SINGAPORE — Philippine President Benigno Aquino has vowed to open up his country's aviation sector to foreign competition in a bid to boost tourism, and appealed for greater Singaporean investment.
Speaking to business leaders in Singapore, Aquino said his government was finalising a decree that will allow foreign airlines to fly to major destinations in the country.
The executive order "will liberalise the entry of foreign carriers in a way that will not decimate our local carriers," said Aquino, who was elected nearly a year ago on promises to reform the economy and tackle corruption.
"Under this order, we will allow foreign carriers to fly into key destinations in the Philippines."
The Philippines has lagged behind Southeast Asian neighbours in the race to attract tourists despite boasting white-sand beaches, exotic diving spots and other natural wonders, partly because of poor transport across the archipelago of more than 7,000 islands.
Aquino also said he had given aviation officials one year to resolve issues that led Europe to ban Philippine carriers from flying to the continent and prompted a downgrade by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
"We are also addressing technical and regulatory issues that have been allowed to worsen in the previous decade. This led to the banning of Philippine aviation into Europe and the downgrading of Philippine carriers to category 2 under US FAA regulations," said Aquino.
"Once these bottlenecks have been resolved we will embark on an aggressive marketing campaign that will brand and sell the Philippines as a key tourist destination in the outside world."
Philippine carriers were stopped from expanding services to the United States in 2008 and banned from Europe in March 2010 over concerns airline safety was not in line with international standards.
Aquino also urged Singaporean businesses to take part in the Philippines' growth story.
"We invite all of you to be part of our own reconstruction. Your government has already signified its willingness to help a brother nation reach the same heights that you have reached," he said, noting that his country grew 7.3 percent last year.
Aquino is the son of Philippine democracy champion and former president Corazon Aquino. He won the May 2010 elections on a platform to fight corruption, which has plagued the Southeast Asian nation for decades.
PAL makes history in New Delhi
After 57 years of absence in the vast India market, Philippine Airlines on Tuesday resumed its flight to New Delhi, marking the start of a regular service to and from the capital city three times a week and another three flights weekly via Bangkok.
With 300 passengers, PAL’s Boeing 777 aircraft landed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport and made aviation history.
PAL President-chief executive officer Jaime Bautista said: “This time, India is no longer a stopover but a regular destination.”
PAL first flew to India in May 1947 when it made a stopover at Calcutta on the way to Rome, Madrid and London during PAL’s inaugural flight to Europe.
The flag carrier flies to India by availing of the entitlements granted in the 2005 RP-India air services agreement, Bautista said. This treaty allows PAL to fly to Mumbai,Calcutta and Chennai (Madras), with Bangkok as a stop-over point, he said.
PAL can fly seven times a week from any point in the Philippines to New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai and has allocated 188,000 seats annually for the Indian route.
The service to India has become more attractive by the Indian government’s easing the visa requirements for Philippine passport holders. Filipinos, along with residents of selected Southeast Asian countries, are granted visa upon arrival in India. Passengers arriving in New Delhi only need to present a passport valid for at least four to six months, a return airline ticket and two photos.
PAL will make available over 188,000 airline seats a year for Indian travellers.
PAL executive vice-president Vivienne Tan told Manila Standard during the formal launch of the services at the Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi on Wednesday that the carrier’s target is to make the people of the two countries know, explore and learn from each other better through enhanced connectivity and ease of travel.
PALEA defies DOLE, set to go on strike
MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Airlines Employees’ Association (PALEA) said on Saturday its members are ready to defy orders of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) concerning the nationwide strike planned by ground crew employees of Philippines Airlines (PAL).
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz barred the strike since there was no deadlock in the talks on collective bargaining agreement yet.
However, Gerry Rivera, PALEA President and Vice Chairman of Partido ng Manggagawa, called on its 3,700 members to be ready to go on strike any time, despite a certification order signed by Sec. Baldoz which was served on the union office as a mobilization of some 2,000 PAL employees and supporters.
