More than hot air

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    SAD, SAD news in November. Not really to me, but to tens of thousand others.

    The 18th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Festival at the Clark Freeport Zona slated in February 2014 had been cancelled. In a press statement, the Clark Development Corp. said the event was cancelled “because of lack of preparations.” (Ir)rationalized thus:

    “(Organizer Capt. Joy Roa) has set a standard and he wants to surpass the success of the 2013 hot air balloon festival.” And concluded: “The event will resume in 2015 with more wellprepared activities.”

    Good news in December. Likewise, not really to me but to tens of thousand others. The Department of Tourism will “spearhead” the new “Philippine Friendship Balloon Festival” set April 10-13, 2014 at the Clark Freeport Zone with Secretary Ramon Jimenez himself at the helm and organized by the Philippine Exhibits and Themeparks Corp.

    Themed “It’s more than just hot air. It’s a celebration of life in times of adversity,” the event incorporates some social responsibility with its proceeds going to the rehabilitation of areas devastated by Yolanda. More than hot air. It resonates with what we’ve been ranting in this corner for the past three or four years.

    Banish this freeloading hot air from Clark. So we wrote here in October 2009 yet. This character that goes by the moniker Roa should even be declared persona non grata in the Metro Clark area. The Clark Development Corp. regularly doled out millions of pesos to Roa – P3.5-M yearly since 2009 – as subsidy to the hot air balloon fest.

    Public money that was never subjected to liquidation or auditing processes. Gate receipts, parking fees, stall rentals, etcetera also went to Roa’s Hot Air Balloon Club of the Philippines Inc. (later morphing to the Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Foundation Inc.) Again, auditing in absentia.

    Consider that in 2009, per CDC unofficial, and therefore hidden, report, 49,638 tickets worth at least P100 per  ticket were sold, and 5,735 vehicles parked in the designated P50- for-cars, P100-for-buses parking areas during the four-day period.

    Truly, immense cash crop there already reaped by Roa. And we did not even count the stall areas, going at an average of P17,000 per, and the even pricier corporate sponsorships!

    The CDC really treated Roa like royalty. We wrote then, and we rewrite now. Or, it has conferred upon him the first ever mostpreferred- locator-at-large at the Clark Freeport. Pray the CDC has come to its senses, finally.

    And rid itself of this fetid, hot air Roa. And now DOT coming to the rescue of the hot air balloon fest. “Ayaw nating masira ang tradisyon…ang legacy,” said DOT Regional Director Ronnie Tiotuico. No, my seminary elder Don Ronaldo has the least of Roa in mind there.

    Truth be told, it was the DOT – then Secretary Mina Gabor and then-as-now Director Tiotuico – along with Korean businessman and hot-air balloon pilot Sung Kee Paik, British Airways GM John Emery, and German Max Motschmann that started the Clark hot air balloon festival in 1994.

    With the express objective of priming Clark as engine of economic development in the immediate post-Pinatubo times and develop hot air ballooning as an aviation sport in the country.

    It was in 1996 that the event was turned over to Roa “pursuant to privatization,” the operative word of the time.

    With the proviso that government will cease funding the event. So much cash – public funds included – has flowed Roa’s way since. At a clear disadvantage to the government. Yeah, high time for the goose that lays the golden egg to come to roost back to the DOT where it truly belongs.

    At the beginning of this piece, I wrote I was not saddened by the earlier reported demise of the hot air balloon fest. Nor gladdened by succeeding reports of its revival. I do not mean to rain on the parade of hot air balloon enthusiasts but I don’t see the festival having anything to do with the advancement of the true intent of the freeport and the Clark International Airport.

    Articulated in January 2010 here is my long standing position on the matter, thus: “Verily, the hot air balloon festival is a direct indictment of the failure of the CDC and the Clark International Airport Corp. to launch the Clark Freeport and the Clark International Airport to their proper niches, as capital- and labor-intensive, export-oriented investment zone for the former; as premier international airport for the latter.

    So, where in the world can you find an economic zone and an international airport hosting a hot air balloon festival? Onli in da Pilipins, as the urban idiot is wont to say.  A stand subsequently validated by CIAC President-CEO Victor Jose Luciano himself thus:

    “This year, 2011, the CIAC has not joined the Hot Air Balloon (Festival). We believe that the project is not in focus with the priorities of CIAC which are to accelerate the development of the airport and woo more airlines to fly to Clark.

    For 2010, when CIAC became a partner in the project, through my own efforts, singlehandedly I raised P5.5 million from sponsors which very well covered the P3.5 million payment to Joy Roa.” The hot air balloon festival is inimical to the full development of the Clark International Airport.

    Nowhere in the world can you find an airport, an international one at that, as hot air ballooning site. What airline will dare share air space with hot air balloons? If even the lowly pipit can pose grave danger to aircraft, how much more those big balloons?

    Safe to say here that balloons are a negation to the prospects of commercial aviation. My stand…well, stands.

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