Last week was not a good one for PAL. It was literally and figuratively grounded.

It was literally grounded when 25 pilots and first officers decided to take off (without the planes). It was figuratively grounded (as in” you are grounded for the weekend!”) when Malacanang admonished PAL for not taking care of business, for stranding passengers and for jeopardizing the country’s tourism campaign.

PAL claims the pilots violated their contract to give at least 6 months notice before resigning. The pilots claim  PAL has been shuffling them to Air Philippines where they are allegedly on slave wages. One can only imagine what the latter means given Lucio Tan is not one to splurge.

To resolve the crisis, the Palace called the parties concerned -and more- to sit down by the Pasig. Present were senior members of PAL, Dept. of Transportation and Communications Sec. Ping de Jesus, and the head and reportedly only member of the Airlines Pilot Association (ALPAP). PAL pilots are not unionized. Also invited were top officials of Cebu Pacific for no known reason than to humiliate PAL.

Absent were the principal guests, the 25 pilots (whom I suspect have joined Air Iraq, the airline now repatriating the 100,000 U.S. soldiers returning home). An empty chair was pulled up to represent them.

The scene must have been surreal.

All this talent negotiating with people who were not in the room.

Undeterred, the negotiating panel continued to talk to itself. After discussions that were characterized as ‘frank, cordial and without substance”, the group arrived at the following “ breakthrough” remedies to alleviate the crisis:

One, PAL committed not to shuffle any more pilots to Air Philippines.

Two, PAL would now advise passengers of any disruption in travel schedules.

Three, PAL would start talking to its pilots.

Point one seemed a valid outcome. Points two and three, frankly, were strange.

All that brainpower just to conclude that, one, PAL needs to give sufficient notice to passengers and, two, it should at least say hello to its pilots? My grandson could arguably have come up with these suggestions and he is hardly tw0.

To advise PAL on the wisdom of chatting with its staff Sec. de Jesus brought in the newly formed Malacanag Communications Group. Separately and in their own inimitable way,  the three Group heads, Lacierda, Colona and Carangdang, pointed  to Jimmy Bautista, President of PAL, the value of messaging and social media. Bautista was visibly impressed and intends to adopt a similar set up in head office.

Satisfied with the progress, Malacanang has called for another round of talks but nobody is picking up. Bautista said he sees no point in sitting down unless the pilots themselves are present.” I am uncomfortable talking to an empty chair ” is how I believe he put it and understandably so.

Separately, the PAL Flight Attendants’ Union has threatened to strike. They ask why they are unionized when the pilots are not. They also claim PAL’s new work hours takes away time from their grandchildren.

With all the controversy surrounding PAL, there are calls for the company to be nationalized.

A PAL spokesperson said Lucio Tan may consider further disrupting  flight schedules if the Government agrees to buy the airline from him.

As for the unfinished business of the 25 pilots, Malacanang has decided the less said the better.

In an unrelated matter, the Malacanang Communications Group has issued a memo to the President requesting the DOTC remove the word “Communications” from its masthead as this is the mandate of their group. They suggested the DOTC be renamed the Dept. of Transport and Smartphones to reflect the growing importance of mobile devices in people’s lives.


About Leo Alejandrino

The blog is principally a commentary on Philippine politics and economics.
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