A certain Geoffrey James wrote a scathing review of the Philippines or rather, as he quickly pointed out, a scathing review of it’s capital, Manila on Travelblog.org. I’m glad he decided to be specific because the country as a whole is not ugly. Nonetheless, I am pretty sure Manila was once as beautiful as the rest of the scenery that can still be found in the countryside. It is the total lack of sound planning and neglect of the infrastructure that is making the country’s cities look unattractive. Even with the new developments in the heart of the city like The Fort or Rockwell, the traffic chaos on the roads leading to these new business districts or what they refer to as “little havens” still doesn’t make Manila enticing enough to international travelers.
The words James used to describe Manila left a lot to the imagination of his readers. What I’m trying to say is, those who have not been to Manila will most likely keep reading through his article because of his use of provocative descriptions such as “a dump”; “a disgrace”; “a shambles” and not to mention, “awful”. After reading such a review, potential first-timers will most likely skip the Philippines as a holiday destination. Tsk tsk…what a shame!
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As predictable as the sunrise, many Filipinos were offended by his biting opinion of our country. A few were saying that it is not fair of Mr. James to let his recent stay at the Discovery Suites, a “plush hotel” as described in their website, dictate his view of his overall stay in the Philippines. After all, as some of those who disagreed with him would say, there are many new hotels around town that would have given him a truly “exuberant pampering” and would have allowed him to appreciate the “beauty” of the Philippines.
Yes, Mr. James would have had a more pleasant hotel experience if he were willing to pay a premium for his accommodation. Like they always say, you get what you pay for. But at $119.00 a night, it wasn’t exactly cheap especially after you convert it to pesos. That’s like a month’s salary for a an unskilled laborer. He can be forgiven for expecting more for his buck considering the hotel was located in one of Manila’s busiest business districts, Ortigas Center.
That said, those who criticize Mr. James for being a cheapskate are missing the point. The point is, like most things in the Philippines, the Discovery Suites that James used to find satisfactory has deteriorated. He claimed that he has been staying at the same hotel since it opened 15 years ago. Obviously, he was happy with his stay in the past, otherwise he would not have kept coming back. But he went from being one happy camper to one unhappy one after his most recent stay. In his own words, Mr. James said, the owners of the hotel invested nothing in its upkeep. It had the same furniture, the same carpet; and smelled musty. The TV is years old. The water heating system provides limited hot water for his bath. Furthermore, his room was not cleaned until he requested it to be cleaned. After reading that, I would have to agree that his experience must have sucked.
Well, it seems like the alleged condition of Discovery Suites is a microcosm of the condition of the infrastructure in the entire country. For all the protests and expressions of indignation that most misguided Filipino “patriots” direct against criticism published by people like James, the evidence speaks for itself: Filipinos cannot sustain the love for their country long enough. It is unlikely that their great grandchildren will enjoy the same infrastructure they grew up with. James was spot on when he said that the “Philippines can be described as an extractive or exploitive economy, not one where people want to build sustainably long term.” And sadly, he is not even talking about foreign investors. Even local investors look like they couldn’t be bothered with the upkeep of their own investments.
James showed no mercy in his assessment of the Manila international airport. This is what he had to say about it:
Let’s start with the international airport. Ninoy Aquino International is exactly the same as it was all that time ago; the same awful green lino when you arrive, the same over-crowded Departure Hall, nowhere to sit if your check-in desk isn’t open. Once through security you find the same down-market shops, toilets that don’t work or are “under repair” and very few F&B places.
I pay the extra $15 to go up to the Sampaguita Lounge just to get out of the crush of people. No, despite the fact that I’m an inveterate traveler I DO NOT LIKE crowds of people! The travelling public en masse is a necessary obstacle that has to be endured and overcome.
It’s not just James who is uncomfortable with the presence of the maddening crowd in NAIA. It is simply an assault on the senses for any individual to be exposed to too many people and too much noise immediately after arriving from or just before boarding a flight. And the ambiance in the old airport is just not something anyone would look forward to.
