November 23, 2010

DOT's Romano quits over branding flak (updated)

TOURISM Undersecretary Vicente Romano III tendered his irrevocable resignation Tuesday, taking full responsibility for the ‘Pilipinas Kay Ganda’ branding concept, even as he didn’t dismiss the possibility that camps who were against the "open skies policy" pushed by the department could be responsible for blowing up the issue into a controversy.

In a press briefing at the Department of Tourism following a meeting with President Aquino, DOT Secretary Alberto A. Lim said he accepted Romano’s resignation, and “hope[d] this put an end to the issue.” In Romano’s stead, the office of tourism planning and promotions would be temporarily headed by an officer-in-charge, assistant secretary for international tourism promotions Benito Bengzon, Jr. Bengzon is currently spokesman of the DOT as well.

Lim also added that the DOT would undertake “brand consultations with all stakeholders” and appoint a panel that would short list all recommendations. These, in turn, will be “subjected to market tests and focus group discussions.”

(Resigned DOT Usec. Vicente "Enteng" Romano III)

For his part, a somber Romano, said he tendered his resignation voluntarily, adding that no one pressured him to resign. “Nung pumutok ito nasa Amerika ako (when this blew up, I was in the U.S.), the first thing I did was to offer my resignation to Secretary Lim. I thought it was unfair that he was fielding all these questions [on my behalf].” His family and friends from the Black and White Movement were on hand to lend him support during the press briefing. He said he still had “no plans” what do after his resignation. “I just want to rest and try to reflect.”

Asked if there were sectors out to take advantage of the controversy, including those who were against the open skies policy being espoused by the government, Romano said in Filipino: “I suppose there are some sectors and some personalities who don't agree with the leadership at the DOT so maybe they wanted to blow up this issue.” Asked directly if Philippine Airlines owner Lucio Tan could be behind it, the resigned DOT official said: "I will reserve my comment on that if you don't mind."

Romano also absolved President Aquino and Secretary Lim from any involvement in the branding project, saying that both men had actually impressed on him to do a market study, and to postpone the preview, respectively. “When I presented the brand to the President, he had his own misgivings about the brand and specifically instructed me to do a comprehensive market research before launching it. I assured him it was just a preview event and we will do research after.” He added that Lim trusted him to go ahead with the preview despite personal misgivings that the event would be held on said date.

The PKG brand was previewed in a large-scale affair at the Oceana, San Miguel by the Bay, Mall of Asia on Nov. 15, complete with 3D video, dancing girls, fireworks and catered food. Tourism stakeholders who attended the event have said they were “stunned and disappointed” to see the new brand/slogan, especially since this was done in Filipino. Most felt the slogan should be in English, which is understood globally.

A disbursement voucher as well as other documents published by Malaya columnist and blogger Ellen Tordesillas indicated that the “approved budget for the Launching of the New DOT Philippines Branding…” cost P3.77 million. A Land Bank of the Philippines check was issued on Oct. 18, 2010, to the Tourism Promotions Board, an attached agency of the DOT, which hired the services of the event producer, sent out the invites, paid for pyrotechnics, hired the audio-visual producers, the caterers, and entertainment.

The largest cost, at P995,000 went to the production of a “one minute 3D animation of Philippine brand logo” to Animation 1 Inc. headed by one Edward Travis. Sources in the advertising industry expressed shock over the amount spent saying that “it already costs as much as a 30-sec. TV commercial.” A typical 30-sec. spot is priced about P1 million. (See documents below)

Romano also admitted to this blogger that it was his daughter Denese Romano who directed the event, but he said her services were for free. “I asked my daughter to direct it, but it was pro-bono. We only had 2-3 weeks to prepare for this. So I wanted to use a tried and tested director. In all the meetings, I brought her and introduced her. Sana wag lagyan ng kulay itong ginawa nya.

Romano denied that the PKG logo was “plagiarized” from Poland’s logo, as asserted by many quarters. He said “getting inspiration from existing designs is not an uncommon practice. In fact in one of the definitions of plagiarism, it is stated that, “While plagiarism is condemned in academia and journalism, in the arts it is often a major part of the creative process.’ “

He added that while the use of the Filipino language was used in the slogan was also hit, “I am still convinced it is a matter of execution. I honestly think a Manny Pacquiao saying ‘Pilipinas Kay Ganda’ will make a world curious and try to find out what it means.”

Contrary to rumors circulating in social networks, he told this blogger the slogan was never outrightly rejected by DOT’s tourism attaches. “That’s not true. We had a planning conference in Palawan which involved the tourism attaches. Pinakita kung gagamitin ang Pilipinas. Ang ibang markets sabi, 'baka mahirapn tayo pakilala yan dahil sanay sila sa Philippines.' 'Yung ibang markets naman sabi ‘pwede’ kasi sa ibang countries like Germany we’re known as Philippinen. So meron silang mixed inputs."

Romano admitted that he rushed the branding and its preview, and apologized to President Aquino and Secretary Lim for putting them in a spot, as well as to the Filipino public for causing the controversy.

"Before I joined government, I was in the streets clamoring for change. And when I joined, I wanted to spend every waking hour effecting that change.

“I’m in a hurry to have an advertising campaign going on by the first quarter of 2011, because I am fully convinced that every day we do not run a campaign is a lost opportunity to boost our tourism arrivals. It is a lost opportunity to generate jobs and alleviate proverty.

“I now realize that an idea as big as a new country brand needs time to germinate and blossom. There are no shortcuts.”

(Read Romano's full press statement here. Romano photo from his Facebook page)

'Pilipinas Kay Ganda' disbursement voucher
Documents courtesy of Ellen Tordesillas. Also available here

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