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‘Trumpling’ Asian allies

SPY BITS - The Philippine Star

The Donald is at it again, ramping up jitters among Asian foreign diplomats about the changes that could happen to US policies on trade, as well as diplomatic and military relations should he become the next American president. Not since World War II has there been a US election that is making ally nations so uncertain about a leading presidential candidate’s foreign policy views, our diplomatic insider tells us.

In a recent interview regarding foreign policy, Trump said that if allies want to maintain the cloak of American protection, then the US must be “reimbursed” for the kind of “tremendous service” that its is performing. Trump then proceeded to threaten Saudi Arabia and other ally countries unless funding for US troops is provided to fight ISIS terrorists, rubbing Gulf nations the wrong way when he added that Saudi Arabia won’t be around without protection from the United States.

Trump has also floated the possibility of removing US bases from Japan and South Korea if these countries do not increase their contributions in shouldering the cost of accommodation for American troops like food and lodging. Trump likewise, announced he would seek a renegotiation of existing treaties between the US and its allies.

This is a potentially dangerous foreign policy perspective from a presidential candidate because it smacks of isolationism – despite the fact that Trump refuses to acknowledge it as such – because it virtually tells other nations, the Philippines included, that they are on their own, and that America will not lift a finger to help them unless the price is right. In short, Trump is like saying the US is turning to isolationism – a potential vacuum that will benefit powers like China and Russia who will undoubtedly step up and seize the opportunity to become the undisputed world super powers.

Hotel star ratings on hold

Philippine Hotel Owners Association president Arthur Lopez sent us a copy of Tourism Undersecretary Maria Victoria Jasmin’s letter to the association that the current National Accommodation Standards and the star rating for tourism establishments have been put on hold.

The whole controversy over star ratings came about after Plantation Bay Resort and Spa founder and managing director Manny Gonzalez complained about the four star rating downgrade (from a previous five star rating) the resort received last year from the Department of Tourism, which came up with a National Accommodation Standards (NAS) to replace the previous rating system that classified hotels as economy, standard, first class and deluxe, while resorts were rated as A, AA and AAA.

The downgrade was rather ironic since it came after the resort was elevated to the Hall of Fame by TripAdvisor that recognized Plantation Bay for consistently receiving a certificate of excellence for five consecutive years. The DOT ratings downgrade has resulted in the slump in the occupancy ratings of the resort.

Gonzalez called the current rating system as subjective and flawed because it was made by “bureaucrats with no understanding of hotels at all,” coming up with an impossible and complicated checklist which they then tally to come up with an overall grade that becomes the basis for the star rating. Many hotel and resort owners bucked the NAS, questioning its relevance and objectivity, as well as the auditing process that evaluators apply. Other countries like Singapore for instance have no hotel star rating since most of the properties are international brands known for excellent service and facilities/amenities.

Following the controversy, Lopez and PHOA wrote the DOT stating the association’s position that the new ratings standard should be put on hold, and also suggested the creation of an adjudication board – with representation from the DOT and retired managers who are not currently affiliated with any existing hotels – with a chairman of the board to be chosen among the members.

Lopez said a star rating program is necessary so consumers would know the kind of service and amenities they are paying for when they see the star ratings. However, he also noted the importance of having flexibility in implementing the system since some resorts that are considered five-star with excellent amenities and facilities may not have WiFi or Internet connection in order for their guests to totally unwind and relax. The same also goes for new five-star hotels that may have bigger accommodations than older hotels with smaller rooms – yet the latter are nevertheless classified as five-star.

Presidential candidates urged to invest on ‘knowledge capital’

UP president Fred Pascual has called on presidential candidates to harness and strengthen the “intellectual and creative energies” of Filipinos through a “more rationalized and responsive education,” and to ensure that the best minds stay in the country to drive innovation and develop the rest of the country’s labor force.

A study undertaken by UP’s think-tank, the Center for Integrative Development Studies in coordination with the Office of the President and the VP for Academic Affairs, noted the country could produce the high level human resource it needs to catch up with its neighbors, if the next government would adopt the right set of policies. The study also detailed a “road map to inclusive growth,” calling for the strengthening of research and development and sending more Filipinos abroad for advanced studies and encourage foreign-based professionals to return home. The presidentiables should certainly read up on this “think paper” from UP.

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Email: spybits08@gmail.com

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