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By Ana Maria Villanueva-Lykes
I once met a vagabond from Belgium who went from one country to the other, hawking her exquisitely handmade jewelry. Her dirty hair was tied up to reveal a pretty sunburned face, the face that looked like it had seen many places. But my assumption was quickly challenged with her straightforward question. “Where is that?” she asked when I told her where I’m from. “The Philippines. In Southeast Asia,” I said again, thinking she didn’t hear me clearly. She replied with a puzzled look. To save us both from embarrassment, I said, “It’s close to Thailand,” and moved on.
Unfortunately for the Philippines, this is not a singular incident. For some reason, our country remains as several tiny dots in the tourism map. Those who wish to explore Southeast Asia would quickly pin Thailand for the beaches, Indonesia for the culture in Bali, and Hong Kong for the shopping. As a country of over 7,000 islands, we have more than just beaches, culture, and shopping to offer. The Pearl of the Orient Seas has a treasure chest of gems overflowing, stunning or maybe even more brilliant than the finely cut jewels of our neighbors. A UK travel website claims the Philippines as “Asia’s undiscovered gem.” Yet we remain dulled like an unpolished precious stone.
On one hand, this can be an advantage, especially to travelers who prefer places that are not as heavily choked with sightseers. Many backpackers tout the Philippines as uncharted territory, their legendary hideout, and they’d like to keep it secret, the way The Beach in the novel of the same title was said to be. Ironically, it is said that the beach, which Alex Garland wrote about in his novel supposedly set in Thailand, was actually inspired by the beaches of Palawan.
We can’t blame Garland for keeping Palawan as his secret paradise. Neither can we hold territorial travelers culpable for the fact that we have yet to reach our tourism potential in spite of what we have to offer. According to the UN World Tourism Organization, the Philippines’ share of the whole Asia and the Pacific region was at 1.7% in terms of international arrivals in 2008.
It’s easy to blame the government for our country’s every failure. So let us point accusing fingers at them for a moment, drawing light on the fact that there is not enough effort to make tourism a national policy priority. We can also hold our leaders responsible for not creating enough incentives for foreign investors. According to former Economic Planning Secretary Gerardo Sicat, we are making progress in terms of tourism, but still lagging.
Poor infrastructure is one of the major reasons why we are still behind our Southeast Asian neighbors and not in tourism alone. The Department of Tourism is making waves with different advertising promotions, especially with the recent “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” campaign, but if we are to invite visitors over, we need to make our place more accessible and give our guests a pleasant stay with more world class establishments for high flyers and more budget friendly accommodations for backpackers.
But many regulations hinder the entry of big foreign hotel investors. “A major impediment here has been the constitutional provision against land ownership and the equity restrictions pertaining to land in corporations. Associated businesses tied up to these provisions have impeded a vibrant growth of the tourist sector over the years,” explains Sicat. Next door, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Indonesia are enjoying a steady influx of travelers because their laws are more accommodating to foreign investors in the tourism sector.
We could write an entire paper on the government’s failures to boost the country’s tourism, but while we’re pointing fingers, we need to remember that we too are responsible for promoting our country and welcoming guests. And those of us abroad are also ambassadors of our nation. We are after all the face of the Philippines, but somehow we have blurred our cultural identity. It is not that we have little pride for our motherland, but because we have become so adaptable, we have weakened our identity as Filipinos. In the U.S. for instance, we have become so Americanized that to foreign eyes we are no longer so different and thus less interesting. Our capability to quickly adjust to our situation – perhaps based on our long history of oppression and poverty – has led us to blend in with our surroundings and have become one of them – Americans, Canadians, Europeans, etc.
Even our children no longer speak the native tongue. Not only has the tongue become more fluent with the English language, it has also become more inclined to international cuisine. Our palates have quickly learned to adjust. If the Chinese crave for dumplings, they don’t just make it, they build their own restaurant which eventually grows into a town. Where in the world can you find a Filipino Town? If a Pinoy craves for lechon, they quiet the hankering with a slice of pork roast.
