No Comments 07 May 2010

By Pepper Marcelo

Once upon a time, the Pasig River was a vibrant and vital waterway in Metro Manila. Historically, its importance was so essential that the Spaniards constructed the Walled City of Intramuros at its mouth.

But for the younger generation, the Pasig River has been known simply as a massive sewage system. Murky waters, an unbearable stench and decrepit shacks along its banks have characterized its continual decline. Many observers, losing hope for its renewal, have labeled the stream “biologically dead.”

There have been several efforts to revive the once-proud passage. A Pasig River Rehabilitation Program was established in 1989, but it wasn’t until former President Joseph Estrada signed Executive Order No. 54 in 1999 that the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) was created. One of its tasks was to “ensure that the waterway is rehabilitated to its pristine conditions conducive to transport, recreation and tourism.”

PRRC’s collaboration with the Department of Environment and Natural resources (DENR) has resulted to noticeable improvements over time. A widespread crackdown on illegal dumping of garbage and other assorted wastes along the river, as well as unclogging and cleaning the various tributaries, esteros, and creeks leading up to it, has been instituted. The water is also being treated with catchments, filtration systems and bioremediation (helpful bacteria) to restore it to its original state.

In addition, almost 8,000 households along the riverbanks, which are blamed for up to 60 percent of the garbage dumped in the river, have been relocated to various sites in Rizal and Cavite. PRRC expects a total of 10,000 households will be removed from the riverbanks by the end of the year.

“It’s much better now than it used to be, but there are still problems hounding the river, such as pollution, both solid and chemical, and human excrements,” says University of Santo Tomas Professor and historian Manuel Noche. “Compared to the past when the river was declared biologically dead, the river today is in a better condition.”

With the continued rehabilitation of the Pasig River, a tourism component has been introduced to enhance its earning potential for the surrounding communities. The Philippine Tourism Authority (PHILTOA), an association of travel operators whose purpose is to promote in-bound and domestic tourism, has launched “Beyond the Usual” campaign, which encourages tourists to go beyond the typical sightseeing and vacation activities. One of its attractions is the Pasig River Ferry Tour.

“The potential of the river mirrors the potential of the country. It might take a generation to make it happen, but the river, and the country, can be transformed,” said Tourism Secretary Ace Durano during launch of “Beyond the Usual” last June 2009.

“The Philippines is one of the countries that don’t boast of a river tour. Bangkok, Malaysia, New York, Boston, Paris, Hamburg, Amsterdam – they have a river or canal tour,” says Cesar Cruz, head of PHILTOA who, in partnership with the DOT, devised “IT” Philippines as the greater, all-encompassing banner to promote a wholly unique alternative to experiencing the country in a different, more adventurous manner.

Currently, there are a total of 16 operational stations for the Pasig River Ferry Service, with 10 main, including: Plaza Mexico, Escolta, Lawton, Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), Sta. Ana, Lambingan, Valenzuela, Hulo, Guadalupe and San Joaquin and an additional 7 “satellite” stations: Pineda, Bambang, Kalawaan, Pinagbuhatan-Acasia, Nagpayong, with Napindan and a second Sta. Ana station currently in construction.

At present, there are six ferry boats. Although referred to as a ferry, the vehicle is more akin to a water bus. “Walang traffic, tuloy-tuloy at walang pollution,” says Amelita Gamay, Operations Manager for the Pasig River Ferry Service.

They are also convenient in terms of comfort, with a maximum seating capacity of more than 150 per boat, air-conditioning, flat-screen television, and a restroom. “Passengers can just relax for a while and not have to worry.”

At Php25, Php35 and Php45, the prices from point to point are slightly higher than a jeepney, bus or train, but way lower than a taxi (fares of which starts at Php30).

The speed is quite fast compared to most common transportation. From Intramuros to Taguig, for example, the ferry would take less than an hour and a half, whereas if one were to commute on the road, factoring in traffic, it would take more than two and a half hours.

On most weekdays and Saturdays (Sundays are closed), the ferry receives approximately 1,500 to 2,000 passengers, which approximately amounts to under 40,000 per month. “December was a peak season for us, inabot ng 3,000 per day,” Gamay says.

Of the total amount monthly, most comprise of regular passengers, or employees (28,000), followed by students (7-8,000), with seniors being the least (1,800-2,000). The amount does not include specialized, appointment tours for foreign visitors and company outings.

“It’s our hope we can increase the passenger volume of this Pasig Ferry, not just for tourists and foreigners, but for regular commuters,” says Cruz.

On the Pasig River Ferry Tour, visitors will be able to experience many sights of Metro Manila that many local residents haven’t seen. Aboard a comfortable, air-conditioned, 150-seater boat, tourists can explore historical sites such as Malacanang Palace, Sta. Ana, Intramuros and Binondo, from a different perspective, compared to run-of-the-mill bus and foot tours.

