The Long View: Love, actually


Love, actually

Last week the President received, from his secretary of tourism, an award from the Department of Tourism (DOT) to his late father, for the outstanding achievement of having established the department half a century ago. In the same anniversary event, the President announced the country’s new tagline, “Love Philippines.” Back in May, when the administration approved the national tourism development plan  to the end of the president’s term in 2028, Secretary of Tourism Christina Frasco had already said to expect an “enhanced tourism slogan.”

To put it mildly, it’s been a bumpy ride since. The President, from the start, has been all praises for his secretary of tourism so there’s little reason to suspect his confidence in her is shaken in the least. Instead we should look at what she is supposed to do, and that comes from the President himself. Back in October, the President told the Philippine Tourism Industry Convergence Reception that his administration’s task was “to reintroduce the Philippines to the world.” What is the President’s globe-trotting, but a Marcos revival tour?

Which takes us to the retro nature of our tourism. Our very first tourism slogan was “Where Asia Wears A Smile,” and therein lies a tale best told by Linda Richter in her paper, “The Political Uses of Tourism: A Philippine Case Study” which analyzed the ways and means by which tourism was used by the first Marcos administration, a story in which  the creation of the Department, later Ministry, of Tourism is indivisible from that of the New Society, the branding for the “constitutional authoritarianism” that blurred the end of the Third Republic and the eight years of improvisation that preceded the proclamation of the New (or Fourth) Republic in 1981.

Without formally abolishing either the constitution or Congress, Marcos Sr. assumed lawmaking powers by issuing Presidential Decree No. 1 which reorganized the entire executive department, instituting a Department of Commerce and Tourism, only to separate tourism and make it a separate entity through two 1973 decrees, PD 132 and 189. While she didn’t notice it, an observation by Richter is actually demonstrated by a provision of Marcosian law: A shrewd observation, “It is sometimes said that in the Philippines there is no such thing as ‘conflict of interest,’ merely “’convergence of interest.’” When in one of his decrees Marcos specifically exempted the tourism council from government rules on conflict of interest!

To Richter, a DO was necessary because of two presidential concerns and not necessarily because of generating additional revenue for the country: “First, he had to overcome the shock and dismay in some Western circles at the imposition of martial law in what was widely believed to be the most democratic country in Southeast Asia in order to neutralize opposition to his leadership. Second, he had to assure that martial law would neither jeopardize the flow of foreign capital investment into the country nor encourage cuts in foreign aid or new trade barriers to Philippine exports.”

The examples she provides are illuminating. There were the annual blockbusters: Miss Universe in 1974; the Muhammed Ali-Joe Frazier “Thrilla in Manila” in 1975; the International Monetary Fund-World Bank Conference in 1976. Not everything succeeded, though 1977’s Eighth World Peace through Law Conference, with its theme of the international protection of human rights, was the “only politically motivated project which clearly boomeranged”, though not for lack of trying: The president lifted the curfew, ended the ban on international travel (a wily accompanying move was to impose a travel tax so high, it was “prohibitive for all but the most affluent”), and released 1,500 prisoners.

The “Balikbayan” program began in 1973, the same year the DOT was founded, had the delicious side effect of leaving the political opposition in exile, isolated from their countrymen happily coming home, where government went out of its way to portray the country as one “Where Asia Wears a Smile” –this ,not coincidentally, also being the time of “Smiling Martial Law,” as the most widely-read columnist of the era, Teodoro Valencia, put it.

At the time she published her paper in 1980, when the tourism efforts of the Marcoses had already lasted seven years, Richter could already conclude “It reflects a serious political program implemented with surprising disregard for the economic costs of such an endeavor.”

A tell-tale sign of the Restoration Era is the nostalgia feels of the new slogan. You could almost see a Madman-style scene: from the people who brought you the Love Bus (Leyland double decker edition in the City of Man) and the Love Bus (Airbus edition courtesy of government-owned Philippine Air Lines) comes… “Love The Philippines.”

If “Virginia is for Lovers,” which dates to 1969 is still going strong; and so is, “I?NY“ which dates to 1977, why not Love, actually?


Manuel L. Quezon III.

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