Not for a slice of the pie, but for a share of mind, I am joining the conversation about a new tourism campaign, slogan and rebranding of the Philippines under the government of President Rodrigo Duterte.
This rebranding project has descended on us, deus ex machina, like the country’s feverish rush to contract and host the Miss Universe Beauty Pageant next year.
But unlike the pageant, which is driven partly by Pia Wurtzbach’s surprise win as Miss Universe, the rebranding has no victory to build on, unless it is DU30’s victory in the May elections. This rethink is totally unexpected. The previous campaign, under the Aquino administration, did not meet its ambitious tourism targets, and many are still shaking their heads at its frivolous messaging.
The news releases give the impression that this major project is already under way, principally because of the Miss Universe pageant.
The Department of Tourism has also intimated that the contract for the new tourism campaign has been set at P650 million, and that it has been won by the advertising agency McCann Worldgroup Philippines, presumably in a bidding that was done in haste and without public announcement.
When did this bidding take place, and who submitted bids? How can the DOT commit itself this early and so quickly to an undertaking that will bind the country to an image makeover for years?
Having already seen past administrations and DOT regimes fail miserably in raising Philippine tourism to world-class level and arrivals, and how they faltered with campaigns that were an outright plagiarism (“it’s more fun” is not original), a knock-off (“Pilipinas kay ganda” copied a Polish campaign), pedestrian (the 7,107islands campaign of Ace Durano), I contend here that the new campaign must meet a threshold test of the following criteria:
1. Historical truth
2. Geographical fit
3. Cultural authenticity
4. Popular awareness
5. Congruence with the national vision of President Duterte
I urge McCann to review and rethink whatever it is cooking along these lines. Perhaps it can do preliminaries for the onrushing pageant, but for the long haul when it truly matters, it must meet the higher bar of a campaign that will match the best in the world and make Filipinos proud.
Pearl of the Orient never equaled
With that said, I will submit here my recommendation that the country should adopt for its tourism campaign, slogan and rebranding, the traditional signification and image of the Philippines in national and international annals – as “the Pearl of the Orient.”
In nearly 500 years of history, counting from the discovery in 1521, the country has never had a nickname or sobriquet more memorable, truer or more enduring.
“The white man’s burden” and “little brown brothers” burn us to this day in embarrassment.
“Showcase of democracy in Asia” is plainly false, and impossible to live up to.
Methinks the following steps should be taken to make the switch from “fun” to “pearl.”
1. First, the pearl or South Sea pearl should be officially adopted as the national gemstone, by legislation if needed, because the most prized and biggest pearls have been found in the Philippines – in the Sulu seas and in Palawan.
2.Second, “the Pearl of the Orient” should be designated as the national slogan and campaign theme.
3. Third, the designated advertising and marketing agency should then devise the appropriate campaign for marketing the Philippines as a tourist destination.
Why Pearl of the Orient?
The arguments I will cite to support this proposal are the following:
1.The pearl is one of those rare things on earth. It is a living gem. It comes from a living organism, the pearl oyster. And its possessor should take care of it, as if it were a living organism. A pearl gets thirsty.
2. The best pearl, namely the South Sea pearl is greatly prized for its iridescence and luster. Who can refuse an image of our country as a thing of beauty that shimmers in the light?
3. Father Juan J. Delgado, a Spanish Jesuit missionary, coined the term “Pearl of the Orient Seas” for the Philippines in 1751. Jose Rizal invoked the phrase in his his last farewell, ‘Mi Ultimo Adios’, calling his native land, “perla del mar de oriente.” In the national anthem, the phrase is translated to “perlas ng silangan” in Filipino.
4. In his much praised history of the Spanish empire, Empire, How Spain Became a World Power (Harper Collins, 2003), the historian Henry Kamen devotes an entire chapter to the Philippines, which he entitled, “the Pearl of the Orient.”
5. In volume one of Filipino Heritage, the ten-volume magazine encyclopedia on the Philippines, there is a highly informative article on the underwater treasures of the Philippines, written by a Filipino Muslim scholar, Asiri Zbubakar.
In this piece, he discusses pearl-diving as a leading industry of Sulu for centuries, and how pearls brought Sulu into the mainstream of internaitonal trade routes. Arab, Chinese, and western traders highly prized the Sulu pearls.
Pearl of wisdom
Writing in The Philippine Star in 2012, Ms. Mara S. Miano wrote a revealing piece about pearls, which she slyly titled, “Pearls of Wisdom.”
Among the pearls she shared in the article are:
1. The most crucial factor of a pearl is its luster, not its size. Luster is the amount of light reflected on the pearl’s surface — the more reflective the pearl, the more valuable it is.
3. Size matters. Big pearls cost more. South Sea pearls are the rarest and biggest in the world.
4. The Philippines, particularly Palawan, is known all over the world to be a highly regarded source of gold South Sea pearls. Jewelmer is the biggest producer of these pearls.
5. Saltwater pearls, especially South Sea pearls, are expensive because it takes a saltwater oyster up to five years to make one single pearl. Freshwater mussels, on the other hand, only take six months. A saltwater oyster cannot grow another pearl after one has been harvested from it.
The president and the oyster
There is a remarkable symmetry between a pearl-making saltwater oyster and a Filipino president.
It takes as much time for a Filipino president to complete his term (six years), as it does for a saltwater oyster to make a pearl (five years).
We must hope that by the time President Duterte is done, he will have turned the Philippines into a pearl.
That’s my pearl of wisdom for today. And that should clinch my argument.