PHILTOA is developing other unique, “experiential” tours, including Sta. Ana, which hosts archeological finds, and Guadalupe, from where one can take a bus to the shopping meccas at Ayala Center in Makati and Ortigas Center in Mandaluyong and Pasig

To be sure, there is a lot of work to be done to fully rehabilitate the Pasig River and maximize its transport and tourism potentials. But Cruz points out that the launch of the river tour is “an all-encompassing symbol of the improvement of the Pasig River as a whole.”

“The river was beautiful, then it died. Now let’s see the end vision of what the river is about. We’re presenting [the tour] as the end result of the rehabilitation of the river,” he says.

(For more information, visit the PHILTOA website at


Current Affairs


3 Comments 04 May 2010

By Junie del Mundo

How should the Philippines be branded and marketed? And what makes the Philippines different from the rest of the developing world? While such countries as India and Malaysia have easily branded themselves as “Amazing India” and “Malaysia, Truly Asia,” the Philippines struggles to find its identity, its past branding efforts largely ending as expensive advertising-driven promotions.

Country branding is a process long before it can be expressed into a slogan. It is about ownership. Wide-ranging interviews with people from all walks of life, from businessmen and academicians to the ordinary men and women on the street, revealed their easy familiarity with the concept of country branding in terms of pride and confidence. Getting the world to love and respect the Philippines, its people, and its products: they embraced it passionately as a cause worth fighting for, not a mere marketing gimmick.

Country branding entails patience and consistency. Unlike consumer brands that can afford to change slogans every few years, country branding requires persistence because it takes time to gain ground in the minds and hearts of the target audiences.

Culture and diplomacy

A country brand is created by a combination of a country’s culture and public diplomacy. Culture cannot be copied because it is uniquely linked to the country. Public diplomacy also helps define a country brand. Experience has shown that our perception of a country changes for the better because of one good friend or an encounter with an outstanding individual from that country.

When it is positive, the country brand adds value to practically everything associated with the country. A country brand serves as a defining ingredient to a country’s products and services and the way its people are perceived. Branding could help earn recognition for qualified Filipino professionals and workers, and generate added value to the country’s products.

Branding encourages local and foreign investments. Having strong and well-known export brands fosters confidence among companies and countries. At the same time, branding helps retain qualified workers or attract them back home.

Branding enables developing countries to escape the commodity trap, of being mere producers of raw materials that sell at very cheap prices. Producing branded products and services enables them to sell at higher prices and increase their profitability, and not just survive on increasingly tight margins.

One does not brand the country the way one brands a product. Country branding is more of adopting a corporate brand that does not just refer to one product but a whole basket of products that are consistently perceived as having common attributes that make them unique and stand out in the market. It is a set of intangible values and impressions.

Towards a country roadmap

We need a national country roadmap. This should be a deliberate, consistent, and focused country branding that will add tremendous value to the products and services produced by the country; instill confidence, pride, and prestige among Filipinos, wherever they are; and enhance relationships that the Philippines nurtures with the world. This will be a Filipino brand that will be instantly recognized all over the world.

Branding starts in the mind of the consumer. The first step is to conduct market research, to identify a gap or vacant space in the mind of the consumer. Upon identifying this gap, the next course of action is to create a niche in the minds of the consumers, to put the Filipino flag in that vacant space.

The second step is positioning, which requires an analysis of our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Weak areas (i.e., governance, infrastructure, education) should be improved.

Step 3 entails agreement or building consensus on the roadmap. This requires validation of the roadmap with key opinion leaders. From the moment we determine our positioning, we have to test the message against the expectations of the targeted audience and users. The message must be able to stand up to key tests on relevance (Does it address the key needs of the audience/users?); credibility (Is it based on plausible and doable goals?); sustainability (Does it capture defensible real and perceptual present and future territory?); and uniqueness (Does it cover characteristics that distinguish it from its competitors?).

The last step refers to working on the national roadmap itself, which requires an integration policy, or the ability to act and speak in a coordinated and repetitive way about themes that motivate people and differentiate a country.

Our natural resources

The Philippines is a land of marvelous bounty and rejuvenating vitality. It is immensely rich. Our more than 7,107 islands offer one of the richest biodiversity in the world. We can brand and export personal care products based on natural and unique Filipino ingredients, such as the ilang-ilang, which is a Filipino flower sold in France, and the abaca or the Manila hemp, a versatile product. We can actually “own” them.

We can help enrich the image of the country brand and export products with these natural, exotic, and uniquely Filipino ingredients. We can trademark these products in the minds of global consumers. We can position the Philippines as a land of rejuvenating vitality. We can leverage on our unique environment and natural products to promote international research, medicines, and tourism.

Our products

There is also a niche for one or several Filipino brands in the food and beverage sector, given the proper investments in these brands.

