I HAD been against the idea of having the next Miss Universe pageant in the Philippines, since the first time it was mentioned by Pia Wurtzbach. A transnational pageant, in all its extravagance and decadence, has no place in a country that is impoverished.
Thankfully, President Rodrigo Duterte said no to the pageant: “Dili ko. Gasto. I will not waste money on that.” (Mindanews, July 27)
This is consistent with the President’s insistence on simplicity, on refusing the pomp and pageantry of red carpets and fashion, of demanding that his Cabinet fly economy, fall in line, like regular people. The President has consistently and emphatically questioned privileged living and ostentatious display—which is what Miss Universe is—in the midst of the hunger and poverty of a majority in the country.
The President has also been consistent about refusing spin and scripts—there is no need for superficiality and fakery when you are talking about the real state of the nation, when you are not in denial about the crises we are faced with.
The Miss Universe, in all its superficiality, in its focus on how a person looks, in its extravagance, in its objectification of women, has no place in the government that Duterte stands for. It is symbolically out of sync with everything he has told us about his government of service.
The Miss U as Tourism Project
The day after Duterte said he does not want to sponsor the Miss Universe pageant, Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo Teo had a press conference announcing that it was happening here anyway, with an $11-million production cost to be shouldered by the private sector. “This undertaking would practically entail no expense on the part of the government,” Teo said. She also says this will be “a boost to local businesses” and the “livelihood of millions of Filipinos.” She continued: “If this translates to reality, our tourism industry stands to gain tremendously.” (TheStandard.com.ph, 29 July)
To say I was flabbergasted would be an understatement.
To begin with, there is absolutely no way that government will not spend on a transnational beauty pageant, the largest, most famous in the world—or rather, the universe.
Teo herself said on July 15 that the DOT is “sponsoring” the Miss Universe pageant (Philstar.com, 15 July). How can government “sponsor” a pageant and not spend anything? At this press conference, Teo also mentioned that there will be a franchise fee, which for Miss Universe is rumored to be at $80,000. So, who’s paying for that?
Even just that DOT official press conference is already public money spent on this event. The fact that the DOT is at the forefront of selling this idea to the President, announcing it to nation, is already tourism officials’ time spent away from doing its work: which is to build a tourism plan for the next six years. NOT plan a beauty pageant.
And no, there is no proof that Miss Universe translates to a boost in tourism. In 1994, when we last had the Miss Universe here, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reveals that there was no “boost” in tourism compared to 1993. Sure there was more foot traffic, but in terms of growth, 1994 was lower (14.7 percent) compared to 1993 (19 percent). 1995 was even lower than 1994 (11.8 percent), proving that the trend was not even an upswing.
On that same Miss Universe year, the Philippines had the lowest tourist numbers compared to other Asean countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia. We were only a tad bit higher than Vietnam. The same rankings hold for 1995 and 1996. So no upswing, no boost.
Private sector money
Teo confirms Henry Sy is one of those funding this production (Philstar.com, 29 July). So, of course, “DOT is eyeing the SM MOA Arena” as venue. And, of course, we can imagine the pageant selling other Sy products like BDO and San Miguel Corp., maybe candidates will sashay down City of Dreams, and be billeted at the Conrad Hotel. They wear clothes and shoes from SM—the best in the Philippines!
When Teo says that local businesses stand to gain by having the Miss Universe pageant here, she’s really only talking about big business—and businesses NOT in competition with Sy. After all, why would anyone put out millions of dollars, without ensuring profits?
Duterte has time and again called upon oligarchs to rise to the occasion of nation, to start doing right by its people. This is the basis of his call to end contractualization, the basis of his insistence that capitalists treat workers better. I’m pretty sure the President didn’t mean for the private sector to make itself useful by hosting a beauty pageant, which is nothing but a profit-oriented enterprise.
There is also this: Sy’s SM malls are legendary for oppressive labor practices (GMANetwork.com, 4 March). There is nothing at all exciting about having big business employ contractual cheap labor for a pageant that has millions of dollars in its pocket.
The worst idea
The DOT says they are looking at five different tourist sites for the Miss Universe pageant. They should also be looking at the environmental degradation of tourism projects in these communities; unprepared for an imposition like this one, these spaces will be left worse-off.
Teo should know very well about how tourism was complicit in the degradation of Mt. Apo which led to forest fires—she, after all, got this job solely on the basis of owning Mt. Apo Travel and Tours. Mt. Apo is closed to hikers for the next three to five years.
DOT should take its cue from the President and stop with the spin. We are losing P3 billion on traffic every day already (Philstar.com, 16 Sept); what will happen to our congested streets and airports if we host Miss Universe? Luzon’s power grid is on red alert: what do we sacrifice of the little electricity we have, for this pageant?
This is just too soon, too ill-advised, too extravagant and pompous, for the current state of nation. To sponsor something so superficial, so irrelevant as the Miss Universe pageant contradicts everything Duterte stands for. This is the worst idea ever, not only for a nation in the throes of hunger and poverty, but also in the context of a government that stands on notions of simplicity and service.