Another show of force rules Phl-UAE air talks
TAXI DRIVER: Kahit naman walang INC rally talagang napakatrapik ng Edsa. Kanya-kanyang diskarte na lang, kasi wala ng paki ang gobiyerno. (Twitter.com/@FDPascual)
POSTSCRIPT: The secret Palace-INC settlement of their “misunderstanding” is not a “win-win” solution. It’s a “lose-lose-lose” proposition — a loss for the government, loss for the Iglesia and loss for the public. (More on this when space permits)
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WHILE hordes of Iglesia ni Cristo members protested at the justice department on Padre Faura last Thursday and Friday, another drama – the Philippines-United Arab Emirates air negotiations — was ongoing a kilometer away at the Manila Hotel.
It was a show of force in both events involving the government. As to who won in the two clashes, we leave that to you.
Last Thursday, the UAE chief negotiator, Omar bin Ghaleb, opened the air talks by castigating the Philippine panel. He poured out his disappointment over seeing “joint statements” in the newspapers issued by the major Filipino airlines.
This has never happened before, he told the Philippine panel, threatening to report the affront to his superiors in Abu Dhabi.
The Philippine chief negotiator, DoTC Undersecretary Jose Lotilla, replied that the Philippines is a free country with a free press, and that the government cannot restrict citizens, including airlines, from making statements. Needless to say, the opinion of Filipino airlines is not necessarily shared by the government.
Throwing in more veiled threats, the UAE negotiators mentioned the thousands of Filipinos employed by UAE airlines, as well as Overseas Filipino Workers in the UAE (one official said there were 900,000, while another one claimed “millions”).
That did not go well with the Philippine side, as some felt the UAE was threatening to stop or slow down hiring of OFWs if their demands were not granted.
(Hint from history: Some years back, the UAE booted out Canadian soldiers from one of their military bases after Canada refused to accede to the demand of Emirates Airlines for more entitlements to Canada.)
■ What exactly does UAE want?
THE UAE was demanding more flights to Manila than just the 14 flights per week usually cited in the media, even as high as 28 to 56 additional flights per week.
The discussions dragged on to almost midnight, with UAE holding out for more flights than the seven that the Philippines was prepared to give (and finally gave).
But the foreign airlines resisted the condition proposed by the Philippines that UAE airlines must also fly directly to Clark or Cebu as a price to pay for receiving and using new entitlements to serve Manila.
The UAE’s reluctance led to the watering down of the Cebu/Clark condition. Now the UAE airlines, such as Emirates or Etihad, have one year to meet this condition. They also demanded a chance to postpone this further if they present valid reasons.
Why did the Philippine side accept this weakening of a core pro-Filipino position? Was it too willing to close a deal with UAE at any cost? The panel owes the people an explanation.
Etihad Airlines (the UAE flag carrier based in the capital, Abu Dhabi) walked out at one point. It was sore that the Philippines seemed to be favoring Emirates, its chief rival and fellow UAE carrier. Etihad returned to the table that same day.
It seems the UAE government promised to split any new entitlements more or less equally between Etihad and Emirates. The final split appears to be four for Emirates and three for Etihad.
Why does Emirates get the upper hand? Did not the CAB rebuke them in late 2013 and early 2014 for operating illegal flights to Manila without the express approval of the board, slapping it a fine of more than P1 million for the deception?
■ Curious sidelights in Phl-UAE talks
PHILIPPINE carriers (Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and Zest Air/Air Asia) are rivals, but they were so distressed over developments that they issued together an ultimatum to protest the Philippine panel’s willingness to give in to some UAE demands.
After this show of force by the local airlines, the Philippine panel somehow displayed a little more backbone and started pushing back UAE. Were it not for this, the final agreement would have been more detrimental to the national interest.
Note that Zest/Air Asia did not join Cebu Pacific and PAL when they issued joint statements before the negotiations. But the goings-on in the talks must have been so bad that Zest/Air Asia felt compelled to stand with its two biggest rivals.
The seating arrangement itself was suggestive. Filipino airlines were assigned seats on the periphery of the meeting room, while government officials (DoTC, CAB, DoT, DFA and DTI) occupied the main table on the Philippine side.
In contrast, at the main UAE table Emirates and Etihad sat on the right and left flanks of the chief negotiator and members of the UAE, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah government authorities for civil aviation.
The agency with the most number of representatives, after the Civil Aeronautics Board (whose staff handled secretariat functions), was the Department of Tourism that had at least five reps. Reward for bringing in less than 20,000 Emirati tourists last year?
It was revealed that Cebu Pacific was kicked out of Dubai airport for two months in 2014, when one of the runways needed repairs. While CebuPac was forced to use neighboring Sharjah airport, Emirates was not required to transfer its Dubai-Manila flights to Sharjah.