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By Miguel R. Ca­mus

Fac­ing its worst cri­sis in gen­er­a­tions, Asia’s old­est car­rier an­nounced dur­ing its 80th an­niver­sary event on Mon­day its mis­sion to serve Filipinos all over the world was far from over.

“PAL (Philip­pine Air­lines) is alive, we’re still here, and we’re here to stay,” said PAL pres­i­dent Gil­bert Santa Maria af­ter a dawn mass to com­mem­o­rate the oc­ca­sion.

“This great lady—Philip­pine Air­lines—will stay aloft while she is in our care,” he added.

PAL of­fi­cials hon­ored the mile­stone af­ter im­ple­ment­ing over the week­end a painful wave of job cuts af­fect­ing over 2,000 em­ploy­ees or a third of its work­force. It was the sin­gle-big­gest work­force re­duc­tion in lo­cal avi­a­tion, un­der­scor­ing the se­vere im­pact of COVID-19 on the busi­ness and the broader tourism sec­tor.

Owned by bil­lion­aire Lu­cio Tan, PAL is in the mid­dle of a cru­cial re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram, which have been kept un­der wraps.

But it is ex­pected to cul­mi­nate in the fil­ing of Chap­ter 11 cred­i­tor pro­tec­tion pro­ceed­ings in the United States and the fi­nal­iza­tion of a $5-bil­lion debt re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram, the In­quirer pre­vi­ously re­ported. The last time the car­rier re­sorted to court pro­tec­tion was dur­ing its re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram ex­e­cuted in the wake of the 1997 Asian Fi­nan­cial Cri­sis.

Santa Maria’s state­ments also came as the Philip­pine gov­ern­ment grap­ples with a spike in COVID-19 cases and the slow roll­out of vac­cines.

The Philip­pine Col­lege of Physi­cians on Sun­day warned in­fec­tions were ac­cel­er­at­ing and urged peo­ple to ob­serve health pro­to­cols and to avoid un­nec­es­sar­ily leav­ing their homes.

More strin­gent rules would hurt the travel sec­tor and the econ­omy, but Santa Maria said they re­mained fo­cused on repa­tri­at­ing over­seas Filipinos and de­liv­er­ing cru­cial cargo, es­pe­cially COVID-19 vac­cines.

PAL, which has the widest in­ter­na­tional net­work among do­mes­tic car­ri­ers, said it has car­ried 310,000 of the dis­placed 420,000 over­seas Filipinos to their home prov­inces from March 2020 up to the present. From March 2 this year, it has trans­ported 345,610 vac­cine doses to var­i­ous prov­inces across the Philip­pines.

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