We have also become overcritical of our country’s flaws. When we welcome guests into our home, there is always a little bit of that hiya involved. A plate of pansit is almost always served with “pasensya ka na sa handa namin” on the side. Abroad, this can be translated to “you’ll love it, but beware of the potholes and the pollution.”
One journalist even went as far as asking if we should even consider promoting at this point when our major cities are dirty and littered with beggars everywhere. Returning to our homeland, we are quick to compare and criticize. “The traffic is horrendous. Why can’t they implement a better road system like they do in Salt Lake City?” Back in our adoptive country, we talk about how wonderful it was to go home but we miss the efficiency of the foreign system. I too have been guilty of that many times. Perhaps when asked where the Philippines is, instead of just saying that’s it’s close to Thailand, I should add that it’s more fun in the Philippines than anywhere else. And I can name more than 7,000 ways.
(The author maintains a travel blog — www.anaviajera.com.)
Speech delivered by President Benigno Aquino III at Euromoney’s Philippine Investment Forum, held on March 27, 2012 at the Manila Peninsula, Makati City.
Once upon a time, the consensus among you was that we were the sick man of Asia. The diagnosis for this illness was as simple as it seemed insurmountable: a lack of political will; an entrenched system of corruption that could not be weeded out; and a feeling of utter impossibility among Filipinos and their leaders alike.
Since I am addressing you at a time when Filipinos are gearing up for Holy Week, I hope you permit me to state in a biblical vein: all it took was faith-healing to invoke, in political terms, the biblical injunction from the Gospel of Luke chapter 4 verse 23: “Physician, Heal Thyself.”
Let no one doubt that we are doing the three things which were previously thought of as impossible: we are calling people to account; we are putting closure to the controversies that had sapped our institutions of their vigor and had diminished their legitimacy in the eyes of our countrymen; in other words, we are exercising political will. We have reformed the manner in which we allocate and dispense public funds; we have thrown the book at the thieves; and we are collecting what the government is due. That is how we are fighting corruption, and making a mark. We have fought the culture of naysaying and negativity, and have given a sense of empowerment to our people, replacing the hopelessness of the past with a steadfast commitment to building a society that works. We have put an end to business as usual and proclaimed a country open for real business
And this, simply, has done wonders for our economy. Two years ago, for example, none of us could imagine the Philippine Stock Exchange index breaking the 4,000 barrier. Now, we have breached not just 4,000, but 5,000 as well. The PSEi closed at another record high just eleven days ago at 5,145.89 points. For those of you keeping score: that’s 21 record highs in the 21 months of our administration.
In our relatively short time in office, a significant number of respected international organizations have also given us thumbs up signs. The World Economic Forum, for one, bumped the Philippines ten places up—from 85th to 75th—in their latest Competitiveness Index. The Japan External Trade Organization, after conducting a survey among companies in our region, named us the best place to do business in Asia-Oceania, whether in manufacturing or service. HSBC even recently predicted that, by the year 2050, we will be the sixteenth largest economy in the world. And these are only a few of the companies and organizations that have already changed their mind about the Philippines—and have been very vocal about it.
This renewed confidence from the global community has reflected itself in real pesos and centavos invested in the country. Since we took office in July of 2010, we have seen 449.7 billion pesos in investments in the Philippine Economic Zone Authority. This accounts for 22 percent of all investments in PEZA since it was established in 1995—seventeen years ago. Likewise, in 2011, investment promotion agency-approved foreign direct investments grew by 30.6 percent to 256.1 billion pesos—the highest recorded level in sixteen years.
We are also performing quite well in the bond market. In January of this year, we issued 1.5 billion dollars in global bonds with a coupon rate of five percent—the lowest for an Asian sovereign for that tenor, and at better rates than several other investment grade sovereigns like Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, and even some EU countries like Spain.
Might I add: all this is happening amidst global economic uncertainty. If these facts and figures tell us anything, it is that the Philippines’ success has been nothing less than heroic—that we have experienced high after high in our investment story.
