Alberto Lim resigns as Philippine Secretary of Tourism


MANILA, Philippines – Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim announced yesterday that President Aquino has accepted his resignation that takes effect on Aug. 31.

But Lim denied rumors that he was one of three Cabinet members who had been giving Aquino a headache.

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Lim told a press briefing at Malacañang before the scheduled Cabinet meeting that the reason for his resignation is “personal” because the demanding job of a tourism secretary had taken its toll on him and his family.

The head of the Department of Tourism (DOT) supervises its attached agencies which entails a lot of local and foreign trips.

Lim denied that he has given the President problems with his reported below par performance.

“I think you should ask the President that (if I’m his headache), but I don’t think so. We have very normal relations. What is important is my relation with him.”

“I’m not accustomed to the ways of government. I’m from the private sector. For the past 56 weeks (one year), I’ve been traveling almost every weekend.”

“The point is, it (government service) took its toll (on me). The family should also have some time. I’d like to spend more time with my family,” Lim admitted, acknowledging at the same time that “I cannot deny that it (rumors that he’s inefficient) has an effect on me.”

A reliable source said Lim was forced to resign because the President was apparently frustrated with the way he has been handling the department for more than a year now, particularly because he doesn’t seem to know what to do.

Aquino is still looking for Lim’s replacement.

“I will stay on until a replacement is found,” Lim said. “No regrets at all. I believe in his (Aquino’s) mission. I will still support him.”

Prior to their Aug. 8 meeting, which Aquino had sought, the last time Lim came over to Malacañang was on July 29, when he submitted the “detailed tourism roadmap.”

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda had declared in July that Aquino was satisfied with Lim’s performance. “Secretaries come and go, we serve at the pleasure of the President. Nobody is indispensable,” he said yesterday.

“During his (Lim’s) period of service as secretary of tourism, international visitors increased to an unprecedented level: over 3.7 million arrivals between July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011,” said Lacierda.

He added that during Lim’s term there was an increase of over half a million visitors over the previous 12-month period. Domestic travelers increased from 25 to 28 million. An estimated 400,000 jobs were created as a result.

“Mr. Lim was the chief advocate of the Pocket Open Skies policy, the landmark breakthrough from the protectionist policies of the past. All these are remarkable achievements,” Lacierda said.

“He has been a conscientious and highly dedicated member of the President’s official family.

“He has put in place enduring policy foundations for tourism’s growth in fulfillment of the President’s vision; and he has done so with tenacity, integrity, and vigor. We wish Mr. Lim every continued success, as he returns to private life, to enjoy more time with his family.”

Following reports that that the DOT chief might be fired for inefficiency last July, Lim issued a press statement that the department is now seeking assistance to create a new country brand, barely a year after its bungled “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” promotion plan that was criticized for using a design apparently copied from a Polish tourism ad.

The department spent P4 million to present to the public the “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” program last year to attract more foreign tourists.

The new slogan, however, drew flak from the tourism industry and other sectors that claimed that it was plagiarized and amateurish.

The controversy eventually prompted the DOT to shelve the slogan, and the fiasco also led to the resignation of then Tourism Undersecretary Vicente Romano, the man believed to have been behind the controversial campaign.

For the latest tourism plan, the DOT called on all communications and design firms as well as advertising agencies to submit their bid for a new national brand campaign.

“Our objective is to commission a country brand which can be used by all national government agencies and local government units for their promotional and messaging work so that we project a single strong message and theme for the Philippines internationally and domestically,” Lim said in a statement.

Lim said the new campaign would play an important role in the government’s thrust to increase the number of international tourist arrivals, spur domestic tourism, and increase foreign exchange earnings and job generation in this key industry.

He said the DOT also invited the private sector to use the new country brand to align some of its own promotional efforts to a national promotional campaign.

Lim said the DOT wants a new brand that captures the essence of the Philippines as an attractive destination for tourism, investments, services, and trade.

The sudden resignation of Lim caught many people by surprise, even employees of DOT.

Tourism Assistant Secretary Benito Bengzon said he and Lim were together for the past days promoting domestic tourism in Cebu, but he was not aware that the secretary was planning to resign.

He said Lim did not mention anything or give any indication of his plan to resign.

“He appeared very upbeat that our promotion program in Cebu was very successful,” Bengzon said.

Upon his arrival from Cebu yesterday morning, Lim went to his office to change and then proceeded to Malacañang to announce his resignation.

“The resignation of Lim was a big loss for the department because it is easy that you can see a hardworking secretary and it’s hard to see him go just like that,” Bengzon said.

Bengzon said that Lim’s resignation would not derail implementation of the DOT’s various programs as he noted that all of the programs this year until 2012 have already been laid out.

