TOKYO -- This blog entry isn't about the faults of different candidates or why people should not vote for them. It's solely about our experience at Travelife Magazine, one sunny afternoon last month when presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro (GIBO) took time from his very busy schedule to have tea and discuss travel and tourism prospects for the Philippines with the editors of Travelife at the Peninsula Manila.
It was the day of GIBO's speech at a meeting of the Makati Business Club, held at the Intercontinental Manila, and we'd been lucky enough to get him to ourselves for over two hours that afternoon. I'd thought about attending the MBC lunch myself, but there were just too many things to organize prior to meeting him, especially as he was heading straight to the Peninsula from the MBC event. Later on, I'd heard that he'd impressed practically everyone at MBC, which included a largely skeptical group of business people who had never been his supporters.
"He's really the best candidate," so many people said repeatedly to me that day, after GIBO had talked solidly and sensibly about what he would do if he were president. I'd bumped into some senior multinational executives at the Pen lobby that afternoon while waiting for GIBO to arrive and they'd said this again and again. "He's really the best candidate. It's just too bad he won't win. Wrong time."
This was a phrase I would hear over and over in the weeks after that. It's often hard to open up about politics and this election to friends and acquaintances because people have become so polarized that it's almost shocking to discover that friends you thought were on the same page with you are on completely different continents regarding presidential candidates. Well, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and it's really not for others to judge these -- including us.
But when the topic did creep up, and still does creep up, it was equally shocking that almost everyone I spoke to thought GIBO was the best. I knew people liked him, but I didn't think almost everyone did. Whether it was over lunch with travel companions from Manila and Cebu at a seafood restaurant in Mumbai, at drinks with competitors at the Fort, or at a trade show meeting clients for the first time, the refrain was the same that it was starting to ring in my head like a jingle without a tune: "GIBO's the best candidate. It's too bad he won't win."
Then I realized: too bad for whom? Of course if GIBO doesn't make it, I'm sure he (and his supporters) will be extremely disappointed. But he's young, talented and energetic. Whether he becomes president of a country or just president of a family company, or even if he ends up a regular lawyer instead of Philippine president, I'm almost sure he will land on his feet and still lead a good, successful and purposeful life. His family may even be happier that they will have him all to themselves instead of having to share him with 90 (last count?) million other Filipinos for six years.
The real tragedy lies with us Filipinos: if so many of us truly believe GIBO is the best candidate to navigate the Philippines through these very tough times and we don't do what we can to make him president. If we believe he'll make the best president and yet we don't elect him because other candidates have more money, more machinery, more pedigree or a couple of very powerful media behind them, we've basically slammed the door on an opportunity that doesn't come very often in the history of a country. Truly great presidential material is rare anywhere, but it's perhaps rarer in countries like ours where real skills and capabilities take the backseat to sentimentalism, showbiz and media perceptions. Don't we deserve and need the best qualified person as president, especially at this very crucial time for ourselves and the world? And, really, if we don't elect GIBO -- can you imagine what the Philippines will be like for six long years under a mediocre president?
Face it. We don't need popularity (although that makes the job easier) or pedigree for a president, we need someone who really wants to finally get this country out of the mess we're in; and who can make sensible and rational decisions for the good of the majority, who has enough foresight to plan for the future of a population, and who can effectively manage the meager resources of the population for maximum results. Please tell me -- popularity aside, which of the candidates is best equipped to do this very difficult job? Winning the elections is the easiest part of the process. It's the after part that counts.
Now if I was going around the country or the world -- I'm typing this out in a hotel room in Kobe, having just arrived from Hong Kong, where I did meet many Filipino professionals -- and Filipinos I'm meeting are not saying GIBO is the best qualified, then that's another story. In fact, there's no story at all.
