Saturday, 28 April 2007

No thanks, Mr. Guingona

Not a lot has changed with Philippine Airlines.

During my last visit to the country, I was once again witness to PAL’s enduring legend as a metaphor of organisational ossification. PAL embodies the old adage of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and takes its iconic status very seriously indeed. Surely the airline is as close to being broke as any business can be, but I believe it isn’t totally so, or otherwise things would start changing.

Ever the old dinosaur, PAL has remained perpetually anachronistic. The Bacolod office in particular, where I was made to bear the consequences of their tried and tested “the customer is not always right” philosophy, seems to be frozen in time – with the same set of indifferent faces, the same tired looking computer terminals, and the same long queues of people frustrated at not being able to purchase flight tickets within a humanly tolerable time.

Consider this – a simple itinerary change to my ticket – which many airlines today would allow you to do online in minutes took me over three-and-a-half days to complete. No, actually I take that back. It was not me who completed the transaction – my wife had to send their office secretary to PAL to retrieve the amended tickets, as our patience had by then already worn thin from our various trips back and forth to their ticket office.

I have to thank PAL for one thing, however, which I never would have been able to accomplish had it not been for their perfectly executed delaying tactics. Yes I was able to read the local news – from cover to cover of all the leading national publications. The delay was that bad that by the end of it, I had memorised the names of the editorial staff of most of the daily papers.

One of the things that caught my attention was an open letter from one of our elderly statesmen of Philippine politics – Citizen Teofisto Guingona – who I believe is not at this time running for public office.

His open letter started as many other open letters would at this time of the year. Extolling the heroic virtues and the valiant struggles of the Filipino people against all forms of oppression and tyranny, he then goes on to admonish us to root out a problem he singled out to be a big one for this nation – that of corruption.

Having caught my attention, however, on an issue that I am also very passionate about, he just as quickly lost my interest as he had aroused it.

In his letter, Guingona trivialises the extent of the problem by asking us to be on the lookout for the “customs man at the airport” who asks for bribes to let us through without a hassle. He also warns us about the “BIR inspector” after grease money, in order to let us get away with paying lower taxes.

For a man I had previously admired as having more principle than most, Mr. Guingona did not impress me that day in the slightest.

The customs man at the airport and the BIR inspector on the take are such peripheral players in the issue of graft they may as well not have been mentioned at all.

The big players in this high stakes game are some of our highest officials in the land, who have sold our collective national soul to the highest bidder. They are in the Senate, the House of Representatives, and every public edifice which houses anyone of sufficiently high political stature.

Our BIR and customs men are merely privates in this game of generals. If Mr. Guingona had really wanted his letter to mean something, he would have known better than to heap the blame at them.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, April 28, 2007 (

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