There is many reasons why Manila never became a major hub. These are my own assumptions thru observation of historical facts.
Manila had all the proper tools it needed to become the major hub in Asia. Manila saw the first transpacific flight by a Pan American flying boat. Philippine Airlines was the first airline established in Asia and the first one to fly both to the Americas and Europe. However, we have to remember that these accomplishments were all achieved thanks to direct U.S. influence due to the fact that the Philippines were under brief U.S. control after they were taken away from Spain. As a matter of fact, the Philippines were more developed and had a stable and much larger economy than Japan after WW 2.
With this in mind, I always wonder why English possessions fared so well after they achieved independence; Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong are great examples. However, the Philippines like the great majority of Latin American countries languished with corruption and poverty after independence was achieved. You might say that there was something that the English did that the Spanish didn't do! Nevertheless, the Spaniards are in no position to be blamed for the mismanagement and misfortune of the their former colonies.
The Philippines were technically very much more advanced than any country in Asia in terms of Aviation. PAL's network spanned from Manila to Madrid flying westward and to San Francisco and even as far away as Mexico City, at one point, flying eastward. PAL had a worldwide network before Singapore Airlines and Malaysia were ever conceived. As a matter of fact PAL even provided technical assistance to Japan Airlines. In essence JAL learned how to fly thanks to PAL.
However, all these things were thrown down the trash, so to speak, after years of corruption and mismanagement by the various political establishments that ruled the country. While Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and so forth, were busy establishing their national airlines into world class carriers, Imelda Marcos was busy taking over PAL's fleet of wide bodies for her usual shopping sprees to Paris and New York. Sadly, country had passed from being one of the most developed and prosperous in Asia to one of the poorest and most corrupt. By 1998, after the devastating Asian financial crisis, the country was almost left without a national airline.
However, thanks to the new PAL Centennial terminal at MNL, for the first time can MNL really call itself a true hub and spoke system. This terminal takes much of the credit for PAL recent financial stability and is a testament of what can happen be achieved and accomplished when things are properly done correctly. I believe that now, PAL has the foundation to establish itself and take back the honor of being the first in Asia...
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Photo © Michael Arcellana
Pan Am - The World's Most Experienced Airline.