Monday, October 15, 2007

In the middle of nowhere

My initial reaction when the explanation was offered to me was open-mouthed wonder and amazement. Eventually, incredulity led to amusement, and finally, hilarity. It is truly one for the books. The kind of story that makes you shake your head and exclaim “Only in the Philippines!”
I am talking about the reason for the swank and brand new P4.3 billion Bacolod Silay Airport’s not being opened to the public yet despite the fact that construction of the airport has already been completed early this year.

What’s more, the airport has already been inaugurated a couple of months back by no less than the President of the Republic who has, expectedly, been more than eager to trumpet the new facility as one more proof of this administration’s much-vaunted accomplishments.
I even remember reading about the inauguration and watching the event on the late night news. It was heavily played up courtesy of the political intramurals— in plain and simple talk, elected officials jostled for media attention—that marred the event.

I was only in Bacolod for a day last Saturday to consult with Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation, one of the largest and most successful non-government organizations in the country doing micro-finance work for the poor. Hence I did not have the time nor the opportunity to see the wonders of this new airport that supposedly met international standards, up close.

I did get a brief but panoramic view of the structure from the window of the Philippine Airlines plane I was riding in which hovered over the place as it prepared to land at the old Bacolod airport. I was made to understand that the new airport was not really along the flight path from Manila to Bacolod, but most planes nevertheless took the short detour as a sort of practice for the pilots who would eventually have to use the runway of the new airport. Eventually, that is, when the new airport is finally opened to the general public.

Why isn’t this new and much-awaited airport open and operational yet? I’ll get to the ironic, almost idiotic reason in a short while. But bear with a litter digression please.

Those who have flown to Bacolod are familiar with the hair-raising experience that accompanies each time the plane one is riding on lands in the short runway (900 meters long) that has gained some measure of fame for Bacolod. It’s a totally exhilarating albeit horrendous experience as one literally feels the whole might and power of the plane’s pneumatic brakes as it hurtles and then abruptly screeches to a halt. One is physically propelled forward, holding on to the seats for deal life. It’s a crash course on physics as one gets to experience the interplay of force, momentum, energy, etc.

My friends who are residents of this city have all learned to take the experience in stride. True to the inimitable Pinoy spirit that sees the light side of every adversity, they have turned the whole thing into a joke: “When a plane lands in Bacolod, all passengers help in stepping on the brakes!”

It’s a really short runway. I come from Tacloban City, which unfortunately is another city that competes for the distinction of having the shortest runway in the world, so I am quite familiar with the aggravation of having your life flash before your eyes each time your plane lands on our runways. I’ve also been to Cagayan de Oro City several times, another city with yet another short runway.

Yes, we have so many of these airports in our country with runways designed by people who clearly lacked foresight; people with little faith in man’s ability to design bigger and more powerful planes. Sadly, the absence of foresight is not limited to people who lived several decades ago. It’s a malady that continues to haunt us to this day.

If there is a contest as to which city has the shortest runway, Bacolod probably wins it hands down. Although, thankfully, there has not been an accident in recent years, at least two planes have already overshot the runway in the last two decades. That’s how short it is. One plane overshot the runway, crossed a stream, and leveled several houses before crashing right smack into a bar as if the pilot could not wait anymore for a beer.

Obviously then, building a new airport for Bacolod City is a necessity. They did build a new and modern airport at Silay City, 30 minutes away from Bacolod. It goes without saying that airport facilities are the first things that travelers to any city lay their eyes on.

Believe me, it makes a lasting impression.

So here is the punch line then, the twist in this story. The new Bacolod Silay Airport, although it has been fully completed and ready for use since early this year, cannot be operational yet because, believe it or not, the diversion roads leading to the airport are still to be completed. Apparently, building alternative roads leading to the new airport was an afterthought, an idea that struck our leaders belatedly. It will take a couple of months more before the roads are finally built since some lands have still to be bought.

The official yarn of course is that they are building an extension of the current runway, which is already almost twice as long as the runway of the old airport.

One can conjure in one’s mind the funny scenario. Leaders gloating and getting drunk on a self-congratulatory mood and even squabbling over who takes the credit for this wondrous and marvelous new facility until someone points out the obvious question—pray tell, how will this facility be of any use to us if we can’t get to it? Surely, they did not expect people to have powers of apparition or teleportation!

There are other interesting sidebars to this main story. A friend narrated that there was actually a serviceable road leading to this new airport today, but this is an old road that is congested and passes through two cemeteries. I am not superstitious either, but having to pass two cemeteries and being stuck in funeral processions along a 30-minute journey is a bit disconcerting, I agree.

Another side story has to do with the name of the new airport—Bacolod Silay. It begs the question, how can an airport be in two cities 20 km apart?

But the more important question is: Didn’t anyone have foresight, enough to actually recognize that an airport needs to have viable roads leading to it?

My friends in Bacolod joke that by the time their new airport is finally opened, it won’t be brand new anymore. It will probably be time to build a new one. This reminds me of another long running joke about Terminal-3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport—that huge expensive structure that’s just sitting there in Pasay City, gathering dust and getting corroded. The good news, they say, is that we finally have a new airport that is comparable to the best in the world. The bad news is that it can’t be operational in our lifetime.

Fortunately, we Filipinos can still find amusement in misfortunes brought about by the lack of foresight of our leaders. But then again, that’s also probably one trait that we need to seriously reconsider. If we come to think about it, it’s not really funny.


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