In a seemingly emotional banter, Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia warned critics of her daughter, Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco, not to cross their family.
At the sidelines of a recent event in Medellin, Cebu, Garcia said the entire province supports her daughter. “Total support and in one united island of Cebu. Suportado si (We support) Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco. Uulitin ko (I will repeat): Don’t mess with us!” she said.
Frasco has drawn flak for rebranding the country’s tourism slogan to “Love the Philippines.” It generated negative publicity after it was discovered that the theme was plagiarized and campaign’s launching video pirated stock footage of tourist spots overseas.
Just to put things in their proper perspective, your daughter did not perform her duty to render complete staff work (CSW) for a most important project. She definitely lacked due diligence in approving a material, in form and substance, that would serve as the flagship messaging to promote the country.
What was bad enough was the Love the Philippines video turned out to be loaded with pirated footages of rice terraces from Indonesia, a silhouette of a fisherman casting a net from Thailand, an airport runaway in Switzerland, jumping dolphins from a specified location, and sand dunes in the United Arab Emirates.
Worse, it was Frasco herself who allowed the DOT to release the video to the general public. Worst, she did not apologize and even showed evasiveness in accepting responsibility.
But why did netizens feast on her?
Love Cyprus has a rationale
In the first place Love the Philippines is not original. It was plagiarized from Love Cyprus, that the Cyprian State Department of Tourism launched in 2021.
Cyprus, the third largest island of the Mediterranean, has an authentic historical narrative backing up its transition from the sun and sea touristic brand for 17 years “Cyprus in your heart” slogan introduced in 2006, to the new logo inheriting only the heart symbol positioning the island known to belong to the Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty.
This connection was established over many centuries. According to archaeologist Jacqueline Karageorghis, when the Achaean Greeks arrived in the 12th century BCE, the local population was worshipping a fertility goddess with oriental characteristics. The Greeks gradually “Hellenized” her over several centuries, fully identifying her as Aphrodite by the 4th century BCE, with Pafos emerging as the principal place to worship her.
Love Cyprus, said deputy of the Minister of Tourism of Cyprus Savvas Perdios, now shows more than just the sun and sea because the island’s communications with the world will be built in a different way, more openly, deliberately and thoroughly – into an island that offers a lot of authentic experiences. “We want to show the world that tourists can discover more as Cyprus unites the identity of the Mediterranean and offers an amazing diversity of cultures, ethnic groups and people”, he adds.
Check the website yourself: https://www.lovecyprus.com.cy/
I practiced advertising and promotions for 16 years both from the agency and client-side, before I was headhunted into the diplomatic corps. I see in contrast, that “Love the Philippines” is a far shot from “It’s more fun in the Philippines” or “Wow, Philippines” before it. The rationale is shallow, the transition is vague and too far a leap.
And digging deeper into the DOT-suggested narrative giving flesh to “Love the Philippines”, it was not hard to discern that it was not just a copycat concept, but its roadmap and applications were also copycats of the Cyprus experience.
Why the cover-up?
The claim that the material was only intended to serve as a mood video during the night of the launch, and not for public viewing, was a reckless diversion because it was the DOT that released the material to media, with no markings for an “embargo”.
Sass Rogando Sassot, a foreign-based Filipino scholar who blew the whistle that DOT lifted from various sources such as Storyblocks, a rapid video creation platform, debunked allegations that political motivations were behind the condemnation by netizens. “It should have been somebody’s job to verify if the finished product is authentic… The issue is not political, the issue is really a problem of process, inside DDB, inside DOT, and of course the inter-processes that connect the processes…
“The more they portray this as a political issue, the more the public will be suspicious. There is no need to elevate this to political when the real issue is just administrative.
“The video was already out there; (DOT was) actually the one who publicized this video… If there is someone who is actually doing a demolition job, it is they themselves.
“This is just about someone failing to do their job correctly.”
Reports pervading on social media, however, point the finger at forces more powerful than the Secretary of Tourism that created this whole mess.
It appears that Paul Soriano, the President’s P1-a-year Presidential Adviser for Creative Communications, and his aunt First Lady Liza Araneta became “suddenly involved” after the agency Doyle Dale Bernbach presented their storyboard.
A Reddit post said, “DDB presented a storyboard. When (the advertising agency’s presentation was approved, Paul Soriano was suddenly (got) involved (and said) he had a production house that he wanted to use.
“The (agency’s) creative director and Paul fought about the creative direction. So, another DDB creative director was asked to take over. But it turns out DOT/Paul had already shot and edited the material without the agency.”
The post also claimed that it was “not the agency’s fault” and the director “should take responsibility” for the issue.
The Department of Tourism has dropped the advertising agency behind the campaign, DDB Philippines, as a result of the controversy, but Frasco did not apologize for the fiasco.
Instead DOT issued this statement, “As DDB Philippines has publicly apologized, taken full responsibility, and admitted in no uncertain terms, that non-original materials were used in their AVP (audio visual presentation), reflecting an abject failure to comply with their obligation/s under the contract and a direct contravention with the DOT’s objectives for the enhanced tourism branding, the DOT hereby exercises its right to proceed with termination proceedings against its contract with DDB,” the DOT said in a statement.
I consider this yet another fatal error because an advertising agency of the credentials of DDB is least likely to commit an infraction against the industry’s time-honored code of truth in advertising.
