Thursday, April 2, 2015

Scream All You Want

(published 29 December 2014, MST)

The holidays are merry but at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport these days, there is hardly a feeling of cheer and goodwill.
We may have seen it on tv, we may have been there, or horrors, it could have happened to us or somebody we knew. Because the Christmas season is a busy season, and people want to go back to their home provinces or spend their hard-eared money on a well-deserved vacation, there are more passengers wanting seats on airplanes.
The problem is, the local carriers cannot seem to keep up. Or they may not want to. As a result, flights get canceled, passengers are made to wait indefinitely, and people’s plans get thrown out the window. Tempers flare.
In recent days, a blog post by Oliver Segovia has been shared many times on social media. The article, entitled “Why is Cebu Pacific such a horrible airline?” apparently arose from the author’s personal experience during the airline’s “Christmapocalypse 2014.”
Segovia does more than rant, however. What he did was go to the company’s publicly-available documents— financial statements, annual reports, general information sheets and others —to attempt an explanation at why the airline consistently fails its passengers, service-wise.
Segovia observes that the Board of Directors is composed of family members and insiders. Senior management is no longer the right team as the airline CEO, Lance Gokongwei, is also CEO of several other, equally demanding companies. While passenger growth has been significant, investments in human capital have not. Of course, employees can only handle so much load. Finally, Segovia points to rumors that the airline is being propped up for a sale, thus the effort to make it look more profitable at the expense of legitimate investments like those in pursuit of operational excellence.
 * * *
Then again, the problem is not only in airlines. Even non-flying Filipinos encounter this feeling of helplessness and frustration at all times of the year.
How so? We get this, too, from the providers of public transportation. Take the city trains, for instance, specifically the MRT. The sight of people spilling down the stairs onto Edsa, lining up for hours just to be able to get to the platform is bad enough. Now we hear that experts have said that the MRT is dangerous and an accident may result in substantial casualties. Hundreds of thousands continue to take it every day, though, because they have no choice. Then we’re being told to brace ourselves for fare hikes. Isn’t that sweet?   
There, too, are the telecommunication companies. We’ve come a long way from when you had to wait for years to apply for a landline. We’ve heard about crazy promotional schemes promising unlimited Internet service. Or pre-paid loads that get “eaten”. Or calls that get dropped and messages that don’t get received. Or data charges that appear in your bill even when you used wifi and not your own mobile credits, just because you did not know you had to change the settings on your phone. Whether you’re on Globe (or TM) or Smart (or Talk n Text or Sun), it does not matter. Do you have the choice to be angry and cancel your account altogether? No, because there isn’t anybody else.
There, too, are water companies Maynilad and Manila Water. Again, we’ve gone a long way from the time when we had to get up at certain hours to stack up on supply because it’s not gonna last the whole day. But now the price of running water is just so high, and we find out that they’ve been passing all sorts of costs to consumers all along. What do we do? Grin and bear it, of course, because who wants to give up the comfort—the basic right, really —of having running water available at whatever time of day?
Remember, too,the high price of electricity reflected by our statements of account this year. Power is so expensive in this country and takes up a big portion of family budgets. Can we afford to sever our relationship with Meralco ? What is the alternative? Perhaps renewable energy, but we are not at that place yet. In short, nothing. Gnash your teeth and beat your breast. At the end of the day, you still have to pay up—or go back to the dark ages.
Poor Filipino consumers. Are we really that powerless?
These companies (except the government which runs the MRT, but still) are among the biggest and the most successful businesses in the country. The Philippines’, after all, is an economy controlled only by a few families and business groups. They abide by the universally accepted codes of corporate governance. On paper, they do well on their scorecards and achieve their financial targets, making their shareholders happy.
But these companies are also in the business of public interest. Sure, transportation, telecommunication and utilities are profit-driven enterprises, but the public interest factor should make them more mindful of their responsibility to be sensitive to their customers’ needs and circumstances.
Until then, we can just imagine those top-level executives—those who never have to fly economy, or take the MRT, or use the pasa-load facility, or figure out where to get the money for the household power and water bill —dressed in power suits in their posh offices. When confronted with reports that their customers are unhappy, they say smugly and arrogantly: “Scream all you want.”
They may not utter these words per se, but their action, or inaction, certainly delivers  the same message. 

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