"Spox Harry really puts a spin to everything, a talent very few have."
It was our consul-general in Bangkok, Val Simon Roque, who expressed dissatisfaction and publicly protested an article in a Thai newspaper which described the Philippines as the “land of Covid 19” while reporting on the arrival of 165 Filipino teachers who would be teaching English in private schools in the kingdom.
Which was right. Out diplomatic posts must monitor what is written about our country, among other responsibilities, and speak up for our country. What the Thai Rath newspaper wrote as an aside in describing the country from where the modern-day Thomasites of a once-colonized people was an affront to our national dignity.
But it took another Roque, this time my friend Harry, to brush aside the affront, saying that since Thais cannot criticize their king, as there yet exists a crime of lese majeste in the kingdom, they criticized us. Spox Harry really puts a spin to everything, a talent very few have.
Roque on Roque added another spin though: “ka-kompetensya kasi tayo ng Thailand sa turista.”
Lawyers are not expected to be good at numbers. Last time I read, we were doing 8.3 million visitor arrivals in 2019, balikbayans included. In the same year, more than 39.8 million tourists visited the kingdom, a founding member of Asean like the Philippines. Sila pa ang nai-inggit sa atin? That’s how Harry spins it.
Let’s talk about the Chinese, whose numbers in the country started growing only after PNoy’s term. In 2019, we welcomed 1.7 million of them, and how many stayed over to work in the POGO industry we are still trying to fathom. How many Chinese visited Thailand? 8.7 million last year. Why, even Russians, whose leader assures the world of his Putin-C, came to Thailand in droves, to the tune of 1.1 million last year.
The Thais have been doing all the right things in attracting wave upon wave of various nationalities to their country, Filipinos included. I have been observing the growth through the years, starting in 1986 when I was a director of the Asian Postal Training Center headquartered in Bangkok. The numbers just keep growing, and yet it’s always been “Amazing Thailand” even as we kept changing our slogans, from “Where Asia wears a smile” to “Rediscover (whatever)” to “WOW Philippines!” to the shelved whatchamacallit plagiarism in the incipient days of PNoy to the mercifully retained “It’s more fun in the Philippines” of the late Mon Jmenez.
And let me tell you something else: there is no Ministry of Tourism in the Kingdom of Thailand. They have a Tourism Authority, similar to what used to be our Philippine Tourism Authority, now re-named Tieza. Here in Taiwan, there is likewise no tourism ministry, only a bureau-level agency under the Ministry of Transportation. But last year, 11.84 million visited Taiwan, of which 2.7 came from China, despite Xi Jin-ping.
In fine, Thailand hosts five times more tourists than we. So Spox Harry, they don’t really consider us in the same league as they do Malaysia and even Singapore.
Westerners, particularly millions of Europeans and 1 million Americans, keep visiting primarily because the Thais have a very open and carefree attitude towards foreigners and even among themselves, aside from the well-preserved temples and the unique culture of a country never colonized, and exciting cuisine that has become world-class.
This reminds me of an incident in 2018, right after the local elections in Taiwan. The newly elected mayor of Kaohsiung, responding to a proposal that his city could hire bilingual Filipino white-collar workers to teach English to his constituents, dismissed the idea, saying that employing “Marias” (a pejorative description given to domestic helpers) as English teachers would shock Taiwanese.
As the country representative here, I immediately protested the newly elected mayor’s remarks, thus: “We particularly take exception to your use of the term “Marias” in reference to our citizens, a term that has earned negative undertones when used to refer to foreign workers.”
I reminded the mayor that the Philippines is the fourth largest English-speaking country in the world, with at least 90 percent of the population able to use it as a second language.”
The mayor, Han Kuo-yu, immediately apologized, and stated that he wanted to promote closer relations between Kaohsiung (the sister-city of Cebu) and the Philippines.
He ran for president in 2019, as the Kuomintang official candidate, but lost in the January 11, 2020 elections to the incumbent, Pres. Tsai Ing-wen. And he lost the mayoralty post through recall thereafter.
In the news is the debate between the House of Representatives and the Department of Tourism on how to best use P10 billion to be allocated under the Bayanihan Dos special budget. The House wants to take advantage, they aver, of the present zero tourists to upgrade tourism infrastructure. The Tourism Congress and the DOT want to give a lifeline, in the form of low-interest loans and other assistance, to the affected travel industry operators.
Both sides of the argument may have the right reasons, but hey, how will low-interest loans help (and aren’t interest rates as low as BSP can yet lower?) when the problem is there is no demand, foreign or domestic, for travel? And with the COVID numbers rising by the thousands each day, do we seriously expect travel to normalize even by next year?
Here in Taiwan, where for more than a hundred days running, there has been no community transmission, most every new case is “imported”, and guess from where mostly? The Philippines. Que lastima! Buti na lang walang Pinoy OFW so far, cross my fingers and knock on wood.
Even the IATA, which counts most every airline in the world as members, admits that the earliest air travel could normalize is in 2024.
But, we can dream, can’t we?