Stranded passengers queue up to buy food at a fast food restaurant at a Manila airport on Sept. 27. Philippine Airlines took to the air again after being paralyzed for a day by a wildcat strike, but thousands of passengers remained stranded amid a skeleton flight schedule, the carrier said.

TOKYO — President Benigno Aquino III warned striking employees of Philippine Airlines (PAL) that protesting workers could face charges, including economic sabotage, for holding a strike at the height of typhoon “Pedring” Tuesday.

PAL suspended all flights after airline employees staged a wildcat strike to protest the impending termination of 2,600 workers.

PAL spokesperson Cielo Villaluna said the company’s management canceled the flights after members of the PAL Employees Association (PALEA) refused to work.

Some 172 PAL domestic and international flights were reportedly affected.

Over coffee with the media Tuesday night at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, the President admitted he thought about economic sabotage when he learned about the strike.

“But my lawyers are looking at how clear it (economic sabotage) is. What is clear right now is under the Civil Aviation Act of 2008, any disruption is punishable,” he said.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma said the President discussed the issue with Transportation and Communications Secretary Manuel Roxas II.

The President, Roxas and Coloma, along with other officials, were here for Mr. Aquino’s official working visit that started last Sunday.

“Any person who disrupts the services of an airport is criminally liable under the Civil Aviation Authority Act of 2008 and may be penalized with imprisonment ranging from one year to three years or a fine of not less than P50,000 but not exceeding P500,000 or more as determined by the court,” Mr. Aquino said.

The acts of one personnel who refused to perform his or her tasks such as personally manning check-in counters, checking in passengers and those belonging to the ground crew who abandoned their posts could be considered acts leading to the disruption of airport services at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 2.

Mr. Aquino said the workers could not use the typhoon as an excuse to justify their acts.

When asked if the actions of PALEA members were justifiable, Mr. Aquino said he was told that there was a meeting (Monday night) and (PALEA members) stated there was no plan to embark on such an activity.

He said there were several groups at the meeting, among them the NAIA management, the Philippine National Police (PNP) component and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

“If they would go on such an activity, they will give 24 hours notice. They didn’t do any of those things and there was even a typhoon,” the President said.

Coloma said the walkout of PALEA members “shows insensitivity to the riding public.”

Coloma said Mr. Aquino has directed Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. to supervise the efforts of DOLE, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) and the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) in working closely with PAL management to resolve this matter soon.

Coloma said the government adhered to the rule of law in addressing PALEA’s issue on labor outsourcing and called on PALEA to do the same.

Civil aviation law provides that air travel must be reliable, safe and secure, Coloma said.

PAL resumes partial operations

PAL resumed operations Wednesday with only five international and two domestic flights despite the continuing strike of airline employees.

PAL president Jaime Bautista admitted that it would take weeks before the international and domestic operations of the country’s flag carrier return to normal.

Bautista said the airline operations are only expected to stabilize upon the completion of the spin-off program, which resulted in the sit-down strike started by members of the PALEA last Tuesday to oppose the lay-off of 2,600 workers.

Villaluna said the airline mounted flights to Davao, Kalibo, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Jakarta hours after the striking employees vacated their posts at the NAIA terminal 2 and volunteers took over their duties.

Some 62 domestic flights and 40 international flights remained cancelled.

“We thank our passengers for their patience and understanding and for bearing with us during this difficult time. Rest assured that PAL will do everything to ensure that all our passengers will reach their destination safely,” Villaluna said in a statement.

Villaluna assured the public that the airline is determined to get back on its feet and move forward.

She said that hundreds of PAL volunteers were deployed at PAL’s hub at the NAIA Terminal 2 either as check-in clerks, ramp equipment operators, and customer relations officers.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said only a restraining order from the Court of Appeals (CA) could prevent PAL from implementing the outsourcing program or spin-off that would require retrenchment of employees.

Baldoz said that the DOLE could no longer intervene and order the striking employees to return to work since the labor dispute is now under the jurisdiction of the CA.

“The DOLE decision (approving the spin-off program of PAL management) was affirmed by the Office of the President, and now subject of a petition for certiorari before the Court of Appeals,” Baldoz explained.


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