Not reporting

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on March 3, 2009

When I watch the Asian weather report every morning on CNN International, the temperature forecast for Manila is invariably missing. Alongside capital cities on a regional map are little black flags with the forecast temperature displayed. But in Manila’s case, the little black flag is empty just about every morning. In fact, I can’t recall if the forecast temperature has ever been displayed in that little black flag.

This used to incense me because I assumed that CNN International didn’t consider the Philippines important enough to include in the morning forecast. But then one morning the person delivering the forecast pointed to the empty black flag beside Manila and said something to the effect that, “We don’t know what the temperature is in Manila because Manila isn’t reporting. That’s why the flag is blank.”

I don’t know what processes are involved in Manila reporting its forecast to CNN International, but it must not be too difficult since generally every other Asian city does it every morning. So I can only assume that the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) has chosen more or less purposely not to participate with other similar regional and global agencies in reporting their forecast.

“Gee, how typical,” I thought to myself when the announcer explained why the Philippine forecast is always missing from the weather report. “We’ve purposely chosen not to engage,” I mused. By typical, I was referring to the Philippine government’s steadfast refusal to proactively communicate the positive attributes of this country, in the way that our regional neighbors have so effectively and with such dramatic impact on investment and tourism.

As you know, the Philippines receives a fraction of the investment other regional economies get, and tourism is pretty much the same story. I don’t want to over simplify the reasons for such poor performance, but a big part of the reason is that investors and tourists don’t consider places they don’t know about or have at least a somewhat positive image of in their minds. There are just too many other options.

Imagine an investment map of Asia, rather than a weather map. Beside Indonesia, which has many problems but still manages to communicate an attractive image to investors, the little black flag is brimming with data about infrastructure, government support, the local market, the cost of doing business, and other information that is typically important to investors. The little flag beside the Philippines, however, is almost blank because Manila is “not reporting.”

I got to thinking about the Philippine propensity for “not reporting” as a result of an entirely unrelated experience during a recent trip to the US. While visiting Washington DC, a groups of us decided to drive up for the weekend to New York City. We left early one bright and blustery Saturday morning, aided by one of the ubiquitous global positioning satellite (GPS) navigators you see everywhere in the US and many other markets.

Manufactured by Kansas-based Garmin, I couldn’t help but be amazed by the little device. Even on roads under construction, it seemed to know exactly how we should maneuver, advising my sister-in-law to do such things as “bear right” and “turn left in 10 meters.” So I was dismayed when after a stopover in Delaware, the little device suffered a data crash of some sort, and became useless.

Since none of us knew New York City well, this was cause for concern. So I decided to pull out my Blackberry 8800 and see how well its GPS and Maps function worked. It turns out that it works marvelously, with the exception that the GPS mode quickly drains the battery. Using the GPS function, I determined our “current position” as we neared New York City. The Directions function gave me the precise directions we needed to get to the Warwick Hotel on West 54th Street where we were staying.

Although I’ve been driving around Manila for close to 30 years, I can think of a number of ways such a GPS service would be useful here. Unfortunately, neither Garmin nor Research in Motion, which manufacturers the Blackberry, provides maps for the Philippines. They do support other regional places, though, including Indonesia. And when I checked Nokia’s Map service, the website shows Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Thailand. No Philippines.

As usual, the Philippines is not reporting. And whose fault is that?

Update

This column originally appeared in the February issue of ComputerWorld Philippines . Since then, I’ve downloaded Google Maps for Blackberry. Google Maps has recently been updated by Filipino users working with Google Map Maker. The work they do building Philippine map tiles has recently been pushed out to Google Maps with the result that the maps have great improved in terms of coverage and accuracy (Disclosure: Google is a client of mind.). While I still can’t get directions to places using Google Maps, I can use Google Maps to navigate to places, as I did to Rosario, Batangas recently as regular readers know. Google Maps also has the advantage of satellite view, so even though there are no directions, you can actually see the area and the roads your navigating. It’s cool.

One other update: When I was watching the weather forecast on CNN International this morning, Manila was reporting.

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