Funny how time goes by. I’m way behind on my article writing here, and for that I can only say, sorry ‘bout that, retirement is a lot busier than I thought it would be. I started to write the sentence “a few days ago” and then I looked at the dates … turns out that over a month ago, friend Bob wrote an interesting article, Is the Philippines turning off tourists? | Live In The Philippines . For those who haven’t read it, the thrust of the article is kind of a contrast between the millions and millions of Pesos spent every year on government promotion of tourism in the Philippines and the many little, often very low cost places where the Department of Tourism seems to fail in paying attention to their overall mission.
Well last Saturday afternoon, the Department of Tourism got a wake up call a little stronger than Bob’s article. The Philippine Secretary of Tourism Joseph “Ace” Durano and his family were on a Cebu Pacific Airlines flight landing at Legazpi City airport (Legazpi City is on the island of Luzon in the Bicol region, a frequent tourist destination because of it’s proximity to Mt. Mayon, one of the Philippines’ many natural beauty treasures).
The Airbus A-320 aircraft with 80 passengers and a crew of 5 was on a regularly scheduled flight and received its clearance to land from the airport control tower. Just as it touched down the pilot noted a Toyota van on the runway ahead of him. Making a split-second decision the captain of the flight “poured the coal” to the engines and took off, narrowly missing what could easily have been a fiery disaster claiming many lives. (Technically this type of safety incident is termed a “runway incursion”, and it’s one of the most deadly things that can go wrong in aviation … Tenerife, for example, the deadliest accident in aviation history was also runway incursion incident).
Wow! I’m glad the Secretary and everyone else is safe, and hats off to Captain Nowicki, who proved once again why airline pilots earn their money. A “balked landing” like he executed is a dangerous maneuver in and off itself, but it posed less risk than a possible collision with a one ton-plus van which could have killed the van occupants and everyone on the aircraft.
So, what happened here? Was the certificated air traffic controller in the tower “asleep at the switch”? Nope, His actions appear to have been flawless. The pilot, too, was following all proper procedures, and obviously keeping a sharp lookout. So that kind of leaves us the van driver.
Probably some poorly educated fellow trying to earn some money to support his starving family who got confused and wandered out on the runway by mistake? No. Perhaps some college boy who had too much to drink and wouldn’t know a runway from a swimming pool on a joyride? Nope. Aha, a suspected criminal making a daring attempt to escape from pursuing police? No, wrong again.
The van driver was the son of the director of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) Frisco Santo Domingo. I mean the fact that your dad was the chief of civil aviation in the Philippines might not make you an expert on all aspects of flying, but one would imagine that at least he was aware that runways are for airplanes and roads are for cars, no? Turns out the guy was teaching his girlfriend how to drive and apparently considers the taxpayer built and maintained property of the government his personal domain to do with as he pleases. Talk about a misguided sense of entitlement a a total disregard for the G.M.R.C he was supposed to have studied in school.
It is particularly troubling to me to see this disregard for safety because his father was put into office less than two years ago to clean up and “fix” glaring safety and integrity issues which caused the ouster of his predecessor in the wake of a damming FAA Safety report and downgrade of the Philippine commercial aviation international safety rating. The Palace puts a “troubleshooter” into office and he doesn’t even expect his own family to follow the rules? Sad.
I’ve heard rumors for time to time that people in Malacañang (the Philippine “White House”) and other high places read this blog. How true that might be I have no idea, but just in case, Secretary Durano, feel free to consider this an “open letter” from a guy who lives here in your country, cares a lot about the country and its people and supports your efforts in promoting tourism 100%. A lot of Filipinos apparently subscribe to the “sweep the bad things under the rug” theory, even going so far as to tell foreigners, “Go to hell” if you don’t like it here. Well this isn’t about what i like or don’t like, it’s about a very real issue that the Philippines needs to address “yesterday,” and is demonstrably failing to address in terms of action, not words.
Secretary Durano, hardly a week goes by that I don’t see you on TV or in the newspapers, spreading the tourism message for the Philippines, negotiating a multimillion dollar hotel deal with foreign investors, or some other noteworthy success. I salute you, Sir, for your successes and your obvious desire to do your job diligently and serve your country well. Indeed the Philippines could use some more public servants with your energy, enthusiasm and drive.
But I notice a disturbing tendency, from the outsider’s point of view, you seem to overlook the “simple” things about tourism. Before the furniture in a tourist’s hotel room are upgraded, his or her basic safety and convenience ought to be addressed, or so I would think. Significantly missing from the news reports of the Legazpi incident were any comments from yourself, as the senior representative of the national government present. As a foreigner, I don’t have to make any negative comments regarding the day-to-day air safety practices in the Philippines, Albay Provincial Governor Joey Salceda pretty much summed it up for me and I am sure many others:
“ … such violation of basic safety rules is a disgrace to our rising reputation as a tourism destination, a disservice to the riding public and temporary setback to our tourism effort,”
I’ve watched with interest to see anything on TV network news about this incident, or any official response from your office. Perhaps I missed it in all the news of beauty pageants, nation-wide auditions for “Pinoy Big Brother” and Doctora Vicki Belo’s San Diego traffic misfortunes, but this certainly seems an issue worth at least as much attention as new hotel complexes being built. Or so it might appear to some.