POSTSCRIPT / January 10, 2012 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Tourists might ask DoT: Are we having fun yet?

ALARM: I sensed something unusual when President Noynoy Aquino himself went on nationwide TV to warn about supposed terrorist plans to bomb the procession yesterday of the Black Nazarene from the Luneta to its Quiapo shrine.

Normally such security advisories are relayed to the public by the police, not by the President. If the idea is to alarm the public, the President’s taking a direct hand has succeeded somewhat.

But in my view, the alarm is not in the possible terrorist disruption of the procession itself – which still has to happen as I write this — but in the possible laying down of a deep-set scenario.

Sorry if I sound a bit uncomfortable, but we cannot ignore the perception of many that the President appears to be laying the basis for some emergency situation as in a Plan B, or a fallback scenario for something.

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U.S. ADVISORY: And as expected, after the President read his lines, the US embassy put out an advisory to Americans in these parts to stay away from the vicinity of the Black Nazarene procession in Manila “and subsequent observances.”

The embassy advice said in part: “The President of the Philippines counseled that security would be facilitated if celebrants would remain in their homes instead of attending the public procession. Failing that, participants were asked not to bring cell phones, fireworks, or backpacks to the celebrations. Those (Americans) visiting or residing in the Metro Manila area should expect to see enhanced security precautions, and should comply with all requests by security officials.

“The Department of State remains concerned about the continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against US citizens and interests throughout the world. The Worldwide Caution reminds US citizens that terrorism can occur anywhere.”

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FRIENDLIESTCOUNTRIES: Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez must have read by now the Forbes report on the world’s friendliest countries in the light of his department’s marketing slogan “It’s more fun in the Philippines!”

The magazine analyzed the results of HSBC Bank International’s Expat Explorer survey in four areas: ability to befriend locals, success in learning the local language, capacity for integrating into the community, and ease in which they fit into the new culture.

Based on the survey results released late last month, the 10 friendliest countries were found to be: Canada, Bermuda, South Africa, US, Australia, Spain, France, UK, Malaysia and Germany.

With our lean 3 million foreign tourist arrivals, I feel envious seeing Malaysia among Forbes’ Top Ten. Malaysia’s tourist arrivals have hit almost 22 million. New York City, btw, boasts of more than 50 million visitors.

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EXPATS VS. TOURISTS: Malacañang can take comfort in the fact that HSBC surveyed 4,127 expatriates in more than 100 countries between April and June 2010 – a period within the term of the Arroyo administration.

Also note that the bank’s survey was among expats who reside and work in their country of assignment, as opposed to tourists, the DoT’s target, who just come visiting to enjoy the place briefly.

Expats and tourists have something in common, as in their looking for safety, hospitality and cultural value , but the expats’ perspective is more on business than pleasure plus their being able to adjust readily on a more permanent, not transient, basis.

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ARE WE READY?: About the “More Fun” aspect of the DoT’s sales pitch, there is probably a congruence in expats and tourists looking for fun.

My biggest fear, though, is that after we go all-out to lure 10 million tourists (not counting Balikabayans, I hope), we may be found to be not ready if/when the DoT campaign is able to bring them in.

Our repeat business may suffer significantly. A visitor’s shocking first impression of the host destination being unsafe and unkempt, aside from being barren in the arts, may just turn out to be his last.

We assume the DoT will not lower its sight just to get the number of warm bodies targeted. Samples of diving are the sex tours merrily carried out with the authorities pretending not to notice the hanky-panky.

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GATDULA REFORMS: With NBI Director Magtanggol Gatdula rumored to be on the way out just because he is on leave, we asked bureau and justice department personnel what they think.

Those set back by Gatdula’s cleanup campaign or who are pushing their own man naturally want him out. But a great number, we found out, like the reforms he has started and want him to continue improving the service and the NBI’s image.

We have learned, for instance, that NBI intelligence funds, already small for a premier law enforcement agency, are now being used to improve field operations. Field offices now have laptops and desktop computers instead of typewriters. They also have more and better vehicles for mobility.

Key operating agents have been issued Glock service pistols, the envy of other law enforcement agencies. They now have a fast communication system linking field offices.

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CONTINUE REFORMS: People who deal with the bureau, including those securing employment and travel clearances, have noticed the vast improvement in the premises and systems, a physical indication of the management style of Gatdula and the NBI’s state of discipline.

Mindful that the NBI’s most valuable asset is its personnel, he established the NBI Foundation to take care of various needs of employees. But it seems that he has stepped on the toes of some subordinates, particularly when he abolished unneeded units.

The cleanup and upgrading at the NBI was carried out in the 17 months that Gatdula, a no-nonsense retired police general and a lawyer, took over.

He should come back from vacation and continue his reform agenda.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 10, 2012)

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