Tourism is also a casualty

The deadly drug war waged by President Rodrigo Duterte is also taking its toll on Philippine tourism. Foreign media reports on the so-called extrajudicial killings are scaring away potential foreign tourists in the Philippines, making the job of the tourism secretary harder.

Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo attested to this. Tour operators abroad, she says, are “always” asking her about the issue, citing Asia and Europe as the regions where travelers were especially concerned. She appealed to the media to tone down the coverage of extrajudicial killings to ease her job of selling the Philippines as a tourist destination.

It is ironic the country’s tourism chief is put on the defensive mode, instead of leading the charge in wooing foreign tourists and promoting exotic beaches and tropical islands in the Philippines.

But the concern of foreign tour operators will not just die down. Nor will the media coverage of the drug war be toned down. This is because of the sheer number of people who have died. Police have reported killing over 2,500 people, while rights groups claim there have been more than 5,000 other deaths linked to the drug war. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have warned Duterte may be overseeing crimes against humanity, with police allegedly running anonymous death squads.

Duterte’s drug war has given foreigners the impression that the Philippines is sanctioning the campaign of mass murder. While this may be exaggerated, it did not stop the European Parliament last week from issuing a resolution condemning “the high number of extrajudicial killings” in Duterte’s drug war.

The media coverage of the deadly drug campaign is certainly not the kind of publicity that the Philippines needs in luring foreign tourists. The Philippines has to do a lot of catching up in the sector. About 5.9 million tourists visited the Philippines in 2016, ranking it 14th—second to last in 2015 in terms of arrivals in Southeast Asia.

Selling the Philippines to foreign tourists as a peaceful country with plenty of scenic spots and friendly people is a challenge to tourism authorities. But the daily killings in the drug war is making it doubly difficult to convince foreign tourists.

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