22 March 2009

Zest Air, Cebu Pacific's new best friend

I TOOK Zest Air's afternoon flight to Manila today and mumbled to myself, "Cebu Pacific has a new best friend in Naga."

With its four-flights-a-week frequency (MoWeFriSu), the Naga Airport in Pili town effectively has three flights a day this summer: Cebu Pacific Air's (CPA) 72-seater European-made ATR 72-500 slugging it out with Air Philippines's Boeing 737 jet service every morning, and Zest Air alternating with CPA (TuThSa) in the early afternoon market.

Zest Air's aircraft is the Chinese-made 56-seater Xian MA60 (MA stands for "Modern Ark"). Powered by Canadian-made Pratt and Whitney turboprop engines, the flight was a tad louder than the ATR's, but less noisier than the YS-11, which Asian Spirit used to field for its Naga flight. But for a one-hour flight, it was tolerable enough.

In September 2008, Asian Spirit was rebadged Zest Airways (after Zesto, the flagship juice drink brand of AMY Holdings) when the Yao group purchased the former lock, stock and barrel. Last March 16, it resumed its flights to the city.

But one thing actually going for it are its staff, who are certainly more customer-friendly than CPA's. My main beef with the latter is its increasingly impersonal service: the personal touch that would make loyal patrons at ease is largely gone, replaced by rigidly applied rules that spare no one.

I can vouch for Zest Air's ground staff at Naga Airport, led by Ryan Manza: they were colleagues when we were still running Asian Spirit's operations here. For us, the customer is really king. This afternoon's flight was actually a get-together: sending me off was my city hall collegue Nick Motos, who was Ryan's boss at the time.

And of course, a P488 promo airfare (about half than what you would pay for the 7-to-8 hour overland trip) definitely didn't hurt: I managed to wangle one when I purchased online last Thursday. But that promo fare is most probably gone: when I checked before leaving Naga, the cheapest is already P888. With a full flight coming in and about 33 going out, that was not a bad fourth flight at all for the newest player in the local air passenger market.


19 March 2009

Most and least corrupt at the same time

FROM today's Inquirer:

No. 2 on the list of “most corrupt” agencies was the Philippine National Police (21 percent), followed by the Department of Agriculture (19 percent), Bureau of Internal Revenue (16 percent), DepEd (15 percent) and Bureau of Customs (15 percent).

“Interestingly, while the DepEd is identified as ‘most corrupt’ by 15 percent of Filipinos, 20 percent (of the respondents) deem it as one of the least corrupt government agencies in the country,” Pulse Asia noted.
Methinks it has something to do with the high level of respect still generally accorded by the population to hardworking public school teachers.

Corruption however starts to rear its head as one moves up in the totem pole. Teacher items for sale, overpriced textbooks and computers, padded cost of school and multipurpose buildings: these are some of the many faces corruption takes in our public schools.

Many years back, a friend once told my wife: "Mag-principal ka 'boy! Yaon d'yan an kwarta." She is now one, and controversies have always hounded her in all schools she was posted.

As graduation time nears, these vultures will again have a field day exacting their pound of flesh on hapless parents, especially the poor. "Libre man baga an pagpaeskwela" goes their twisted reasoning.

With an old-boy network instinctively looking after their kind, reinforced by criss-crossing padi-madi relations (called the compadrazgo culture in academic literature) I'm not so sure if change will ever take place in the DepEd that I know.


17 March 2009

Naga City Science High shines in Smart tilt

GOT the following in my mailbox. Congratulations to Joretze Carandang and her winning team.

Naga City Science HS reigns at the 1st DPSA Learning Challenge Awards

[14 March 2009, Manila] – The Naga City Science High School (NCSHS) won major awards during the 1st Doon Po Sa Amin (DPSA) Learning Challenge awarding ceremonies held in SM Megatrade Hall 2 in Mandaluyong City.

The NCSHS DPSA Team, headed by their Moderator, Ms. Joretze S. Carandang, bagged the Grand Champion and the Best in Social Science Topic Category awards with their entry “Si Ina: Sarong Debosyon sa Halawig na Panahon.” The entry is a research narrative about the social issues revolving around the Peñafrancia Festival, and is one of the top 5 entries under the Social Science Topic Category.

Thirty-five entries were shortlisted from the total 130 entries submitted by 40 Smart Schools Program (SSP) partner schools nationwide. Winners of the Best in Topic Category award are:

Science and Technology Education Center
Pulos: The Functions of Math in Oponganon’s Way of Life

Science and Environment
Lake Sebu National High School
Sagip Lawa

Language and Literature
Batanes National High School
The Untold Stories of the Ivatans

Arts and Culture
Batanes National High School
Laji and Palo Palo

Health and Wellness
Camiguin National High School
Amazing Nanay Ansing

Technology and Livelihood
Lupon Vocational High School
Bundas: Gateway to Squid Fishing

Teams of the winning entries in the Best in Topic Category award received P30,000 cash prize, trophy, and Smart Bro prepaid Plug-it Kit. Their schools, in turn, will receive one computer unit each. As the Grand Champion, the NCSHS team received an additional P50,000 cash prize, trophy, and one-year Internet access grant for their school.