So many people in government continue to work endless nights to make certain that we build on our momentum—that we continue along this path to progress.
Suffice to say: we are proud of the progress we have made, but we are not satisfied with just this. We Filipinos know just how much potential this country has; and we are working even longer nights to fulfill this potential.
So what’s next for the Philippines? The plan for this year involves focusing on three specific sectors—sectors that will have the largest impact on our economy, and in the lives of our people—that will create much-needed jobs in the timeliest manner, namely: agriculture, infrastructure, and tourism.
I have always maintained that our farmers should be given enough incentive to do their jobs well. Right now, while our farmers account for 33 percent of total employment, they only account for 13 percent of GDP. This isn’t right; and our administration fully intends to increase farmer productivity and help facilitate the trade of produce.
We have increased the budget of the Department of Agriculture by more than fifty percent to 53.3 billion pesos. The bulk of this money will go to more irrigation projects, more farm-to-market roads, and more buying posts—projects that will directly impact the lives of those who find their livelihoods in agriculture, and will move us closer to our goal of reaching rice self-sufficiency in 2013, which we believe extremely doable.
Our infrastructure programs have been getting a move on as well. As of the 15th of March, I am told that the Department of Public Works and Highways has bidded out nearly ninety percent of their 2,128 projects worth 63 billion pesos this year. 91% percent of these projects have already been issued notices to proceed; and we are confident that, very soon, we will reach 100 percent.
I am also happy to report that last week, that our administration has approved 133 billion pesos worth of projects for different sectors. Most prominent among them is the LRT Line 1 South Extension Project, worth 61.53 billion pesos. The plan is to extend LRT Line 1 by almost twelve kilometers, from Baclaran, through Paranaque and Las Pinas, to Bacoor, Cavite. I have full faith that Transportation and Communication Secretary Mar Roxas will have this extension operational at the soonest possible time. That, in a little while, we will be able to expand transportation, and open the gates a little wider between Metro Manila’s and Cavite’s economies.
Tourism is another industry that has made leaps and bounds. I’ve always said that tourism is a low-lying fruit for the Philippine economy that has long gone unpicked. But thanks to a re-energized Department of Tourism care of Secretary Mon Jimenez—and thanks to an excellent marketing campaign, coupled with a liberalized aviation industry—in January alone, the Philippines welcomed more than 400,000 visitors. This is the highest monthly visitor count in our history. And if we can sustain this, we are set to welcome almost 4.8 million visitors this year. This is really close to five million. We are still quite a way from our target of 10 million yearly visitors by 2016, but imagine: two years ago we were expecting just around three million visitors a year; and now there is the possibility of welcoming five million. We still have four years and three months left to reach our target—and we know that, each year, we can grow our number of visitors closer and closer to our goal.
From the beginning, the secret to our success has been simple: we want to make it easier for people to do business here; and that means creating a level playing field, curbing corruption, and eliminating inefficiencies. This explains many of our initiatives, particularly the Philippine Business Registry. Instead of our entrepreneurs running around from agency to agency just so they can set up shop here, we have given them a one-stop-shop, where they can transact with multiple government agencies at once. This reduces the time it takes to register a business from several days to just twenty to thirty minutes. More than that, it vastly reduces opportunities for corruption.
The bottom line here is: if we want businesses to set up shop here and create jobs for our people, we have to be competitive. We have to focus on industries where there are actual opportunities for mutual benefit. The world is getting increasingly smaller, and we find ourselves pitted against countries who have very competitive business propositions. We cannot compromise our position by making life more difficult for companies because of corruption or red tape. We cannot sacrifice the jobs created by these businesses, because it is our people who will take the brunt of the hit if these businesses choose to operate elsewhere. We need to continue fostering a good environment for business—one that is both stable and predictable. I assure everyone here today: this belief will always be a core principle of our administration; and I invite all of you to ride this wave of optimism early, and invest in our country, be it in agriculture, infrastructure, tourism, or any other sector. We are eager to work with all of you.