But having so many people believing GIBO is the best but that he won't get elected is a tragedy of almost comic proportions -- and it's really a tragedy not for him, but for us: a poor country that could really use a darn good and capable president with honest intentions and sincere motives. It's not enough right now for us to elect an honest president (who can't run a country) or a very capable president (with questionable motives) -- or worse, a person with neither capability nor good motives, but just popularity.
This is GIBO's time -- not because he should be president or because he wants to be president, but because we need someone capable like him to run this country and finally get us out of our rat hole. A candidate with the right pedigree or enough popularity can easily win an election, but after the posters and banners have been taken down, the serious business begins. And the Philippines can't be run on the legacy of parents or the shine of showbiz alone. I can't stress enough how we need a truly capable person as president, and how damaging six years with a lousy president will be.
On the afternoon that GIBO came to have tea with Travelife's editors, Managing Editor Jon Vicente and I went down to the lobby to meet him and escort him and his entourage to the suite we had booked. The moment he walked into the lobby, there was a change in the air -- not just because of the surprise and excitement of onlookers, but because he himself brought a powerful and positive energy to this cavernous lobby that was immediately felt.
This is a kind and smart man with a good purpose, I thought to myself. He can get the tough business done. This is not just any man running for presidency. He possessed an air of command, striding – he doesn’t just walk – purposefully into the lobby, ensuring that all eyes were drawn to the tall man with kind, glinting eyes.
Read about our afternoon with GIBO in the latest issue of Travelife, on sale everywhere now. Here are some excerpts from that afternoon in a corner suite of the Peninsula Manila, where he effortlessly held four Travelife interviewers at bay, talking about travel, how tourism can help revitalize the Philippine economy, and life after a presidency. Just another day at work for him, and an incredibly inspiring few hours for us at Travelife. This isn't about the candidate we went to school with (not) or the one we know best (not even close; we certainly know the others and their families better), or the one someone in our family knows best or owes a favor to. This is about the best presidential candidate for the Philippines. There is hope, and his name is GIBO.
Managing Editor Jon Vicente (JV): How did travel and living abroad shape your personality?
Gibo: It made me less insular and more open to change. Living abroad makes you realize you need to compete worldwide, and that the world is not a static thing revolving around the Philippines, but vice-versa. It makes you more liberal in terms of accepting a need for greater interconnection amongst countries. The world’s getting to be a smaller place. There’s freedom to migrate, there’s freedom of capital flow, there’s freedom of cross-border services. The sooner we wake up to that reality, probably the sooner the ‘brain drain’ and migration problems get remedied.
JV: What are some of your most memorable destinations?
Gibo: Cambridge, Massachusetts. Personally and of course, nostalgically, because I lived there for two years. My family and my wife’s family were also residents in northern California, so there’s a little bit of nostalgia for the West Coast too. Our son was born was born there. New York is also quite memorable because I almost worked there, either in an investment bank or a law firm.
Travelife Chairman Keiichi Miki (KM): What’s your favorite hideaway place with your family?
Gibo: Internationally, Singapore and Hong Kong for the food. We were able to go to the Maldives once and the United States once, but it was more for a working visit. London and Honolulu are good places too. Turkey was memorable. We were childless then and we spent two weeks in a bus touring Turkey. No way am I doing that in a bus again! Mactan Island is also good.
Travelife Publisher & EIC Christine Cunanan (CC): How did you end up here?
Gibo: My father told me to come home! Then I ran for congress immediately after!
JV: If elected president, what are your plans for Philippine tourism?
Gibo: Number one is to implement the new tourism act. I think it’s an all-encompassing act regarding our strategic direction. Number two, complementary infrastructure for tourism. I do not agree that islands with limited carrying capacity and sustainability should be made more accessible - quite the contrary.
