Philippines Removed From Aviation Blacklist

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has “officially delisted” the Philippines from the ranks of countries “with unresolved significant safety concerns” (SSCs), the Transportation department said in a statement on Saturday afternoon.

The department said an electronic bulletin issued by ICAO last March 7 stated that the Philippines “has implemented corrective actions in accordance with the mechanism approved by the council to resolve two SSCs — the issuance of air operator certificates and the aircraft registration process –and that as a result, these SSCs have been lifted”.

The notice came a week after ICAO on March 1 wrote Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) Director General William K. Hotchkiss III that the county has successfully “resolved” the SSCs identified by the United Nations agency in 2009.

ICAO that year designated the Philippines as a “significant safety concern,” prompting the European Union the following year to blacklist local carriers from operating among members of that group.

Prior to ICAO’s designation, the US Federal Aviation Admiration (FAA) downgraded the Philippines to Category 2 from Category 1 in 2008 following an audit in 2007, which found that the Philippines was not compliant with the safety standards set by ICAO.

The ICAO’s move was a result of two audits conducted in October last year and last month.

In the same statement, the Transportation department said “the resolution of these SSCs has major implications for the economy.”

“It not only strengthens our efforts to meet international safety standards for the aviation sector, it also boosts the government’s tourism goals,” the department said.

Philippines, A “Rising Star” in Tourism Sector

The World Economic Forum reported on Thursday that the Philippines now one of the world’s “rising stars” and the most improved Asian nation in terms of travel and tourism.
The Philippines “is the most improved country in the region,” WEF said in its “Travel and Competitiveness” report, noting the country’s “comparative strengths” in natural resources, price competitiveness, and a “very strong” prioritization of the sector.
In the WEF ranking of 140 countries, the Philippines placed 82, up from 94 in the WEF 2011 list that  covered 139 countries. “Government spending on the sector as a percentage of GDP (gross domestic product) is now first in the world, and tourism marketing and branding campaigns are seen to be increasingly effective,” the WEF report read, referring to the Aquino administration’s tourism initiatives and branding—“It’s more fun in the Philippines”—campaign. “In addition, the country has been ensuring that several aspects of its policy rules and regulations regime are conducive to the development of the… sector,” it added.
WEF listed better protection of property rights, more openness toward foreign investments, and few visa requirements for foreign visitors as areas where the Philippines fared well in terms of policy.
In a statement on the report’s release, WEF called the Philippines along with Panama—whose ranking jumped to 37 from 52—as the world’s “rising stars” due to “ policy improvements supporting the [travel and tourism] industry.”
The report noted the Philippines should improve on other areas to further raise its ranking.
“However, other areas—such as the difficulty of starting a business in the country, in both cost and length of the process—remain a challenge,” the report  read.
“Moreover, safety and security concerns; inadequate health and hygiene; and underdeveloped ground transport, tourism, and ICT (information and communications technology) infrastructure are all holding back the potential of the economy’s competitiveness,” it added.
Last month, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez said his department is targeting a bigger contribution of  tourism to the GDP and partnering with other agencies in improving travel infrastructure and policies.
The government wants to attract 10 million foreign tourists in the country. Last year, there were 4.3 million foreigners who traveled to the Philippines.
The WEF report, meanwhile, noted that Switzerland remained as the world’s most competitive travel and tourism destination in 2013.

Germany maintained its second best ranking, while Austria inched up to the third spot from fourth place.

Conceived in 1971 by European business leaders, WEF is an independent international organization that aims to engage business, political, academic and governments to shape global, regional and industry agendas.

The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013 assessed 140 economies based on the extent of  factors and policies in place to develop and make the sector more attractive.

