Tuesday, December 12, 2017
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At Large

It’s time for reflection

He conducted himself with all the charm and moxie of an old-time politician. During the interminable motorcades to and from his destinations, he repeatedly stopped the vehicle he was on to take babies and toddlers in his arms, hugging them, kissing them. When he spotted elderly in wheelchairs, he would pause, offering them a few words of comfort. And during a visit to a shelter for street children, as well as during his last liturgical ritual in Manila, he took the children in his arms, giving them warm hugs, a few words of comfort, and even some tokens.

One could say Pope Francis won the hearts and minds of Filipinos wherever he went during his four-day visit. Even normally hardened TV

commentators confessed to tearing up and feeling an inexplicable thrill whenever the popemobile so much as passed before their eyes. He was indeed a “rock star” Pope in a land already much besotted with religious imagery and authority.

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Not surprisingly, many tweeted or posted that they felt Christ’s palpable presence “even just by watching the Pope on TV.” This, even if Pope Francis had insisted time and again that the Catholic faithful should not lavish him with attention but rather use him as a conduit to think more deeply, feel more deeply, and bring their love to action, for Christ whose mere vicar he was.

But what to do with Filipinos’ penchant for judging and seeing things in a personal context? Often, I wondered how much of the public euphoria was due to the Pope’s charms, and how much was truly inspired by faith and piety.

* * *

But now that the Pope has boarded his Philippine Airlines flight back to Rome, and we have seen the last of the white-and-yellow banners, heard the last of the “Pope Fran-cis, we love you!” chants, and are confronted only with the trash left behind by devout followers; now that all of that is over, perhaps it’s time for a more sober evaluation.

True to his chosen theme of “mercy and compassion” for this four-day visit, Pope Francis went back time and again to the need for social justice, for seeing, feeling and acting on our best intentions for our neighbors, and for showing in words and deeds our care not just for other Filipinos—especially the poor and helpless—but also for the environment, for our families, for our communities.

Now, are we ready to listen, remember, and reflect on these admonitions? Are we ready, as he counseled us, to “cry” and open our hearts to the cries of street children and the poor and neglected? The time for sober reflection has come.

* * *

Inexplicable is the word for the continued refusal of South Korean aviation authorities to grant a local airline, South East Asian Airlines (better known as Seair) permission to begin charter operations between our two countries.

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The reason given by the Korean Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, which oversees the International Air Transport Division, is that Seair has yet to get clearance from the European Union which, together with the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States and the International Civil Air Organization, imposed a ban on Philippine-based airlines six years ago.

But given reforms covered by a new law and a restructured Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, the sanctions and restrictions imposed by the three bodies have been lifted. And the only reason Seair has not seen fit to get a clearance from the EU, say airline officers, is that there is no need for such an action since Seair does not fly to or land in any European destination.

The hard line taken by South Korea against a Philippine carrier, says Avelino Zapanta, the Seair president and CEO, is a “sign of disrespect” not just against the airline but against

“the Philippines as a country.”

This is because there is a current and applicable air service agreement between Korea and the Philippines, an agreement Korean airlines have been taking advantage of through frequent regular and charter flights to and from Manila and the popular destination Boracay. The largest Philippine airlines—PAL and Cebu Pacific—likewise have taken advantage of the agreement by mounting frequent flights to Korean destinations.

* * *

Zapanta and other Seair officers are puzzled over the intransigence of Korean aviation authorities over their application for license to conduct charter flights mainly to and from Caticlan, the nearest airport to Boracay. This is because Korean airlines have already been launching charter flights to Boracay.

One other factor adds to the puzzlement of Seair officers. To service the potentially lucrative Korean charter market, Seair has leased a plane from a European carrier that has been certified for safety by the EU. In fact, Seair has invited Korean authorities to conduct an audit of the airline in the country, with Seair shouldering their expenses. Inexplicably, South Korea refused to conduct a visual audit, saying they had already conducted an evaluation based on the documents submitted by Seair.

What gives? South Korea is admittedly a major market for Philippine tourism, accounting for the largest number of foreign tourist arrivals. And Seair, it must be pointed out, is one of the pioneers (if not THE pioneer) of air services to and from Boracay, and in its many years of operation has racked up an impressive safety record.

South Korea’s insistence on gaining a clearance from the EU, which is not really needed, says Zapanta, is an “unfair and unjustified” demand. As it is, he adds, there is already a shortage of seats for the number of Korean tourists wanting to visit the Philippines. It would thus serve both countries well to encourage air traffic between the Philippines and South Korea. Why then are the Koreans dragging their feet on this issue?

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TAGS: Aviation, column, Korea, Papal visit, Pope Francis, Rina Jimenez-David, seair
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