The Legacy of Rick Paloma…or Tatang for the PAL Family

The Legacy of Rick Paloma

…or Tatang for the PAL Family

By Apolinario Villalobos

 

 

To say goodbye to a beloved

Is hard enough, how much more

If that beloved has impressed

In our heart everything

That he can impart

Just so, in this world, we can later

Be at our best

As we do our part.

 

He tried his best right from the start

Earning his keeps by honest toil

Firm determination and bold foresight

To be where he would be someday

And he did not fail

As all of us can now say.

 

He will always be a part of our memory –

An inspiration that shall guide us

For what he has left for us to keep

Is a legacy that shall guide us along

While we tread the road towards our destiny.

 

Let us thank him, this man Ric or Ricky to some

But Tatang to most of us who have known him

As a big brother and a doting father;

He whom we see as the perfectionist

He who wants nothing but the best

Making us realize later

That what he really wanted was for us to learn

Though the hard way,

… and that, friends, is his legacy.

 

PAL 4

 

 

The Unsung Heroes of Philippine Airlines (part 1)

The Unsung Heroes of Philippine Airlines (Part 1)

By Apolinario Villalobos

By modern lingo, heroes are not just those who saw action in the battlefields. Heroes nowadays refer to people who keep the streets clean, sun-scorched and rain-soaked traffic enforcers, young policemen who risk dear lives in tracking down criminals, overseas Filipino workers, and many more. In the case of Philippine Airlines, the employees who belong to its era of early operations, they who laid down its foundation, the frontliners who faced irate customers and passengers at the ticket offices and terminal, endured the sun’s scorching beating at the tarmac, and those who lost sleep and skipped meals as they worked overtime on policies that are needed to be collated into operating manuals, are the “unsung heroes”, I am referring to.

The airline as the country’s flag carrier has been magnanimous in its role – practically in bringing the islands together, easing the travel of Filipinos, propping up commerce that nurtured the eventual development even of far- off towns and islands, and shuttling people from abroad to interesting nooks in the country, thereby bringing consciousness about an exotic archipelago somewhere in Southeast Asia, along the rim of the Pacific. Philippine Airlines, proudly flew the country’s colors in its effort to put the latter in the international tourism map, and it was successfully done with its prime travel program – PALakbayan. And, that was the era of the airline’s struggle to make significant contribution to the country’s economy. With Ricardo G. Paloma, “Mr. Tourism” among the people of the industry during his time, at the helm of this effort, success was achieved, and of course, with the help of its “unsung heroes”.

The screening of future heroes of the airline started at the time of preliminary interviews, during which sincerity was gauged in the answers to two questions: “are you willing to be assigned anywhere?”, and, “are you willing to learn?” Standard answer was of course, yes, but the clever interviewers, station bosses, who themselves, rose from the ranks, were able to discern sincerity in how such single word was further enhanced by the interviewees. With further filtering, the hundreds of applicants were trimmed to the very few that consisted the so-called “cream” – thick in its consistency of enthusiasm, courage and sincerity.

During the rigid training, the applicants were further scrutinized, as not only the basics of station operation, check-in counter handling, and ticketing were taught, but moral values and attitudes, as well. Those that showed resistance were eventually eased out. The early management of the company showed compassion and fairness by not giving much weight to the alma mater of applicants. My case was a clear example, having graduated from an obscure school in the south, but proud Notre Dame of Tacurong College.

My first assignment in Tablas, exposed me to the intricacies of station operation handled with resourcefulness most of the time. The station personnel got worried every time there was rain and the direction of the wind changed, factors that dictated the load of the aircraft. Some of the towns where the ticket offices were located had no electricity. Reservation was done manually. As an extra mile in serving the customers who came from far barrios, those who arrived late, meaning, early evening, were served with the use of a kerosene lamp. That was the situation when I set foot in Tablas where I found Celso Dapo, Oswald Alamo, Sonny Garcia, and Bien Alvaro, the Supervisor who welcomed me with warmth. They were the first heroes of PAL that I met. We had no day off as even on flightless days, we had to conduct some kind of community outreach by mingling with the locals to ensure their patronage of the airline. Our threat was the more frequent schedule of ferries from the nearby town of Looc and the bigger ships that made regular calls at Odiongan.

