Saturday, September 07, 2002

Gordon’s Goal

"Who can best promote the beautiful places and culture of the Philippines than Filipinos themselves?"

With that single question, Philippine Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon has launched a massive program to sell the Philippines, tapping millions of his countrymen living or working all over the globe to help him revitalize the country's tourism industry and in the process, improve local economy.

"We have launched this program called Volunteer 12, anchored on the strength of the millions of Filipinos all over the world to promote our country and invite their friends to wonderful Philippine tourist destinations," Gordon said. Gordon is optimistic that visitor arrivals in the Philippines will "gain favorable ground" with the help of an estimated seven million overseas-based Filipinos.

This, despite the downtrend in the global tourism industry following the September 11 attacks and a paltry sum for a budget. In fact, the Philippine government, through its Tourism Department, has turned to volunteerism in order to augment the high cost of advertising and promotions.

"Admittedly, promotions is very vital in the tourism industry. But we are faced with budgetary constraints and so, we have thought of tapping the support of Filipinos all over the world to become partners of the Philippine government in promoting the country," Gordon explains.

Appealing too, to the "hero" in every Filipino overseas, Gordon emphasizes that this is an opportune time to help the homeland. According to him, the Philippines earns an estimated U.S.$ 1,076 from every tourist, which creates a ripple effect across various sectors of the economy. Gordon points out that tourism serves as an important catalyst to improve the lives of ordinary Filipinos such as taxi drivers, farmers, fishermen and the like.

And with more than 7,100 islands to hop about and frolic in, tourists are treated to countless diverse adventures when they do come and visit. From scuba diving in the Apo reefs, to trekking near the crater of Mt. Pinatubo, to cruising in the rivers of Bohol island or simply enjoying the unique culture, Gordon is certain that even a few days' visit will convince foreigners that the Philippines is virtually a paradise.

To address the issue of security, Gordon is implementing a set of measures for both the country's metropolitan areas and tourist destinations in the countryside. According to Gordon, more than a thousand police officers are now patrolling Metro Manila's top tourist attractions and places frequented by trourists. Places under strict guarding include Ermita, malate, Intramuros, Makati, the domestic and international airports, all street corners from the airports up to the Magallanes interchange, C-5 up to the Pasig River, among others.

Aside from Metro Manila, Gordon says policemen are now posted in the country's top tourist destinations including Boracay, Palawan, Cebu, Bohol, Davao, Baguio City, Ifugao Province, Vigan and Ilocos Norte. With Gordon at the helm of the country's tourism department, the Philippine government is determined to provide a blueprint for tourists' protection in every destination.

The security plan involves the cooperation of ordinary citizens, as well as the sharing of crucial resources such as patrol boats and helicopters among resort operators in clusters of islands. The tourism chief also says hotel owners and general managers of five-star hotels all over the country have expressed their support for the effort and will work with the government to ensure the safety of their guests.

Believing that a tourist's first impression of the Philippines is a reflection of his experience upon arrival at the airport, Gordon also batted for the strict implementation of the public utility vehicle system at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) starting last February.

Designed to improve the Philippine transportation system by instilling discipline and professionalism in public utility vehicle drivers, Gordon now assures all incoming visitors that service at the NAIA would be "fast, friendly and efficient." The new system requires taxi drivers to wear uniforms and body numbers so that the public can imeediately identify "errant" taxi drivers. Passengers are assured that the vehicles are roadworthy and in good condition based on annual inspections conducted by Gordon's deprtment. The system is also geared towards eliminating crimes such as overcharging, trip-cutting and refusal to accept passengers. Passengers are protected from abusive taxi drivers because operators are accountable, while drivers and vehicles are easily identifiable.

Commercial vendors meanwhile, have made a commitment to include in their code of vending operations a provision that they will cooperate in efforts to apprehend worng-doers within their vending sites, Gordon reveals. He adds that operators have indicated their willingness to monitor suspicious individuals and report crimes within their areas of business.

Gordon has also embarked on the rehabilitation of major airports in the country to meet international standards for aviation, hoping that the emergence of more world-class airports will make destinations outside the metropolis more accessible to tourists. Using a "hubs and spokes" blueprint, the system identifies major international gateways as the "hubs" and its outlying destinations as the "spokes." According to Gordon, this approach allows tourism centers to progress and respond to particular needs of travelers, making travel to and from the hub to the spokes more efficient.

In Manila, the completion of the $500-million Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 this year will enable it to efficiently serve 10 million passengers per year. In Angeles City, the 2,500-hectare Clark International Airport, now renamed Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, can handle a growing number of commercial flights with a fixed-based operations terminal in place. Kalibo airport can accomodate day and night landing of big jets carrying tourists and businessmen from Asia and western countries headed for Boracay, one of the world's best beaches. In the Visayas, Tacloban's airport is getting a 3.8-billion peso make-over, to enhance its capability to respond to growing air traffic. Six other airports are also up for modernization: Puerto Princesa, Cotabato, Dipolog, Pagadian and Sanga-sanga.

