The slew of holidays during the Christmas season is often an enticing opportunity for leisurely travel around the country. And so it was particularly during the dry and cool weeks just past.

My extended family and I visited Bohol from 29 December 2013 to 1 January 2014 for a holiday and to get a first-hand look at the ruins wrought by the 15 October 7.2-magnitude earthquake and the recovery since. We were deeply impressed by how the province has bounced back relatively quickly – many thanks to the massive restoration efforts of the various government agencies and of the provincial and municipal governments. Thanks, too, to the generous helping hands of international organizations and national private groups.

It was heartening to see our provincianos feeling upbeat and local businessmen moving on with optimism. Hotel and resort owners/operators, and even informal vendors of food and handicrafts, reported a gradual uptick of tourist arrivals in November that surged further since early December. Also visible were preparations for the repair or reconstruction – set to begin in earnest this year – of the damaged centuries-old churches officially dubbed national cultural treasures by the National Museum.

Our group was scheduled to return to Manila via the afternoon PAL Express plane on January 1st, 2014. Thus, after more sightseeing of the earthquake-stricken northern towns in the morning, we proceeded to the airport only to be dismayed by the notice that our flight was cancelled owing to a disabled PAL aircraft since that morning. We tried rebooking for any available fight the next day, but were advised to take the ferry to Cebu so we could catch the evening plane to Manila.

At the overnight hotel, at the waiting shed prior to boarding the ferry, and during the ferry ride, one couldn’t help hearing especially foreign tourists bemoaning the inconvenience and their messed-up international flight connections. A stark and painful contrast, indeed, to the gratifying experience they had during their sojourn in Bohol. And a great pity that their tour had to end on a sour note – an impression they would be bringing home.

To the local tourists the inconvenience was probably more bearable. However, a British guest of ours also had to miss his connection on January 1st to the U.S. Fortunately, he was booked on PAL, so he could easily be rebooked on another PAL flight the next day. But for tourists booked on other airlines rebooking had to be more tortuous and costly.

In the national scheme of things, the above incident may seem like a trivial matter. But what’s not so trivial about it is that it’s one of those easily avoidable failiures caused by sheer human negligence or lack of a sense of urgency. For instance, why couldn’t a technical crew be dispatched straightaway by the authorities to fix a relatively minor problem (as passengers were told)? Having occurred mid-morning of January 1st, the plane could have flown back to Manila in the afternoon of the same day instead of two days later.

With the airport totally unserviceable, the nascent rebound of tourism was needlessly nipped in the bud. And while the foregone revenue from the industry may not have been all that huge, the demonstration effect globally of such a fiasco is not likely to be easily forgotten.

In order not to belie the bold slogan “It’s more fun in the Philippines”, a few doable remedies to such mishaps come to mind. One, airlines should be required to bear the costs to passengers not only of accommodations and local transfers but also of inter-airline connections, not to mention moral damages if demanded. Two, as an immediate solution to the incident in Tagbilaran (or similarly constrained airports), allow a second plane to be on the parking apron to significantly reduce the probability of the airport again being completely unserviceable. (Previously, three planes could be parked simultaneously on the apron but this has been disallowed following the successive Cebu Pacific mishaps last year on the Davao and NAIA runways — not on the apron, mind you.

Three, the near-term plan, we’re told, is to extend the apron for a second plane – which should be a simple matter and, therefore, must be carried out and completed with the highest urgency. Finally, evidently it would be to the best interest not only of Bohol but of the country as a whole if the construction of the long-overdue Panglao airport, which is among the current administration’s headline projects, gets underway soonest.

Filipinos are not only known to be forbearing and forgiving, we also rank pretty high in the international happiness index. But patience, supposedly a virtue, may well be what’s keeping us back as a country. Advancement entails a sense of urgency which seems common among our Asian neighbors but scarce in our country, as commentators have often remarked.

It’s time our leaders and policymakers were imbued with a strong sense of urgency and resolve to give a big push to the infrastructure projects via PPPs (public-private partnerships) or otherwise. These are obviously needed to move the economy onto a higher path of growth and poverty-reducing employment through tourism, manufacturing, and agriculture – the highly-touted priority sectors of the government’s development strategy.

The pressure to catch up to global competition is ratcheting up especially with the ASEAN Economic Community in full swing by end-2015. It’s time our “vicious patience” gave way to “virtuous impatience” and we avoided the turnoff: “What the right hand giveth, the left hand taketh away”.

Commentary, Philippine Daily inquirer, January 20, 2014, p. A17