Local tourists flocking to new destinations and extreme sports

The famous Tuguegarao Cave Church

When tourists think of Bohol, chocolate hills and gentle tarsiers are usually the first things that come to mind, not a heart-stopping drop into a deep gorge. There’s more to the island-province than bug-eyed primates and brown mounds. Just a couple of hours away, the Danao Adventure Park offers the exhilarating Suislide and Plunge. The local version of the zipline, the Suislide consists of a pulley suspended on a cable, which is mounted on an incline, according to the Eco/Extreme/Educational Adventure Tour Danao website. Meanwhile, the Plunge is a canyon-swing adventure mounted over a gorge that is 200 meters high and 300 meters wide. While not for the fainthearted, such extreme activities offer an alternative vacation for tourists who want more than laid-back sightseeing. Which is exactly what the annual Travel and Tour Expo will do, putting the spotlight on emerging Philippine destinations, from Tuguegarao in Luzon to the Camotes Islands in the Visayas. The Expo will be held February 15-17 in the SMS Convention Center in Pasay. “There are a good bulk of local players coming in exhibiting during the fair,” said Philippine Travel Agencies Association President John Paul Cabalza, noting that they increased the number of booths to 554 from last year’s Expo of 477., The PTAA identified nine emerging tourist destinations that they will aggressively promote: Baler, Bataan, Camotes Islands, Davao, Leyte, Mindoro, Samal Islands, Siargao Island and Tuguegarao. “We’re actually looking at more domestic players gaining ground and at the same time assisting the Department of Tourism. This is a good example of the public private partnership,” Cabalza said at a press conference on February 5., Cabalza said the emerging destinations include the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority, where there are already 17 resorts and hotels operating. Meanwhile, in Baler, more than 15 resorts are currently operating, Cabalza said, noting that the popular surfing destination also has numerous waterfalls. “We went there, and it was a fun trek. Even if you swim in their waterfalls area, it’s not that deep,” said Cabalza, noting that the waterfalls are well-managed. Cabalza also recommended Baler’s history trail, which includes Baler Church, the site of the Siege of Baler in 1898. The trail also includes Ermita hill, where only a few Filipinos survived the Tsunami of 1735, which wiped out the entire town., Aileen Clemente, chairperson of the 20th Travel Tour Expo, said the fair is an opportunity for emerging destinations to become more comfortable before promoting themselves outside the Philippines. “Since there are new destinations that we are promoting, this is like their first dry run of their destination, their product, their hotels… When they get that confidence level, there’s no stopping them from gaining all the inbound market as well,” she said.

Promoting domestic tourism In 2011, the revenue from foreign tourists reached about 100 billion pesos, while the revenue from domestic tourists was at 800 billion pesos, according to Department of Tourism Asec. Benito Bengzon Jr. In 2012, the number of domestic tourists exceeded 30 million. “We’re seeing a lot of Filipinos going around the country. More than ever, there is a greater sense of appreciation, greater pride in what the country has to offer and we feel that’s one of the factors that will push domestic travel,” said Bengzon. He added that the increase in airlines operating within the country contributed to this growth, as it gave consumers more options. Similarly, there are a variety of options when it comes to accommodations and facilities for travelers. “If people want the luxury, five star type, we have it. If they opt for the more Spartan budget type of accommodations, we also have it. But definitely, domestic tourism will continue to grow,” Bengzon said., PTAA Media Committee Chair Nit Ragaza noted that many foreign tour operators will be participating in the Travel Tour Expo, and this is also an opportunity to promote domestic tourism. “While their purpose is to sell their country, unavoidably they will be moving around and they will see also the beautiful spots that we have, and they can also relay this to their countrymen. Hopefully this will translate to more visitors in the Philippines,” Ragaza said., Bengzon also encouraged Filipinos to travel abroad, as this allows them to promote the country. “The more Filipinos go abroad, the wider the network that we have. Marketing the Philippines is not just the sole responsibility of the DOT. It’s everybody’s business, and we’re happy when Filipinos go abroad and start spreading the word around that it’s more fun in the Philippines,” he said. While tourists can easily book their trips online, the fair gives them an opportunity to find out about other destinations, as well as take advantage of promos and discounts. According to Clemente, the expo has something for everyone, from luxury deals to budget trips. This year’s fair is also bigger than last year’s event, which drew some 60,000 visitors. “The fact that we’re getting huge numbers is a very strong indication that there is deeper appreciation of tourism and travel among Filipinos,” Bengzon said., To reach this year’s target of 100,000 visitors, PTAA expanded the fair to include more exhibitors and prizes, as well as celebrities and special guests, including Hello Kitty, who will be brought in by the Japanese Embassy. The expo will also be streamed live online to be able to reach more people. “We’ll be scheduling the activities there as well so you can see what are the gimmicks and what are the shows that will be playing onstage and in each booth,” she said. Ragaza also said visitors to the expo will not have to spend hours in line in order to purchase airline tickets. “They don’t have to really fall in line at Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines or ZestAir. They can go straight to the 42 participating tour operators and they can actually make the purchase there,” he said., The Travel Tour Expo 2013 will be held on February 15 to 17, 2013 at the SMX Convention Center Halls 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, and Function Room 5 in Pasay City. For more information, follow the Travel Tour Expo on Twitter (twitter.com/traveltourexpo) and Facebook (facebook.com/traveltour.expo) or call Fairs & More at (02)8451324 or (02)7596680.

