Image is everything
Shamcey Supsup is beautiful. Everyone says so. She is tall and slim with a perfect smile. She does not stammer. She did not trip. And if a man ever demands she trade her God for love, she will refuse.
Shamcey Supsup made it to the Top 10. She made it to the Top 5. She won the online polls and answered questions well. She was perfect, she was intelligent; it must be that she was cheated out of her win. So the story goes.
That Shamcey Supsup did not win was cause for much alarm among the guardians of Filipino pride. Lea Salonga, national darling, is suddenly being accused of failing in patriotism for choosing Angola’s candidate over her own. There are suggestions of cheating and demands for rejudging, and conspiracy theories that the new queen of Donald Trump’s universe is in fact an illegal immigrant from Brazilia.
This is Manila, home of the brave, the bold, the beautiful. This is where Manny Pacquiao fought his way to number one, and whose image a president once hoped to use in a tourism campaign. This is the Philippines of white beaches and giant eagles, where every hand is outstretched in welcome and every man, woman and child stands proud. This is the Philippines that ad agency Campaigns & Grey persisted in selling in spite of the creative limitations imposed by committing plagiarism. This is the Philippines that the new tourism secretary claims will sell as easily as Chickenjoy.
Tourism, says new Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez, is “our area of excellence. We just have to put our minds to it.” There is no reason for the country not to succeed in selling its products and image.
Image is everything, said Canon cameras in an Agassi ad in 1990, the ad that the tennis champion has regretted all his life.
It is image that the new Philippine National Police Director General Nicanor Bartolome talked about when he accepted his appointment two weeks ago. “The wrong perception, told often enough, becomes the truth.” Bartolome, as PNP’s spokesperson under three different chiefs, faced angry relatives and angrier media without once losing his temper. He knows what perception is. He is aware this is his challenge. There was no attempt at denying the PNP’s battered reputation, only a promise to improve and explain.
Image is everything, says the Supreme Court, as it agrees with Dusit Hotel’s 2002 firing of 29 union workers who appeared at work with clean-shaven heads and cropped hair. The court claims the hotel is correct by calling the incident an illegal strike, even if employees reported for duty. The workers may have thought that their hair was their own to do away with at will, but the Court decided Dusit’s image trumps free speech in spite of the judgment of the International Labor Organization.
Image is a national fixation. It is attacks on image and not on persons that galvanize the nation to action. Socialite Malu Fernandez was lynched in the media for insulting OFWs wearing cheap perfume. Hong Kong columnist Chip Tsao was called a son of Satan for calling OFW income-dependent Philippines a nation of servants. “Desperate Housewives” found itself in the middle of a tempest when a fictional character claimed Filipino doctors are bound to have false medical degrees. It is the same image fixation that has the President of the Republic, Benigno Aquino III, retorting after leaked American embassy cables called his diffidence diffidence and his mother less than a saint.
“Whoever made the assessment, to put it very frankly and to put it very clearly, was wrong. The assessment was clearly wrong,” said the President’s deputy spokesperson, Abigail Valte. That it is neither clear nor wrong makes the administration’s attempt at protecting its messiah all the more painful, and certainly not worth destroying years of diplomatic finesse, as Foreign Secretary Alberto del Rosario did by calling Kristie Kenney a “dismal failure” during her time as US ambassador. Kenney, after all, has the excuse of a private correspondence in the interest of her nation. Del Rosario made the statement to the Associated Press, and thus established a much more accurate image of the Filipino nation as impetuous and insecure.
But Secretary Jimenez says he can sell the Philippines, and he deserves all the help he can get. Chickenjoy, after all, has never broken into the mainstream American market. And it will take enormous talent to sell a nation that has hit international lists for corruption and impunity, where salvage and massacre are terms used in everyday conversation, and where a busload of tourists, who believed what Jimenez does, paid with their lives.
The fact of a botched hostage rescue and a massacre in broad daylight in a national park was not enough to rouse the government’s sense of accountability. There was more concern of how “the world will view us,” as Joker Arroyo put it. It was the media’s fault, said the President at midnight while families watched in shock. A few days later, after the storm of international outrage, it was the President’s fault, according to the President. One year later, all the President was willing to say was that he “deeply regretted” the hostage drama that got eight Hong Kong tourists killed. He said, however, that there was no need for the country to apologize for it.
This from the Aquino son, for whose father the nation stops to pray in a government-mandated day of remembrance.
“The apology connotes that the state did them grievous harm. I don’t think that is correct,” the President told reporters. “This was the act of one man.”
The President has refused to meet with the families of victims. “It has been one year, and I still cannot forget my son. Every night, I remember him,” said the mother of Masa Tse Ting-chunn. The families requested compensation and a formal apology. All they got was Edwin Lacierda.
“We recognize the grief that continues to burden the relatives of the victims and we remain committed to reforms and improvements that will move relations between our peoples forward,” he said in a statement.
Lacierda is now faced with another dilemma. President Aquino, he says, is leaving for the United States on Sunday, the same day Supsup is scheduled to arrive back in Manila.
“There are plans for Ms Shamcey Supsup to see the President. That thing I am certain,” Lacierda said. “As to where, we’re still trying to find a way, because the President is also leaving on Sunday. But definitely we are planning something for the Ms Philippines to see the President of the Philippines,” he added.
The Philippines is beautiful. Everyone says so. The beaches are white. The skies are blue. Its people smile and starve and then they die, and sometimes tourists do too.
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Send email to [email protected] Many thanks to Aiah Fernandez, Vicente Roxas, Kiri Dalena and Beatriz Bermundo for the research assistance.
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