Every Christmas, it has been a tradition with us to prepare raisin-walnut Christmas jars for friends. It’s been like that for years now, but this year, with all the jars and ribbons prepared by my wife Babes and laid out on the dining table ready for packing, there wasn’t a bag of walnuts to be had, even as we searched all over Metro Manila for this precious bag of nuts. We couldn’t believe it because there was always a glut of walnuts in past years, along with other goodies associated with Christmas that could be purchased from S&R, Binondo, Cash & Carry and other big supermarkets. We braved the traffic to China Town, believe me, and checked out the stores weekly, patiently waiting for the shipment “that was coming”.
The port congestion
Ordinary citizens like us do not feel that this mammoth problem can impact our simple lives, but the cascading effect on our economy has been nothing less than brutal. It started in February of 2014 as importers waited for their cargo to be released and exporters had to endure the delay of the vessels’ departure. From both ends, many had to resort to air shipping, which was more than double or triple the price. Some car manufacturers had to ship whole engines by air! The shippers could hardly move the empty containers from the ECD (Empty Containers Depot) to the vessels, and nine months later, things were just starting to ease up with the lifting of the truck ban. By then, millions had been lost by the country’s importers and exporters, the shipping lines, trucks and other small businesses linked to these and the real scary part is, if this problem does not get resolved in the first quarter of this New Year, we will have to suffer this through the rest of 2015. That can easily undo the headway this administration has gained in the last two years.
The ideal situation, of course, would be to give unhampered access to and from the port in order to move the cargo, and in fact Task Force Pantalan has been created to address the port congestion. Roxas Blvd. is a vital road link to the Cavite Export Zone, and I hope MMDA (Metro Manila Development Authority) keeps this in mind when it decides to implement its plan to close the road.
I realize that solving the traffic problem in the metropolis is a complex one, and it is not only the MMDA’s concern. The truck ban, however, was too simplistic a solution that has boomeranged in our faces, and I hope that in 2015, the national government and the LGUs (Local Government Units) concerned, in consultation with the different stakeholders, could come to a more fruitful and long-term solution.
Air travel woes
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The airport scene that was played and replayed in all the news channels about irate passengers to various domestic destinations who couldn’t go home to their provinces for Christmas was totally unacceptable. The long queues to the ticket counters, the lack of airline personnel to help the passengers, the total chaos – this is so third world, an embarrassment to the Aquino administration. To virtually admit that they (the airline) overbooked and in the same breath say that overbooking is an accepted practice in the airline industry shows that the Air Passenger Bill of Rights is not being seriously taken by our local airlines. Overbooking is indeed a long-time practice among airlines, but not to this degree. A male employee interviewed on TV as among those who couldn’t get a flight said that he purchased his ticket as early the first week of November – it was a confirmed ticket, but he couldn’t board. A foreigner said it was a zoo out there, and the airport authorities took a long time to step in, long after the frayed nerves had snapped. What’s happening to our passengers’ rights, and what is the role of the airport authorities in cases like this?
I think this column was among the first to bring the issues out in the clear about air passengers’ rights several months back right after the set implementing rules and regulations was released as well as the airlines’ responsibility towards the passengers. The Bill of Rights was a well-crafted one that recognized our rights long after other countries have issued theirs, but it seems that many air travelers still do not know their rights. Those poor passengers stranded for hours could have pressed for free accommodations, free meals and free transport instead of sitting on the floor for hours, hungry, tired and angry. They could even demand for rebooking with other airlines or full refund of what they paid for their tickets. In case of eventual cancellation of their flight, they can demand for everything: free meals, free transport and accommodations, and full refund of their tickets.
Travel has become so affordable to many Filipinos now, and we have the budget carriers to thank for this. Competition is working well for the consumers – never have we seen so many ordinary employees and families enjoying trips to neighboring Asian cities and even farther on a shoe string budget, but we shouldn’t be treated like cattle herded out to pasture. We didn’t haggle for low prices, they offered these freely. Confirmed tickets have to be honored by the airlines, no matter what, because those passengers have their rights. A missed flight could mean so much more than a missed opportunity, and the cost of that could be priceless.
It is time for the CAB (Civil Aeronautics Board) to flex its muscles and crack the whip, and this next few weeks could be the acid test for this. For our dear readers, know your rights as air passengers – check out the internet for a copy of the Air Passengers’ Bill of Rights. You may just need this the next time you go on a trip, whether domestic or foreign.
Mabuhay!!! Be proud to be a Filipino.