The Philippines has been hammered by the international press since its strongman President Rodrigo Duterte took office. But the bad publicity hasn’t stopped foreign arrivals to the country or dampen its robust tourism industry. Statistics show foreigners traveling to the Philippines (mostly from South Korea, China, the United states, Japan, and Australia, in that order) continues to rise: the latest figure, over 7 million visitors in 2018. The country’s travel industry is further bolstered by a strong domestic travelers market.
For those having doubts over safety or political unrest – the Philippine government and tourism industry put great effort in ensuring that tourists (international and domestic) are safe, in part because a significant percentage of its GDP, 12.7 percent in 2018, comes from the tourism industry. In real numbers P2.2 trillion in 2018 alone, a 14.3 percent jump from the previous year.
Tourism industry workers make up a whopping 18.8 percent of the nation’s total workforce.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat said “its tourism is an engine for socioeconomic growth that provides jobs and income to the country while preserving Filipino culture and tradition as well as conservation of the environment.”
What the Philippines offers to tourists
A recent Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum showed tourists rated the two best features of the Philippines as its price competitiveness and natural resources.
In other words, there are great bargains from accommodation/hotel costs to the price of food and transportation; and the natural beauty (rich biodiversity, rainforests, beaches) are among the best in the world.
Besides its obvious natural wonders that are suited for hiking, scuba diving, surfing, or simply sightseeing -- the country is steep in history and culture which is reflected in its diverse period-architecture (indigenous, Chinese, Moor, Spanish, American, and today’s cosmopolitan-modern).
Centuries old churches, even an entire city called Vigan, in Northern Philippines (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) can be appreciated for their preservation. It’s like going back to another period in time.
Then travel to another region of the Philippines and travelers can enjoy the best in modern amenities and see modern skyscrapers, mega-malls, posh restaurants, clubs, street cafes and contemporary museums.
Just a few of the popular places tourists frequent – Cebu, Boracay (recently reopened), Palawan, Vigan, Manila, and Siargao. There are places for eco-tourism, foreign-study tourism (Philippines is home to some of the best and oldest universities in all of Asia), sports-tourism (surfing competitions), fiesta-tourism (fiestas held almost all-year round), indigenous-tourism (in many parts of the country, particularly the Cordillera Region, tribal culture is still preserved and thriving), and last but possibly the best, food-tourism (authentic Filipino cuisine at affordable price).
It’s possible to get an extravagant dinner for two that includes appetizers, main entrée, dessert, and drinks for under $30 (tip included). And the standard rate for tipping is only 10 percent. Cocktails and beers are inexpensive and can range from $1-$5 at bars and restaurants.
For millions of Filipino-Americans, visiting the Philippines carries the extra incentive of reconnecting to their heritage and spending time with family. Most immigrant Filipino-American families have made at least one trip, others almost annually, to their ancestral homeland.
Knowing Tagalog or any of the dialects spoken throughout the country isn’t needed because almost everyone, especially those working in tourist spots, can speak English.
What tourists should know
ike every foreign destination, there are things to be aware of like avoid drinking tap water, carry sun block (tropical heat), be aware of your surroundings and to look out for possible pick-pocketers or purse snatchers, be suspicious of strangers who are too friendly, carry hand sanitizers and sanitation pads for utensils, know the value of the exchange rate: U.S. dollar to the Philippine peso, and plan ahead for transportation.
The U.S. State Department recommends that tourists avoid traveling to Sulu and parts of Mindanao, specifically Marawi City, due to the civil unrest.
If traveling to rural areas, the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control Prevention recommends certain vaccination shots are up to date.
The best advice is to do your own research on the activities you’d like to do at the places you’d like to go to, make a budget, and talk to friends and family who’ve already gone to the Philippines. Former visitors are the best resources to help in planning.
Remember that the Philippines is huge. It’s an island-chain comprised of over 7,000 islands with several core cities and a population of over 80 million. What to do and where to go are limitless and diverse. And often everything can’t be done in one trip so tourists return for a second, third time.
The Philippines is a great summer vacation destination. There’s still time this year for an adventurous (or if you prefer relaxing) trip to the Philippines. If you can’t make it this summer, there’s always a next time.
