DOT Secretary Frasco’s fiasco

How unfortunate that Secretary Christina G. Frasco of the Department of Tourism (DOT) should suddenly be mired in the fiasco of “Love Philippines”, the new branding titled “GINTO, Greater Innovation, New Tourism Opportunities “ launched last 27 June to celebrate the Golden Anniversary of Philippine tourism. Sec. Frasco described it as DOT’s “ commitment to continuous innovation and growth, marking a new chapter in the Philippines’ tourism journey.”

However, after barely a week roadblocks and potholes are deviating DOT’s “journey” to innovation and growth. The usual blogger denounced the misuse of stock videos taken not in the Philippines but in Indonesia, Dubai, Switzerland and other foreign countries. Indeed, why use photos of rice terraces in Bali, aren’t Batad and Mayoyao just as spectacular? Whoever was dishonest enough to do that must despise the Philippines. It was unethical for advertising contractors involved to think that no one would ever find out; technology is so advanced that there are no more secrets. As for the use of “Love”, I believe the word is generic enough, so if Cyprus has used it, why can’t Cebu province and the Philippine Republic?

The Guest of Honor and Speaker of that auspicious evening was President Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos (PBBM), very apropos for it was his late father who elevated the Bureau of Travel and Tourism Industries, an agency of the Department of Commerce and Industry to a department headed by a secretary (or minister) with a cabinet portfolio. Mr. Jose Aspiras, presidential press secretary, became the first ever Secretary of Tourism. He softened the face of martial law as he promoted our breathtaking white beaches, “sun, sea & sand”. Palawan, yet uncharted and inaccessible, was becoming a must-see destination. Mr. Aspiras was deservedly called “Sunshine Joe” and his goal was to lure a million tourists.

Sec. Christina Frasco said the objective of “Love Philippines” is “to showcase our diverse facets while embracing the distinctiveness of the Filipino people…The Philippines is not just a destination but an immersive experience that embraces the warmth and genuine hospitality of the Filipinos”. The “Filipino smile” is celebrated as a most valuable asset. “Love Philippines” is aligned with PBBM’s Tourism Development Plan (2023-2028 ) that aims “ to position the Philippines as a permanent force in the region’s tourism landscape.”

“Love Philippines” was presented last 27 June, as the DOT celebrated its 50th anniversary. It was the formal presentation, not just a “ mood” preview as claimed by advertising executives embarrassed by their unforgiveable faux pas. All the former secretaries were invited, but we had to take antigen tests 24 hours before the event, email the results to DOT or show these to a phalanx of security personnel at the entrance of the Manila Hotel Tent. Most of us showed up: The Aspiras sisters (Reggie and Aida)represented their father “Sunshine Joe” who passed away in 1999 when I was at the helm of DOT, so I arranged a 2-day memorial service.

Mr. Roberto Pagdanganan whom I had met during the Centennial of the Philippine Revolution was Bulacan governor for 12 years! He succeeded Richard Gordon in 2004 and signed a tourism agreement with People’s China. We agreed that the DOT has too many responsibilities, but so little power to fulfill its mandate. As DOT secretary, we had no say nor control over matters that affected tourist arrivals such as infrastructure, civil aviation policies, airport management, environmental issues, heritage and cultural preservation, etc.

Also present were Mr. Rafael Alunan (1991-92) who after a year was appointed to the Department of Interior and Local Government; Richard Gordon (2001-2004), my successor, is remembered for “Wow Philippines”; Vicente Carlos (1991-1995), Alberto Lim (2010-2011) , Wanda Teo (2016-2018) in a scarlet terno, shared a table. I was surprised when Mina Gabor, my predecessor, greeted me so enthusiastically; she must have forgotten all those imagined aggravations, but she came so late she missed the photo ops with President BBM. Conspicuously absent was Narzalina Lim, twice secretary ( April 1986-1989 and Feb- Sept 1992); the late and lamented Ramon Jimenez (2033-2016) was sorely missed. We were awarded plaques of appreciation.

The presentation was an overwhelming dose of pep and purpose what with its thunderous sounds, piercing rays of light, gigantic images of pretty faces, toothy smiles, swaying bodies, mounds of delicious food, exotic ethnic people, heritage, suburbia, Amorsolo landscapes, bountiful marine life all taken at close range and from unusual angles.

Bracing winds of common sense seem to say that the DOT should be given more enforcement power so it does not have to spend money, time and effort on episodic but volcanic activities like innovative branding. The DOT should concentrate on what really makes tourists, both local and foreign, fall in love with the Philippines. That is my unvarnished opinion, no offense meant to Sec. Christina Frasco whom I am sure will survive this nasty fiasco.