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Hot Air - Balloon Fest Assailed - Punto Central Luzon

Hot air balloon fest assailed
Feb 02, 2010

CLARK FREEPORT – Exclusivity. Over commercialization. Discrimination against local traders. Insensitivity to the indigenous tribes.

These are but only the principal accusations leveled against the organizers of the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta here.

Traffic jams. Inconvenience to Freeport workers. Stalled deliveries of goods coming out of the factories and supplies going in. Missed flights at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport.

These are but the indignant complaints leveled at the festival itself.

And then some more: Is Capt. Joy Roa, festival organizer, above the law? That is, exempted from government auditing regulations.

The Clark Development Corp. (CDC) is reported to have been providing Roa a subsidy of P3.5 million for the annual festival for a number of years now. It has also been alleged that no liquidation reports have been submitted by Roa to the CDC. And the CDC has been quiet about these allegations since they appeared in print here last year.

This coming February 11-14, the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta will hold its 15th edition amid unresolved problems from earlier holdings and new questions as to its benefits.

A factory worker in Clark said the event deprives the workers of their rightful income from their employers.

“Dahil po sa grabeng trapik sa lahat ng daanan sa Clark dala ng mga nanonood sa hot air balloon festival, mahuhuli na naman sa oras ng trabaho ang mga manggagawa. Eh, arawan lang naman ang marami sa amin kaya tiyak, malaki ang kaltas sa aming mga suweldo,” he said.

A member of the Clark Investors and Locators Association who asked not to be identified for fear of “CDC reprisal” said “productivity decreases up to a disturbing 20 percent” during the hot air balloon festival due to “workers coming in late and deliveries stalled in traffic.”

“CDC should set up a way whereby the free-flow of traffic around the Freeport remains unhampered during the festival,” he said.

A local small entrepreneur lamented the “exclusivity granted Metro Manila-based sellers” at the festival grounds.

“Everything is now exclusive, T-shirts, kites, massage and spa. The organizers allow only favored concessionaires mostly from Manila to have the right to sell these most saleable items. How about our local traders or retailers here? Don’t they have the right to sell?” she said.

Another trader lamented that “the cost of each booth is too prohibitive at P13,000 - P15,000 and yet one cannot have the freedom to choose what to sell.”

A CDC worker said the P150 entrance fee “is too stiff for ordinary people especially school children.”

“The organizers enjoy what we call tubong lugaw (high profit for least cost). The P3.5 million subsidy of CDC to Roa is more than enough to complete the project as almost everything is sponsored . UPS takes charge of the balloon basket, rooms, meals, free venue, physical set up, etc. The balloon pilots even pay registration fee to participate and spend for their own plane fare to come here. So what else is there to spend? Then there is the entrance fee and the cost of booths for sellers which all accrue to the organizers,” he said.

As this developed, a group of Aeta tribesmen are reportedly preparing an inter-tribal resolution declaring Roa “persona non grata” and assailing the CDC for “betraying the rights of indigenous peoples to their own land” with their alleged exclusion from the hot air balloon fiesta.

“Bakit pinapayagan ng CDC na alipustahin kami sa sarili naming lupain? Bakit hindi man lamang kami mabigyan ng lugar sa festival grounds kung saan namin mailalako aming mga katutubong produkto para kahit papaano ay makapaghanapbuhay kami,” an Aeta elder told Punto.

The hot air balloon festival was started in1994 by then Tourism Undersecretary Mina Gabor and Regional Director Ronaldo Tiotuico to perk up activities at the then Clark Special Economic Zone which was yet to be totally cleared of volcanic debris.

There were 13 balloonists that participated in the first festival, among whom were Sung Kee Park of South Korean, British Airways general manager John Emery, and Roa.

It was reported that the festival was “turned over” to Roa to make it a “purely private affair without further government funding” according to a DOT source.

Calls to the CDC for their comments on the issue were not returned as of presstime.

-By Punto I-Team


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