Investors have always been a significant component of our vision for this country. But perhaps we go by a more expansive definition of the word investor. While we value the confidence of potential investors; and while we value the businesses that have chosen to set up shop here; above all, we value those who have invested their lives, their work, and their families in this country—the Filipino people.
As their government, the people are our ultimate shareholders. And we are bound to work in their interest. This is the driving principle behind all our efforts to be competitive. At the end of the day, we want our economy’s growth to redound to better lives for people. We want to leave no one behind on the straight and narrow path to progress, because we know that the success of our story—of the Philippines’ story—is dependent on the success of each and every one of the characters who play a part in it: from the farmer who gets up before sunrise every day, to the men and women who clock into work at 9AM, to you, the investors who have placed your bets on the Philippines.
Thank you and good morning. May you have a productive forum.
By KC M. Abalos
The recipe for the perfect wedding—warm weather, a lovely sunset, and really good food—where to find these?
According to a study by the Department of Tourism, within the period of 2007 and 2008, there was a 14% growth rate for foreign nationals choosing to get married here in the Philippines. And based on the increase of the total number of inbound visitors for January and February 2011, which reached 668,625 and showing a 17.88% growth compared to the arrivals for the same period in 2010, the industry of “destination weddings” becomes even more promising.
The popularity of destination weddings has risen globally, totally in keeping with the rise of travelling in general. There is a growing number of couples worldwide who wish to have a unique celebration of their union in some exotic destination. These, along with the number of young Filipino professionals who work abroad, fall in love, and who come home just to get married, make destination weddings a blossoming aspect of the travel industry that the Philippine government really has to take seriously.
The DOT is aware of the potential of this opportunity and has since been active in “assisting the private sector of the tourism industry in marketing tour packages and/or in collaborating with international travel companies for the promotion of the Philippines as a perfect wedding and romantic honeymoon destination in the Asia-Pacific.”
The DOT has taken steps in marketing various Philippine destinations as venues or locales for pre-nuptial shoots, wedding proper, reception, and honeymoon sites. Each purpose interconnected with each other but at the same time demands a different approach in terms of promotion and advertising. This is where the private sector comes in, meaning the travel and wedding industry has been vigilant in this regard.
The Philippine Tour Operators Association, the Philippine Travel Agencies Association and the Philippine Association of Wedding Planners all work together in ensuring that the Philippines enjoys its generous share of the market. With travel exhibits crossing over to wedding expos and vice versa, these industry organizations are making certain that the Philippines remains a viable option for couples who are searching for where they will hold their ideal wedding.
The DOT cites the Kasal Pilipinas as an example. Kasal Pilipinas is a registered business in San Francisco, USA, which held a wedding forum and exhibit in the area, making it possible for the Filipino community to keep in touch with the latest trends in the industry.
Wedding shows also abound. Handled by Themes and Motifs, the biggest is the Wedding Expo which is on its 18th year. This June 18 & 19, the Wedding Summit will also commence just in time to usher in the bridal month.
Engaged couples who are in the throes of panic due to overwhelming planning can be assured that their day will be perfect because they can easily choose and hire professional suppliers who can deliver the best services.
A note about the rise in professionalism in the Philippine wedding industry needs to be mentioned at this point. From events coordination to flower arranging, cake artistry to creative photo and video coverage, the staggering quantity of choices is insurance enough for quality services. Brides can now join online forums, compare prices, and discuss with other brides whom they will hire to get their money’s worth.
Planet Philippines lists down the top 10 reasons why you should marry in the Philippines. These are based on the unique and wonderful things that make the country stand out.
1. Fabulous food – With the Filipinos’ ability to absorb culinary tastes from far-off lands, engaged couples can choose to feed their guests with a wide array of flavors. From original Filipino dishes to food that is closer to your hearts and tummies, ask and it shall be sautéed, broiled, and delivered.