Copyright: GMA News

Boracay named as Fifth Most Romantic Island in the World

 

Crowded beaches don’t exactly make for a lover’s paradise, and yet Boracay, with its congested shores, has recently been named the fifth most romantic island in the world by the readers of high-end travel magazine, Travel + Leisure. Lovers continue to pepper Boracay’s shores, Valentine’s season or not.

Featured in the magazine’s February 2013 issue, Boracay was noted for its powder-fine sand, which Travel + Leisure’s Christine Ciarmello said “may just be the softest in the world.” Earlier in the month, the island was also featured in a sweet Department of Tourism ad that showed a man proposing to his girlfriend, though the beach is not quite as empty in real life as it is in the ad. The romance is obviously not lost on the tourists. According to Cara Lim, a Boracay resident and chef at a high-end resort on the island, many couples populate the island during Valentine’s season. “We even prepare set menus for the couples,” she said. Of course, there are those who prefer quieter, less-commercialized shores like Palawan or Bohol over cosmopolitan Boracay, which has long lost its backpacker charm to the various establishments that have mushroomed all over the bone-shaped island. Also, recurring reports of algal bloom along White Beach as well as travelers’ stories of catching E.coli infections from the water deter some tourists from heading to Boracay. Still, lovers continue to pepper Boracay’s shores, Valentine’s season or not. Many of them can be seen walking the length of the island’s White Beach hand in hand, kissing against the sunset, or sharing a candlelit meal at one of the beachfront restaurants. On one occassion, a newlywed couple posed for photographs in the water—in full wedding garb!

Navy Monitors 79 Chinese Boats Near Shoal

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said yesterday that China has already positioned close to a hundred numbers of vessels within the Philippine territorial waters for about 124 nautical miles from our mainland Zambales, to further heightening the territorial row in the area.

Reports coming from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) were forwarded to Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) showing that in the present times, there are already 5 Chinese vessels within the vicinity of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal on top of 16 Chinese fishing boats that have been situated 56 utility boats for their ongoing fishing operations.

In addition, it has already added 2 additional Fishery Law Enforcement Command (FLEC) vessels in Panatag, harmonizing the first fishery vessels.

Nevertheless, China’s foreign department refused such number of vessels in the area. It was said that it was only 20 fishing boats that were present in Panatag, the usual; number during May in past years.

Raul Hernandez, DFA spokesman, stated that China has sent the vessels while conversing with the Philippines on how to resolve tensions in the area.

At around 7 p.m. of May 21 the 5 Chinese vessels were monitored near the shoal which corresponding names, namely Chinese Maritime Ships (CMS-71) CMS-84, and FLEC 301, FLEC 303 and FLEC 310.

2 of the Chinese vessels were considered as the most advanced Chinese vessels, FLEC 301 and FLEC 303 respectively, it’s the latest addition in the disputed shoal against the 2 Philippine civilian vessels positioned in the area just to symbolize the country’s territorial ownership.

Last Tuesday, Hernandez mentioned that there were still 16 Chinese fishing vessels and that the number of utility boats rises up to 76.

