The apology came almost a week after the air traffic management system malfunction that affected thousands of travelers last Jan. 1, 2023, New Year’s Day.

The immediate reaction based on online comments was that the apology came five days late and no new action was mentioned or planned in addition to what air traffic officials already said. But President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. apologized last Friday, Jan. 6, for the mess and gave instructions to ensure there was no repetition.

Marcos said, “I’m sorry. Of course, we have to apologize to our kababayans, especially those who came from abroad. Limitado ang kanilang bakasyon. Nawala iyong dalawa o tatlong araw eh. Alam naman natin, very valuable sa Filipino iyong mga Christmas holiday. Kaya kami’y humihingi ng inyong paumanhin at gagawin namin ang lahat nang hindi na maulit ito.” (I’m sorry. Of course, we have to apologize to our countrymen, especially those from abroad. They have limited time for vacation. Yet they lost two or three days. We know that Christmas holiday is valuable to Filipinos. That’s why we ask for their forgiveness and we will do everything to not let it happen again.)

This apology indeed came five days late and after the President traveled by plane for his state visit to China. Some wished he had issued the statement earlier as an estimated 56,000 travelers were left stranded at airports, had to cancel their vacations, or were forced to spend extra to get new flights as these became available.

What the affected passengers may really want five days after the incident is for the government to compensate them. Some of them had to spend hours at the airport and pay for their food, while others bought new tickets. A sincere and timely apology could also help ease the pain of breaking promises to the family. Then, of course, there should be urgent steps to prevent a repetition of the mess.

What was the root of the problem? A faulty circuit breaker, Marcos said. This caused the uninterrupted power supply (UPS) to shut down, then a second UPS malfunctioned. Air traffic personnel tried to override the power supply but an overvoltage resulted in equipment for communication and navigation getting fried, rendering them unusable. Marcos said a new UPS was purchased immediately and a backup set will follow soon.

The Philippine air traffic management system problem affected not only those travelers and their families waiting for them on New Year’s Day. It brought down by a few notches the country’s standing in international travel with potential visitors having to reconsider plans to visit the Philippines.

I have family members from abroad coming to visit for the Sinulog and they asked if it was safe to fly to the Philippines after what happened with the air traffic system. Of course, it is safe to visit, I said, it was just unfortunate that such a preventable mess had to happen.