Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Campaigns & Grey does a 'hugas kamay' and 'i was pusoy'

If I were in the team of President Aquino handling his media image, I’d be extremely worried about the perception of incompetence hounding his administration less than 200 days into its life. His image-builders doubtless are aware of all the adverse reactions in FaceBook and other social network media. The problem is that such perception is very difficult to reverse once it becomes a downhill trend. For instance, one FB message wrote: “Our government is getting worse by the day…now we have an incompetent trial and error president. Please, God, save the Philippines.” Others have played around the “student council” criticism of Sen. Joker Arroyo.

Malacanang’s image-builders had better get their act together before this administration goes into a total downward spin.

A botched re-branding job

Over the past few days I’ve been trying to analyze why the incredible outburst of disgust and frustration from the citizenry over the botched re-branding job by the Department of Tourism in “Pilipinas Kay Ganda,” that has since been scrapped. In the scheme of things, this fiasco is not as big as, say the Luneta hostage-taking or certain blunders of the past Arroyo administration. Yet the outcry from media as well as the citizens especially in the social networks on this logo issue was so strong.

I can only ascribe it to the fact that many citizens feel, yun ba namang maliit na bagay na bagong promo logo hindi pa magawang tama? One executive went to the heart of the issue: why did the DOT have to plagiarize it from the Polish emblem, when there are so many creative Filipinos who could have done it better? That remark appears to mirror the frustrations of the citizens with the series of setbacks and blunders of the administration and what appears to be an amateurish bunch running it in the past four months.

P-Noy needs more competent people

The problem is that expectations that things would be better under P-Noy were so high. To be sure, as the recent survey indicated, majority of the people are still with him, and there is no doubt that they want him to succeed. But the frustration is palpable and growing, and the question now on many minds is, why doesn’t the President get more competent people to help him? As Sen. Miriam Santiago put it, they are all lightweights.

It shows in the inadequate staff work they have done for the inexperienced President, resulting in atras-abante pronouncements and projects. To cite a few examples, there's the Amnesty Proclamation that was returned to the Palace after senators pointed out that it cannot be promulgated without the concurrence of Congress, and several defective EOs that got snagged in the Supreme Court. Look at the high political cost to P-Noy of the unthinking PCSO order for Child Haus to evacuate its premises without providing for an alternative site, making him look so heartless toward cancer-stricken children.

Another ill-timed removal

Why was Climate Change Commission vice-chair Heherson Alvarez removed summarily on the very eve of the opening of the World Climate Change Summit in Cancun, Mexico, this Monday? It also came as a big inter-faith dialogue on this critical issue that Alvarez himself convened in Manila opened. What did he do so wrong that his summary execution had to be done on the eve of these big events? Why was he fired just like that, while other officials who have committed big booboos are allowed to stay? Some malicious minds suspect that it may be because some huge funds for C-C may be coming our way soon.

Infighting in the Palace

Compounding the incompetence issue are reports of infighting and turf-wars between factions in this administration. There’s the growing observation from various quarters that Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, his PMS-Chief daughter Julia and his congresswoman wife Henedina, the senior vice-chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, comprise the real power in this government, not Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa (despite the fact that, as rumors have it, the latter gave a new meaning to CESO---“classmates of Executive Secretary Ochoa”).

In GMA’s time, there was so much talk about a shadowy group headed by former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo which allegedly cornered business deals, but there was never any doubt about who was in charge in the Palace. No one but GMA.

Dick Gordon on radio

Last Sunday Cecile Alvarez and I were able to drag former Tourism Secretary and Senator Richard Gordon to tape that evening’s segment of our dzRH 8 pm. program, even as he evaded other media seeking interviews on the Pilipinas Kay Ganda fiasco. Dick couldn’t say no to us, I guess, because our ties go decades back. Cecile’s husband, Sonny Alvarez, and Dick were both delegates to the 1971 Constitutional Convention called by Marcos (Dick was its youngest member), while I was Kate Gordon’s suki for antiques in those days and my brother, novelist Roger Olivares, used to coach Dick in Latin in the old Ateneo.

Dick noted with pride that imitation being the highest form of flattery, his “Wow! Philippines” brand for DOT has been adopted now by Syria in its “Wow, Syria” promo campaign, while Malaysia has also incorporated it in its own promo. He refused to comment on the re-branding controversy out of delicadeza, except to admit that “Wow,” which won as the most aggressive promo ad in the Berlin tourism summit during his watch, can still pull them here. He recalled the "permutations" that “Wow” had undergone, with his watch pushing the concept of “more than the usual,” then “beyond the usual” in Ace Durano’s time, and what would have been “more than the usual Asia,” had it been continued in the P-noy administration. He noted that in those days Malaysia spent $180 million for its tourism ads whereas he spent only$660,000, but the “Wow” promo gave our neighbor a run for its money, adding that our provinces still have to exhaust their “Wow” potential.

I might add that sadly, however, the P-Noy administration is always too eager to throw out anything associated with the Arroyo era.

Spending brings in business

Gordon stressed that with the global tourism industry involving almost a billion tourists who spent a trillion dollars last year, its prospects for economic growth cannot be overestimated. He said that every P1 million the Philippines sinks into tourism will bring in $1 billion in return. Noting that tourism is really all about telling a story about a people, Gordon stressed that Australia boasts of its aborigines, but our country has 110 different indigenous communities. To stimulate tourism, he said he authored in the Senate the Tourism Act of 2009, which will ensure P500 million annually for at least five years from the time of the law’s enactment, as a special “Tourism Promotions Fund” (TPF) to finance the activities of the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) that will take charge of promoting and marketing the Philippines as a primary tourism destination. It should be noted that apart from this special fund, the TPB will have its own authorized P250 million capital from the national government.

From the Tourism Act of 2009, it’s clear that there’s a lot of funds to establish adequate tourism infrastructure and provide incentives to private entrepreneurs engaging in tourism; their availability should also put the Philippines on a more competitive footing with other aggressively-marketed countries, provided these funds will be properly used and the right talents are tapped. Thus, there should be little room for promo fiascos such as the recent DOT faux-pas. 

Washing their hands off a botched job

I’m among those who took umbrage at the way the advertising agency called “Campaigns and Grey” is resorting to “hugas-kamay” or to use street parlance, “iwas pusoy,” about responsibility for that “Kay Ganda” promo. Ang kiss-and-tell tactic kailan man ay hindi maganda. The fact is that Campaigns, which handled the marketing strategy for candidate Noynoy Aquino in the recent elections, made that ad but it was only after its work reaped enormous criticisms that the agency now says that DOT ignored its warnings about a “premature launch.”

Like DOT Secretary Bertie Lim, Campaigns and Grey misses the point: whether the promo was launched last week or to be launched next year, or whether it was a big or soft launch is not the issue. The ad it made was no good because it copied (plagiarized, to use a tres courante word) the logo of a Polish ad, and used native language which is unintelligible to the foreign market. The agency should have stood its ground and not agree to the DOT’s insistence on those points, to begin with, if it did not think there was merit to them. Campaigns' weakness is being passed off now as innocence.

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