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Expanding footprints


FOR THE longest time – throughout his presidency of the Clark International Airport Corp. – I badgered the now dearly missed Alexander S. Cauguiran with the query on Tokyo flights ever coming to Clark.

“In time, I assure you my friend, in time.” He would tell me, always with a smile. The biggest footprint that you’d ever leave CIAC will be a Clark-Narita flight, I’d tell him back.

It is all too personal to me, with a son based in Tokyo, and Japan my happy place. Plus, the mere thought of tripping through Metro Manila enough to get me sick, a flight from Clark is a boost of energy, of sheer vitality. As indeed, the number of times I flew out of NAIA to Narita directly corresponded to the number of times I suffered some ailments, more psychosomatic than physiological of course.

It was Alex, the best mayor Angeles City failed to elect, that was foremost in my mind at Marriott-Clark last Friday as Cebu Pacific president-CEO Lance Gokongwei and Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade led the launch of the Clark-Narita route of CebPac. With no less than Japan National Tourism Organization executive director Daisuke Tonai toasting the occasion.

“We have been operating flights in and out of Clark since 2006. The opening of these new routes is a testament of how committed we are to continuously develop this hub — we are not only establishing seamless inter-island connections, but also opening up North Luzon to more potential entrepreneurs, both local and foreign, furthering tourism, trade and investment opportunities in Clark and its surrounding areas,” underscored Mr. Gokongwei in his speech, hewing perfectly with their press release CebPac expands footprint in North, Central Luzon. Aside from Narita, Tokyo, PHL’s largest airline also opened its Bacolod and Iloilo routes out of Clark the same day.

Footprint, as with Alex, so with CebPac. And one more.

Over two weeks ago, I read of Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Koji Haneda promising to help Manila Mayor Isko Moreno in promoting Intramuros as a tourism destination for his countrymen.

“I am going to promote the historical trail of Intramuros because it has a Japanese footprint too. It is a magnet for Japanese tourists.” So was Haneda quoted as telling Yorme Ko-is during his courtesy call.

Connecting the dots – in this case, thinking where the footprints could go – I sidled up to Mabalacat City Mayor Cris Garbo, also an honored guest at the CebPac launch, and asked for his take of the flights.

“All the best for Mabalacat, being where Clark is at,” MCG beamed. (Ah, that acronym taking yet another meaning – Mabalacat. Clark. Garbo.)

I particularly focused on the Tokyo route and opened to him the immense potential for his city that could rise out of a single spot bearing one of the largest Japanese footprints in the whole country itself – the Kamikaze shrine, honoring the fearless death-before-defeat warriors of WWII, birthed in Mabalacat town in 1944.

Throwback time – There was much opposition to the erection of the Kamikaze monument in 1974 for which Mabalacat Mayor Fred Halili was denounced by so-called nationalist groups. He persisted, and soon his town was flooded by busloads of Japanese tourists and even socio-civic organizations that brought humanitarian projects for the townspeople.

The Kamikaze shrine makes but one stop, as much in a tour itinerary as in a development package for the city and the adjacent LGUs.

Of the former: the caves of the Bamban hills that housed machine gun nests, the quarters, as well as a field hospital of the Japanese Imperial Army; the Clark base airfields used and destroyed alternately by the WWII protagonists; the Clark Museum that holds artifacts of that period; the Goddess of Peace shrine; the Death March monument and museum in Capas; the San Fernando railroad station where the marchers took the train to Capas; onward to Bataan and Corregidor.

Of the latter: city sisterhood pacts between Mabalacat City and, Tokyo aside, the birthplaces of the Kamikaze officers, starting from founder Vice Adm. Takijiro Ohnishi, to Capt. Sakae Yamamoto, commander of the 201st Air Fleet Imperial Nippon Air Force where the first 23 volunteer fliers came from, to Lt. Yukio Seki, head of the first kamikaze group Shinpu Special Attack Corps.

Much as grounded in WWII, this is no glorification of war. Neither is it an instance to reopen wounds long healed by amity between two peoples finding common solidarity in the quest for peace and development.

Lost in history, the names may well very much alive in the memory of their kin and their communities, given the tradition of honor, aye, even worship, the Japanese give to their ancestors. Think of their appreciation upon knowing of a place in the Philippines still celebrating their memory! Who would not come to personally experience even if only a bit of it?

By a single leap, CebPac opened multiple gates of opportunities, in this wise, to Mabalacat City, the other Metro Clark LGUs, and beyond. It is now up to them to take the first step, and then the full stride, leaving their own footprints on the development path.

As for me, it’s “Tokyo, here I come again.” And yes, my son, Japanese daughter-in-law, and year-and-a-half grandson are already booked Narita-Clark-Narita for the holidays, and again in February. Via CebPac, of course.


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