“It is regrettable that these actions occurred at a time when China has been articulating for a de-escalation of tensions and while the two sides have been discussing how to defuse the situation in the area,” Hernandez said in a press briefing.

He added that the Philippines even objected for these actions of China as clear misruling of Philippine sovereignty and authority over the shoal and sovereign rights over the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that covers the waters around Panatag Shoal or also known as Bajo de Masinloc

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) showed it sincere concern over these continuous actions by China that worsen the tension in Panatag Shoal in a note verbale dated May 21, 2012  that was sent to the Chinese government through the Chinese embassy in Manila.

Hernandez cited that the actions of China are also in violation of the ASEAN-China Declaration of Conduct on the South China Sea, specifically paragraph 5, which calls the Parties “to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.”

Phl demands pullout of Chinese vessels

Despite China’s self-imposed fishing ban it was said by the FCG reports that reached the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), that Chinese fishermen have still been running fishing in the area aside from reaping giant clams and other endangered species inside the shoal.

Moreover, the PCG report to the DFA also highlighted the 16 Chinese fishing boats in which 10 of them were inside the lagoon fishing while the 6 others were outside. It was monitored that it arrived last Monday evening escorted by a Chinese vessel.

“The increase in the number of China’s vessels in the area imperils marine biodiversity in the shoal and threatens the marine ecosystem in the whole of the West Philippine Sea,” Hernandez said.

He as well said that the Chinese fishermen have unlawfully scoured the area and dishonestly garnered giant clams and corals.

He said the recent actions of China are also in violation of the United Nations Charter, specifically Article 2.4, which provides that “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

“The Philippines, therefore, demands that China’s vessels immediately pull out from Bajo de Masinloc and the Philippines’ EEZ and for China to refrain from taking further actions that exacerbate the situation in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea),” Hernandez said.

China: Only 20 vessels

Hong Lei, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said yesterday that the Philippines have taken some offensive actions in the Huangyan Island waters which in is required “China to adopt corresponding measures to strengthen management and control.”

“To our knowledge, now there are about 20 Chinese fishing boats working in that area. This number is roughly the same with that in the same period of the previous years. The way these fishing boats are working complies with the related Chinese laws and the fishing moratorium issued by the Chinese government,” Hong said.

On Tuesday, China said that the involvement of countries in the standoff will meet steadfast opposition from the Chinese government.   Beijing was alarmed that some countries would help the Philippines establish a minimum credible defense posture by providing the country with patrol boats and military aircraft, so as to complement the Philippines’ diplomatic initiative in dealing with territorial disputes with China.

Phl Seeks Win-Win Situation In Shoal Row With China

President Benigno Aquino III said that the country will pursue a win-win situation with China within the claims with both countries regarding Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.

Aquino told the business forum of the Joint Alumni Clubs of US Universities last Wednesday that, “We have not stopped having communication with them in trying to look for a win-win situation.”

However, while the country intends to look for a win-win scenario for both parties, Aquino mentioned that he would still keep track of upholding and enforcing the laws.

“If it’s clear that we have a 200-mile exclusive economic zone designated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and both of us are parties to it, is it too much to ask that our rights are respected by our neighbors, in the same token that we respect their rights?” he asked.

With determination, Aquino also claimed that he is not going to give up any areas that belong to the country.

“I am not empowered to give up any of our territory,” he said.

Aquino added that the authority intends to handle the matter diplomatically.

“We do not want to present a threat to them in any shape, manner, or form in terms of military action,” he added.

On the other hand, Albert del Rosario the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, revealed that the Philippines has more investments in China than China has in the Philippines.

He stated that the Philippine investments in China amounts to nearly $3 billion as against to China’s investments in the Philippines which is approximately less than a billion and a half ($1.5).

Last Wednesday, Del Rosario told the Makati Business Club and the Management Association of the Philippines that, “We benefit from our relations with China just as China benefits from its relationships with us.”

Del Rosario also mentioned that China, in which is considered the Philippines’ 3rd largest trading partner, signed a memorandum of agreement during President Aquino’s state visit last year that both countries would work towards accomplishing $60 billion in 2-way trade within a 5-year period and 2 million inward visitors within 5 years.

