The sudden "postponement" of what was supposed to be the inaugural flight of local budget airline Cebu Pacific from Zamboanga to Sandakan, Malaysia yesterday, October 29, dashed hopes among the travelers of this regular, although informal, trade route.
This distance, once crossed by the defunct Airphil Express, is now served via an overnight vessel, ferrying small traders from both countries to sustain a barter trade sustained by tradition.
The traders hope that a regular air link can allow more business activities to take place between Mindanao and Malaysia.
To say that the route, historic as it may be, is unprofitable may be putting the cart before the proverbial horse—and is therefore bad enough. But to allow this opportunity to crash before it even starts is worse. It prompts traders to wonder whether the government agencies tasked with creating connectivity within the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-the Philippines East Asean Growth Area (BIMP EAGA) are up to the task.
Also, this comes on the heels of the short-lived RoRo shipping link between Davao and Bitung, Indonesia. After a hyped-up launch ceremony with no less than President Duterte and Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the route was shelved.
High-placed sources tell us that this Sandakan-Zamboanga flight risks being canceled altogether due to bureaucratic irregularities preventing government agencies to put the right systems in place. Such obstacles for the flights to commence, according to them, were in fact simple ones that would have cost so little to surmount.
Should this cancellation drag on, the program to build better connectivity between Mindanao and its Malaysian and Indonesian neighbors will eventually be reversed.
This brings us to appraise the BIMP EAGA itself, long the pride of administrations from Ramos to Aquino, and to question whether or not the frontline agencies tasked with its implementation share the President's enthusiasm for making this dream finally come true.