“It’s more fun in the Philippines,” so says our tourism come-on slogan. We want to host the next Miss Universe beauty pageant in Manila, following Philippine representative Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach’s winning of the 2015 title in Las Vegas, Nevada. Pia has proposed the idea to President Rodrigo Duterte during a courtesy call in Malacñang. If the country gets to host the pageant, it won’t be the first time the Miss Universe contest will be held in Manila.
But are we ready to receive hordes of tourists and officials of the Miss Universe pageant when we cannot even fix the huge cracks in the main runway of the international gateway? In a way, these huge cracks on the airport runway reflect the sad state of Philippine aviation and tourism. Domestic and international flights coming into the Ninoy Aquino International Airport were diverted to Cebu’s Mactan airport and Clark Field in Pampanga. Departing flights were canceled or delayed for hours to the consternation of passengers who were not allowed to deplane.
Can you imagine being in a plane sitting on the runway for nearly 15 hours and you can’t even walk to stretch your legs? I found myself in this situation once. I had fits of anxiety and a near-serious case of claustrophobia.
It’s bad enough many foreign airlines like KLM, Lufthansa, British Airways and Swissair have stopped flying to Manila because of security concerns due to poor communications and navigation equipment. American carriers TWA, United and Pan Am have also bypassed Manila, leaving only Delta airlines servicing Manila to several major points in the US like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Detroit, New York and Washington DC.
The Duterte administration has a new tourism secretary. We hope Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo will not be too focused in just coming up with a new catchy tourism slogan. The country’s airports, not just the Naia, need to be upgraded like other airports in Asia. The country’s airports and public transport system deteriorated under former Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya during Aquino’s six-year term of under spending on government infrastructure projects. Filipinos leaving Naia feel a mix of awe and embarrassment when they arrive at modern airports in Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.
With money collected from the airport terminal tax and travel tax, passengers have a right to expect a better airport from the government. What one gets instead are grief and inconvenience, including from the “tanim bala” (bullet planting) scam by some airport security personnel. While this scam seems to have been stopped and now under control, one never knows when these scums will again rear their ugly heads. We hope it doesn’t happen when we are hosting an important international event like the Miss Universe beauty pageant.
Then there’s our horrendous traffic jams that made a soon-to-be president curse even Pope Francis for aggravating the problem during his papal visit.
There must be other national endeavors we can spend money on other than hosting an international beauty pageant. Money to be spent on the Miss U pageant can be better put to use in upgrading our airports, creating jobs, building shelter for the homeless who are rounded up whenever we host international events so they won’t be seen on the city’s streets. As cruel as it may sound, this is like sweeping dirt under the rug.
Reading the local newspapers, visitors will also be appalled at the daily vigilante and police killing of suspected drug pushers in line with President Duterte’s set deadline of eliminating crime and illegal drug trafficking within six months. International human rights groups have expressed their concern that some of those summarily executed could be innocent and just be collateral damage resulting from carrying out the President’s take-no-prisoners campaign against drugs.
Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach did the country proud for winning the Miss Universe title. But hosting this beauty pageant could just be another diversion from the harsh realities of life in the Philippines and the widening gap between the rich and the poor.