More fun in Iloilo?

The launching of the new online slogan of the Department of Tourism, “It’s more fun in the Philippines”, has captured a lot of people’s attention, though not in the manner our tourism officials must have hoped. Quickly, it was pointed out that the slogan is a copycat of Switzerland’s 1950’s era tourism campaign plug. Then, it became the object of ridicule, with online posters depicting the country in unsavory terms, with the slogan as backdrop.

In fairness to DOT secretary Ramon Jimenez, it’s very hard to come up with something original these days. About every idea on tourism promotion has been conceived by marketing groups, and I believe most of the slogans we encounter are just refinements of older campaign lines borrowed from the past. However, the “new” online slogan is an exact copy, which is why it drew heavy flak as soon as it came out.

It occurred to me that Iloilo City doesn’t have a tourism slogan. Why not embrace it as well? And with the growing popularity of adventure sports which test the courage and skills of participants in hurdling obstacles, we can develop events to push the popularity of Iloilo City. After all, danger and hardship are now synonymous with fun, and we could shout, “It’s more fun in Iloilo City”!

Here are a few examples:

DODGE THE BULLET – With the numerous cold-blooded murders in the city’s streets, many people now feel concerned about their safety here. But we might be able to sell the novel idea to tourists who take a drastically different view of fun. We could adopt the format of “Amazing Race” where the participants could move from point to point and avoid being shot. The game format could also include having to deal with policemen who are incompetent and in cahoots with drug dealers and illegal gambling operators.

GAS CHAMBER RIDES – The city’s anti-smoking ordinance is a big joke, and violators continue to puff cigarettes in public places and jeepneys with impunity. The challenge is for participants to have to ride jeepneys besides cigarette smokers who defy the law because they know nobody is going to stop them anyway. The winner is the participant who gets to ride in the jeepney with the most number of smokers, with some of them wearing ID’s labelled I-CAST.

GARBAGE DUMP EXPLORATION – The Calajunan dumpsite can also be turned into an adventure park. Participants will be made to crawl through the piles of trash that abound in that 24-hectare space that legally should have been shut down five years ago for non-compliance with the country’s ecological solid waste management act, R.A. 9003. One course would be the “leachate dip” in which participants will be tested for their ability to tolerate the stink in the areas where liquid toxic material liberally flow.

COLIFORM SWIM – The city’s water distribution utility, MIWD, has hogged the headlines, not only because of the internal squabbles that have paralyzed its ability to fulfill its mandate, but also because of the elevated presence of coliform bacteria in the water that flows out of its pipes. The participants can traverse through moving platforms with a pool of coliform-contaminated water below. Failure to maintain one’s balance on the platforms will earn him or her a free dip in the contaminated water and a free drink of the same. If that isn’t challenging enough, they could also do a race on the Iloilo River, which according to the DENR is so dirty swimming is strictly discouraged. They might want to experience swimming in a river which is the sewage for more than a hundred business establishments in the city!

CAKE BUFFET – Iloilo City is known for its culinary delights. Aside from Lapaz Batchoy and Pancit Molo, the city has made a name as a capital for gastronomic adventures. Tatoy’s and Breakthrough have become “must-visit” places for visitors. There’s a new adventure: visitors can get a taste of the most expensive cakes in the world. All they need to do is visit the City Hall and pay P4,000 for a small piece of cake. At least, when they go home, they can boast about having savored thousand-peso slices of cake. That is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s only here in Iloilo City where they can do that.

CITY HALL PARKING CHALLENGE – The participants will be required to park his or her vehicle in the cramped space around City Hall without any of the wheels touching the street pavement. The new City Hall building has no parking space which is mandated by the National Building Code, and the participants can put to test their skills in maneuvering a vehicle to fit on the sidewalk. It is a good way to advertise the most expensive (and most grossly overpriced) City Hall building in the world. As a side activity, the participants can also engage in a race to reach the dome of the building and pose with Lin-ay for photographs. Surely, that kind of activity will encourage participants to post their pictures on Facebook and ensure worldwide exposure for Lin-ay.