I saw the same situation in other stations that I visited when I assumed later a job to research on tourist spots for the TOPIC Magazine that I edited. When I visited Mamburao, Obet Reyes, the station Supervisor and his staff endured the loneliness of being far from loved ones. Assignment of personnel depended on the need of any station, so that some of my batchmates during training were assigned to Jolo, like Abet Yu who hailed from Cagayan de Oro. I came to understand why right at the moment of the first interview, willingness to be assigned anywhere was extracted from applicants, as I later found out that those who hailed from Luzon were assigned in Mindanao or Visayas stations, and those from the latter provinces were assigned in Luzon stations or Manila. Just like the gallant men of the military, they boldly accepted assignments without question.

What we see today is a somewhat modernistic Philippine Airlines that fly world-class, long and wide-bodied aircrafts which is far from the picture of many years ago when the Philippine skies were sliced by its HS-748’s, DC-3’s, YS-11’s, and a little later, BAC1-11’s. The airline’s president, then, was Benigno Toda, a Hispanic and very accommodating person who were perceived by the employees as a “father”. During his time, the airline was like a big family. And, there was no spat in anyway, with the union.

Aside from the harried effort to come up with systems and manuals, the airline was also into community outreach to promote air travel awareness, at the same time. Through its Public Relations Office (PRO), now Corporate Communications Department, aircraft familiarization tours for school kids and groups were conducted. The office was also tapped when there was a need for exhibits in schools, complete with stewardesses in sleek uniform. The staff of the said office, likewise, conducted film showings in communities and schools, or during seminars about the airline. This effort showed that PAL flew its aircraft not only for profit but also to foster goodwill, and contribute for the welding of the islands into a cohesive country despite its diversified cultures.

The effort of the PRO was duplicated by the Tours and Promotions Office, under its manager, Vic Bernardino which conducted slides presentations in schools and during seminars organized by government agencies, such as Department of Tourism, local government units, and travel agencies. The said office conceptualized the PALbayan Tour Program, which gave a new face to travel. Practically, the whole staff were adept as resource speakers for tourism forums. The whole staff was also given tasks that covered all facets of tourism industry. Ed Buensuceso was a scuba diver, mountain climber, birdwatcher, and cave explorer and so were John Fortes and Thelma Villaseῆor; Bong Velasco was a mountain climber and bird watcher; Mayee Santos Cuenco was a thorough researcher on festivals and tourist spots; Reggie Constantino, Ed Ramos, Bong Velasco, and this writer, whose primary responsibility was to edit the TOPIC Magazine, were also into mountain climbing and cave exploration. Tour programs for groups were developed by any of us for tourism students who would like to visit a place to fulfill a requirement in their course. The same effort also benefited travel agents who had requirements for special groups. Again, in this effort, those assigned in outlying stations were all out in giving their support. They served as “meet and assist parties” for groups that arrive in their stations. Practically, passengers were made to feel that PAL cared for them – all the way.

On the other hand, those behind their desks at the head office, worked double time in formulating policies for the operating manuals. The combined efforts of the Marketing and Sales-Philippines Department’s divisions, such as, Standards and Coordination under Ed Guatelara, Luzon Sales under Teodorico Pabelico, Market Planning under Gil Carolino, Cargo under Joe Clemente, the Administrative group under Salvador Caburian, and Metro Manila Sales under Tessie Luna, proved to be just impressive. What with their brilliant staff, such as Dennis Balictar, Gary Cruz (who later became a Director/AVP of Cebu Pacific), Toto Antonio, Jovy Jovida (who later headed another department), Jay Delfin (now, a respective Marketing Consultant in Indonesia), Bong Valencia (who later became VP-Airport Operations), Johnny Carls, Gabby Briones, Emma Tronco, Ceres Noble (who later became a Director of Cebu Pacific), Gene Asuncion, Frankie Guttierez, Alvin Feliciano, Edwin Bautista, Toton Oban, Dixon Ilanderal, Nelson Du, Rey Reyes, Tina Bacaltos, Ramon Magno, Ex Estandarte (who later became Manager-Research of HRD), Mike Villaflor (now, concurrently, Staff Manager of the Philippine Region, but with a dual function as Head of Luzon and Metro Manila Sales), Belinda Yngente, Edette Razon, Amee Atotobu (now, a manager of Metro Manila Sales), Ayee Asuncion Garvida (who held a Ticket Office manager), and Nina Intengan. Plucked from the provinces for their talents were Archie Batu, Juancho Dimagila, Ludy Bagares, Raymond Baylon, Cris Lebumfacil, Ayee Noval, and Glenna Tan. Not to be forgotten is Milagros S. Limgenco who during that time was an executive of Luzon Sales, and later, Director of Metro Manila Sales…she who worked earlier than the regular log-in time, till late in the evening. There could be other names that I have missed…but, as recalled, they will be mentioned in other related blogs.