We should begin looking more into high-value tourism. We had that market before, the Japanese market, and we lost it. So, we should invest more in high-value tourism and medical tourism, and provide complementary infrastructure for it. Through the tourism act, I think we’re trying to fill the gap in shortfall with respect to facilities. I think in 2008, when Thailand had domestic problems, a lot of tourists wanted to redirect to the Philippines—in Phuket-type destinations. But we could only accommodate so much, not only in terms of hotels, but in terms of airports. People are looking at Terminal 3, when what’s needed is an additional runway. It takes 45 minutes in peak time to get off and land right now. It’s a problem. In Cebu for example, with its single runway: what happens if it gets inundated? I think those things should be examined. I’m going to work with the industries involved, to get as many quality tourists as possible.
and the brightest torch
in this, our darkest hour."
- F. Sionil Jose
I also would like to encourage consolidation in the tourism industry in terms of government policy. Each and every town already has a festival. There should probably be some consolidation because sometimes you need a bit of contrivance in tourism. The perfect contrivances for me are Bali and Langkawi -- they were able to shape their culture. There should be more of a cultural renaissance in the Philippines, in terms of indigenous diversity.
JV: What do we need to promote the Philippines and tourism abroad?
Gibo: We don’t sell ourselves enough in terms of information and marketing. Information-wise, people really don’t make a distinction between problems in some areas of the Philippines vis-à-vis the whole country. We need to advertise more, although now there is definitely a budget concern, because there is once again a fight between social services and tourists, without realizing that there is a direct correlation between the quantity of advertising and the return.
JV: Is it just about marketing?
Gibo: Not only marketing; however there is a marketing problem. We certainly can market certain areas, which are ready for tourism, such as Cebu or Bohol. And every travel advisory is a problem. But how do we deal with the travel advisory? Rather than deal with the problem underlying the travel advisory, we get angry. So, there’s some sort of a disconnect in the way we approach things.
JV: Do you see the global recession dampening tourism growth in 2010?
Gibo: No, because there are already visible signs of recovery elsewhere. It’s probably the right time to invest in tourism, which is badly needed. Anyway, if you invest in tourism, the byproducts are cleaner surroundings; there are multiplier effects that go into the surroundings and to the economy. Now, which goes to say also our human capital is also a problem. Why? Because we have a big debate about English as a second language when we should have more [of them].
CC: What will you do about NAIA 3 if you become President?
Gibo: We’ll have to solve a whole gamut of problems first before that. I say again, the NAIA 3 terminal is the smallest part of NAIA’s problem. The runway is the problem. Traffic is also a problem. You’ll have to get the support facilities in first.
How many people come to Manila in the first place? I think for tourism, minimal. Manila is for business, rather than for tourism. Panglao is on track, I think, it’s going to be able to accept bigger types of aircraft. Mactan, we need another runway because it’s a hub. Davao can already accept large aircraft. They can accommodate the Airbus A340 but not the series 400. Sulu and Tawi-tawi have very promising runways, 2,800 meters, which were just inaugurated.
CC: Many of our friends overseas think that the Philippines has a lot of nice tourism destinations, but even in Manila, squalor is everywhere even along the roads from the airport. What do you plan to do as president?
Gibo: Well, we already started it, with the relocation of people in vulnerable areas. It’s going to need a lot of work, because they will always come back. I think these informal settlers must be relocated and the waterways must be dredged. I think that’s a safety issue also for Metro Manila.
However, there is hope for NAIA. NAIA’s competitive advantage is probably that it’s right smack in Manila, like Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.
Travelife Board Member Andrew Masigan (AM): What is your vision of Manila as a world-city? I heard about the Php208 Billion Plan.
Gibo: No, the Php 208 billion plan is really to save Manila from disasters, not to make it competitive. What Manila should be is a high-value and quality service provider: Value-service, Service provider. Not manufacturing anymore. It should be a business destination, a business hub. Our laws are quite restrictive in that end. We once had the opportunity to make Manila one of the best financial, legal, and design centers for services. This is what Manila should be, but right now, people are even more optimistic in Cebu.
JV: Some people are calling the Philippines the retirement capital of the world. Is that something you’ve heard too?