The following entries also received Special Awards:

Best in Student Collaboration
General Santos City High School

Best in Photos
Barobo National High School
Baroto ni Tatay

Best in Website Design
Oton National High School
The Community Structure of Mangroves In Batiano River, Oton, Iloilo

Best in Community Impact
Agusan National High School
Moryo-Moryo: A Ray of Hope

Winners of the Special Awards received P10,000 cash prize, and trophy.

The Doon Po Sa Amin Learning Challenge, one of the components of the Doon Po Sa Amin project, is a competition for local content generation that seeks to engage SSP teachers and students to generate rich local content using ICT and curriculum-based topics that will help promote and develop their respective communities.


This made me pause

WHILE looking for something on the net, I stumbled upon this, which came out in the U.P. Ibalon Bicol online newsletter last November and needs to be quoted in full:

Naga City Could Be Left Behind

For the past years I have been a regular visitor to Naga and Naga is my base when I stay in Bicol. So, I have come to observe and be familiar with Naga. I have also travelled a lot over the years and I have stayed in different places. With that I am able to compare Naga with the other cities I have become familiar with.

Naga is a beautiful place with a charm of its own. It is place of gentle people who are really proud of their city, with enough reason of course. In UP Ibalon it has contributed its fair share of denizens.

Naga consistently ranked high in competitiveness surveys. It is a well-run city led by legendary mayor who has won award after award and who is not content to just sit behind a desk. It has also led in people empowerment, transparency and public consultation.

With these factors, Naga could be flying high soon but that is not what I see. I even see the threat that it could be left behind and I will be sad for that.

I see the Naga government is very good in the old things that it usually does. In short, the grind. Complain about something, you will be heard. A pothole and a burst pipe is reported, it will be patched soon. A problem rises, the city government will try to look for solutions, in the soonest possible time, that is equitable for all.

But then I feel something is lacking but I cannot put my finger into it.

Even decades ago Naga is already a great educational center. But I see that it really cannot absorb its graduates. Graduates are human capital and it is Camarines Sur which paid for that. Once lost few will come back and they will no longer be available for development nor consumption.

Naguenos might not be bothered by it but to an outsider like me the lack of development in the Diversion Road, which has been open for the past 25 years, is an indictment. I heard the former big landlords of Naga would rather sit on their land and see its "value" rise year after year. I see that beyond the highway the marks of the former haciendas are still around. Why not convert it into a value-added enterprises? I think they should learn a thing or two from outside developers. Or are they simply waiting for outside developers to drop by?

I heard one land owner was dissuaded from putting up a warehouse across Avenue Square because it would ruin the ambience of the strip. Good move but it reminded me of Concepcion Grande which became a center of warehouses. In some cities, rather than putting up warehouses they would rather build buildings for IT purposes.

Which brings up my question. Where is the IT park of Naga? I have learned from a former restaurant owner in Naga who is now an operations manager of a big BPO company that putting up a call center is no big deal and it does not need foreign capital or enterprise to put it up. Why is it that the known call center in Camarines Sut is in Pili and Naga people have to be shuttled there?

In the South, leaders do not talk of bringing in foreign or outside investors. Of course, they will be happy if those kind of people come. They just talk more on how local business leaders should invest so that the city will grow (here in our place they are prepared to just break even in the first ten years but they know they are investing for the future). And of course they will try to look where they fit in in the government's Medium-Term Development Plan (and Cagayan de Oro is very good in this).

Do the local wielders of capital in Naga get together to talk about and pool their resources to plan for the projects of the future? Are Naga landlords willing to become capitalists instead of just relying on rent seeking? Or Naga will just wait for the next Enrile or Astillero?

In Ormoc City, Koreans come in droves and help in the development of the city. All for the love of golf and the sea (their seas are frigid and their weather is cold). Ormoc is developing and I don't think many people will vouch for the competence or cleanliness of its government (so it seems a city can be sold beyond this). Do Naguenos wonder now how can the formerly-derided Camarines Sur Watersports Complex (CWC) became such a hit?

Every time I come to Naga I notice that radio anchors all devote their time for criticism. But of course some are obviously paid hacks of some powers-that-be. But how does hawk-eyed criticism relate to development?

Maybe the city needs to put up a think tank for future options so that it will have a vision and an action for the 21st century economy. And that is not about attracting Indian-owned call centers that pays just a pittance for stressful work.
The piece, I think, deserves a lot of soul searching and action by the local society.