Trump Should Know Better, Hate Speech is Damaging
Americans cannot allow hate speech to divide us. The “Send her Back” controversy that happened at Trump’s most recent rally was among the lowest points since this administration started. It pushed all the buttons on the emotion meter from raw anger, sadness, shock, and fear.
A refresher on what happened. The President tweeted that four Democratic members of Congress – all of them women of color, all of them U.S. citizens. -- should “go back” to their own countries. The “go back to where you came from” hate speech has been historically directed at immigrants. It’s been used on practically every immigrant wave from the Irish to Italians and Chinese.
Because all these women of color are Americans, Trump’s comment was interpreted to mean that “you’re not really an American, if you’re not a white American.” It also hinted that this idea that the president is for legal immigration but not illegal immigration (as he says) really had been farcical from the very beginning. It was always about race, his anti-immigrant, anti-illegal immigrant campaigns -- or why else would he be telling Americans to go back to their countries? Clearly suggesting to their “ancestral” countries.
The rich irony is that the president is a second generation American; his wives (two of them) are immigrants, and his in-laws are immigrants. But in his eyes, his “American-ness” runs deeper than multi-generational Americans of color simply because of his European ancestry.
His tweet received such immense blowback that the U.S. House condemned his comments in a striking and rare resolution.
Then just two days after his controversial twitter rant, it took an uglier turn at a campaign rally in North Carolina. Trump supporters chanted “Send her back” (clearly picking up from the president’s earlier tweet) when the president spewed lie after lie about Congresswoman Ihan Omar, a Somali immigrant and Muslim.
The chant was chilling and despicable to millions of Americans. It showed us what we already know, that we are a divided country, but it became clearer to Americans that this president’s use of unblanketed racial demagoguery, could lead to even more damaging expressions of racism.
The chant revealed two things: that a large segment of Americans have bought into Trump’s racist message; but also that a majority of Americans (at least most would like to think) find this kind of behavior abhorrent.
There must be another way
The stunning display of unblanketed racism in North Carolina should have Americans thinking it’s time for a reboot. It’s time for healing and understanding. We must first must recognize that all the vitriol and blame of where we are today as a nation cannot be placed on the President alone; but we Americans need to be truthful with ourselves and recognize our own prejudices.
If Americans actually rejected Trump’s race baiting -- being that he’s obsessed with public opinion polls - more than likely this might be enough to curb his behavior. But after each shameful episode his poll numbers remain steady or dips slightly.
We should be asking ourselves: Where did our own prejudices come from in our personal lives? Where do we go from here as a nation? Is this trajectory the path we want to go down, and at what cost?
The 40 percent Trump supporters are not going anywhere. The 40-some percent liberal electorate is not going anywhere.
Historically, the president of the U.S. has assumed the role as being the uniting force to bridge the gap between Americans. Presidents haven’t been equally supportive of the both sides equation, but at least they usually have refrained from divisive rhetoric, making all Americans, with their diverse viewpoints, feel like they’re Americans. But not this president.
What Trump should know
The “Send her back” debacle should be a cue to the president that dangerous rhetoric can lead to unpredictable outcomes.
He might believe that race-baiting is a winning reelection campaign strategy.
But even if this were true, as someone who constantly professes his love for our country, Trump should know nothing good can come of victory in this fashion in the long-term. All race-baiting does is entrench division – and that’s putting it mildly.
Political experts are saying the plethora of shameful, divisive low moments in this administration already will have long-lasting effects. But if we are not careful, there could be irreparable damage to a generation of younger Americans in the way Americans interact and see themselves, drawn along false lines of superiority-inferiority, insider-outsider, more American-less American
This would be going backwards.
In the president’s eyes, perhaps this is what he means in his Make America Great Again slogan – to go back to circa 1950s.
But the president should know that this is an unrealistic, defeatist goal, given who we are as a country today (a diverse America) and all the sacrifices it took for Americans to get to where we are.
An intervention is obviously and sorely needed; and who must take on that role? Republicans.
They are of the president’s party, which is precisely why this group can have the most impact. Political trepidation of Trump’s angry mob or being afraid of not getting reelected – cannot be an excuse to not do the right thing. Each time the president oversteps boundaries of decency, Republicans should be calling him out on it. Democrats doing this isn’t enough, and is often brushed aside as partisan.
The GOP’s silence on this latest controversy was yet another missed opportunity to put a check on the president. Hate speech, especially from the president, cannot be normalized but must be condemned.
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