“It was also agreed upon that the bilateral agenda would be moved forward in the most positive way, while the areas of contention such as the West Philippine Sea would be abstracted and dealt with separately,” he added.

Having the fact that Chinese investments in the country is only half of Philippine investments in China, Del Rosario then said that Filipino businessmen will not be discouraged from investing in their country despite the recent activities and happenings taken by the Chinese travel agencies suspending tour packages to the Philippines as tensions over the borderline of the islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) increased.

Also, China possessed Philippine fruit exports suspected of carrying pests amid a tense argument between the two countries over Panatag Shoal.

“I don’t think that we should be discouraging our businessmen from investing in China. It’s a good thing if they see how we do it here but what we’re trying to do is at least equalize the amount of investments that go out and we’re hoping that more Chinese investors will take an interest in the Philippines,” Del Rosario said.

“We’d like to believe it’s not,” Del Rosario replied when he was asked if the suspension of tour packages to the Philippines, the reduction in flights, and the possession of Philippine bananas are forms of pressure by China among the maritime argument between Philippines.

“We’d like to believe it’s a technical issue,” he added.

Economic pressure

If China continues to exert economic pressure to the Philippines such as blocking bananas and canceling tour packages, then, the lawmakers said and warned that the economy of the Philippines would be in danger.

Ang Kasangga party-list Rep. Teodorico Haresco and Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas said the suspension of tour packages and the controls on fruit importations is “China’s subtle warning versus Philippine on its vast economic arsenal.”

Also, they urged that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) should step up efforts in paving the way for the creation of a joint Philippine-China study commission, which would focus on finding mutually acceptable solutions to end the dispute in the Spratlys.

“The decision of Chinese travel agencies to suspend travel to the Philippines could be China’s subtle warning that it does not even need its military to bring widespread economic destruction in the country,” Haresco said.

He warned the suspension of tour packages to the country by Chinese travel agencies “could be the beginning of a larger and more sustained campaign to remind the Philippines and even the US that its economic arsenal is as devastating as its three-million strong People’s Liberation Army.”

Also, he added that the effect of the travel suspension would already deny the economy millions of dollars in potential tourism revenues and warned that Beijing might even go further by obliging a ban on Filipino overseas workers, including those working in Hong Kong and Macau.

Haresco said that the only way to fix the problem in the Spratlys is through direct mutual dialogue with China without discounting the possibility of entering into a joint exploration arrangement in the areas claimed by the Philippines.

While the United States will always remain a valuable supporter to the Philippines, bragging Washington into the Spratlys argument “will do more harm than good” as this is being viewed as an indirect needling by Beijing.

Tactical support

On the other hand, Malacañang, restated that the presence of a US submarine in Subic had nothing to do with the Philippines’ disagreement with China over the disputed Panatag shoal.

Edwin Lacierda, Presidential spokesman, illiterates that the US government made a request last April 3, 2012, days before the April 10 standoff saying that they be allowed to dock their submarine in the area.

“And so it (US request) was addressed to the Department of National Defense and the DND gave its approval on April 24. So, I don’t need to answer or respond to the statements made by the Left,” Lacierda explicated.

Earlier, security officials revealed the visit of submarine USS North Carolina (SSN-777) in Subic was a routine port call scheduled last April 3, before the standoff between Philippine and Chinese vessels in Panatag shoal started. The US attack submarine rose last Sunday in Subic Bay.

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said the visit of a US submarine in Subic violated the country’s sovereignty.

In a statement, the CPP said the US is using the entire Philippines as a vast military base where it could dock its ships, land its fighter jets, fly its drones, conduct repairs and replenish supplies.

Filipino protesters led by former military rebel Nicanor Faeldon said they are planning to sail to Panatag as a show of support.

“They want to protest against the aggression being committed by China against our country, Faeldon’s spokesman kit guerrero said.

He said at least two fishing vessels carrying faeldon’s group were expected to arrive at the shoal later on Friday.

“They are intending to stay there at least three days and fish, if they are not prevented from doing so, Guerrero said, adding that planting a Philippine flag on the rock was also an option.