Gibo: Yes, it is one of the identified sunrise areas, together with wellness, medical tourism, tourism per se, food manufacturing, BPOs and the like. It is something that really should be looked into. However, I think the synergies between the Philippine Retirement Authority, the Department of Tourism, Department of Interior and Local Government are also not that defined.
KM: Maybe reducing the number of departments will force them to work together.
Gibo: It’s kind of hard because normally, doing that is through a committee and the committee will never meet because the cabinet member will just task somebody to do this. The committee system in this country has not worked that well. But probably for retirement, I’ll empower the local government units and get them to evolve their own policies regarding retirement communities. I’ll support feasible plans. Retirement is ultimately a function of the community itself, so LGUs should be capable.
CC: What would you do to promote better synergy?
Gibo: Well, first thing is for private sectors to provide a feedback mechanism. You can’t watch them 24 hours a day. There should be a working relationship between these departments and the best way is to make stakeholders really a participant: they’re going to shout if the department doesn’t do any work. It’s their money, and the time value of money runs not against government, but against the stakeholders themselves.
Number two is to have some quick wins. Your first 100 days is an important window. If you have quick wins in it, it will multiply. The third way really is what I was advocating earlier. Part of your program should be a long-term multi-stakeholder program. Tourism is one of the eleven areas where the Philippines can be competitive. You have to have an intrapart-interpart political party, local government, and a legislative accord with it. So, everybody is in. Takes a lot of hard work, but it has to be done.
KM: What can you do to ensure a project being long-term?
Gibo: You get all the political leaders to sign on to it. If the private sectors make lots of noise, everybody will sign on. For tourism, one of the biggest problems is the potential conflict between the Department of Tourism and the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources. I’ve seen that alreadyand that should be remedied.
CC: How would you address such conflict?
Gibo: That’s where leadership comes in. They better tow the line or get out, that’s the only way.
JV: What specific places would you focus on developing in the Philippines?
Gibo: The Visayas area. That’s already the tourism area of the Philippines. In northern Luzon, there’s Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, and Sta. Ana. For wellness, the Cordillera Area is like Ubud in Bali, Indonesia, but it needs some time, because weatherproof roads are an issue. And access by air is also an issue because of fogging. Also, if you build roads, security problems disappear by 50%. Access is important for anti-insurgency purposes.
CC: How about making Manila more of a tourist destination?
Gibo: There is room for that. I walked around Old Manila the other night and I think there’s a lot that we can do to convert Manila into something like Singapore’s Boat Quay or Clarke Quay. Chinatown still has the façade of something that can be developed. Clean up the place, give a lift to the traditional restaurants there, the traditional Fookien food.
JV: Is the Philippines ready for a philosopher-king?
Gibo: Probably there’s too many of them already (laughs).
JV: Which one do we need? The businessman-king? The lawyer-king?
Gibo: I think the Philippines needs a lot of realists. There’s too much misplaced idealism in the country, to the point of hypocrisy. For example, the way we treat our public servants. We have the ideal of the public servant—the super human being without any material needs whatsoever and who will devote 24/7 to the welfare of the country. That doesn’t work anymore. And the problem is that the Philippines always wants a free ride. We should really live up to the fact that there’s no free lunch in the world. There are costs.
We could increase financial incentives for doing good. For example, we can start with the bonus system. Why don’t we have lump sum personal services appropriation per department and let the policy of the department work to how a bonus is given? We should do that, but we don’t because we have salary gauges.
JV: Besides your campaign team, what is a must-bring on your travels?
CC: What can’t you leave home without?
Gibo: Not a laptop, not a Blackberry. It’s a book and probably a blanket.
CC: How do you cope with such hectic travel? Do you have a secret?
Gibo: Just look forward to the next time you have peace and quiet. That’s what keeps you going.
FROM YELLOW TO GREEN: A PERSONAL JOURNEY
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