Flying through the Mactan Cebu International Airport in Cebu is both nostalgic and inspiring for many reasons.
Nostalgic because Mactan is a historic airport of transit for many Mindanaoans flying to the capital. For many of them, it is their first airplane ride.
I remember the late 70s and early 80s when flying from Manila to Iligan would sometimes mean taking an early Bulilit BAC 1-11 flight to Cebu to catch the connecting flight to the southern industrial city. For those who remember, "Bulilit" meant small hours and discounted fares, allowing one’s travel budget to accommodate the cost of the connecting trip to Mindanao.
Back then only Cagayan de Oro, Zamboanga, Cotabato and Davao had direct flights to Manila. All other cities needed to connect through Cebu to go to Manila.
Nonetheless, the fond images are of landing in Mactan before daybreak, the blue taxiway lights illuminating the way for the aircraft, leading it to the old terminal. At the background was the imposing tail of the Philippine Air Force C130s of Mactan Air Base's airlift command meeting the sunrise coming from the east. As these vivid images passed through the airplane window, my late mother would prepare us to deplane and wait for our connecting flight.
After a brief wait at the Mactan pre-departure terminal (which featured some nice hardwood furniture pieces) the connecting trip was a jet-prop (probably a Ys 11 or Hs 748), to the Balo-i airport in Lanao del Norte for passengers traveling from Iligan and Marawi arriving early in the morning. The plane would then proceed to Malabang in Lanao del Sur and on to Cotabato City, making the return trip to Cebu via the same route.
I saw the development of the airport through the years of passing by. Mactan airport improved and its surrounding metropolitan area expanded. The 1995 expansion with new jet ways allowed it to better serve the growing number of international flights, which allowed many of us to make convenient connections to global destinations like Tokyo and Hongkong through one convenient terminal.
Mactan rose to become the delightful and preferred global gateway for people from the south. It is easily accessible and convenient, with pasalubong shops and cafes and the music of a rondalla greeting visitors and enchanting the weary traveler.
As the cultural element gives livelihood to the province's guitar makers and musicians, I would drop cash in the baskets to offer my support. Perhaps other airports should consider adding a cultural feature too.
In recent years, the Mactan terminal has improved further, with two separate terminals to serve the growing number of passengers now more accustomed to flying. Recent statistics show that January to June passenger arrivals breached a million persons, already exceeding all of 2021. This is expected to grow further. Mind you, no airport is perfect, but the innate cultural charm of the terminal and the modernity woven into it is a delight to many.
The Mactan Cebu International airport reflects the confidence of the diverse peoples in the south of the Philippines who are no longer a second fiddle and are ready to take on the world. As more airports have been improved, the emerging reality is that such infrastructure not only serves a function, but acts as an inspiration.