There is a saying that in adversity comes opportunity. We can turn the scandals and controversies around to good use and help promote tourism in Iloilo City.  We have no hope in selling our city as the cleanest in the country, hence, we must look for other avenues to market our city. It should provide a good platform for City Mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog to declare, “My city, my pride”!

Absence of leadership

For more than a week before the year 2011 ended, local radio stations discussed the alarming report about the dangerous levels of coliform bacteria that a laboratory technician of the Metro Iloilo Water District (MIWD) detected in the water flowing out of household faucets. And it was distressing to find out that the local chief executive, Jed Patrick E. Mabilog, had chosen to keep quiet about the issue until just before the New Year, and when he did, all he could say was that he “no comment”.

Didn’t the city mayor feel alarmed by the report? Didn’t he sense danger written all over it, and that lives of his constituents have been placed at risk? Didn’t he feel enraged that incompetence and negligence were aggravating the city’s water woes, with obvious health hazards now thrown into the equation? The actions of Mabilog in the face of this report about elevated levels of coliform in the city’s potable water system validate fears that he lacks fundamental leadership skills to confront issues and protect the public welfare. We didn’t see a mayor tackle this crisis; we saw a nitwit and a coward.

In the face of this danger, Mabilog should have been all over the place, ordering additional tests on the water quality and issuing warnings to the people to take precautions like boiling the water before using it. He should have summoned health authorities to an emergency session to talk about ways to protect constituents, specially children, from falling ill, or even dying, as a result of the contamination. He should have confronted the MIWD management and fumed about the negligence which was obviously the root of it all. Unfortunately, leadership took a leave of absence in City Hall, and Mabilog simply tried to appear cute.

It’s a good thing nothing tragic happened. A series of subsequent tests showed that the coliform bacteria level in the water samples taken from several points in the MIWD pipe system indicated that it had gone down to non-threatening levels. But it doesn’t mean the problem has been solved. There is still contamination, because once the water starts flowing into the MIWD pipeline, it should already be zero level of this disease-causing bacteria that comes from human waste. That the coliform bacteria level has been reclassified as “tolerable” isn’t the equivalent of “safe”.

This crisis should not have happened had our city mayor acted swiftly and boldly to address the water woes of the city. His most violent reaction to the MIWD issue was to threaten leading a picket in front of its offices several months ago to protest the removal of his power to appoint its board of directors from erstwhile LWUA chairman Prospero “Butch” Pichay. As the inability of the MIWD to provide potable water to tens of thousands of households in the city, Mabilog kept busy traveling abroad. Every week, he spent two days in Manila. He behaved as if nothing serious was taking place in the city. He looked at his job as an opportunity to see the world and pursue his business ventures.

After 18 months, there is enough basis to categorically label Mabilog as a total failure on the job. He has done nothing to indicate he possesses the “right stuff” to lead the city and do things differently from his predecessor, Rep. Jerry P. Trenas. Decision-making? Zero. Ability to inspire people? Zilch. Transparency and honesty? Fail. If anything, the half-time report on Mabilog is characterized by scandalous anomalies and plain incompetence. Mabilog is the city’s worst nightmare.

Having wasted the first half of his first term in office, we can expect Mabilog to just slide into eventual irrelevance and early retirement. His brand of politics offers little hope for improved delivery of public services. He is a poor shadow of Trenas. Mabilog became city mayor through pure luck at the right time. But his failure to deliver even just a small portion of the expected performance will shove him into the dustbin of political history. He might as well just focus on business, because that is where his heart is. He has no heart for the city and its people.

We are just thankful there is Senator Franklin M. Drilon to take up the slack for the meager performance of our mayor. Almost everything good that has happened in the city is the handiwork of Drilon. In fact, Mabilog has threatened to become the biggest obstacle to Drilon’s projects. To cite just one example, Drilon arranged for a dredger from DPWH to be deployed here last March to remove the sedimentation of the Iloilo River. It hasn’t started its work because Mabilog hasn’t found suitable dumping area for the silt.

Mabilog’s absence of leadership is something we have to endure until 2013. We will have to be patient; the nightmare will not last forever.