Sta. Ana coordinates Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was published in the August 15, 2011 edition of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 to S1/5.


Bertie Lim’s resignation as Tourism Secretary will not create shock waves. But its unintended consequence is disturbing enough. It will harden the view of obstructionists that being noisy and being a bully are effective to put out of action the good but taciturn guys. It will reinforce the perception (right or wrong) that President Noy Aquino goes out of his way only to defend KKK–kaklase, kaibigan, kabarilan.

Two fine gentlemen, Ping de Jesus and Bertie Lim, are gone. Who will be next?

True, Bertie resigned for personal reasons, and we respect his and his family’s decision. Yet, we cannot escape the political context surrounding the decision.

Bertie has at the outset been the target of vociferous vested interests. Those hurt by reforms, particularly the pocket open-sky policy, want to sideline Bertie. A word about the pocket open-sky policy that Bertie has consistently championed: It has resulted in lowering transportation costs, benefiting not only tourists, foreign or local, but also producers.  It stimulates investments and jobs. It thus promotes the national interest.

The vested interests include remnants of the ancient regime that are digging trenches around the Tourism Congress to preserve their perks and power. The current members of the Tourism Congress were constituted during the time of Gloria Arroyo and Ace Durano, her subaltern at the Department of Tourism (DOT). But these members were far from legitimate representatives of the Philippine tourism industry. They constituted a tiny minority of the stakeholders. Said Bertie, out of a possible 1300 members, the Durano DOT invited only 60 entities. Worse, a fifth of those who participated in the Tourism Congress had questionable qualifications.

The Durano DOT railroaded the Tourism Congress. This was what Philippine Star columnist Marichu Villanueva suggested in her piece dated November 18 2009:

“Less than a month after the publication of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Tourism Act of 2009, outgoing Secretary Ace Durano is holding the Tourism Congress on November 25. To be exact, the Tourism Congress would take place 13 days after the IRR was published.

“The DOT-drafted IRR was signed by Durano on November 10. Two days later, the DOT paid and ran the entire IRR in a six full-page ad that came out in one newspaper. This was how tourism stakeholders found that there is already the IRR [of] the Tourism Act. All along, they were waiting for the DOT Task Force–which was mandated to draft the IRR–to call them for a meeting to discuss the proposed draft that they submitted earlier for consideration.”

With the accession of Aquino to the presidency, it was but appropriate for the overwhelming majority of the tourism stakeholders to question the legitimacy and legality of the Durano-packed Tourism Congress.

At any rate, the days of the Durano Tourism Congress are numbered. The controversial Durano IRR that undermined the real intent of the Tourism Act will soon be supplanted. And a new Tourism Congress will be convened in September 2011.

But the story does not end here.  Conspiring with vested interests associated with the old regime to unseat Bertie are personalities who wear shining armor. Yet, the shining armor conceals personal interest.

Not a few were surprised that Jun Palafox, the celebrated architect and president of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), lambasted Bertie. It turns out that Palafox’s firm lost in the bidding to implement the National Tourism Development Plan. Mr. Palafox is blaming Bertie for the loss, even insinuating that the bidding was rigged. It is also now known that Mr. Palafox misrepresented the MAP in attacking Bertie.

Another MAP member who has publicly denounced Bertie is Alma Jimenez, who happens to be the president of the Durano Tourism Congress. Talk about conflict of interest.

What saddens me is that Bertie’s resignation will be interpreted as a victory of vested interests. I believe Bertie when he says that he resigned for personal reasons.  But we should also expose and reject those vested interests that are jumping with glee over Bertie’s resignation.

A simple text message of concern sent by a friend captures my feeling towards Bertie’s resignation: “Sorry to hear about your friend. Makes me sad that we are losing a good person in public service…because he is doing the right thing.”