While in Cebu last Thursday, Lim even refused to dignify calls for his resignation and said that there are more important things to do to promote tourism.

Lim, who was in Cebu for the Philippine Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions/Events Conference (MICECON) 2011, also got the support of the two top officials of the province.

Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia said Lim should not resign because the President chose him.

Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale, who chairs the provincial board’s committee on tourism, likewise opposed the call for Lim’s resignation.

Roberto Lim Joseph, a tourism stakeholder, earlier called for Lim’s resignation and the DOT’s abolition. Joseph proposed to place the tourism sector as a bureau under the Department of Trade and Industry.

“We already do not have a clear tourism campaign strategy, now is not the time to have another experiment,” Garcia said.

Lim, when asked about Joseph’s call, said he will just focus on supporting the MICECON which kicked off yesterday at the Cebu International Convention Center in Mandaue City.

The DOT secretary said he would also concentrate on the promotion of domestic tourism, including Cebu.

MICECON is a two-pronged strategy of promoting the Philippines as a global Meeting, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) destination while helping our industry embark on product development that suits international requirements and standards.

Meanwhile, Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone urged President Aquino to

appoint a tourism secretary who could improve the current programs of the administration and the image of the Philippines.

Evardone, chairman of the House committee on public information, said there is an urgent need to portray the country as an attractive tourist destination.

“I hope President Aquino would appoint somebody who will not

only unify the players in the tourism industry but also project the Philippines as the best tourist destination in Asia,”

Evardone said.

Sen. Francis Escudero expressed optimism yesterday that the replacement of Lim will continue the department’s tourism development plan under the Aquino administration.

Escudero said he expects Lim’s replacement to be more pro-active in the tourism industry.

Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano agreed with Escudero that no one is indispensable in the Aquino Cabinet.

He stressed the need for a Cabinet member to be always enjoying the trust and confidence of the chief executive.

“There are 1001 reasons to resign but it would take one or two straws to break the camel’s back,” Cayetano said.

Tourism leaders call for unity

Leaders of the tourism industry urged President Aquino to appoint a DOT secretary that would unify the tourism sector.

Jaime Cura, Tourism Congress vice president, said the private sector respects the decision of Lim to quit and that the move would pave way for the appointment of a new secretary who could unify the industry.

“We are prepared to work with whoever President Aquino would as choose as new tourism chief, but we hope he would choose someone who could inspire and unite the industry to become globally competitive and be the country’s engine of growth,” Cura said.

He said Lim’s resignation had long been expected considering that no improvement has been observed in the country’s tourism industry since the latter assumed the post over a year ago.

“The government programs could not take off because of factionalism and partisanship under Lim’s leadership and the industry cannot go on this way,” Cura said.

Although several names have been cropping up, Malacañang insisted that the search is not yet over and the President has not picked Lim’s replacement at this time.

Other tourism industry stakeholders and DOT employees were saddened by Lim’s decision to resign.

Tourism industry leader Alejandra Clemente said they were sad with Lim’s decision because the numerous programs he started to improve the tourism industry are yet to be completed.

“He has practically just started putting in place the mechanism to make the tourism industry fully develop, but many groups, those with vested interests, are against him. Maraming nasagasaan sa kanyang programa (his programs blindsided many),” Clemente explained.

Clemente said Lim was a victim of the factionalism in the tourism industry.

Tourism industry leaders gave their full backing for Lim when reports came out a few months ago that Aquino was already planning to replace him.

Tourism leaders said that under Lim, the country recorded the biggest number of foreign tourists ever and the DOT came out with a new National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP).

With the NTDP, the DOT hopes to attract 3.7 million international tourists for 2011, 6.3 million foreign visitors by 2016 as well as 32 million domestic travelers that could generate P1.3 trillion in expenditure and 5.16 million jobs.

A few hours before confirming his resignation, Lim came from Cebu where he promoted domestic tourism.

The Black & White Movement said it was saddened by the resignation of Lim and that he could have been a victim of “powerful” people with vested interests.

“In the process of working in government, Bertie (Lim) made enemies from powerful vested interests that benefited from a regime of protectionism. And their constant attacks against Bertie made it increasingly more difficult for him to do his job,” the group said in a statement.

The group said Lim took the helm of the DOT at a time of transition brought about by the New Tourism Act and the attendant problems that went with it, both from within the department and within the industry itself.

“And yet, amidst these myriad problems, he pushed for ‘open skies’ and successfully steered it through the bureaucracy until President Aquino proclaimed it a policy through an executive order. In a few years we should see its positive impact on tourism,” the B&W said.