Is the Philippines as safe and friendly as that DOT ad makes it out to be?

Is the Philippines as safe and friendly as that DOT ad makes it out to be?

We know that ads aren’t completely truthful (or original), but can we please stop saying it’s safe to live in the Philippines?

It has been a week since the drama of the Department of Tourism’s (DOT) messy affair with McCann hit the internet, giving us something more entertaining than their allegedly plagiarized campaign. Besides countless debates and accusations, what’s also cringe-worthy is how they portrayed the Philippines as something way less sh*tty than the news makes it out to be. To say that “the Philippines is safe” is at best a bad joke in a time of rising death tolls.

In a less-than-spectacular display of damage control, the DOT has since announced that they are cutting ties with the agency, and are to “reopen the procurement process for the production of a new advertising material.” So just a word for the next agency collaborating with the DOT: 1.) go easy on the pegs, and 2.) stop banking on “safety” as the country’s main attraction.

In the ad, they’ve made it their main premise that we are a warm, loving people with places just as friendly to Persons with Disability (PWDs) — focusing on, naturally, vibrant tourist destinations outside our sketchy capital.

However, if they’re going to tap into the whole PWD/safety narrative, they can’t just make it seem as though Manila isn’t in the picture. According to the 2010 census, roughly 16 out of a thousand had disability in the Philippines, and among the regions, Region IV-A had the highest number of PWDs at 193,000, followed by the NCR with 167,000.

The government has of course done its part to give PWDs privileges like medical discounts and VAT extensions, but it doesn’t take much study to say that Manila is still far from being safe for visually impaired individuals, as the ad would have us believe.

The government has of course done its part to give PWDs privileges like medical discounts and VAT extensions, but it doesn’t take much study to say that Manila is still far from being safe for visually impaired individuals, as the ad would have us believe. As writer Ed Geronia pointed out to the media, Braille markings on public signs and pedestrian crossings are close to nonexistent, and so are audio warnings to tell you when it’s safe to cross the road.

Outside the capital’s grand utopias (namely malls), there’s a shortage of lifts and ramps that can take you to underpasses and allow you to board public transportation. Manila isn’t a wheelchair-friendly city. Just thank god for cabs, and hope for a higher salary to indulge every day in Uber. Bike lanes, meanwhile, are rare curiosities. This is why BGC takes pride in being “a walkable city” — because the rest of the metro hardly is.  

Sure, there may be express lanes in food joints and areas reserved for PWDs in transportation systems. But even everyday commuters can attest to the normalized nightmare that is the MRT, in which we’re constantly denied decent service, PWD or not.

While the law similarly provides PWDs “protection against verbal and non-verbal ridicule and vilification,” the government can’t even protect its women from the regular catcalling. Filipinos are hospitable and loving, sure. But the gritty truth is that the warm spirit of community we so romantically promote is hardly present in the streets of Manila.

Needless to say, safety was never our selling point. In April of last year, the U.S. Department of State issued an updated travel warning for the Philippines, and just recently, the World Economic Forum called us the 11th most dangerous country for tourists.

Maybe the ad had meant to change that. Sadly, with conflicts raging down south, constant bomb threats, extrajudicial killings, and a tough-talking leader who compares himself to Hitler, it takes more than a half-assed tagline to get more people to come and experience the Philippines.

Tags:
#politics #travel

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