No cheers for new Pampanga tourism program

Pampanga province commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Mount Pinatubo eruption this month, a cataclysmic event that swallowed entire towns and gave every kid who grew up in the ’90s a reason to believe in the Wrath of God.

One eyewitness described it thus:

We would be fearful whenever it rained due to lahar threats. We would hear rumbling sounds of rocks and other volcanic debris as the nearby river system was only about two kilometers away from our house. They sounded like a cavalry of horses galloping and running into the wild. Barangays Dolores and Tabun were entombed. Our village was next in the lahar path.

So what better way to say “meh, we’re so over that,” than by kicking off a tourism campaign called C.H.E.E.R.S Tours? Which, incidentally, is how people back then dealt with having their homes washed away by lahar: drinking and making up acronyms while drunk. (All right, mostly drinking.)

Hardly anybody knows this name

President Benigno Aquino III may claim to be ushering in a new era of Philippine politics, but there are some things that you can’t change overnight. Government agencies loving marginally-clever acronyms, for example.

In this case, C.H.E.E.R.S. stands for Cuisine, Heritage, Eco-Tourism, Educational, River Cruise, and Specialty. It makes little sense, I know, but congratulations to Pampanga for coming up with that one.

No congratulations, however, on what was apparently a disorganized test run that foreign diplomats and members of the media were sent on with no prior warning. A source who went to the Cheers launch said there was no itinerary provided, no announcements on how long the group would stay at a particular stop, and no waiting for people still wandering around when it was time to move on. Some members of the group were apparently left behind to fend for themselves. It is hoped that they will be seen again.

Most of the tour was spent sitting in a bus or a boat (R is for for River Cruise) and having one of 40 tour guides point at a site and say something interesting about it. Still fresh out of training, the tour guides tended to clump together, so it was really like being with one tour guide who had a tour group of tour guides.

It's the same cat...

Our source says one reporter was so frustrated at how things were done that she complained there was little to write about except that she left the office, got on a bus, and was driven around. People were still ranting during an open forum on the bus ride home by the time that bus arrived in Manila, Indolent Indio was told.

I have Capampangan blood myself and my grandmother’s hometown was among those swallowed by lahar, so I do wish the Cheers program the best. Things could have been done better, that’s all.  I mean, it’s not like they didn’t have 20 years to plan for this.

[Edit: Somebody who claims to be a tour guide for the Cheers program has left a comment to “correct our info”. In the interest of fairness, we are publishing it here, albeit edited for style. Thanks, “Eunice Sadsad.”]

Eunice Sadsad says:

We are not 40, just 31 to be exact. And it is so impossible that just one of the tour guides spoke on that tour because first,each boat has a capacity of minimum 10 to 15 persons each. Each boat has a local guide. So, if we used seven boats to bring them to one of the stations of the river cruise,then definitely seven guides were used up already. Each station that is part of the itinerary has a guide waiting for them there to do the briefing.

And, yes, we were fresh from training but we’ve had several dry runs before that launching day and we’ve heard nothing but praises from the guests that day.

So, there. Again, Indolent Indio, and specifically OneTamad, wishes the Cheers program the best. We are nothing if not for the development of the Philippines, and this tour is definitely a step in the right direction.