Last Monday morning, a chartered flight of Air Asia landed at Virac airport to deliver relief goods for three barangays in Virac.
As to be expected, its spokesperson, reporter-turned-pilot Steve Dailisan, and reservist-actress Arci Muñoz became the centers of attraction by the locals, the media included.
Unnoticed in the hubbub was the makeshift steel stairway that was used by the passengers in disembarking from the aircraft.
Air Asia and its local contact had to search for someone to make the stairway, after Cebu Pacific’s top management refused to let its rival airline use one of its two stairways sitting idle at the side of the airport ramp.
According to a source, the local office of the country’s biggest budget airline initially agreed to lend the stairway but had to say no after its Manila office thumbed down the suggestion, even if it was made clear that the aircraft from its rival airline was carrying relief goods for typhoon victims in Catanduanes.
Cebu Pacific’s attitude is understandable.
After all, it is locked on its goal of maintaining its lofty spot in the Philippine airline industry, even in this time of the coronavirus pandemic.
If an industry source is to be believed, the revenue from its pre-pandemic Virac flights which cost as much as P7,000 one-way largely subsidized the so-so operations of its other routes in the Bicol region.
Which is a bit strange, when you consider the fact that more than a month after super typhoon Rolly’s winds raked the southern part of the island, Cebu Pacific Airways has yet to donate its share for the relief effort targeted at its captive clientele.
Now that the provincial government has already lifted the prohibition on the entry of Locally Stranded Individuals (LSIs) and Returning Overseas Filipinos (ROFs) effective Dec. 7, 2020 following the expiration of the ban implemented through the Bicol IATF, the budget airline will resume its twice-weekly flights.
Hopefully, the prospect of once again having local passengers board its flights during the quarantine period will at least remind the airline management of its corporate social responsibility, one that Air Asia thankfully extended here even if Virac is not among its routes.
This business rivalry, and that of the political kind on the island, is a key contributor to the difficulty of bringing relief goods to the vulnerable people who need them.
To a lesser extent, the great number of people and groups delivering their own assistance in the barangays often result in duplication, with some ending up with a lot and many surviving on a lot less.
It is thus gratifying to learn that the Caritas Virac is hosting a weekly coordination meeting between non-government organizations and representatives of Municipal Social Welfare and Development Offices (MSWDOs) and Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Offices (MDRRMOs) regarding short-term and long-term interventions in the affected villages and towns.
Among these NGOs who will be here for 30 days to as long as six months are IOM Philippines, Humanity and Inclusion, Philippine Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services, EDUCO, Caritas Filipinas/NASSA, and Save the Children Philippines, with the latter to stay here until April 2021 to implement a cash assistance program along with food security and child protection components.
That these humanitarian organizations of varied backgrounds but of similar purpose work together to assist distressed islanders in their respective ways is something that many hope local leaders will emulate.
True, a calamity is an opportunity for some, but it should not be used as a reason for our esteemed public servants to jostle for the honor of giving their suffering constituents relief goods paid for by the public.