Interviewing Gemma

MINDANAO DAILY MIRROR · 2000 JUNE 2  

I had the opportunity to interview Tourism Secretary Gemma Cruz-Araneta over the phone the other day, and from the looks of it I had the best chat with her among all those she called up in Davao City. She was a little piqued at first but gradually softened up. Reporter Mic-Mic Villaflor was not so lucky: she got a dressing down from the secretary, and it was so bad she could not even get a word in. Harangued and oppressed, Mic-Mic finally just hung up on Araneta. I hear the secretary did the same to other people here, including at least one government official and one from the private sector.

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The subject of Araneta's ire was the report that she had taken off Davao City from the list of tourist destinations in the Philippines because of the conflict in Central Mindanao. That report elicited adverse reactions the next day from Mayor Benjamin de Guzman and Davao Tourism Association (DATA) president Art Boncato, who both said to the effect that Araneta made the pronouncement without as much as visiting the city to see for herself what the real situation is.

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But Araneta told the Mirror she never took Davao City out of the list of destinations. She also denied having said 68 conventions in Davao City had been canceled and transferred to Cebu; she said she merely cited DATA president Art Boncato's report to the department that three conventions in Davao City had been canceled and that 368 individuals had canceled their trips to Davao City. From where I sit, I think there might have been some confusion on the figures on the part of reporters, and so it is unfair to Araneta that she is being put in such a bad light over a misreading.

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Unfortunately, Araneta's alleged statements have already set into the minds of Davaoeños. Marijo Arafiles, sales and marketing director of the Mercure Hotel Grand-Davao who happens to be a true-blue Davaoeña (practically every street in Davao City is named after a relative of hers, from Cabaguio to Laurel to Castillo to Palma Gil), was also miffed at Araneta. In a casual talk at the Montmartre Café yesterday afternoon, Marijo said bad reports about Davao, especially coming from the tourism secretary herself, have the potential to destroy the city. This particularly hurts her because she had been trying to promote not just her hotel but the entire region itself, and if outsiders think it is dangerous to come here then the city will lose big-time.

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Yesterday, in fact, DATA brought in a group of media practitioners from Manila to let them find out for themselves that Davao is actually very peaceful. Marijo said she emphasized to the group the fact that, yes, there is fighting, but it is happening five to eight hours away (by land). The Mirror's own Nel Ruiz, who is the hotel's concierge and marketing communications officer, said the Manila reporters themselves observed that things are very peaceful here, worthy of being called the most livable city in Asia. Unfortunately, many of them have already damaged Mindanao through their cavalier approach to reporting on the conflict in some parts of the island. Let's hope they finally stop, because what they are hurting is not just the land but the people in it.

©2000 Jon Joaquin. All rights reserved.