James even complained about the lack of good food in Manila’s airport, comparing it to that of Cambodia, a formerly backward country that he says can now serve him “ham and cheese sandwiches on foccacia, freshly brewed cappuccino”. Of course some Filipinos would say that we have many delicious foods. Yes, we do. But what is delicious to us may not be to other folks from other countries. So our international airport should also cater to international travelers.
You’d think that the incumbent President who is also the only son of the slain senator after which the NAIA is named would do his best to maintain a respectable image for our airport. But President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, who admittedly said he does not like traveling, does not seem to have fixing the airport in his priority list. And that is too bad considering the airport is where visitors get their first and last impression of the country and its people.
As of this writing, the construction of the new international airport NAIA-3, which is mired in controversy hasn’t been completed due to the lawsuits filed by its private investors against the Philippine government regarding their compensation. The completion of the construction has been stalled for almost a decade with the German firm Fraport suing the Philippines initially in 2003. The NAIA-3 is “reportedly 97 percent completed even as valuators [are] still determining the actual value of the facility to determine the full amount of compensation that would be given to the shareholders as ordered by the Supreme Court (SC) in its writ of execution in March this year.”
With messy deals like the construction of the new international airport, I wonder which foreign investor would still want to deal with the Philippine government? I guess having PNoy in Malacanang has not made a difference in the disappointing way Filipino public officials deal with investors.
After a year in office, it is very obvious that there is no improvement during PNoy’s term. He may have eliminated the abusive use of those obnoxious sirens by motorists, which he refers to as wang-wangs but other than that, as James aptly put it, the Philippines just might disappear from tourists travel map or go under the radar if Filipinos don’t do any “upkeep”.
Someone told me that due to the humidity and grime caused by the pollution, it would cost a lot to maintain the luster of both private premises and public infrastructure in Manila. Only a handful of buildings in the city retain their immaculate appearance after years of exposure to Manila’s corrosive air. It’s one thing for the public sector to give little priority to keeping public infrastructure in pristine condition, but it’s quite another for the private sector to show the same lack of enthusiasm. Once again, we can blame the lack of interest in the upkeep of their premises by the private sector to a weak sense of nationalism in general. It has always been said that most elites bank their money abroad for safekeeping instead of pumping it back to the Philippine economy. As discussed in a previous article of mine:
Yet in many cases, even members of the elite have their other foot out the door even while the other is still hanging on and waiting for things to get better at home. In fact, it has been a practice of many members of the Philippine elite to try to obtain dual citizenships for their children as a “just in case” measure ”” insurance against the real possibility that any minute a bloodthirsty mob can start rioting at the doorsteps of their McMansions…
It could also have something to do with another cultural quirk inherent in Filipinos called ningas kugon. Loosely translated in English, ningas kugon means losing interest after starting something. And the explanation as to why some people lose interest in what they started is simple enough: they don’t think things through before venturing into something.
Some Filipinos go into something merely because they copied it off someone. And because they copied someone doing it, they don’t necessarily possess the same passion in the business as the first successful guy who did it. Therefore, it is no surprise that in the long run, they lose interest. So someone who went into the hotel business for the simple reason that a friend of his went into the same thing might not be able to sustain the same enthusiasm he had in the beginning along the way. While international hotel chains overseas like Travelodge maintain their professional service and look consistently functional and clean everywhere in the world, most local hotels in the Philippines just aren’t up to par.
Lately, I have come to realize that most Filipinos quickly lose interest in something when the novelty wears out. It’s like they only want to support an establishment when it is new. I often wonder why most balikbayans are always in awe when they see that something hasn’t changed. It’s like they either expect it to be replaced with something new and bigger or they do not see the value of heritage sites. This is why there are only a few buildings left from the bygone years. Sadly, most Filipino developers love demolishing old historical buildings and replacing it with either a mall or…another mall. This is why things don’t look the same anymore — developers would rather detonate than preserve. While it may look like things are improving with all the (for now) gleaming new buildings going up, the city’s character goes out the door along with the razing of old buildings.
In life, things are not always what they seem.