The renewed vigor that is breathing life into the country's tourism industry is reflective of the man who now heads the department that has been burdened in the past by budgetary constraints, domestic terrorism and lack of adequate infrastructure.

If Richard Gordon seems undaunted by the enormity of the task, that's because Gordon has had extensive experience in overcoming challenges and obstacles that most men of lesser stuff would normally buckle under.

Richard Gordon is best known for leading the successful conversion of Subic from a naval facility into the Philippines' premier trade zone in the Ô90s when the U.S. navy withdrew its forces ending 94 years of military presence in the country.

His father James L. Gordon was the founder of Olongapo and its first elected municipal mayor. Likewise, his mother Amelia J. Gordon was the first mayor of Olongapo when it became a city.

Richard Gordon went to high school at the Ateneo de Manila and received a bachelor's degree in History and Government also at the Ateneo. Eventually he went on to study law at the University of the Philippines (UP) where he graduated in 1975.

He earned his spires as an associate at the ACCRA Law Office in 1975. At 24, and while still a sophomore law student at U.P., Gordon was the youngest delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention. It was during this time that the young Gordon envisioned the idea of a freeport like Hong Kong and Singapore as the alternative to the U.S. facility in Subic Bay in Olongapo, after witnessing the displacement of Filipino workers during the U.S. Navy pull-out at Sangley Point in Cavite that same year.

Following family tradition, Gordon, too, became Mayor of Olongapo from 1980 to 1993 earning the distinction of being the youngest ever elected to the office. As mayor of Olongapo, he drafted a joint use plan of Subic Bay by the U.S. and Philippine governments, with commercial enterprises eventually phasing in as the U.S. Navy withdrew from the base. In 1992, with the impending withdrawal of the U.S. navy from the Philippines after the Philippine Senate rejected a treaty extension, Gordon led a congressional lobby to convert the facilities in Subic and Clark into economic enclaves.

From 1992-1998 he was the Founding Chairman and Administrator of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), a brainchild of his that gave new life to the city after the dismantlement of the US Military Bases in 1991.

As founding Chairman and administrator of the SBMA, Gordon inspired an army of 8,000 volunteers who protected and preserved $8-billion facility and successfully transformed it into what is now known as the Philippines' premier investment hub the venue for the APEC Leaders Summit in 1996. By 1998, Subic had become the site of 300 multi-national corporations, including Federal Express, Coastal Petroleum, Acer computers and Thompson Audio, which provided an estimated 70,000 jobs and almost $3-billion in investments.

Gordon has been invited to share this experience in base conversions and volunteerism by governments that host or have military facilities such as Panama, Iran, Vietnam, Okinawa in Japan, Guam in the U.S., and by the World Bank during the 2nd World Competitive Cities Congres in Washington D.C. He has also shared his views on politics and the economy in Asia at the Georgetown University Leadership Seminars in 1986; the Stanford University Asia-Pacific Roundtable Regional Conferences (1994 and 1997); the Asia Society Conferences (1993 and 1997); the 6th Asia-Regional Conference of the International Association of Volunteer Effort in Seoul, South Korea (1996); the Pacific Rim Forum in Hong Kong; the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (1996), and the U.S. Business Council Convention in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1997.

He is also known for transforming Olongapo's "Sin City" image into the Philippines' model city through innovative yet simple programs involving an active citizenry in solving crime, ensuring police accountability, efficient garbage collection, proper health and sanitation and orderly transport and traffic.

As an active volunteer himself and officer of the Red Cross in a disaster-prone country, Gordon personally led numerous relief and rescue operations. These include earthquakes that hit Manila, Cabanatuan and Baguio in Luzon, typhoons and floods that razed Silay in Negros Occidental and Ormoc, Leyte in the Visayas, volcanic eruptions of Mt. Mayon and the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, when he led thousands of Aeta aborigines to safety. Last year, Gordon, with the local Red Cross chapter of Basilan in Mindanao, arranged without ransom the release of 18 Filipino hostages from the Abu Sayyaf. Gordon also assisted the local Red Cross during a fire that razed the PICC and Q.C. Manor last year.

For his efforts and contributions to public service, Gordon has received numerous awards and recognition. The University of the Philippines recognized him as an Outstanding Alumnus in Public Administration in 1984, and later bestowed on him the highest recognition as its Most Distinguished Alumnus for 1997. He was named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) in 1982 and was the youngest recipient of the Outstanding Filipino (TOFIL) award in 1996. Asahi Shimbun honored him as one of the 50 Young Leaders of Asia in 1994; Asiaweek named him one of the 20 Great Asians for the Future in its 20th anniversary issue, while NHKTV featured him as one of Asia's Who's Who in 1995.

He is married to Kate Gordon, who is currently mayor of Olongapo.