Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Review of Smile, inflight magazine of Cebu Pacific Air
April 2010
Ink Publishing Singapore

To read CebuPac’s Smile magazine is to consume a buffet of consumer ads. Passengers must be forewarned that the magazine is loaded with articles, images, and so-called travel tips which seduce readers into buying things they don’t need in life.

For example, the magazine copy dated April 2010 contained 370 direct and indirect ad placements which featured the following: 170 bars and restaurants, 94 hotel resorts and malls, 20 personal gadgets and home appliances, 31 travel accessories, 12 health and beauty products, 12 real estate subdivisions and condominiums, 9 media and entertainment shows, 3 cars, 2 business schemes, 2 government programs, 2 schools, and 1 jewelry.

Perhaps the most effective ads are those which had been embedded in the supposedly objective write-ups of experienced travelers and tourism journalists. Sarong and shoes, according to Smile, are vacation essentials. Agree. But readers are also reminded that these products are sold at SM and Gibi boutiques. Smart advertising at its sneakiest.

Smile, like all inflight magazines, features celebrated tourism destinations or remote countryside paradise resorts because it intends to sell a travel experience to readers. It seeks to cultivate a false desire among the passengers in the service of the corporate tourism sector. It is the authoritative accomplice in the rebranding of a particular place desperately in need of tourism dollars. From the same Smile issue, we are told to visit Macau because of its comedy shows, Seoul is described as a kid-friendly city, and apparently cosmopolitan Makati is home to a senakulo tradition.

Travel magazines like Smile transport readers to some exotic place without mentioning the latter’s geopolitical ugly truths. For instance, Smile published an ad which described Bicol as home to the world’s best whale shark experience, home to the most perfect volcano cone (and the best and biggest fried chicken courtesy of Bigg’s restaurant). Obviously, Smile has no interest or motivation to explain the staggering poverty incidences, the huge equality gap, and the mining disasters in Bicol as it chose to highlight the feel-good Disney features of the region.

But Smile is also capable of dishing out some really interesting tidbits of historical and cultural facts about our towns. Curacha crab is found only in the waters of Zamboanga, Dipolog is the country’s orchid and sardines capital, a trip around the city of Ozamis costs only six pesos, and Tacloban comes from the word taklub which is a local word for a cage basket used by fishermen.

Unfortunately, the readers are also bombarded with unnecessary silly assertions. Siargao was ‘discovered’ by an American and Australian in the 1980s (Really? Tanga naman ng mga Pilipino). A hotel ad claims to be the ‘Mediterranean jewel’ in Boracay (As if it’s important and even possible for Boracay to offer a Mediterranean experience). The Laoag travel advisor is identified as an ‘all around bum’ (We have a shortage of tourist guides in Ilocos?). The bloody Lenten Rite in Pampanga is suited for tourists with a ‘taste for the bizarre’ (the ‘other’ as a specimen of ridicule and pity for the visiting civilized Westerners).

To its credit, Smile encouraged ‘planet-conscious’ readers to celebrate the Earth Day by performing little acts of eco-consciousness.’ There are several articles in the summer issue on how to save planet Earth like supporting eco-tourism. Alas, readers are also advised to be responsible consumers by buying only green products. Again, it’s the same lame but popular corporate solution to environment degradation. Interestingly and quite funny too, Smile has an article about environmental hypocrisy wherein the author lambasted the fake and insincere green initiatives of individuals and companies. The author even argued that it’s better to fly than to drive and leave lass carbon footprint. Wait, what is the business of CebuPac again?

As the official publication of a commercial airline, it’s understandable if Smile declares non-partisanship in politics. Its sole political agenda after all is to espouse and support politics that would yield more profits for its mother company. It’s unwilling to tackle dangerous causes and rebellious ideas that would rip the happy status quo apart. Its glossy pages are reserved for topics that hypnotize the readers to feel attached and alienated at the same time.

But surprisingly, there are half-innocent hints in the magazine that offer a glimpse of the real political situation in the archipelago. They could be unintended slips which Filipino residents and foreign tourists alike can use to seriously deepen their understanding of Philippine society.

Example, here is how General Santos City in Mindanao was described in the magazine: “In 1968 the municipality of General Santos was converted into a city with Antonio Acharon as the first city mayor. The current mayor is also an Acharon.” A seemingly naïve statement but at the same time a subtle allusion on political dynasties.

Some factual notes about CebuPac’s destinations refer to the country’s turbulent political and economic history. Cauayan City in Isabela was ‘once known for its tobacco industry.’ Colon Street in Cebu is ‘less plush than it used to be.’ In Manila, ‘there’s much more than malls and shopping.’ Catanduanes which faces the Pacific Ocean is a former radar site of the Japanese Imperial Navy during the Second World War. The St Augustine Cathedral in Cagayan de Oro, built in 1845, was destroyed by the bombings made by American liberation forces in 1945. Clark Airbase was the largest overseas US military base in the world. Davao is said to be typhoon-free all year round. The Gloria Arroyo government proclaims that ‘together, we can beat the odds.’

Trivial information at first glance but hopefully quite enough to stir the curiosity of citizens and visitors about the country’s colonial history, maldevelopment in the past century, misgovernance in the past decade, ideas for military tactics, and the negative impact of climate change. Not bad for an inflight magazine whose primary traditional objective is to complement the “class consciousness of frequent travelers.”

Still, Smile is a poor alternative to a decent book which passengers are advised to bring during the shorthaul flights of CebuPac. That said, Smile is the country’s only domestic inflight magazine which passengers can easily smuggle out of planes.

Related artices:

Travel tips, habits
Go Green?
Shortage of runways?

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