2. Bells a-ringing – With over thousands of beautiful churches (and not just Catholic ones, mind you), there is no other place in the world where the sacrament of matrimony is taken as seriously as here.
3. Beaches galore – Is it a beach, blanket, bingo beginning you’re wishing for? We have 7, 100 beautiful islands with all kinds of beaches—sandy or stony, white or black, even pink ones to choose from!
4. Flowery speech – A country known for its diverse variety of flora (and fauna), we warn that bees bothering your walk down the aisle is a strong possibility because of the amount of blossoms you can splurge on.
5. Animal love – Speaking of fauna, our four-footed or winged pals have always been welcome guests in a Filipino wedding. Doves kissing, butterflies flitting, and cows delivering a bride to her groom is not unheard of.
6. Honeymoon check! – Where else can you hold a wedding ceremony and then move on to your honeymoon that is only a banca or a tricycle ride away?
7. For a song – The Pinoy’s love for music is equal only for their love of food. Book a band or a DJ. Hire a string quartet or an entire choir. Ask them to sing you a kundiman (traditional Filipino love song) or an Iron Maiden cover and they will indulge.
8. Monique Lhuillier, et al – US-based top bridal gown designer Monique Lhuillier is Pinay and even if you can’t afford her, rest assured her other Filipino colleagues can sew, bead, and dress you to your liking.
9. Quirky indulgence – If your tastes tend to lean on the quirkier side, our islands are ready to pander to them. Hot air balloons, skydiving, zip lining, and other adventures are readily available.
10. Tradition to a T – Offer eggs for a sunny wedding day. Throw rice onto the newly married couple for luck. Make sure ceremonial candles don’t get blown out by the wind. This weird country has a hundred and one wedding traditions and beliefs that will ensure wedded bliss.
Thousands of church bells are ready to ring for anyone who wants to get married in the Philippines. From the windy hills of Tagaytay to the white sandy beaches of Boracay, the country’s varied topography would fit anyone’s idea of an exotic destination.
The Philippines’ once pristine island of Boracay has become extremely overdeveloped, with its famous beach now choked by sewage and too many bars, the country’s new tourism minister said.
In an interview with the news agency Agence France-Presse on July 9, Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim suggested it was time tourists visited equally beautiful beaches in the country other than Boracay, which the government said drew 650,000 tourists last year.
“If you go to Boracay you’d love the beach, you’d love the night life and the good restaurants. But it’s so dense, it’s so dense,” Lim said.
“It is now, you know, too commercial. It’s become Phuket,” he said, referring to the much larger Thai beach resort island.
Lim, who joined President Benigno Aquino’s cabinet when it took power on June 30, said the 10.3 square-kilometer (four square-mile) central Philippine island of Boracay was a different place a generation ago.
The sprawl that followed the tourist dollars caused the seawater off the four-kilometer (2.5 mile) white-sand beachfront to sprout algae, which was fed by sewage from the hotels and restaurants, he said.
“Thirty years ago they tried to set the rules but they were not successful. The local government did not cooperate… so people started overbuilding,” Lim said.
“Of course, bad sewage — that’s why (you are seeing) algae at certain times of the year. It’s green. It’s the result of the sewage seeping out. The algae there is not yucky, it’s moss. Maybe fish eat it. But it’s an indication that there’s a problem below the surface.”
Asked if the problem, which first made world headlines in the mid-1990s, had been solved, Lim said: “I’m not sure. I don’t think so, that’s why at certain times of the year the algae forms.”
Lim said environmental and zoning regulations were not being enforced, leading to structures even being built inside the high-water mark.
“And they continue to build. They’re building huge hotels in the mountains.”
Lim suggested the government may in the end be unable to halt overdevelopment.
“We have world-class laws but nobody follows them,” he said, adding tourists may just have to look elsewhere.
“The thing about Boracay is the quality of the sand, (it is) very white. But there are other places that have better quality sand, but (they are) very expensive,” Lim said. (Agence France-Presse)
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