Manila 2012: A golden moment for the Philippine country brand
It’s not often that one sees the pieces of the big jigsaw puzzle that is the Philippine country brand come together so perfectly.
Yet on the first week of May, that was exactly what we witnessed when Manila hosted the biggest ever annual Board of Governors meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
Projections for participants were surpassed as over 5,300 registrants came, more than one thousand heads over target, exceeding Hanoi’s previous record of 3,000.
Organizers were amazed at the huge turnout from all sectors and were profuse in their thanks for the good work that the government of the Philippines, led by Department of Finance (DoF) Secretary Cesar V. Purisima, had done.
This, I believe, is indicative of some realities: that confidence—I dare say interest—in the Philippines is back, and that the Philippine country brand’s luster is getting brighter and is increasingly getting noticed around the world.
But it was not just the numbers that we can be proud of, but how we gracefully welcomed our guests, just as a typical Filipino family would go out of its way to delight its guests. The Philippines made sure that Manila 2012 participants—many of whom are regular attendees of world-class, top-level events—would see, feel and appreciate the Philippine country brand through touches big and small.
One of the Philippine government’s initiatives was the Philippine Corporate and Investment Pavilion seminars, carried out with strong support from private sector partners. These extremely well-attended seminars brought together top-notch speakers, including the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, and focused on matters that strongly concern investors and people in the Asia-Pacific. This included the future role of Asia as the new economic center of the world, as well as the Philippines’ best practices and competitive strengths, such as public-private partnerships, tourism and the casino and gaming industry.
These seminars were held at a pavilion that was itself a showcase of Filipino artistry and a fine example of how our country brand could come alive. The Philippine Pavilion was adorned with beautiful pieces crafted by Filipino hands, with colorful pods made brighter by the smiles of the people who manned them. Welcoming everyone was a festive arc installation inspired by the traditional arko and the colors of the parol, handcrafted from plexiglass and metal by Ed Castrillo. From the moment I stepped inside the pavilion, I immediately felt the charm and warmth that is so palpable yet so hard to capture in words. The only word that truly describes it is “Filipino.”
To push a country brand, it is important to know each of the components that make it whole and stand out in the world. Through these seminars, the government and the private sector shone the spotlight on the elements that define the Filipino soul while ensuring that the annual meeting participants still got what they came for—world-class seminars, services and delivery. It was public-private partnership at its best.
Talks to work together started in late 2011, where the government and the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) eventually sealed an agreement for Manila 2012: The Philippine Hosting of the 45th ADB Annual Meeting by the start of 2012. MAP took care of sponsorship funds and disbursements, and engaged business leaders to rally behind Manila 2012, including the Philippines’ top companies, which pledged support and commitment to this globally anticipated event. As the annual meeting drew nearer, so did this partnership grow stronger, as captured in the many initiatives they did together—dinners held in the homes of Filipino businessmen and a tour of nearby provinces for accompanying spouses, led by no less than the Presidential sister.
A high point for Manila 2012 was the Philippine Country Reception, an unforgettable moment where Filipinos culture came alive through music, dance, fashion and the arts. Through seven performance suites, “The Philippines … the Land of Gold” showcased the wealth of Philippine tradition and the diverse directions the Filipino people have taken, as the nation moves forward. It featured the myths of various indigenous cultures in an original ballet by Max Luna III, with music by Kalayo; the centuries-old barter trade in the Sulu Archipelago through the Pangalay, the signature dance of the Tausug, as performed by the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group; and street dancing by the Tribu Pan-ay group. More than anything, it showcased unparalleled Filipino musicality as captured in the stellar performances of Leo Valdez, Bituin Escalante and The Company.
Feeling of pride
The grand finale, wherein the full company sang the theme song “Our Time Is Now” written by Jim Paredes for the annual meeting, was a poignant, beautiful moment that captured what we are, and our aspirations as a people.
I welled with pride seeing how impressed the audience was and felt a sense of satisfaction when I overheard someone, obviously from one of ADB’s succeeding host countries, tell his colleague, “Now I’m nervous, how could we top that?”
Manila 2012 is definitely not an end. In fact, it is just the beginning for the Philippines, as it takes its rightful place in the global arena as a re-emerging nation. The private sector should definitely share in embracing the challenge of sustaining the gains achieved in Manila 2012, as well as the government’s efforts to achieve its goals of sustainable, inclusive growth.
In the same way, defining a country brand is not an end in itself. The Philippine country brand is an evolving promise that continues to transform with us, the Filipino people, and our dreams and aspirations. It is therefore truly gratifying to note that we have finally recognized the promise of our country brand and that we are working hard to give depth and meaning to it. By rallying behind the Philippine country brand—as we have done when we hosted ADB’s biggest annual meeting in history—we can come closer to achieving its myriad promises.
(The author is chairman of the MAP national branding committee and chairman and CEO of EON The Stakeholder Relations Firm, regarded as a pioneering firm that puts trust at the heart of its collaborations and dialogues with different stakeholders of its clients. He was a career diplomat for 13 years and served at the Philippine embassies in Paris, France, Dakar, Senegal and at the Asean, Apec, and Asia-Europe Business Forum. Feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. For previous articles, visit map.org.ph.)