Nagging woes beset PHL tourism – WikiLeaks postings
September 7, 2011 11:46pm
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Incompetent officials, unfavorable financing options, and protectionist policies have hobbled the country’s tourism and transport sectors, according to cables uploaded by online whistleblower WikiLeaks.
These long-standing problems beset the agencies entrusted to newly-appointed Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez and Transportation and Communications Secretary Manuel Roxas II, the US embassy diplomatic cables posted on WikiLeaks revealed.
The WikiLeaks postings, from 2005 to 2010, tackled specific issues on airline safety, airport operations, inter-island shipping, and port management.
“Tourism has the potential to make an important contribution to Philippine economic development. Local economists have estimated that each foreign tourist who visits the Philippines for a week spends enough to pay the wages of one tourism-sector employee for one year,” the US embassy in Manila was supposed to have inform the US State Department in Washington D.C.
“The prospect of millions of new international tourists being created by the growing economies of Asia over the coming years presents an important opportunity,” the cable read .
Civil aviation standards
Several of the cables focused on the Philippine failure to comply with standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
“The Philippines was audited by the ICAO team on October 19, 2009 under the Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme. The audit yielded 88 major findings that affected 278 out of 987 protocols, indicating a 28% ‘lack of effective implementation’ measure,” according to one cable.
“Our contacts say the ICAO auditors were impressed by the CAAP’s preparedness and ability to answer questions, but noted that the implementation of new rules was seriously lacking,” it added.
The US embassy noted that the ICAO identified one “significant safety concern” which was the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines’ (CAAP) “prolonged conflict with the Civil Service Commission and the Department of Budget and Management regarding salary increases and qualification standards continues to delay progress.”
There was also resistance to change from within the CAAP itself, according to a WikiLeaks post.
“CAAP Director General Ruben Ciron has been unable to push forward needed personnel changes. Long-term ATO (Air Transportation Office) employees absorbed into the CAAP have raised numerous legal challenges to further reforms, particularly any moves to replace unqualified employees with qualified ones,” according to the cable signed by then-US Ambassador to Manila Kristie Kenney.
“Aviation industry sources believe these employees would lose opportunities for income (the fees they earn for certifying aircraft and pilots) and perhaps their jobs if the reforms were fully implemented, and so they resist the reforms as a matter of self-preservation,” the WikiLeaks post continued.
“The issue of adequate salaries was supposed to be addressed in the legislation that created the CAAP. However, the old ATO employees have challenged the new qualifications and salary standards and insisted on the right to be re-trained and receive preference for employment at CAAP,” it added.
US embassy officials were also supposedly advised by industry sources that the CAAP chief’s “lack of commercial aviation experience limits his ability to oversee operations and realistically evaluate progress towards regaining a Category 1 rating.”
“According to these sources, there is no one on the CAAP governing board who understands civil aviation safety, security, and airline operations fully enough to accurately measure the progress of safety reforms,” the WikieLeaks posting read.
The impact of the air safety downgrade on flag carrier Philippine Airlines was specifically cited and reported to Washington D.C.
“As long as the CAAP remains in FAA Category 2, Philippine Airlines (PAL) cannot implement its plans to add additional flights to the United States,” the US embassy was said to have assessed.
‘Decrepit’ NAIA Terminal 1
There were several WikiLeaks cables also about the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) terminals.
One cable read: “Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 (NAIA T3) began handling flights on July 22, 2008, six years of legal battles after its construction was completed. Some aspects of the new terminal are still not functioning properly, causing problems that have delayed and stranded passengers of the three domestic airlines that have begun using it.”
“Of greater concern, some security procedures for screening baggage and tarmac access are not in place, which may create security vulnerabilities and obstacles for U.S. airlines hoping to use the new terminal,” the US embassy supposedly informed to the US State Department.
The US embassy noted that “U.S. and other airlines that adhere to stricter security standards see obstacles to their using the new terminal and are now concerned that Philippine Airlines may fill up all the available space in T3 leaving them stuck in the older, decrepit Terminal 1.
‘Inadequate transportation links’
“Currently the DMIA (Diosdado Macapagal International Airport) is expanding its terminal to accommodate two million passengers per year, and will later construct a second terminal, which will increase its capacity to 14 million per year. However, inadequate transportation links between DMIA and Manila remain a problem,” said one WikiLeaks cable , referring to the international airport in Clark in Pampanga.
“Recognizing the constrains in the transportation sector and the potential for the tourism sector, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) recently started a three-year project (2009-2012) to assist the Clark International Airport Corporation develop the Clark (DMIA) airport as the premier international gateway of the country and a major regional tourism and logistics hub,” the US embassy cable read.
“USAID will also be providing assistance to the Department of Tourism in its efforts to develop implementing guidelines for the Tourism Enterprise Zones and the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority,” the cable also said.
‘Unfavorable financing options’
The cables also showed the US embassy consulted with local shipping industry sources and learned of “unfavorable financing options why there are few new ships on domestic routes.”
“The leasing terms offered by the National Maritime Leasing Corporation include a fixed interest rate of 7% to 15% with mandatory repayment in 7 years and no grace periods. Few local operators find these conditions attractive and most prefer to finance their ship purchases with loans from abroad,” one cable said.
“The U.S. has placed particular emphasis on developing Mindanao’s agricultural base, but if Mindanao cannot ship its products at affordable prices, the scope of business with other parts of the Philippines will be limited. Maritime reforms could help achieve economic growth in the periphery regions of the Philippines through modernizing the domestic shipping industry,” the US embassy supposedly informed Washington. — Earl Victor Rosero/VS, GMA News