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.