No one could deny that since President Duterte came to power, there have been more than a few changes in the country. So the recent announcement by the Department of Tourism that they are dropping the slogan “It’s more fun in The Philippines”, should not come as much of a surprise.
The phrase has been used worldwide since 2012, but recently Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo said: “We have a new Philippines. So, the slogan will focus more on ‘change’,”. She added that she hoped to have a new catchline in place for when the country hosts the Miss Universe pageant next year.
On the need to change the slogan, the minister emphasised that it had to be more attuned to the current administration’s pledge to rid the government of corruption, eradicate the drug trade and maintain order.
She also said — after concerns were raised by European diplomats — that the war on drugs would not “greatly affect tourist numbers”.
Personally, I agree with the minister on the first point, the slogan does need changing. But on the second point, that tourism numbers won’t be greatly affected, I believe she is wrong, particularly if what I have witnessed over the last week is anything to go by.
Yesterday, while relaxing with a drink in Ermita, I heard a large amount of noise coming from the area of the US Embassy, but I didn’t take too much notice. However, I soon saw the shocking news footage of the protest about the American presence in The Philippines.
Activists were seen throwing paint at the embassy, a group of students surrounded a police van, and then the van started to mow people down in a bid to get away. Now, while shocking pictures and videos have become the norm of late, this video was particularly brutal. Official reports state that some 50 people were injured and about 30 arrested.
So to give some context to this riot. This was not an anti-government protest (one can only speculate on what the response would have been if it were), it was a protest against America in broad support of President Duterte’s foreign policy. The government fire up the people and then crush them when it goes too far. It’s somewhat ironic that the President is currently in China, as government approved riots (that are later crushed) are a yearly thing in that country.
Now while a few injured people is the least of The Philippines’ concerns right now, with dead bodies littering the street, videos of a famously corrupt police force running over university students might have a negative impact on the family-oriented tourism the country is hoping to attract.
So while it was slightly unnerving to be five minutes away from a huge anti-foreigner protest, this was not the most shocking thing to occur on that day. Two of my drinking companions had earlier witnessed the aftermath of separate street shootings. Both saw rivers of blood, crowds of people and police cars.
Despite the obvious drama, they were both struck by the lack of obvious emotion on the faces of onlookers — it was as though they were numb to tragedy. Apparently, during one of the shootings a young girl had been caught in the crossfire — however, we only learnt this via a photo being shared on Facebook with people asked to type “amen” for the newly created martyr.
Even without these acts of brutality, a simple walk around Ermita, stepping over homeless children sleeping on the streets, makes it obvious that the Philippines doesn’t have a drug problem, it has a poverty problem.
Right-wing leaders like to create identifiable enemies to explain their countries’ problems, and in Duterte’s case he has chosen the drug dealer to shoulder the blame for all of society’s ills. For Hitler, of course, it was the Jews. To quote Ian Kershaw: “The road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference”.
So the ministry of tourism are correct, it is no longer more fun in The Philippines, this needs to change. But they are wrong about tourism numbers, if the death and destruction continues, the tourists will undoubtedly stay away.
However, if the mass indifference to the death and destruction continues this will be the least of people’s concerns.