A BOHOLANO’S VIEW: Cebu Pacific Mishaps in Davao: A BisDak Passenger’s View

My positive view of Cebu Pacific.  I am a mestizo Bisaya—born in Cebu of a Cebuana mother and a Boholano father but grew up in Bohol among seven siblings.  I am ethnically BisDak (Bisayang Dako! Great Bisayan) although I have lived longer in Greater Manila and abroad in my 85 years. Of course, I am also Pinoy ethnically and by citizenship. Further, I am a Global Citizen in my outlook as an academic who has also lived and worked some 18 years abroad.

In my basic identity as a Bisaya, I admire John Gokongwei whom I regard as an extraordinarily successful businessman and also a BisDak. I also admire his son, Lance, who is president and CEO of Cebu Pacific. They are both respected and admired for their business acumen. And we knew Johnson, John’s late brother who was a friend and neighbor in our Beverly Hills community in Antipolo.

I thought it was clever and naughty of the Gokongweis to advertise Cebu as “An Island in the Pacific” when our country had a negative image because of its reported violence. By the way, Bohol advertises herself as “Heart of the Islands, truly Philippines.” I also appreciate that Cebu Pacific would greet its passengers in Binisaya when going to or leaving the Visayas.

So I habitually took Cebu Pacific in my local travels Once I was forced to buy a new ticket when I was just a few minutes late in boarding a plane for Legaspi, Albay. Last  Saturday (June 1) morning I missed my flight to Davao just because I had to go to the restroom when the final call was made and I didn’t know of it; so I had to buy another  ticket for the next flight. I got very sore doing it for the second time, and I showed it. My ethnic Bisaya identification with the Gokongweis and admiration for them were strained.

Cebu Pacific mishaps in Davao (June 2 and 3). Last weekend I participated in a training session of Mindanao leaders of our new Centrist Democratic Party—Partido ng Tunay na Demkrasya. Then Sunday evening (June 2) I was waiting at the Davao International Airport for my Cebu Pacific plane for Manila. Being a good shopper/traveler, I had bought seafood and fresh durian for pasalubong to my devoted and hardworking wife who is supervising a major repair of our home in Antipolo. I knew she would be delighted that I appreciate her dedication, her hard work, and her patience with the horrible mess at home the past three weeks.

There were six Cebu Pacific flights to Manila that night. We waited and waited for our  plane which was to be the first to arrive. Suddenly there was a brownout and a Cebu Pacific plane landed. So I felt relieved and ready to board. (Much later I learned that the brownout had affected the whole city. It took a short time for the lights to return. Did the Davao International Airport not have a generator for such emergency?)

Then it was announced that our Cebu Pacific flight would be delayed because “there was an obstruction on the runway.” The same information was repeated a few times. Later it was announced that all flights to Manila that night (six of them) were cancelled—because of “the obstruction on the runway.” No explanation was made on the obstruction that had prevented our return flight to Manila.

Cebu Pacific creates chaos, anger, frustration. All the passengers for the cancelled flights were massed in front of the Cebu Pacific counters waiting anxiously for announcements on what was really happening. I saw three or four women and a man or two at the counters. One or the other of them would speak to us but we could not hear them because of the noise. And not one of them used a microphone because the airline did not have one. Cebu Pacific was simply not prepared for the emergency!

I waited for the Cebu Pacific manager or supervisor to appear and deal with the troubled and frustrated mass of passengers packed before the counters. No one looking like a supervisor  appeared before us. Sabi ng marami: Nagtago yata!

Pandemonium resulted from the panic. Then it was announced that each passenger would have to be re-booked for the next days’ flights out of Davao. As we were all milling before the counters, I wondered when my turn would come for rebooking. So some of us shouted to tell the airline personnel to just gather all our boarding passes and we would wait to be called to one or the other counter for our individual rebooking. This was done.

Meanwhile we were told to retrieve our checked in cargo at the arrival area. And we did. Then we fought our way back to the counters for the rebooking and just left our cargo behind with the risk of losing it. In the chaos several boarding passes were lost or misplaced. I could not get mine back for my rebooking. I lost my cool and was audibly furious.

There was even more anxiety. All the while it was hard to know what was going on because the airline personnel could hardly be heard without a microphone. Still no manager or supervisor was to be seen. At last we were told to return to the airport the next day, Monday, for our rebooking. Apparently, they did not know yet how to rebook us because they knew not how to remove “the obstruction on the runway.” [It turned out that not one but two Cebu Pacific planes had mishaps along the runway that made them the “mysterious” obstruction to all of us.]

Lacking able management, Cebu Pacific at the Davao International Airport did not even think of ordering and distributing fast-food meals to the hungry, stressed and angry passengers. I did not hear Cebu Pacific offer to take the passengers back to the city and to pay for their hotel accommodations.  Many of them had come some distance from the city. I took a taxi back to my hotel.

Monday morning (June 3) I returned to the airport for rebooking. The airline personnel gave me back my lost boarding pass and told me they had re-booked me for an afternoon flight to Manila via General Santos airport. Cebu Pacific also arranged for special transportation to GenSan. But I joined my companions at the Centrist Democratic Party—Partido ng Tunay na Demokrasya in the journey to General Santos.

Cebu Pacific was better in General Santos. As we came near the airport I told Dr. Peter Koeppinger, Country Representative of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, that GenSan and Mindanao as a whole were fortunate that the U.S. government had built the large, modern airport at GenSan for its possible use in its security cooperation with the Philippines. That was long before the U.S. military use of Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base ended in 1991.

Cebu Pacific apologized for the great inconvenience we all had suffered [from “the obstruction in the runway”]. The airline served us a Jollibee snack and a bottle of cold water.

After 30 hours the frozen seafood I brought home was still good, but the durian in Styrofoam packs was somewhat not fresh. Apan lami lang gihapon. By the way, you can now buy durian flavored instant coffee in Davao. That’s how crazy my wife, Coring, and I are about durian. Someday before I turn 90, I hope to grow durian in Bohol.

Gipasaylo na nako si John Gokongwei ug si Lance Gonkongwei. BisDak man gud ta! Maayong gawi man ta. [I have forgiven John and Lance Gokongwei. Because we are BisDak [Great Bisaya] and therefore good natured.]

However, the official investigation of the Cebu Pacific mishaps should determine and enforce accountability for them.  (From the author’s column, “A Boholano’s View” in The Bohol Chronicle, 9 June 2013. Permission to reprint granted to MindaNews by the author)

Comments are welcome at pepevabueva@gmail.com
Also see his blog: http://joseabueva.wordpress.com