Sta. Ana coordinates Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was published in the November 22, 2010 edition of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 to S1/5.

Wow, man. Or wow, pare. The interjection is pronounced in a slow, lazy way, with emphasis on the vowels. Only stone heads could express the phrase vividly, naturally. But for someone from the 1960s or 1970s to utter such words in the closing first decade of the 21st century is to live in the past, to expose one’s retardation.

Nowadays, I associate the exclamation “wow” to “wowowee, willing Willie.” Given the popularity of “Wowowee” and the rise in the TV ratings of “willing Willie’s” new TV show, people might think that “wow” as a buzzword can appeal to large audiences. No dice. It’s not the “wow,” that makes Willie’s show click. Willie himself might be the draw. Or probably the beautiful, innocent-looking face of Shalani captivates the audience. Or possibly the sexy, scantily clad singers entice both the male and female spectators.

At any rate, “wow” is again en vogue in the wake of the sudden controversy brought about by the Department of Tourism’s (DOT) Kay ganda branding. People want to retain “Wow, Philippines.”

I like Kay Ganda. It may not be the most attractive phrase, but it honestly describes not only the physical but also the endearing non-physical features of my wife, my mom, my friends and crushes, Gilda Cordero-Fernando, Cory Aquino, Gloria Diaz, Angel Locsin, and Venus Raj. In the same vein, Kay ganda describes not only the breathtaking natural scenery in our country but also the vibrant culture and extraordinary warmth of our people.

Kay ganda may not be the best logo, but I argue that it’s superior to “Wow, Philippines.” The latter lacks the distinct message of what, say, Kay ganda can convey. That Kay ganda will not be understood by foreigners is false. In fact, it’s a teaser; it gains the curiosity of non-Pinoys. It can become an expression like touristy Thailand’s Sawasdee that will gain international usage.

“Wow, Philippines” is as worn-out as “Wow, man.” “Wow, man” was the expression of the ancient Pinoy hippie that mimicked the lingo of the New York nigger or the San Fro deadhead. “Wow, Philippines” is as good as “Wow, Vietnam” or “Wow, India.” Still, most tourists will go to wow Vietnam and wow India and skip wow Philippines.

It seems though that many Pinoy opinion makers like “Wow, Philippines” in the same way that the Pinoy masa like Wowowee. The Philippine Daily Inquirer, the most widely circulated English daily, even came out with an editorial (21 November 2010) in support of “Wow.” I am not really surprised about the Inquirer’s stance. The Inquirer exhibits some similar characteristics as Wowowee’s—entertaining, thrilling and at times reckless. The “wow” quality is in their DNA.

Anyhow, I submit to vox populi, vox Dei. To quote Sunday’s Inquirer banner headline: “Noy junks new DOT logo.”

But before I say amen, I wish to emphasize a most crucial point: This debate on the logo or slogan is minor and has distracted us from the real, substantive issue—the policy reforms that Tourism Secretary Bertie Lim is introducing or consolidating to give vigor to Philippine tourism and make the tourism industry serve development objectives.

Bertie deserves all the support for the reforms that have been set in motion—further liberalization of the aviation industry, better infrastructure, improvement of services in a largely informal, ill-regulated service economy, and enabling conditions to curb crime and corruption that affect tourists.

In fact, more than the branding of “wow, Philippines,” it is a hard reform like aviation liberalization, which Bertie has advocated even before becoming tourism secretary, that has led to the increase in tourist arrivals. Vested interests, those for example who are resisting the aviation reforms, will exploit any opening to pounce on Bertie and his reforms. And that is the real tragedy brought about by the misplaced debate on the DOT logo. Wow!