The Department of Tourism (DoT), under Wanda Tulfo Teo, is a gift that keeps on giving.
We all of course know how Teo tried to deny what she said in an interview with CNN Philippines, where she not only confirmed that the Nickelodeon project would push through in Coron Palawan, she also revealed that she was all for it because she was promised that the corals would not be affected.
Never mind that common sense tells us that any kind of development that will put a floating structure over the waters, or any development on land in fact, would affect the ecology of places like Coron. Never mind that we have seen how developments on land have adversely affected the waters in places like Boracay. Never mind that it only takes a Google search to realize that these planned developments are absolutely nothing to be excited about.
Ah, but Mrs. Teo was excited. Asked about the Nickelodeon project, she said: “They showed us the map. It’s very big, it’s very big, and they’re also developing that area, in the land area, condos and hotels. It’s very lucky, very nice, it will be a theme park, so many developments.” (CNN Philippines, 1 June)
This was strike one.
Strike two: terrible ads
What has been revealed thus far about Mrs. Teo is that she has no idea of what she’s doing. A year in, there is no clear vision for tourism in this country, especially given the wars that the President has waged. A year in, none of the things that DoT has done tells us that they even have a plan, not even an anchor, for the activities that they are spending public funds on.
And they continue to reveal this with the past two ads and one slogan that they have tried and failed to sell us. That first ad that they churned out early this year was not only badly conceptualized, it was also disconnected from what they insist is their “improved” version of the “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” slogan.
A wide-eyed white boy is shown traveling alone to Surigao. He is offered food by a local who calls him “anak.” The ad ends with the white boy asking what it means and when he finds out it means “my child,” he smiles at the realization. A quote from traveler Jack Ellis is then flashed on the screen: “When you’re with Filipinos, you’re with family.”
Yet not once in the ad is he actually with Filipinos. In fact, he’s offered the food and he leaves; he arrives, gets on a boat, and doesn’t talk to anyone at all. In fact, he is there being served by locals – he is not engaging with them outside of the power relations between himself as tourist and the locals as service workers.
On the Tourism FB page, this ad was captioned: #WhenWithFilipinos, it is definitely more fun in the Philippines.
Yes, that first ad was this bad. In that sense, what happened with the second ad is no surprise.
What has been surprising is how DoT has handled the obvious similarities between the new ad and a tourism ad for South Africa. Because instead of taking responsibility and admitting that they made a mistake in approving this concept from the get-go, the DoT decided to pin the blame solely on the advertising agency, McCann Worldgroup Philippines.
Sure, McCann needs to take responsibility. But the bigger blame can only fall on Mrs. Teo and her team at DoT, because they are the ones who approved the ad.
In fact, there were many reasons to disapprove this concept from the beginning, including the fact that it’s an absolute lie that a blind tourist can travel alone to the Philippines and go around safely. Even locals are wary of traveling alone in this country. There is also nothing PWD-friendly about our streets, facilities, and infrastructure either.
To me, this ad was reckless endangerment of any and all tourists who might believe that one can travel around here blind. That it was found to have had too many similarities with another ad is a blessing in disguise: at least we don’t have to be selling such an outright lie to the world.
It’s also important to point out that when people questioned this ad’s similarities with an existing ad, the DOT stood by it and said it was part of their campaign to encourage foreigners to retire in the Philippines (PDI, 14 June). It’s also critical to point out that similar to the first ad, this second ad ends with a quote from purportedly Japanese retiree M. Uchimura, who says: “Life feels better when with Filipinos.”
Does that make sense given what the ad contains? No. Is it good copy? Absolutely not. Which makes me wonder really if any of this even comes from McCann at all or if this is actually DoT’s fantastic team demanding of McCann that they churn out these horrible ads with terrible copy.
Strike three: Employee complaints
But things are just as terrible – if not worse – from within the DoT. A letter signed by Concerned DoT employees, addressed to the President, and received by the Office of the President on June 9, 2017, details very specific instances of allegedly irregular and unethical actions from the DoT leadership: on the one hand, Mrs. Teo, on the other, Atty. Arlene Mancao, who is listed in the DoT website as the Head Executive Assistant (HEA) and Chief of Staff of Teo.
The list of allegations is a long one and cuts across purported falsification of documents to questionable promotions, junkets for unqualified employees to personal use of sponsored airline tickets by officials, the release of untimely bonuses to the tyranny of this leadership over all of the department. It lists names and dates and places and highlights the use of public funds and the patronage politics that Mrs. Teo has allowed.
The President used to say: even a whiff of corruption, and you’re out of his Cabinet. Well, this seven-page letter from DoT employees has the stench of corruption written all over it. Add to that the waste of public funds that was two ads and too many slogans, plus the planned international pageants and the impending death of the environment amid hotel, theme parks, casino investments, and it seems clear that one year in, change is needed in the DoT.