We can turn our domestic brands into regional and global brands, with the deepest Filipino values embedded in their universal core. Jollibee, for instance, stands for shared fun (“ang saya”), care for consumers, accessibility, and a non-intimidating retail outlet. Other Filipino values are love of family, emphasis on personal relationships, empathy, and hiya (sense of shame). Care for stability, status, and reputation as transposable character traits are Asian values in general. These are vital to the financial services, banking, insurance, real estate, and tourism sectors.

Our people

People make the biggest difference. According to investors and various opinion makers, our people’s most credible brand attributes are in the following order: caring, adaptable, collaborative, and pleasant to work with. We deem it our responsibility to be concerned about the wellbeing of other people, not just ourselves.

Peter Drucker once identified China as the “brawn of Asia” given its manufacturing base; India as the “brains of Asia” with its high-end outsourcing and programming skills; and the Philippines as the “heart of Asia” with its strength in EQ-driven services. This view, however, does not account for Filipinos’ resilience, energy, and professionalism.

For a more complete picture of the Filipino, the brand should integrate his other features, such as his openness to new ideas, adaptability (which is a major advantage in today’s globalized world), willingness to learn, and ability to work in a team. We are service-oriented and pleasant to work with. Our collaborative quality was mentioned and validated by several stakeholders in the IT industry and blogosphere as distinctly Filipino and a reason for foreign investors to prefer the Philippines as a location rather than India, for instance. In an era where workflow software enables work to be “cut into pieces” and processed by various people located all around the world in a continuous supply chain, this quality becomes another major plus. Accounting, anime and programming are other sectors where we can fit and excel in. The financial services sector is a potential winner for the Philippines, which would have the opportunity to become a capital market center for Asia.

More than the sum of our parts

Focusing alone on the export of people and services is what we want to dispel. The soon-to-be 90 million Filipinos can only be lifted out of poverty by escaping the commodity trap, by selling agricultural and industrial products and also services at a higher price, by adding intellectual property and brand value at every level, every step of the way. Unlike heavy industrial and infrastructure investments, branding adds value instantly and at a reasonably low cost. We are now in the era of branded products with a strong country-of-origin identity. Mass production, as in the experience of Taiwan, China, and South Korea, is shifting towards mass-customized production, and this is where the Philippines has a strong chance to leapfrog and beat its competitors.

As a people, we have the “Four Cs”—competent, committed, caring, and collaborative. We are a dependable people with unique EQ skills. Our overall country brand consists of our creative industries, culture, anime, design, fashion, furniture, movies, telenovelas, music, ICT, call centers and BPOs, engineers, architects, financial experts, health and wellness industry, retirement industry, medical tourism, organic products, fruits, drinks, eco-tourism, and so much more. Our country brand is more than the sum of all our parts.

Reversing the kawawa image

It is time to reverse the kawawa image. Instead of saying that we are “poor,” we can say that our circumstances have made us resilient and hardworking. Instead of saying that our country is “politically unstable,” we are resourceful and we are proud to be survivors. Instead of using “Third World” and “underdeveloped” to describe our country, we can own up to being a youthful people who can serve as a test-bed for services and products targeting the next two billion consumers connected to the diaspora of 8 million Filipinos in 190 countries.

Instead of feeling that we are passing up on opportunities because our labor is more expensive than that of China and Vietnam, we can leverage our professionals’ unique traits of being collaborative, English-speaking, and creative. Instead of using the word “unskilled,” we can instead say fast-learning. Lastly, we can proudly say that our “traditional society” is founded on authentic human relations and Filipino values.

The time is now

Country branding is the global equivalent of the roads to market. It builds avenues into the hearts and minds of the world’s consumers for our local products. The Philippine brand is a story that just needs to be told. It flows harmoniously from its core, expanding like a perfume of ilang-ilang to the shores and the sea. It is a melody that springs in the heart of all Filipinos abroad when they think of home with melancholy. It is a secret energy that inspires the most audacious enterprises.

In defining our own national brands, we are defining ourselves. Thus, we must be true to ourselves. We must not present something that we are not. We have to live our brand values and express them accordingly. It must be confident, robust, and not fearful because it is supported by a credible messenger. Our message must be relevant with clearly defined goals. Toward this end, we need a coherent, sustainable, and long-term communication strategy. Truly, we cannot please all the people all the time. We need to be proud of what we are and attract some of them all the time and all of them some of the time. By living our country brand honestly, we can project it convincingly and with confidence.

Rebranding is not about the past, it looks to the future. As demonstrated by Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and South Korea, it is forward-looking. There is no other way to go. For the Philippines, a developing country in the heart of Asia, country branding is a unique opportunity to start writing our own history and setting the course of our future now.

(The author is managing director of EON, The Stakeholder Relations Firm. Reprinted from Philippine Business, a publication of the Makati Business Club.)


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