Recently I got the chance to travel to Manila again and did so by air via Butuan City in Agusan del Norte. Butuan is some 120 kilometers west of Lianga and is the regional center for Region XIII or the Caraga Region to which the town of Lianga and its province of Surigao del Sur belong. Going to Butuan from my hometown takes over just 2 hours using major sections of the so called Pan-Philippine Highway which stretches from Davao City in the southeastern Mindanao to the northern cities of Butuan and Surigao.
While sitting in the pre-departure lounge of the Butuan Domestic Airport almost a week ago, I had the chance to reflect once more on how the open skies policy, competing airline companies and the resulting competitive airline fares have changed the way Filipinos particularly in Mindanao travel long distances across the length and breadth of this country.
When I was a young man, the abilty to hop on a plane and be in Cebu or Manila in just an hour or so was synonymous with a fat wallet and and equally loaded bank account. While walking across the tarmac to board the waiting planes, one touched elbows with the relatively affluent members of Philippine society, those who can afford to write off the then prohibitive air fares on a regular basis.
Nowadays, the price of plane tickets has become affordable to a greater number of Filipino travellers and many of those who used to endure the rigors and delays of land and sea travel because they had no choice can now indulge in the occasional plane ride because it has become more practical to do so. Times have certainly changed.
As I sat there in the crowded room, I glanced around to take note of my fellow passengers on that afternoon flight to Manila. In front of me were a pair of businessmen, immaculately groomed and intensely engrossed in a Powerpoint presentation on a laptop computer. On my left was a nervous, young married couple on their first plane trip, middle-level government employees set to attend a training seminar in Tagaytay City in Cavite.
Beside me on my right was an old man in his early seventies who told me he was a retired farmer visting his daughter in Quezon City. He had shamefacedly admitted to me that he was deathly afraid of flying but was desperately lonely for the company of his only daughter and young grandchildren. I tried to reassure him but felt I was rather inadequate at the task.
Behind me the aimless chatter of two young children and their young mother continued unabated. From my eavesdropping, I learned that the lady was to meet her foreign boyfriend for the first time in Manila and she was bringing along her two children born out of wedlock. A sad story I prayed then that would end well.
So many lives there, all brought together for a brief moment in time by the anticipation of the miracle of flight. A miracle that is fast becoming accessible to more and more people from all walks of life. May it remain so.