Sep 182014

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05MANILA3838 2005-08-19 08:36 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Manila
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 003838



E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/19/2015




¶1. (C) Civil aviation officials admitted a 44% deficiency
in air traffic controllers nationwide and blamed government
restrictions on hiring new personnel and adjusting salary
levels for the recent work slowdowns and threatened strike.
Despite resource constraints and lack of autonomy, civair
officials are taking some steps to address both the air
controllers’ sources of unhappiness and any potential for
heightened safety risks. Embassy will stress the need to
meet international civil aviation standards and continue to
monitor the situation. End Summary.

——————————————— ——
Directives Against Hiring and OT Cause Labor Strain
——————————————— ——

¶2. (C) Following up on reports of a looming air traffic
controller strike (reftel), Embassy officers met with
Department of Transport and Communications (DOTC)
Undersecretary Ed Pagunsan, in charge of Air Operations, on
August 17. Pagunsan confirmed that the air traffic
controllers (ATC) had initiated several slowdowns and
threatened to strike to underscore their demands for higher
pay and shorter working hours. The President’s Office
circulated a directive earlier this year that imposed a
hiring freeze and prohibited replacing workers who had
retired or vacated their positions. As a result, ATCs were
forced to work more overtime shifts. Pagunsan said the ATCs
were occasionally working up to 16 hours at a time. The
controllers were even more disgruntled by another government
directive that prohibited overtime pay. Pagunsan said he
sympathized with the controllers, but his hands were tied by
these government constraints. The Philippine Air Traffic
Controllers Association (PATCA) was asking for the
“occupational specialty pay” of 50% differential granted to
government airline pilots but were refused because it would
raise their salaries above that of the DOTC Secretary.
Controllers are not allowed to form a union that negotiates
pay and strikes are illegal, but they are allowed to form an

ATO Needs Autonomy and Control of Resources

¶3. (C) Pagunsan estimated that the Air Transportation
Office (ATO) had only two-thirds as many air traffic
controllers as it needed. He wanted at least 900 controllers
countrywide, but the government’s financial problems prevent
DOTC from hiring a full complement of ATCs. DOTC is the
third largest revenue generator in the country after the
Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs, he
said, but the millions of dollars earned by departure and
landing, overflight, and license fees must all be remitted to
the Treasury. DOTC and the ATO must submit funding requests
each year through the government budget process and cannot
retain and use any of the money they collect to improve or
expand services. Pagunsan said the problem would be solved
with the passage of a Civil Aviation bill that is stalled in
Congress at present. The bill upgrades the ATO to an
independent Civil Aviation Authority and gives it autonomy
over resources and spending.

¶4. (C) In a meeting August 18, ATO Assistant Secretary Nilo
Jatico confirmed that there were too few air traffic
controllers (ATC) in the Philippines. He said Manila had 300
ATCs but needed about 400, and another 600 for the rest of
the country. Jatico showed Econoff an independent study he
commissioned on the issues facing air traffic controller
stations in the country. Although the report is confidential
and could not be released, the Executive Summary stated there
was a 44% deficiency in the number of ATCs countrywide. He
admitted that some of his controllers were leaving the
Philippines to work in much higher-paying jobs in the Middle
East and Asia. Although he successfully persuaded ten of
twenty controllers who were retiring or emigrating this to
stay on their jobs, he asked for additional money to hire and
train many new controllers this year.

¶5. (C) Jatico said he pre-empted several work slowdowns
over the past weekend. Controllers must agree to work
anywhere in the Philippines when they are hired, so he has
the prerogative to move them around the country at will.
When four controllers tried to create a severely understaffed
control tower by overlapping their leave plans, he brought in
retired ATOs ahead of time to fill their positions.
Afterward, he removed the disruptive ATCs and put them on
probation. For future contingencies, Jatico said he was
training air force personnel in civil air control procedures.
Although Jatico was unwilling to address most of PATCA’s
complaints regarding pay and benefits, he spoke to the
President directly to obtain an exemption from the government
to allow overtime pay for ATCs, he said.

¶6. (SBU) Northwest Airline General Manager Todd Anderson
told EconCouns in a meeting August 17 that his pilots had not
reported anything amiss with traffic control procedures. He
said his pilots and air crew would be the first to identify a
problem and report it, though he agreed Northwest flights
were high profile and may receive priority treatment.


¶7. (C) Other offices and agencies within the Embassy told
us they cannot confirm any degradation in air traffic control
services at this time. Although the potentially higher
safety risks arising from overworked and disgruntled air
traffic controllers may not require urgent action, it is
important for the Philippines to address the shortage in the
near term. Embassy will encourage passage of a civil
aviation law that gives an independent entity the freedom to
hire and train the requisite number of air traffic
controllers. We will continue to monitor the situation, keep
in contact with FAA and U.S. airline reps, and use
opportunities with high level officials, including the DOTC
Secretary, to stress the need to maintain or exceed

international standards in all areas of civil aviation.



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