Freezing permanently the DOT's star rating

SHOOTING STRAIGHT - Bobit S. Avila - The Freeman

We had a very powerful lineup of guests at the 888 News Forum at the Marco Polo Plaza Hotel with burning issues of the week being discussed. We had suspended Cebu City Mayor now ordinary citizen Michael Rama, VECO's Reputation Enhancement Department Atty. Jill Verallo, Plantation Bay owner Manny Gonzales, and Mr. Tourism himself, Mr. Bobby Joseph, fresh from being awarded just last weekend in the Bulong Pulangan sa Sofitel as 2015 Outstanding Exemplar in Tourism from the Private Sector. Bobby Joseph is the founder and chairman emeritus of Tourism Educators and Movers of the Philippines.

It was private citizen Mike's first appearance over the 888 News Forum after his suspension last week. This time he was no longer as dramatic as he was after getting his suspension. Perhaps he finally realized that many Cebuanos are angered by the excessive power of Malacañang or imperial Manila over our local chief executives, suspending them for a very flimsy excuse in moving a center island in Barangay Labangon. There was no need for more dramatics as he has delivered his point very clearly.

As we pointed out in our previous column on this issue, this order stemmed from the complaint of Labangon Barangay Captain Victor Buendia who accused Rama in a 2014 administrative complaint of unlawfully ordering the demolition of the barangay's center island and street lighting project. This is the first time we heard of such a complaint and that the reaction from Malacañang was very drastic and high-handed.

Let me remind you that whenever I pass by Barangay Labangon, you will always see a tent along the side of the road beside a small chapel which in my book has become a permanent structure along the road, all in the name of making the devotees or mourners (if there is a funeral vigil in that chapel) comfortable under the heat or rain. Yet this tent takes at least one lane of the road in that part of Barangay Labangon.

Did Rama really commit a grave abuse of authority, grave misconduct, and oppression because he unlawfully ordered the demolition of the center island? Apparently a great many Cebuanos do not think so! So in the end, what Malacañang has done was make Rama a martyr, which can only translate to the reality that now we can say with certainty that the plans of former Mayor Tomas Osmeña to regain City Hall will be a steep and uphill climb.

I also learned that in all the many years of his being a public official in Cebu City from Cebu City Councilor to Vice Mayor and then the City Mayor, Rama no longer has a private car. So he ended up taking a jeepney to his appointments, something that awed many jeepney passengers making them feel that citizen Mike was one of them. As I said, the fools of Malacañang made a serious and stupid mistake in their desire to oust a sitting mayor using the most flimsy reason they could find.

The other main story of the week was about the Department of Tourism star rating system, which we already wrote in this corner and in our column in The Philippine Star, that, thanks to our Cebuano members of Congress, notably Rep. Raul del Mar and Rep. Gwen Garcia who backed the Tourism Industry when the DOT downgraded Plantation Bay from its 5-star rating down to 4-star because Plantation Bay owner Mr. Manny Gonzales objected to the plans of the DOT to implement its star rating program.

Both Gonzales and Joseph attended that Congressional Committee Hearing on Tourism last week and because even the DOT officials admitted that the system was not perfect, they were asked by the members of the House Committee to suspend the implementation of the star rating system until they come up with a measurable star rating program. Apparently we learned that they copied the manual procedure of the United Kingdom, a country that has done away with their own rating system. But instead of copying the whole thing in toto, they added more things into this rating system, which now opens it to various interpretations.

We know too well that if a government agency comes up with a vague set of rules for the industry that is subject to various interpretations, you end up having so many ways of how people interpret this ruling and open it to corruption. This is why thanks to del Mar and Garcia that they stopped the implementation of this DOT star-rating scheme.

I was just reading yesterday's front page news of the Philippine Star, which came up with a report that said, "No BBL approval before Christmas" and it dawned upon me that there are only three days of session left before Congress goes on a recess, and the controversial BBL cannot be passed. I reckon that this also means that the House Committee on Tourism could no longer meet on this issue anymore and in effect this suspension is up in limbo. This means the DOT's star rating is on permanent freeze!


For email responses to this article, write to [email protected]. or [email protected]. His columns can be accessed through www.philstar.com.

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