“The order has not stopped a strike at PAL, it has merely postponed it to a date that PAL and the government cannot now know in advance,” Rivera said in a statement Saturday.
PALEA also criticized the government for its labor rights policies.
“PNoy has not only legalized the actions of Lucio Tan but also illegalized the action [of] PALEA through Baldoz’ order. But PALEA will resist being a victim of PNoy’s anti-labor policy,” said Rivera.
PALEA said it is planning to stage protests next week against the DOLE order in coordination with a “labor unity coalition of moderate to militant workers groups.”
Case vs gov't at ILO
PALEA also said it plans to file a case with the International Labor Organization against what PALEA called “government’s suppression of the conventions on the right to self-organization and collective bargaining.”
In the statement, PALEA said their complaint to the ILO will be stronger with the latest DOLE order as further evidence.
The Philippines is a member state of the ILO, a United Nations agency that draw up and oversee international labor standards. It brings together representatives of governments, employers and workers to shape policies and programs promoting decent work.
PALEA is protesting PAL's "refusal" to negotiate a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) "without preconditions" and its plan to outsource non-core operations, which would lead to the laying off of some 2,600 workers.
PAL earlier said it had contingency measures in place to minimize flight disruptions in case PALEA undertook a strike.
The airline management maintained that the work stoppage had no legal basis, and would be "dealt with severely."
PAL said negotiations are still ongoing before the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB), where it filed its CBA counter-proposal last March 28.
PAL and its ground crew union have been in a labor row since last year.
PAL wants to outsource its in-flight catering, airport services and call center operations to third-party service providers to reduce its costs amid losses in the previous years. The move would result in the retrenchment of about 2,600 ground crew workers, who will then be hired as contractual employees with no or less benefits in the new firms.
Malacañang already gave its go-ahead signal to PAL's plan, affirming the Labor Department's previous ruling that said PAL was just exercising "management prerogative" as it suffers stiff competition in the aviation industry.
It noted that PAL has accumulated net losses and deficit due to surging fuel prices and the "ban of PAL's entry into 27 European Union member-states and the suspension of its remittance facilities by the International Transport Association."
Business sector hails 'open skies' policy
MANILA, Philippines – The business community has endorsed the Aquino government’s aggressive stance to liberalize the aviation sector saying the success of the tourism industry lies on the implementation of Executive Order 29, which authorizes the Civil Aeronautics Board and the Philippine Air Panels to offer and promote more liberalized international aviation agreements with foreign carriers.
In a statement, the Makati Business Club has called the issuance by Malacañang of EO 29 a milestone for the Aquino government.
“This policy development is a milestone for the Aquino administration, signifying the government’s determined commitment to attain sustainable and inclusive growth for the country,” the MBC statement said.
"We fully support this aggressive stance on liberalizing civil aviation," the statement said.
“Opening our major and secondary gateways to foreign carriers will boost tourism, bolster our competitiveness as an investment location, and open vast economic opportunities in every region in the Philippines,” the statement said.
Without this policy, the MBC said the targets of attracting six million tourists, collecting $18.5 billion in tourism receipts, and creating three million tourism jobs by 2016 will not be met.
According to the group, the economic potential of EO 29 especially in bringing in more tourists resulting in the generation of new jobs and the stimulation of the local economy, is the reciprocal benefit of the open skies policy that is expected to impact million of Filipinos.
“The success of the tourism industry lies in the realization of EO 29 together with the full implementation of the tourism infrastructure plans laid out by the Department of Tourism,” the statement said.
The issuance of EO 29, signed together with EO 28, which reconstitutes and reorganizes the Philippine Air Panels, is a clear indication of the government’s focus and dedication to strategic action aimed at direct economic growth.
Following the issuance of EO 29, the MBC said the next big step is the goal of brining back the country to the Category I by addressing the security risks identified by the US Federal Aviation Authority.
The MBC has also said the need to develop and improve the airports, attract investments in tourism establishments and upgrade the products and services.