MAKATI SHOWS THE WAY

MANILA, MAY 4, 2012 (MALAYA) Written by JOSE B. BAYLON - THE “Eye on the Philippines” series by the Atlanta-based global news network CNN has surely given our 7,100+ islands a needed boost after years of bad publicity.

Yes, as President Aquino lamented recently, media has a soft spot for bad news – mainly because it sells, mainly because bad news often highlights conflict which is always a seed for a human interest angle, and, well, frankly, because if you want to read good news and only good news in the media then either make sure (if you can) that no human error, no human failing or no human tragedy occurs any day, any time, throughout the year – or buy out all the news outlets and convert them into tools for State-run propaganda.

We aren’t exactly novices when it comes to doing something like that.

Then again the bad rap we as a country, as a people and as a group of islands in the Pacific have been getting the last 20 or 30 years is also in part due to the fact that we gave reason for the media to find news-worthy negative items to report about us.

We were not too careful in our choice of leaders. We have not been too conscious as a people on the responsibilities of good citizenship. Heck, we have even been content to boast about our being the only bastion of Catholicism in Asia while being perceived at the same time to be one of the most corrupt in Asia. Now which news organization wouldn’t be interested in scratching the surface of such a society to see what lies beneath?

But there are always two sides to every coin as they say, and once in a while the news agencies tire of reporting about our darker side and focus on the brighter one.

And that’s what this series was all about, and in many ways it was a refreshing change. Or a refreshing break at least, because I am not so sure if indeed the perspective has changed permanently.

To succeed in permanently changing the way the world looks at us will require consistency over time – consistency of more good news over bad news over time, until such time that the bad news is seen as the exception, and not as the rule that it seems to be perceived it is.

But what has been happening? Well, on the last day of the meeting of the board of governors of the Asian Development Bank, for example – for which the “Eye on the Philippines” series of CNN seemed timed to coincide, our newspapers were filled with reports of the assassination of a vice mayor in Capiz, the kidnapping of a businessman in Metro Manila, and heightened activities of the Communist New Peoples’ Army in Mindanao.

Good news needs to become the rule, and not the exception.

Our country as a whole has a lot to learn from Makati.

Makati is seen by many to be the benchmark among all local government units. It is also seen as the benchmark in urban planning and development. For the former, kudos go to the current and previous administrations of the municipality-turned city; for the latter, kudos go mainly to the real estate developer whose hacienda they converted into what is now arguably the country’s business, high-end residential and shopping capital.

The Zobel brothers – Jaime Augusto and Fernando – were rightfully featured in the “Eye on the Philippines” series, because the company they now head and the family from which they came has been the central player in the transformation of this little part of Metro Manila into an urban planner’s and a local government leader’s dream.

I was smiling to myself as I was watching the episode featuring the Zobel brothers, because I was thinking that it was very possible that a non-Filipino who had just switched on his TV set and tuned in to CNN would be wondering what two Iranians were doing talking about the Philippines! I’ve always felt that Jaime Augusto could pass off as an heir to the Peacock Throne in Tehran, with Fernando happy to play the younger (but definitely not junior) partner role, somewhat like Prince Harry of Britain sans the Nazi uniform though.

The way Makati has grown -- and has been run -- over the years, has resulted in good news becoming considered the rule and bad news the exception. Should we be surprised that other real estate developers look to the way Ayala developed a 25-year masterplan to cover the development of the Ayala Triangle and the neighboring business and residential areas? Should we be surprised that many LGUs look to the way successive Makati administrations worked closely with businesses and investors in their LGU to succeed together? Should we be surprised that many attribute the electoral victory of former Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay to his “Ganito kami sa Makati” TV advertising campaign?

Which is not to say that Makati is short of shortcomings – though I’d think that many urbanites will have a difficult time if you challenge them to name ten. The point is, attributing negative things to Makati has become an exception and not a rule – perhaps something that could be justified as “within the margin of error” as they do in talking about the accuracy of surveys. Because the overwhelming perception is positive, negative items are seen as forgivable, a failure here or there as something that is livable or tolerable, or, better yet, a temporary aberration that will soon be set right.

Now isn’t that such an excellent way to be perceived?

This might sound to some like an early but poorly disguised propaganda piece intended to boost someone from Makati into even higher office. It is not and isn’t meant to be that way. It’s just meant to compare and contrast the Philippines and its reputation and perception issues on the one hand, with one of its LGUs, Makati, and the latter’s reputation and perception issues.

We must remember that it took 20+ years for Ayala under the successive leadership of Joseph McMicking, Enrique Zobel, Jaime Zobel de Ayala and now Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala to help build Makati into what it is today. And it took successive local government administrations especially over the last 20 or so years to find the right policy mix to keep Makati vibrant and attractive to corporate and individual residents alike.

We need to be that consistent and that focused when it comes to the Philippines. There is simply no other way.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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