What’s the full story behind the ‘Love’ tourism rebrand?

The Department of Tourism's new campaign slogan —DOT PHOTO

Exactly who are behind the scandal that threw the monkey wrench into the “Love the Philippines” rebranding campaign of the Department of Tourism? The people need to know. The nagging question requires an answer so the guilty can be made accountable and the red-faced DOT led by Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco can begin to pick up the shards of the Philippines’ reputation, such as what it has become, and try to move forward.

The mess has been reported globally but only the bare bones of it, and the attentive observer is correct to wonder how a seasoned agency like DDB Group Philippines can even think of using foreign stock footage in a national promotional video and getting away with it. The official explanation—standard practice; intended only for “mood video” for internal investors, etc.—is too glib, condescending even, and DDB’s apology and the DOT’s consequent termination of its contract should by no means be the end of the issue. Needless to say, the results of the DOT inquiry into what DDB described, incredibly, as “an unfortunate oversight” should be put on public record.

How, in the first place, was it possible that DDB was able to run rings around Frasco and her posse? Frasco, who, from her stint as spokeswoman of then Davao City Mayor and vice presidential candidate Sara Duterte, amply showed that she may be charming but she’s also hard as nails? 

Why is there continuing speculation that DDB is the patsy in this scandal? 

‘Demolition job’

And the manifesto of support issued by important people of One Cebu Island decrying a “demolition job” on Frasco arouses high curiosity. Who’s behind the supposed smear project? Why would anyone want to take Frasco down when, from reports, her performance as tourism secretary has notched credit points? Per BusinessWorld Online (May 18, 2023), “as of May 15, the Philippines has logged 2.029 million international visitors, while P168.5 billion in visitor receipts were generated from January to April.” 

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco during the official launching of the slogan. —DOT PHOTO

From accounts, she’s been hard at work in resuscitating an industry that was brought to its knees by the pandemic.In fact, only early this year, the DOT cohosted  the International Ecotourism Travel Mart, with Frasco quoted as saying that it’s a way toward transforming “tourism with sustainability as a bedrock principle” (see “Tourism chief cites world’s 1st green travel mart for authentic ecotourism,” CoverStory.ph, March 25, 2023). 

Surely it can’t be said that Frasco’s appointment to her post owes only to her family connections—among others, her mother is Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia and her husband is Cebu Rep. Duke Frasco (5th district)—and the fact that, as stated pointedly by the officials who signed the manifesto of support, One Cebu Island “delivered the highest number of votes to the President and the Vice President” in the 2022 elections. Her public service credentials include being mayor of the municipality of Liloan in Cebu (an elected post that she took over from her husband in the well-known ritual of local fiefdoms, musical chairs). 

If the purpose of the alleged demolition job is to influence President Marcos Jr. into relieving Frasco of the tourism portfolio, surely she can hold her own against her colleagues in the Cabinet, and can be considered head and shoulders above, for example, a recent presidential appointee who actually doesn’t need a smear job: a lawyer ordered disbarred by the Supreme Court in a unanimous vote for unacceptable behavior, and whose rise to Cabinet rank continues to appall many Filipinos.

The President attended the June 27 launch of the rebranding campaign, a highlight of the celebration for the 50th anniversary of the DOT. He expressed full support for “Love the Philippines,” perhaps remembering “Smiling” Joe Aspiras, the Philippines’ first minister of tourism and one of Marcos Sr.’s political lieutenants during his long reign. At this writing, the Palace has yet to officially remark on the rebrand scandal.

Related: Tourism chief cites world’s 1st green travel mart for authentic ecotourism

Money matters

So who conceived of the alleged demolition job on Frasco? Who’s trying to dislodge her from her post, and “sabotage [her] great accomplishments,” as shown, according to the One Cebu Island officials, in “the barrage of criticisms in social and mainstream media” and in the supposed attempt to mislead the public “into believing that the DOT already spent a hefty sum of about P50 million for it”?

But, yes, there’s the matter of the money—a delicate issue that, in this case, appears to involve not only P49 million (for the contract) but also, as gathered by the Inquirer, P250 million (for consulting services for the integrated marketing campaign). The sooner it’s made indubitably clear to the public that, as declared by both the DOT and DDB, no taxpayer money actually changed hands in connection with the promotional video featuring stolen foreign footage, the sooner the roiled waters can be calmed. But long experience with government investigations doesn’t offer much hope. 

On the side, the prickly Albay Rep. Joey Salceda has allowed that Frasco is making the right moves by his reckoning, and former tourism secretary Richard Gordon has raised the need “to stop and focus” before embarking on moves to undo the “gargantuan” damage inflicted on the Philippines’ global image. 

But where to start repairing damaged goods? It’s uncertain whether Frasco has exercised her considerable influence as tourism chief to seek vital changes in such problems ranging from—a litany that has often been recited—the main point of entry (including the thieving types therein) to transport concerns to rural toilets. The “Love the Philippines” rebrand actually demands an emotional reaction from expectant visitors lured by the country’s renowned beauty. How to attach “warts and all” to the sad message? 

The Filipino filmmaker Erik Matti has gone on record to identify reporters’ insufficient efforts as the factor behind the opaqueness of the scandal involving the rebrand. “The news about this issue is lazy news gathering,” Matti posted on Facebook. “Everyone is relying on the press statements of the different parties involved in this. If reporters and journalists go a bit more in depth [in] research and interviews, the real story will come out. Talk to the agency, talk to the production people, talk to the prod house involved.” A stinging indictment that earnest journalists are expected to address.

Meanwhile, Matti has posted his own questions, from which those ignorant of production processes can pick up lessons.

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