PAL’s Golden Era was during the time of Mr. Benigno Toda, during which Mr. Ricardo Paloma was the Regional Vice- President for Philippines and Guam. It was during that time that the oneness of employees as one family was strongly felt. Those belonging to other departments did their share by upholding the spirit of discipline and pride for being part of the country’s flag carrier. Everybody was driven by the desire to excel in their assigned tasks, be they at the Comptroller Department, Corporate Planning, Marketing and Sales-International, Airport Operations, Passenger Handling, Public Relations, Inflight Service, Passenger Service, Reservations, and Maintenance Department (now, Lufthansa Teknic).

This desire to excel in assigned task was among the sparks that ignited the idea to come up with the Total Passenger Care program. The concept actually was developed during a workshop of supervisors and managers in Baguio, and a name I can recall that formulated the concept was that of Tessie Luna, manager of Domestic Ticket Office. The program practically made those who availed of PAL service, feel not as customers, but as members of the PAL family, too. They were pampered with comfort all the way from the time they purchased their ticket until the time they reached their destinations.

PAL would not be what it is today, without the unselfish dedication of its unsung heroes. Some have retired many years ago yet, some just a few years ago, some still just lately, and with a very few still working for the company, as if like leaves clinging to the robust tree, waiting for their time to fall…and become a nutrient to further its life. That is the humble legacy of the early employees of PAL…as nutrients to ensure that it will go on streaking the Philippine skies with pride!

The Forgotten Role of Philippine Airlines (PAL) in Air Travel and Tourism Development in the Philippines

The Forgotten Role of Philippine Airlines (PAL)

In Air Travel and Tourism Development in the Philippines

By Apolinario Villalobos

 

When I joined the Marketing and Sales Department of Phippine Airlines in 1975, its Public Relations Office (currently, Corporate Communications) was already actively conducting air travel familiarization tours for groups, particularly, students and civic organizations. The groups were shown the airline’s facilities at the airport (the old Domestic airport), especially, the interior of the aircrafts which at that time were DC-3, HS748, YS11, and later, BAC1-11. Fare discounts were given to frequently traveling groups and individuals. The ulterior motive here was to educate the public about the advantages, especially, the comfort of air travel.

 

The Tours and Promotions-Philippines (TPP) headed by Vic Bernardino as manager, regularly conducted surveys, practically, throughout the Philippines – from Batanes to Tawi-tawi, to gather information on their touristic attractions, and other information that could lure travelers. The airline was then servicing Tawi-tawi and Sulu, via Zamboanga, while Batanes had straight flights from Manila and on other days, via Tuguegarao. The hubs of air travel were Manila for Luzon provinces, Cebu for Visayas and some Mindanao provinces, and Davao for the rest of Mindanao provinces. The Tours and Promotions-Philippines printed and distributed a regularly updated Philippine hotel directory, and the bi-monthly TOPIC Magazine which contained information on touristic destinations, hotels, resorts, festivals, and outdoor sports, such as diving, mountain climbing, spelunking (cave exploration), trekking and birdwatching. The hotel directory and magazine were distributed among schools, hotels, organizations, embassies and consulates.

 

The Tours and Promotions-Philippines office also conceived and developed an encompassing tour program that practically covered all facets of travel – educational, convention and seminar, outdoor sports, and charter. The travel market was segmented into sectors to identify their specific needs and requirements. This was called the PALakbayan Tour Program. Coordination within the marketing and sales departments of the airline was closely knit, so that a mere phone inquiries on destinations, be they serviced by PAL or not was quickly satisfied. The staff of Tours and Promotions office were all adept about travel within the Philippines so that they were regularly requested as resource speakers in tourism forums and seminars. For free, they also helped tour and convention/seminar organizers in coming up with realistic packages that their clients could afford.

 

The The TPP, through its Representative, John Fortes, organized the PAL Mountaineering Club which promoted and developed the sport in the country. To encourage mountaineering, he organized summer climbs to well-known mountains in the country, such as, Mt. Apo (between Davao and Cotabato), Mt. Hibok-Hibok (Camiguin), Mt. Madja-as (Antique), Mt. Pulog (Benguet), Mt. Mayon (Albay), Mt. Dos Cuernos (Tuguegarao),  Mt. Kanlaon (Negros Occ.). Treks were organized for Mt. Banahaw, Mt. Makiling, and Taal. With the increasing mountaineering clubs in campuses and provinces, Mr. Fortes initiated the formation of the National Mountaineering Federation of the Philippines (NMFP).  Simultaneously, Jun Luz, another TPP Representative handled the promotion of diving programs around the country. He was in touch with the different dive operators and groups in other countries to promote the dive sites that later graced the pages of international travel magazines and dive brochures.