Netizens have also pointed out that location shooting was already scheduled but was waived by Soriano, because he had already produced the video.
A curious question rings in the social media postings – was the material imposed on her by any party outside of DOT? Was she under duress to just swallow the video, hook, line and sinker?
To put it bluntly, social media appears not to be after Frasco, but wanted to know the exact participation of Paul Soriano who most likely botched the material. They wanted to find out what the exact participation of the President’s wife was, besides patronizing and protecting Soriano.
Unfortunately for Frasco, the Mrs. Araneta-Marcos has been maligned with reports since the President took his oath of office, starting from deciding on presidential appointments, dispensing patronage among relatives and cronies, and links with scandals involving public funds.
In a recent Kalye survey done by Malou Tiquia’s outfit, there were suggestions to give the First Lady an actual government position, so that she can be held accountable for her actions.
So offering DDB as a scapegoat will not serve as a balm for the gravity of the management failure and negligence involved because it reeks of a coverup. That the agency has not yet been paid, another diversion being used to assuage fear that public money has been corrupted, will also not wash because had it not been for the plagiarism blowing up, P49 million would have already changed hands.
At this point, an apology from Frasco has outlived its usefulness. Netizens want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Her omerta has led her to being called a coward for not revealing the real persons who bungled conceptualizing the campaign and producing its introductory video that has been now been ridiculed worldwide.
She brought it upon herself. A columnist has even associated her name from Frasco to “fiasco”.
As this developed, the DOT confirmed that Frasco will go on family leave for seven working days. Her chief of staff and Undersecretary for Legal and Special Concerns Mae Elaine T. Bathan has been designated officer-in-charge.
On Tuesday, “Leave the Philippines” was trending on Twitter, as netizens noted the irony of Frasco vacationing overseas, even as her agency had been pushing its new “Love the Philippines” slogan.
Who is messing who?
But if Governor Gwen Garcia is interested in finding out who is demolishing her daughter, she does not have to go far.
Two million Chinese tourists will not make it to the Philippines this year, not because of her recent woes, but of the fiasco happening in Enrique Manalo’s foreign affairs.
Data from the tourism department showed 2.85 million international travelers arrived in the Philippines from January to July 10, 2023. Of this number, foreign tourists accounted for 91.4 percent of total international arrivals, or 2.6 million. The rest, at 245,127, were overseas Filipinos visiting family and friends. Overseas Filipinos are described as Philippine Passport holders who are permanently residing abroad.
The international arrivals for the period was 69 percent of the 4.13-million international arrivals in the first half of 2019, prior to the pandemic.
The same data showed that South Korea continued to lead as the top source market for international tourists at 703,933. It was followed by the United States at 523,772; Australia at 140,213; Japan at 135,314; and Canada 126,266.
Tourists from China accounted for 118,673; followed by Taiwan at 97,869; the United Kingdom at 81,380; Singapore 78,224; and Malaysia at 51,923.
Ma’m Gwen, do you see anything alarming about these statistics?
What happened to the Chinese tourists?
China used to be the second top source market for tourists in the Philippines, prior to the pandemic. It broke the 1.8 million mark in 2019. China reopened its borders in January this year.
Your daughter wrote Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo dated June 8, 2023, “This is to respectfully reiterate the Department of Tourism’s URGENT APPEAL for the Department of Foreign Affairs to LIFT the published daily quota of issuing only 100 visas per day per Philippine foreign service post in China.”
She added: “While we understand from the initial reply conveyed to the DOT by DFA Assistant Secretary Henry S. Bensurto Jr. dated 30 March 2023 that there are instances where consular posts issue 200-250 visas per day, the continued website publication of an official policy limiting issuances to only 100 visas per day serves as a deterrent to potential visa applicants, and is unnecessarily prohibitive in terms of promoting the Philippines as a viable destination for Chinese tourists.”
To make 2 million for a year, our consulates in China should issue 7,962 for about 260 working days in a year. At the present rate of visa issuance, only 240,000 Chinese tourists will make it to the Philippines this year.
This means that your daughter’s goal of 8 million tourists will not be achieved because for starters 1,760,000 Chinese will not arrive. That would mean a loss of about almost $2 billion (Php120 billion) in revenues, and because two jobs are created for every one foreign tourist, a loss of 3,500,000 local jobs.
It appears that Manalo and Bensurto, in utter incompetence and inefficiency, are only standing by waiting for an electronic visa system, but have not fielded additional consular personnel to accommodate the demand for visas. It does need rocket science to solve this redtape.
The Chinese government has been promoting the Philippines as one of its top 10 destinations for its people. The gridlock has also postponed for weeks issuances of visas for legitimate Chinese investors.
We already achieved it in 2019, when the late Ambassador to China Chito Santa Romana worked hammer and tongs rallying his consulates to work extended hours to service visa requirements. There is no excuse why we cannot do it again and exceed that record.
But the last time I checked on his replacement in Beijing, Jaime Flor-Cruz – he was busy organizing a small biking event up to the Great Wall at Juyongguan celebrating our independence day.
Secretary Frasco sounded helpless as she even suggested that the personal appearance of individual visa applicants should be waived if their papers are coursed through accredited travel agents, as well as online payment system for visa applications.
Ma’am, I was just wondering, is there a deliberate effort to sabotage Chinese arrivals in the Philippines? Manalo, Bensurto and Flor-Cruz are rumored to be American boys.