How the Manila Air Traffic Control fiasco mirrors Filipino society

“Minimum viable product” is a term that’s been used and abused in the Philippines since time immemorial. It’s synonymous to a term more familiar to Filipinos: pwede na yan. Indeed, two Inquirer pieces today, pontificating on the recent Air Traffic Control “crisis” that rocked Manila’s airport, allude to it but stop short of delving into its cultural implications. The Editor came a bit close

The Philippines should stop looking at the bare minimum requirement as something that is acceptable, whether it is having only one air traffic management system, having only one international-length runway at the airport or, indeed, having just one main international aviation gateway.

The Noted One, the eminent Manuel L. Quezon III, used a more chi chi term, technical debt — i.e., overdue essential capital works that, in the mean time, are filled by stopgap measures. Think potholes. Filling them every now and then works for a while. Meanwhile the “debt” of having to eventually repave the entire road mounts with time. Quezon writes (or, rather liberally quotes);

The fury over this holiday nightmare led to a term being widely discussed and shared: technical debt. Tufekci helped define what it is. “This method,” she tweeted, “of ‘use duct tape and wire to make old software hobble along’ incurs something called ‘technical debt’—the bill will come due, eventually … Company executives keep betting it will be under the next management … It usually pays off for them … The public pays the price.”

Trouble is, the bigger picture both the Editor and The Noted One, in using only recent history framed by their partisan agendas to expound on the topic, miss is that this is a quintessentially Filipino “crisis”. Look further back and right under their pointy noses is that all too-familiar cultural artefact that encapsulates everything these “thought leaders” use fancy terms to describe — the jeepney.

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The jeepney is the minimum viable product to end all minimum viable products. The technical debt (the long overdue implementation of modern transport systems) that crushes just about every Philippine government’s efforts to pay off is so immense that it may take several decades to even catch up with the “interest” it incurs. Yet, the way the Philippines’ foremost “thought leaders” wax “analysis” with regard to the latest tech debt default that is this aviation “crisis”, one would think Filipinos’ habit of entering into commitments they are inherently incapable of honouring is something new.

That’s poverty in its true unpopular sense. Flying is a lifestyle every Filipino feels entitled to — even calling it an “essential” activity. Unfortunately, Filipinos lack the cultural character to support this luxury sustainably and, instead, rely on foreign capital, expertise, and technology to prop up the services that support it. Want an example of indigenous resources serving the public? That’s the jeepney. It can support a post World War II Philippines but not a 21st Century one of entitled daddy’s boys who think they are entitled to jet off to Bohol whenever their weekend “starts”.

We look to the 1950s as “the good old days”. Consider that in the good old days, jet travel was not an “essential” to most ordinary Filipinos. If we insist on being dependent on foreign capital to prop up our aspiration to become a First World country, at least implement foreign capital properly. Otherwise, abangan ang susunod na kabanata. ‘Til the next “crisis”, folks!

4 Replies to “How the Manila Air Traffic Control fiasco mirrors Filipino society”

  1. Benign0 you are truly delusional with this statement

    “Flying is a luxury every Filipino feels entitled to”

    I would guess 70%-80% of Filipinos have never been in a plane in their life, yet they feel entitled to flying???? Lolz

    You get all your info from terrible media, man. Talk to any Filipino in the province, they don’t care about flying and airports. They care about having enough money to buy food, buy load to play ML, buy load for Facebook, pay the monthly electricity, water, motor payment, and maybe have enough left to buy some tuba for the monthly birthday.

    Flying on a plane??? The only reason they would ever do that were if they were somehow able to secure an ofw job which may or may not be sketchy. The only other way is if a overseas relative paid for it or their employer paid for it.

    I think you get your info from Twitter and Philippines newspapers that nobody reads that have no connection to the average Filipino.

    1. Interestingly enough, what you pointed out above was exactly the point I was making in this earlier tweet

      Dami niyong ngawngaw about the air traffic control fiasco. Just don’t fly. Simple, right? Flying is non-essential to most Filipinos, issues surrounding it are IRRELEVANT to most of them, and the industry is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases.

      Most people shrieked to disagree, though and, instead, argued to the contrary.

  2. I have a suspicion that the travel industry makes use of shills to guilt-trip people to travel. If you’ve seen messages like, “if you don’t travel you are racist,” or “travel the world now or you’ll miss all your life,” whether by bloggers or on ads, I think it’s part of that shilling campaign. And I think guilt tripping people to travel is a bad way of doing things.

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