 

On the other hand, Ed Buensuceso, section supervisor of TPP developed birdwatching areas around the country, an effort which brought to fore the plight of the Philippine Eagle, known before as monkety-eating eagle. He was a member of the scientific team from the United States that documented the life of the eagles, from their airborne mating to breeding. The first documentary was printed in National Geographic Magazine. Ed Buensuceso was also instrumental in the first survey of the Puerto Princesa Underground River conducted by an Australian environmentalist group. As an important information, the underground river is originally attributed to Palawan province, not Puerto Princesa city, hence, its original name was St. Paul Sub-terranean Park of Palawan. The effort of Mr. Buensuceso in developing Palawan as a tourist destination was extended to the Batak tribe which for long was not known among the rest of the Filipinos. He also spearheaded surveys of off-the-beaten-track destinations that brought to light the hidden touristc treasures of Caramoan peninsula in Bicol, the corals around the islets of Mindoro, Dumaguete and the now-famous Tubbataha Reef. The big waves of Siargao, Surigao, Aurora, and southern portion of Bicol were already captured in slides when Ed Buensuceso surveyed them for promotion in other countries whose tourists were interested in outdoor activities.

 

During the Marcos administration, there was a great demand for hotel rooms because Manila and other major cities in the provinces were peaking up as convention destinations in Asia. It was during this time that the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) was built together with the rest of the facilities within the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex, that included Cultural Center of the Philippines, Folk Arts Theater, Philtrade, and Film Center. The TPP of PAL on its part, actively worked with convention organizers to help them with their packages that included airfare discount and representation with provincial hotels for group discounts. Student groups were flown to provinces for educational tours, as well as,  international groups that were regularly flown in by PAL and other airlines. Tie-ups were made with shipping lines and bus companies for tour packages, and of course, hotels at destinations.

 

Later on, the PALakbayan tour program gave birth to “illegitimate” tour programs developed by other tourism agencies. Unfortunately, the copycats failed to bring to life the essence of the program which is founded on the “total care” of customers, specifically, the “Total Passenger Care”. By “ total”, the airline even took care of the traveller’s other needs that do not concern its direct service, such as onward booking until the day of his departure, referral to other agencies, and giving of necessary information at destination, such as things that can be done on his own.

 

Every time, the TPP staff had a chance to speak to local government officials, the latter were encouraged to organize their own “local tourism office”, to handle what we called “backyard tourism”, or local small-scale tourism business in line with the eco-tourism concept. The Department of Tourism during that time, was aware of this effort. It was explained to them that having DOT field offices in major cities was not enough. There was yet, the need to fully coordinate with local government units in the implementation or promotion of programs. PAL already recognized this need that is why its station supervisors and managers were mandated to be closely in touch with local officials, even those located far from PAL stations. Also, practically, the staff in all domestic stations played important roles as coordinators to prevent hitches, especially, in the handling of groups.

 

The energetic promotion of tourism from the end of PAL came from Mr. Ricardo Paloma, Regional Vice-President/Philippines and Guam, who initiated efforts in touching base with the Department of Tourism (DOT) and government agencies concerned about environment conservation. Practically, the DOT involved the airline in all its touristic ventures. On the other hand, the airline furnished the DOT with all the input that the staff of the TPP gathered from their surveys. Mr. Paloma conceptualized the “eco-tourism” which is the basis of the government in the promotion of local tourism today. There was much effort in preserving the laid back image of the country as a touristic destination in Asia. That early, the “tourism think tank” of PAL was apprehensive about the destruction of the natural endowments of dive spots and mountains, as are happening now. The once pristine Boracay island is now a sorry site with no reliable waste disposal system, the mountains become garbage dumps after climbs, coral “gardens” are littered with plastic bottles, etc.

 

Today, tourism industry in the country is kicking high. The unsung PALers  who did their part as conceptualizers, coordinators, guides, resource speakers, and who formed the early family of Philippine Airlines could just smile and utter a silent thank that the country’s flag carrier is still flying…and, at last, the less beaten tracks towards the hidden gems of the country are now heavily trodden by sneakers and mountaineering boots of eager tourists…