Fishermen from Batanes, Faeldon’s home province, along with fishermen from Masinloc, Zambales would be joining Faeldon to fish in Panatag that China has included in its declared fishing holiday.

The Philippines has reminded China that the West Philippine Sea is not the sum total of their bilateral relations.

The Philippines remains a safe and a welcoming country even as tensions over the disputed islands escalated.

Stay on the line

China has demanded manila not take measures in the political and legal aspects, saying it will worsen and complicate the situation.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said last Monday in a press conference in Beijing that the Philippines should adhere to “diplomatic negotiations” to resolve the standoff.

“In particular, diplomatic negotiations should be adhered to in resolving the current situation, rather than continuing to incite public opinion and send contradictory messages,” Hong said.

Comelec To Oppose Arroyo Trip

Last Tuesday, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) said that it would be a challenge in the court for former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s fresh bid to seek medical treatment abroad, citing her tendency to “amplify” her health condition.

It was said and stressed by COMELEC Chair, Sixto Brillantes Jr., which was very risky for Arroyo to be allowed to leave the country since she is currently detained at Veterans Memorial Medical Center on charges of electoral sabotage.

“We don’t want to allow her again this time because she used to say that before and it turned out that she can be treated by our doctors here,” Brillantes told the reporters last Tuesday in a telephone interview.

Brillantes was referring to Arroyo’s previous attempt to leave the country supposedly for treatment of a rare bone disease. Also he said that the electoral sabotage was a capital offense so Arroyo could not just be allowed to simply leave the country. He said foreign doctors should instead be brought to the country to examine her.

Conceding that the Pasay City Regional Trial Court of trying the case against Arroyo has the final say on the issue, he said that the COMELEC would “ask for verification and check up on her true condition.”

Previously, a source coming from a close person to the Arroyo family said that the former President, who is now a representative of her hometown in Pampanga, was facing a “life-threatening condition” due to complications arising from her earlier surgery to treat her neck ailment.

On Thursday, Arroyo decided to undergo the Quantum electrochemistry examination at Makati Medical Center after experiencing choking sensations and shortness of breath.

A doctor present during the examination has said that a corrective surgery had to be done abroad as “no doctor would touch her here because of her delicate medical situation.”

A close Arroyo ally, House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, said that the former President had to seek medical treatment abroad because no Filipino doctor was willing to perform a surgery for her.

“They are hesitant because they are afraid that this might lead to her death. They know that she has a very rare ailment,” Suarez said in an interview with reporters.

He said Arroyo had identified medical experts abroad who were willing to perform the delicate surgery. He said the minority bloc would file a resolution appealing to President Aquino to allow Arroyo to leave.

He said the minority would use as a precedent the decision of then President Ferdinand Marcos to allow Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, the current President’s father who was under detention, to seek medical treatment abroad for his heart ailment.

“Why was Ninoy allowed to get treatment in the US when there are heart specialists in the country?” asked Suarez. “I think the President will consider our request because his only condition was if GMA (Arroyo) would return to which we have no doubts.”

No Chinese Travel Ban Vs Phl – Palace

Malacañang explained yesterday that there is a travel advisory but clears out that it is not a ban on Chinese citizens planning to visit the Philippines.

Deputy presidential spokesperson, Abigail Valte, stated in her weekly radio interview over state-run dzRB, that she used as a basis the statement of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario that the travel advisory is not related to the Scarborough Shoal standoff.

“It’s not a travel ban, it’s just an advisory, which is normal when they feel that they have to give their citizens warning about a certain event,” she said.

Presidential spokesman, Edwin Lacierda said that more Filipino tourists are going to China than Chinese tourists coming to the Philippines. “Ironically, this is the year of friendly exchanges,” he said.

“That’s why we say it is unfortunate that this happened. But if the decision of tour operators in China is true then we will just have to work hard on the other markets.”

India, the second largest populated country in the world after China, Russia and among others are the other potential markets, Valte said.

Valte added that the Philippine government has not received any official communication about it, while the travel advisory may have been reported in media.

