner?

It turned out that European carriers have decided to discontinue direct flights to Manila because of overcapacity given by the Philippine goverment to Middle Eastern airlines.

Owned by oil-rich countries, the government-subsidized Arab airlines are offering low fares. Armed with hefty discounts, they are poaching on traffic that otherwise would go to European carriers and even to our very own Philippine Airlines.

Because of this, those going to far-away Europe must endure stopovers resulting from the termination of direct, non-stop Manila-Europe flights.

And what does the Philippines get in return for giving away more and more air rights to Middle Eastern carriers? Answer: Temporary low fares and some 19,000 Arab tourists a year, or less than a tenth of the European tourists that visit the Philippines.

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MANILA UNPROFITABLE: There are also disturbing data showing that unprofitability due to the glut in airline seats may explain why major European airlines have stopped flying to Manila.

In the last six years, these Euro carriers ceased flying to the Philippines: Alitalia (1998), Russian carrier Aeroflot (2000), British Airways (2002), and Swiss International [formerly Swiss Air], (2004).

Air France, which used to fly Manila-Paris thrice a week, now mounts daily flights to the French capital via Bangkok. German carrier Lufthansa has also been flying Manila-Frankfurt daily through Bangkok since 1999.

Flag carrier Philippine Airlines, which used to provide direct links between Manila and key points in Europe, suspended all European flights in the aftermath of a crippling labor strike in 1998.

Things later got better for PAL, but plans to resume the flights were placed in the back burner because of overcapacity and the resulting RP-Europe market diversion by Middle Eastern carriers seducing passengers with fat discounts.

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DIVERSION PLAGUE: Market diversion is one of the most serious problems plaguing the Philippine airline industry.

Since President Fidel V. Ramos’ liberalization of the aviation industry in the mid-90s, there has been an unprecedented opening of Philippine skies to foreign carriers, particularly those from the Middle East.

Presumably encouraged by Ramos’ move, lobby groups with foreign links had a heyday pushing for the full opening up RP skies, to the detriment of local players, their workers and the local tourism industry.

Aside from other Asian countries, major Middle Eastern carriers such as Emirates, Gulf Air, Qatar Airways and Kuwait Airways are now allowed to fly nearly two million seats a year. Yet, these airlines use only less than a third of their combined capacity.

Given excess capacity and the ability of Middle Eastern carriers to ferry Filipino passengers to their respective hubs for connecting flights to Europe, PAL and other privately-owned European carriers are fighting a losing battle.

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PAYING HIGH PRICE: Ironically, this temporary benefit (to passengers) of low fares comes at a price. Whatever benefits passengers may have gained, on the one hand, means lost opportunities in the tourism sector on the other.

Data from the Department of Tourism showed that in 2003 alone there were nearly 200,000 European tourists who visited the Philippines.

With the absence of direct flights to Europe as a result of the market diversion by Middle Eastern airlines, these European tourists and the dollars they bring will go to Thailand, Singapore or Malaysia that are now fast becoming hubs instead of Manila.

After all, if a tourist from Europe is already in Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, what compelling reasons would there be for him to proceed to the Philippines?

Direct flights are important links that make a destination truly attractive. In fact, airlines spend significant sums to promote their routes. Obviously, secondary destinations such as (now) the Philippines are bound to get second-class endorsements.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 22, 2004)

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