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Open skies, what’s that?


BY PET MELLIZA/ THE BEEKEEPER

Iloilo Gov. Arthur D. Defensor, Sr. hesitates to clap his hands when asked for comment on the “open skies” policy adopted by the P-Noy administration.
His counterpart in the fake Queen City of the South, Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog, however, crows all over, clapping his hands and feet at the prospect.
With open skies, the airport at Cabatuan-Sta.Barbara, Iloilo will be used for international flights, goes the cute phantasy of Mabilog.
Open skies unlocks the floodgate to the deluge of foreign tourists, muses Mabilog. In short, open skies paves the way for foreign routes and with that, the rush of economic, particularly, tourism activities. And viola, prosperity and progress!
Defensor indirectly dismisses Mabilog’s line as simplistic no matter how cute. “Open skies does not necessarily mean international flights at the Iloilo Airport.”
The New Iloilo Airport, 26 kilometers northwest of Iloilo City, has the capacity to accommodate big planes used for international travel. However, it is only a “domestic airport”, that is, it only serves routes within the Philippines.
 “Open skies” is a different animal from “international flight”.  President Benigno Simon Aquino III’s decision to declare domestic airports in the country “open skies” means liberalization of air travel business: foreign carriers can come in and compete with local airlines in ferrying passengers anywhere within the Philippines.
“Open skies” is parcel of the free trade program unleashed by P-Noy’s mother, Pres. Cory Aquino in 1986-1992, that further demolished whatever was left of the country’s protectionist policies.
Whether or not that would make an airport “international” is a question that an airline decides by itself. “It is a risk that a foreign carrier makes whether to include the Iloilo Airport in its route.  That decision is based on the study whether Iloilo is worth venturing into based on the volume of passengers entering and exiting,” adds Defensor.
In contrast to Defensor’s hesitance, Mabilog eagerly howls like a puppy, equating open skies with manna from heaven, gleefully jumping without understanding what he is yelping for in the first place.
The open skies policy was broached earlier, in Cory Aquino’s time kicking off with the delivery of the country’s jewel, the Philippine Airlines (PAL), for sale to private hands. The succeeding administration of Fidel V. Ramos nurtured the idea of opening domestic travel to foreign carriers.
Ramos ended his term in June 1998 without implementing that. His successor, Pres. Erap shelved the open skies policy. The decision saved the domestic carriers.  Erap is closely identified with Lucio Tan, owner of two major airlines – Philippine Air Lines and the Air Philippines.
That nightmare of domestic airlines losing in a one-sided competition, is up anew on the debating table after P-Noy signed the implementing rules.
By liberalizing air travel, P-Noy merely continues the legacy of past administrations, her mother Cory’s included, of opening the Philippines to foreign plunderers, no better than parents pimping for their daughters.
Like our Mabilog, P-Noy hails foreign air lines given the to right to engage in domestic air travel. That makes both of them  no better than parents grovelling in adulation before their daughters’ ravishers.
First off, P-Noy opened our skies to foreigners ignoring the basic concept of “reciprocity” in international relations. The air lines licensed to engage in domestic travel in the Philippines are nationals of countries which P-Noy’s implementing rules spares from reciprocating as sine qua non.
Cebu Pacific in a statement said it was “disappointed” because P-Noy’s implementing rules unconditionally gives foreign airlines the right to fly domestic routes in the Philippines sans condition that their countries-of-origin reciprocate in exchange.
The countries carriers are willing to embrace open skies so long as there is reciprocity or “mutually beneficial air agreements”.
A one-sided open skies policy in favour of foreign carriers hampers the expansion program in the pipeline of domestic airlines. Alfred Yao, chair of Zest Airways, said his company has invested billions of pesos and hired thousands of employees in its expansion program of a few years. Zest plans to acquire to Boeing 777 aircraft, huge planes capable of long-haul flights.
However, with open skies, it might as well scrap the idea of expansion altogether.
Nothing is new, actually. Foreign big business has been screwing us, ever since or as early as Chevron was still called Exxon or Caltex. The government does nothing to protect its endangered national; it is even facilitating the mismatch.
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