Shirley Lai, a representative of a travel agency, said at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport that the most affected when it comes to the declination of Chinese tourist arrivals are the chartered flights from Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen bound for Boracay.

Regular flights are not yet affected, she added.

Lai said that the airlines affected are the chartered flights of Air Philippines, Cebu Pacific, and Zest Air.

She handles about 20-50 Chinese tourists a day, she added.

Lai said that she was expecting Chinese tourists to arrive on May 10, 11, and 12 and proceed to Boracay but they canceled their travel.

She expressed hope that kinks in the issue will be ironed out soon because a lot of revenues were lost with the cancelled tours.

Airlines Seek Customs Overtime Padding Probe

Airline industry is willing to cooperate with the Ombudsman in investigating a complaint filed by airport Customs examiners against their immediate seniors for apparently stuffing their overtime claims with airline companies, and pocketing, instead of distributing properly, the money that is being collected.

The spokesman for the Board of Airline Representatives (VBAR), Mr. Bayani Agabin, mentioned yesterday that the complant supports “our longstanding suspicion of overcharging and abuse of this overtime arrangement. We are thankful that the present administration has decided to do away with the backward practice of a single shift from 8 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon plus overtime, and instead operate 24/7 on three shifts at key ports as is done worldwide.”

Airlines paid airport Customs approximately P2 billion since the early 1990s until 2005, unfortunately when they decided to stop paying, airport Customs sought them to double their charges.

There about 200 Customs employees at the airport. Which then the airlines challenged the overtime practice in court, arguing that Customs employees are government staffs, not theirs.

The complaint before the Ombudsman was filed in August 2009 by some examiners who did not get their share.

Agabin said that it will send a strong message to stumbling civil servants and that the resolution of this case would resound across the government.

Agabin also mentioned that the Ombudsman should find out if the check payments from individual airlines were deposited to the government accounts and it is properly accounted and distributed, whether the recipients professed that these are part of their taxable compensation income.

“If they encashed the checks and divided it among themselves, then this constitutes malversation which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment,” he said. “This may also amount to a violation of Civil Service Commission rules on double compensation, Commission on Audit rules on accounting and disbursement of funds, and tax laws on payment of taxes on income.” Agabin added.

According to the complaint, Customs collectors prepare two sets of payroll.

One is presented to the airline that shows the complete list of examiners even if some are actually absent, on leave or had been transferred, while the other is the “final payroll” where those actually absent were taken off the list and their share is allegedly pocketed by the superiors, the complaint said.

The airport Customs personnel is also been abused this overtime practice by adding meals and transportation allowances to their billings, and charging four times if four planes land for the same hour they serve, he said.

PAL Leaves Mediation Offer In Labor Row To New Management

The flag carrier, Philippine Airlines (PAL) refused to comment whether they will accept the offer that the Court of Appeals (CA) offered, to mediate in the labor argument caused by the early retirement of some 2, 300 workers last year.

In its place, the decision will be left to the new management led by San Miguel Corporation, President Ramon Ant, whose group will reportedly fill some $500 million to fund the struggling airline’s re-fleeting and modernization program.

“We are in the transition phase, so it’s best for the new leaders to decide regarding legal issues,” Vice president for corporate communications of PAL, Joey de Guzman said.

The Court of Appeals (CA) tenth division asked PAL and the PAL Employees Association (PALEA) in a resolution dated March 27, if they are prepare to bring the issue before the Philippine Mediation Center-Court of Appeals for “a final opportunity to explore the possibility of coming up with an amicable settlement of their dispute.”

It almost took 8 months for the appellate court to came up with the suggestion to end the labor row after Malacañang found it admissible for PAL to outsource its catering, ground handling and call center reservation units among losses in the past years.

Compensation packages, which floated between P120, 000 and P2.4 million, were dispersed weeks following the takeover of new service providers in October 1 last year.

But the union endured the firm in its bid to fight the spinoff program as it considered the Court of Appeals’ mediation offer as an opening to end the dispute despite attacks on its campout and spending the Christmas holidays at the picket lines.

Last Friday, PALEA submitted its reply of affirmation to the Court of Appeals.