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”!

Feeling unsafe in Iloilo City

The cold-blooded murder of Sun Yat Sen high school basketball coach Nestor Calisterio as he was walking in downtown Iloilo City last Tuesday came as a big shock to its peace-loving constituents. It’s a good thing the lone suspect, Samuel Manejero, was captured after a brief chase, in which he also shot and wounded a 19-year old coed and took a businessman hostage. This latest crime underscores the growing sense of impunity for criminals in operating in Iloilo City.

A few months ago, an insurance agent was also shot at point-blank range as he sipped coffee at a small cafeteria on Ledesma St. by motorcycle-riding gunmen. Sometime ago, a couple was ambushed as they were driving on the way to work in Barangay Sambag, Jaro. And even police officers are not spared as victims of violence. PO1 Joemarie Lamis was gunned down on Muelle Loney in November 2010. Two months ago, a cop was killed with his own gun in Jaro.

Then there was the sniper attack on the home of The News Today publisher Rommel S. Ynion in the plush Puerto Real subdivision in Lapaz district. This was followed by the grenade throwing attack at the still-to-be-opened Bali Hotel, also owned by Ynion, at the corner of Gen. Hughes and Duran Sts. Luckily, there were no casualties in these attacks. That nobody was hurt in these attacks fail to reassure us, however.

Of course, we can’t forget the daring robbery hold-up that took place on the first banking day of January last year. About five suspects, including a woman, barged into the East West Bank on Ledesma St. after it had closed its doors and walked away with an estimated P12 million. Several suspects were charged before the City Prosecutors Office, but the case was dismissed due to lack of evidence.

It was only by chance that two rookie cops riding a motorcycle happened to be in the vicinity and pursued Calesterio’s alleged killer last Tuesday. We have to credit them for their bravery in ignoring the danger to their own lives as they confronted the armed Manejero. Had the circumstances been different, and no cops were close by, the Calesterio murder could have suffered the same fate as the others — unsolved.

I’m sorry to say this, but nobody seems to have been arrested and charged before the court as a result of judicious and relentless police investigation. The murder of businesswoman Rose Gustilo Tan and her helper, Purificacion Catoera, on October 2010 remains an open case. When a crime takes place, the police just collects the evidence, and then the case folder seems consigned to join many others to gather dust and be forgotten.

With this in mind, I can’t help but doubt the capability of our police to stop the growing incidence of violence and lawlessness. What I’ve enumerated are just the major cases that really shocked the people. There are less sensational crimes involving murder, rape, physical injuries and the like that flash through our eyes like a fast-moving powerpoint presentation. It’s hard to feel safe in Iloilo City under the circumstances.

What is even more surprising for me is that our local officials could still boast that everything is under control. When a hired killer can just pop out behind you with a loaded pistol certainly doesn’t fall under that category. These incidents are not isolated and random crimes. Most are premeditated, and it illustrates the utter lack of deterrent that would normally dissuade criminals from undertaking such activities. Our police is too predictable. And their skills to track down criminals are simply lacking.

It would be easy to blame the current leadership of the Iloilo City Police Office, especially the City Director, Senior Supt. Marieto Valerio. But we have to remember the police is just performing what the number law enforcement officer in the city directs them to do. And that individual is the City Mayor. The ultimate responsibility for maintaining the peace and order rests with the local chief executive.

The question that needs to be asked is this: What is Mabilog doing about the situation? I don’t remember him doing anything beyond the rhetorics of ordering the police to hunt the criminals. In this latest murder case, he didn’t even make as much as a condemnation and express his anger. His behavior doesn’t suggest we have a serious situation at hand. He didn’t convene the city peace and order council to take stock of the situation. he didn’t give the police a dressing down.

ICPO chief Valerio should also be taken to task for this spate of crimes. It’s not enough that he displays lapdog loyalty to Mabilog and does what the mayor tells him to do, or not to do. If it isn’t obvious to Valerio, we have an attitude problem among city policemen. When three policemen from the Jaro police station didn’t take into custody Ramon Espeja, the ship captain who fired his two brand-new pistols on New Year’s Day and hit a neighbor’s house, Valerio should have been alarmed. He didn’t accost the cops; it was PNP regional director Chief Superintendent Cipriano E. Querol Jr. who had to order their relief from post over the apparent negligence of duty.