Letter from Gemma Cruz; Lee Kuan Yew turning in his grave



First Word
MY column on tourism marketing and nation-branding (“Three times, the DoT copied tourism campaigns of other states,” Manila Times, June 20,2017) has brought a harvest of letters from here at home and abroad.

No letter has been more stirring than this note from Miss International herself, Gemma Cruz-Araneta, who served as tourism secretary under President Joseph Estrada (1998-2001).

Dear Yen,
I read with great interest your column in today’s Manila Times; it brought back a flood of bittersweet memories of those two years and eight months I was at the helm of the Department of Tourism. Needless to say, I will always remember how you and your staff helped me focus on what tourism should sell aside from the usual “sun, sand and sea.” You helped me avoid perilous waves and shoals. I can never thank you enough.

As you know, when I spoke about “open skies” in my first interview, Lucio Tan unleashed his attack dogs; but, significantly, the then President Estrada mentioned the liberalization of air policies in what turned out to be his last SONA (July 2000). He said something about “opening” the skies to Taiwan and the Clark airport.

The last sentence of your article brought to mind my “Rediscovery” program and the “pride of place” it tried to foment. Indeed, I boldly claimed that the world map could not be completed until Enrique de Malaca circumnavigated the globe, with Magellan at his side. To date, no one has accused me of plagiarizing that campaign but the travel sector was not too happy about my promoting domestic tourism so that Filipinos could rediscover their country.

As it turned out, domestic tourism saved the day because kidnappings (remember Sipadan?) and similar terrorist (MRT bombing) activities began to plague the industry; our main markets issued travel advisories several times. Can you imagine, DOT’s budget for promotions was a measly P120 million (if memory serves).

David Guerrero came at the tail end with the “More than the usual” (which I believe was original) although I had warned him that I could not possibly pay him for being my first cousin. He did not mind, as he wanted to have his foot in the door.

Although Estrada mentioned liberal air policies (perhaps unwittingly) in his last SONA, in the mid-year economic plan of his administration tourism was glaringly ignored; so much for nation-branding.

Yen, you are among the few who realize that tourism could be an effective instrument for nation building and nation-branding. Thank you, once again, for your assistance and guidance.


I was privileged to work with Gemma as a consultant during her stint as tourism secretary. Before South Africa implored the world, “Rediscover South Africa” in this century, Gemma was trumpeting Rediscovery Philippines.

I thought it evoked a wonderful poem by W. H. Auden: “Look, stranger, on this island now.”

And so they should.

Lee Kuan Yew turning in his grave
Lee Kuan Yew, the redoubtable Singaporean leader who had a penchant to hector other leaders and lecture the West about Asian values, must be turning in his grave. While his country is still up in the charts for sheer performance, the family he has left behind is being torn apart by a family feud. His political dynasty may not be as cohesive or admirable as everyone supposed.

The Economist reports that LKY’s three surviving children are feuding over their father’s legacy. Incumbent Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is under fire from his siblings, sister Lee Wei Ling and brother Lee Hsien Yang.

The siblings differ with their elder brother over their father’s will. They accuse him of misusing his position and harboring political ambitions for his son. And they say, they “worry for Singapore as a result.”

Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang together issued a statement announcing Lee Hsien Yang’s intention to move away from the city-state. They say he is leaving because of the rift with their brother.

The siblings declared: “We feel big brother omnipresent. We fear the use of the organs of state against us,”

Lee Hsien Loong, in a brief statement released shortly after that of his siblings, denied the claims.

The family dispute centers on the house in which Lee Kuan Yew lived from 1945 until his death in 2015. He wanted his daughter, Lee Wei Ling, who was living in it at the time of his death, to stay there for as long as she wished, and for it to be demolished thereafter, largely for fear that it would otherwise be made a monument to him. His two younger children allege that their brother, while publicly supporting his father’s wish, has in practice tried to frustrate it, in an effort “to milk Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy”.

Lee Hsien Loong responds in his statement, “I will do my utmost to continue to do right by my parents. At the same time, I will continue serving Singaporeans honestly and to the best of my ability.”

Lee Wei Ling last year accused her brother of exploiting their father’s memory, but Lee Hsien Yang has never before publicly criticized his brother. A former head of SingTel, the state-controlled former telecoms monopoly that is the most valuable firm listed in Singapore, and the current chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority, he is a pillar of the establishment. Singaporeans are agog at the unprecedented rebuke of the prime minister from such a senior figure.

Some Singaporeans posted responses to the prime minister’s statement on Facebook, urging him to sue his siblings for libel.

Lee Hsien Yang says he is ready to face a lawsuit. He says the purpose of his statement was to make it harder to thwart his father’s wishes.

But Lee Hsien Loong says it is his siblings’ airing of the family dispute that “has hurt our father’s legacy”.

In my view, what the dispute really hurts is his father’s sanctimony. He does not look holier than other people now.

LKY poked his nose into the business of others, and tried to tell them what to do.

He made it official policy for Singapore to sue opposition politicians and journalists who criticized him and his government with expensive lawsuits in his homecourt, in order to drive them to bankruptcy or to submission.

If Lee Hsien Loong sues his siblings to accomplish the same objective, he will drive Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy to disrepute and ridicule.

Public office no heirloom
Filipino political dynasties should not laugh. There is a strong movement in the country today to force through Congress a law against political dynasties in time for the mid-term elections in 2019. Liberal Party leaders, Drilon, Belmonte, etc., could suddenly remember the bills they filed to prevent political dynasties.

One political dynast, former President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd, could wind up in the slammer.

Another dynast, Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., must win a tough election protest at the Supreme Court to claim his legacy.

The day may come when Filipinos will finally realize how offensive it is for some of their countrymen to claim public office as a family heirloom.



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1 Comment

  1. DoT is spending far too much time and money on slogans and adverts (with poor results), and lots of overseas trips ( but seemingly not part of a targetted or co-ordinated strategy or any tangible returns), but doing little on the ground to ensure that the visitors who do come have an exceptional experience from start to finish, and to provide the relevant advice/support to local businesses which have a strong tourist customer base.
    DoT need to get their hands dirty and work at the ‘coalface’, especially to develop tourism in new areas and not seek to overpopulate the established locations, or that will end up suffering from diminishing returns/lower quality/worse experience.

    A happy tourist is the best advert of all.

    Tourist numbers could be readily doubled in 5 years, since the problems are so obvious and not so difficult to fix, given focus, application, and hard work.

    The tourism promotion board and cesar montano needs auditing and disbanding. It is a rogue operation with wanda teo showing no leadership in allowing such silos to operate as a personal promotion board. Weak and incompetent.

    DoT is a national embarrassment, and is promoting stupidity as the national brand.
    wanda teo is a national embarrassment.