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The Land of the Plane Returning

Experience this: a plane destined for another airport had to turn around fast to make it back to the airport where it came from.

Last June 19, I was on a connecting flight from Bacolod, where I conducted a two-week film appreciation and film criticism workshop. I was not alone in that gentle city; there were three other resource speakers with me: Dr. Roland Tolentino, a film scholar and a fellow Manunuri; Elvert Bañares, a pioneering experimental filmmaker and a film festival organizer; and, Kristian Sendon Cordero, filmmaker and multi-awarded writer. Behind us was the formidable and tested Negros Foundation, with its Executive Director, Tanya Lopez working with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the Film Development Council of the Philippines, and the De La Salle University of Bacolod.

With candor, we all agreed the workshop had fulfilled what we wanted to do: introduce the art and science of film criticism and begin the path to developing local critics. The wisdom of having critics who understand the language and the political economy of film production in the region is important in benchmarking and creating the standard by which improvement of local films can be measured.

My travel was auspicious: the morning flight from Bacolod arrived on time in Manila, Terminal 2. It was about 12 noon when I settled in the pre-departure lounge and my flight to Legazpi (spelled with an “S” by the counter 16 of the terminal and I have a photograph taken as “receipt” of the linguistic realization). After a few minutes, there was an announcement saying our flight would be delayed as the plane that would take us would be late in departing from Cotabato. From 3 pm, our flight schedule was moved to 4, then to 6pm. This was followed by a different announcement: due to the persistent lightning, all boarding for waiting flights were suspended around the airport.

With no one leaving the lounge, it was filled quickly with people. At this point, I was in front of the counter at Gate 16 where two ground stewards were kept busy by passengers asking for updates. On the notice display, the times indicated had not been altered. This caused confusion for many who thought the plane for Legazpi had already flown. In fact, passengers bound for other places would flock at the said counter because any word would assure them their schedule would still work.

As the bad weather went on, the temper of people also took turns for the worse. At our counter, the ground stewards opted to keep quiet. One passenger who was talking with me reported how she approached the steward and got no response. “Habo na magsimbag.” The absence of information caused a gap, which was supplied by any kind of interpretation from the people.

Verified that late afternoon: we are poor when it comes to information dissemination and updates. Formal organizations for all their claims about globalization and synergy seemed to hold on the idea that we, Filipinos, were raised not to ask questions and merely wait. But the world, as exemplified by the irritated passengers in the airport, had changed. We want to know.

There were rumors going around that the pilot of our plane had not yet arrived. But news filtered in that it had arrived long ago. Any movement beyond the glass gate caused a furor from the crowd that began to form a line as if anytime, the ground stewards would check our boarding pass and we would soon be in the plane. As the anxiety grew, we all noticed this other female steward running from the tube connecting to the plane that had taxied in. She was giving a thumbs-up gesture. We all clapped our hands. We were flying soon.

We forgot our impatience and anger. We found ourselves walking to the tube. A few minutes, we were all settled in our seats. The plane soared for the 40-minute flight. We were barely munching on the chocolate cookies when the initial approach to landing was heard. Then the most awaited words came over the air: we were landing on time at the Legazpi International Airport. You know the sensation of the plane starting to prepare for the landing: there is a kind of humming from beneath the floor, marked by thuds as the wheels are released. But then, was I imagining things? Did I just feel the plane lift itself up again?

The next few minutes were terrifying as it was unknown territory to most of us. “This is your Captain speaking. We are in contact with ground-based control (or to that effect) as we look for alternative landing sites. (I am not sure if the Captain said it in plural but he used this phrase, “alternative landing…”). There were short hushed seconds in the plane. Then the voice came again: “That site is Manila.” Would it have been easier to say “We are returning to Manila?”

The reason for that shift in landing plan was poor visibility. To this, I overheard irate voices declaring how this airport was not “international” enough. Wasn’t there a confirmation that our plane could land even at twilight? There was a rush to call up kin. Some calls got through as we were still flying low. Then the plane quieted down. I could hear the fingers of the old lady shuffling through her rosary beads. I was breathing heavily, my feet pushing against the floor of the plane as if such an act would stop anything untoward. It didn’t take long before the voice came again: Prepare for landing. We were back in Manila.


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