“It’s more fun in the Philippines!” This is the new slogan of the Department of Tourism that was launched in early January.
Barely three months after it was launched, and even before summer officially commences, the time of the year when tourism influx reaches its peak, a video that’s sure to hurt the image of the Philippines has gone viral. It was created by Jimmy Sieczka, an American expat who enumerated the 20 reasons he dislikes the Philippines.
Not surprisingly, several Filipino citizens and government officials have come to the defense. Rightly or wrongly.
Sieczka’s “dislike list” includes: a gigantic hole on the sidewalk temporarily covered up by a trash can, street vendors who sell sexual performance enhancer, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the lack of proper sanitation in market food stalls, Filipinos’ obsession with whitening products (our version of Americans’ obsession with tanning products), pollution, plastic bags on the street, comfort rooms (Filipino term for restrooms) that don’t have toilet seats and toilet papers, drivers (and pedestrians I must add) who ignore traffic laws, lazy security guards, cockroaches, and so on.
But wait. It seems there wasn’t anything shown in the video that wasn’t true. He depicted with great accuracy what needs to be improved in this country. There are in fact some other items that I could add to his list. Why the uproar?
For a country whose people, as a culture, are typically overly concerned about its image and what other people think or say more than anything, you’d think that the Filipino would do anything and everything to ensure a reputable image. You’d think that anything that could potentially tarnish the image and reputation of the country and her people will immediately be acted upon.
Sadly, when it comes to criticisms about the Philippines, being defensive has become generally a Filipino instinctual reaction. It is a behavioural pattern. To a certain degree, it is an illustration of a distorted concept of patriotism and loyalty.
This is aggravated by the fact that shaming is an Asian cultural thing. And it is most prevalent in the Philippines. Nakakahiya, ano na lang ang sasabihin ng ibang tao? (It’s embarrassing, what will other people think?) Hiya (“shame”) is a commonly held cultural value. Anything that would bring embarrassment and humiliation is frowned upon and avoided.
“Well, at least, there’s this, or we have this….”
Rather than take an objective stand and address the issue, criticisms are taken personally. There is a general tendency to look at other more pleasant things to cover up for the shortcoming and compensate for the wrongdoing. It is also a distorted way of looking at the brighter side of things, of finding the blessing in disguise, the positive in the negative.
In August 2010, a former police officer hijacked a tourist bus and held hostage a group of Hong Kong tourists. There was live feed for the international audience to watch. Depending on how you look at it, fortunately/unfortunately, it broadcasted to the world the incompetency of the Philippines police and security forces.
It took several hours and was too painful to watch. The police officer was shot dead, eight tourists were killed, and several others were severely wounded. It caused an uproar amongst the Hongkong/Chinese community. A “black” travel warning against the Philippines was raised in Hongkong, followed by other countries.
President Aquino was barely two months in office. He surely had a lot on his plate and I most certainly didn’t want to be in his shoes. (But he isn’t an Aquarian President for nothing. See related post, The promise of EDSA People Power Revolution and our Aquarian President.)
I felt sorry for the tragic deaths and the trauma that the bereaved families have been left to deal with. But I was also silently rejoicing. The incompetency of the police force and inefficiency of the system had been a standing issue. Broadcasting it to the world pushed the government to address it.
Yet, how did some of the Filipinos choose to deal with the embarrassment and humiliation brought by the incident?
Venus Raj, Philippines representative to the Miss Universe 2010 beauty pageant was proclaimed 4th runner up. The pageant was held a day after the hostage incident. Hooray! Some sectors of the Filipino people rejoiced as it will erase and make up for the negative publicity!
For a country that is obsessed with beauty pageants, the victory of Venus surely came in quite handy.
But avoiding the issue and not facing the problem is only depriving ourselves of the opportunity to grow and to reform our ways.
Just as with the Honkong tourist bus hostage footage, the video created by Jimmy Sieczka is fortunately/unfortunately, depending again on which paradigm you’re coming from, available for the entire world to watch. Click here to watch.
One versus 20 million
It is quite disheartening that rather than be humbled and alarmed by what was depicted in the video, the immediate response of the Department of Tourism Assistant Secretary and spokesperson Benito Bengzon was, “If he has 20 reasons why he is not fond of our country, we can get 20 million reasons more why it is more fun in the Philippines”. He further commented that “though the department recognizes the issues depicted in the video, it is not at all worried that it could affect the country’s tourism campaign. The important thing to remember here is that this is a one-man opinion against the millions of Filipinos who still love the Philippines,” he added.
Really Secretary Bengzon? That’s the best you can come up with?
The issues presented in the video are not directly under the jurisdiction of the Department of Tourism but are the direct responsibilities of other government offices. (I will touch on it later.) But they surely greatly impact the tourism business. We cannot compartmentalize that. And we cannot continue to deny what has been haunting this country for decades, the root cause of which goes back in history.
The process of change and growth begins with the crucial step of admitting and acknowledging that there is something that needs to be changed. When one is in denial, no amount of outside help or prodding will effect healing and transformation. It starts from within.
Turning a blind eye or a deaf ear most certainly will not help. To hold on to the belief that the opinion of one man is immaterial compared to million others is perpetuating, rather than addressing the long-standing problems and issues that have plagued the Philippines. It is giving a covert message to the Filipinos that there’s nothing wrong with what they’re doing. It reinforces the wrong habit and perpetuates the pattern. It is enabling instead of correcting bad behaviour.
In the first place, the message of the video isn’t just the opinion of one man. I am from this country but I was even surprised that Jimmy didn’t include a few other things that are bothersome and greatly needs improvement.
It’s probably the first time that someone had the courage to create such a video and publish it for everyone’s viewing pleasure. And to that, I admire, applaud and respect Jimmy for what he did. Perhaps there’s room for improvement in the manner, approach and tone of the message and I will touch on that later. Still, the message was relevant and too significant to ignore.
Even if he were the first or the only one to have done this, it doesn’t make him the only one to have such an opinion. And it’s not even an opinion. It is a fact, it is reality, it is a very accurate observation, and attending to the issues raised is long overdue. It is the order of the day.
Just as with the Hongkong tourist bus hostage crisis, I am again silently rejoicing. Jimmy Sieczka has become this country’s catalyst for change.
Sad, painful, shameful, embarrassing….it is what it is. Facing the mirror and embracing one’s shadow can get really ugly and messy. But that’s the only way to heal and evolve. And only when we take the first step of admitting and acknowledging what needs to be corrected can the process of change and reform begin.
And then we can truly claim “It’s more fun in the Philippines”. Really.
To be continued
BBC News Asia-Pacific (2010). Hong Kong hostages killed in Manila bus siege. Retrieved March 21, 2012 from BBC News Asia-Pacific website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-11055015
Goodman, M. (2012). 20 reasons I dislike the Philippines. Retrieved March 19, 2012 from ChannelFix website: http://www.channelfix.com/video/174/
Mendoza, S. (2012). DOT slams expat’s ‘why I dislike PH’ video. Retrieved March 20, 2012 from Yahoo! News website: http://ph.news.yahoo.com/dot-slams-expat-s–why-i-hate-ph–video.html
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