Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star,  14 January 2015


The visit of Pope Francis from Jan. 15 to 19, 2015 is the most delicate high security issue the country will face for an official visitor for some time.

Though the visit uplifts the Filipino spirit, there are consequences on the way the country conducts its business, too.

Poor state of road logistics imposes high economic cost on the nation. The poor state of logistics due to our limited roadways and highways undermine the nature of choices on the route to be taken by a visiting popular Pope. (Perhaps, relief will come when the road expressway from the airport is finally done!)

In choosing the particular route for the Pope’s destination, the government has found it necessary to impose draconian measures that affect the normal flow of business life in Metro Manila.

Specifics of dislocation. The package of security measures announced by the government includes: forced holidays, road controls, and prohibition of flights and no-flight zones.

The enforced holidays are designed to remove normal traffic, but they affect usual work and employment, disrupting banking and financial activities, as well as the operations of the stock exchange. Some of these disruptions are international in implications and are costly to the affected parties in a way that locals cannot estimate.

The road and traffic advisories are intended to secure the chosen routes of the papal motorcade from arrival to departure. The cancelled flight schedules and the imposition of no-fly zones remove additional air traffic close to the papal flight and motorcade schedules as a precaution.

Moreover, any further demand on road use will be reduced since the disallowed flights mean no further competition on road use upon arrival or departure.

Dutifully (and without complaint?), the airlines complied. PAL and AirAsia have cancelled 160 domestic and international flights for Jan. 15 and 19 during the specified hours when the Pope arrives and departs. In the case of Cebu Pacific and Tiger Airlines, they cancelled over 200 scheduled flights.

The brunt of the operational impact are on the two domestic carriers, PAL and Cebu Pacific is most heavy since they had the most flight cancellations and the base of their operations are national.

Although most of these flight cancellations are domestic, some are international that bring in tourist traffic into the country. The cancellation of the flights, even if only momentary, has repercussions on the normal operations of some businesses.

The choices we make have their unique consequences. All these choices are now under the bridge. Could we have done better? Could we have reduced the adverse impact on the way we conduct the nation’s daily business?

When I learned of the measures taken by the government to avoid traffic congestion during the visit of the Pope, the option that immediately came to mind was to use Clark. It might be far, but it is only an hour away from Manila with the expressway.

The routes of arrival and departure of the papal motorcade could be accelerated until they reach the vicinity of EDSA where the turns toward the final destination of the Pope’s residence could be made. This option would have created the least disruption to the airport area and Metro traffic, though the papal route would have changed drastically.

The other option would be a fast motorcade after arrival ceremonies at the Villamor airport tarmac. It seems that the scenario of the welcome mat for the Pope is one based on a slow pace of movement of the motorcade until it reaches its final destination, which is the Apostolic Nunciature, or the Vatican embassy in Manila.

A quick passage might be helpful even if at some point – perhaps by the time the visitor is close to the heart of the city – that pace would necessarily be slowed down to accommodate more human interaction with the welcoming crowd.

The argument in favor of a fast motorcade on the arrival day is that there other occasions during the five-day visit when the faithful could witness the Pope in performance of his religious and public appearances.

A fast motorcade would also give proper regard for the health and safety of a Pope who, though he appears hale and hearty, is in fact living in the body of an old man. Therefore, he should be spared the strains of a long and slow motorcade on the first day of his visit.

Indeed, the schedules of the visiting Pope offer many opportunities for the devout to have a view or “contact” with this Pope. That is the time when the nation’s outpouring of love and respect for him could satisfy the nation’s craving to be touched and to be part of his visit.

The task of protecting important people. It is a routine task to provide high security protection for important visitors, especially heads of states and important visitors to the country.

Such responsibility escalates and becomes as tense when many heads of state converge in the capital. In this modern world of quick summit meetings, the demand for proper handling of security of visiting people becomes an important requirement.

Our security operations, police and those concerned with proper protocol will find the exercise of the visiting pope a truly superb experience to profit from.

After-Note: ‘China’s GDP surpasses that of the US and is number 1’. Some of my readers in last week’s piece failed to understand the estimates of output based on “equivalent” purchasing power.

This refers to what is known as the “purchasing power parity” (PPP) concept. All estimates of GDP by countries are adjusted according to the same purchasing power of a specific currency, in this case, the US dollar.

For instance, Philippine GDP converted into the US dollar (as calculated by Philippine statistical authorities) is adjusted to correspond to the equivalent purchasing power of the US dollar.

The World Bank undertakes the lead in adjusting these estimates into GDP converted into PPP estimates. In the Philippine case, the implicit factor is 2.5. Thus GDP in US dollar converted to PPP is much higher than reported GDP