MANILA - Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. on Wednesday said too much media discussion on the alleged ''tanim-bala'' (bullet-planting) scam only hurts the interests of the country.
Speaking at the weekly forum at the Luneta Hotel, Jimenez said reports on the "tanim-bala" demonstrate the media's tendency to discuss issues "to death until it actually injures our own interest."
"I am very concerned on both ends of it -- not only because it is a symptom of corruption that we have yet to uproot, it is also a symptom that sometimes as a country we don't know when to stop talking about something," he said.
Jimenez said, from the perspective of the tourism industry, too much news on "tanim-bala" is like "self-flagellation."
"We have this tremendous capacity for self-injury. Of course, it is making our competitors happy."
Jimenez claimed it is only in the Philippines, where the press enjoys relative freedom despite the numerous cases of extrajudicial killings, where travel advisories from other countries are being reported.
"Travel advisories are private communications between one government and its citizens," he said.
"The Philippines is the only country where we broadcast travel advisories to the whole world. In other countries, it is handled very subtly and quietly."
Jimenez said the crisis hounding the country's premier airport has not had a negative impact on the country's image as a tourist destination so far, even though the controversy has already caught the attention of several major international news outfits.
"The reality of it is, in real terms outside the country, it hasn't really had that negative effect yet. In other words, you do not have massive cancellations, et cetera, as a result of it," he said.
"But it is a cause for concern precisely because you see that some of our countrymen -- and this is true not just for the offenders, but for some of the people who talk about this issue -- we have huge segments of our society who still have not gotten it into their heads... that there are over 6 million Filipinos who depend on tourism for their livelihood."
Jimenez said the Philippines is much more equipped now in dealing with image problems than in the past because of the administration's efforts to market the country.
"[We] work doubly harder to make sure that the larger reality of the Philippines being an excellent place to visit is the one that comes across," he said, when asked how the tourism department intends to cushion the impact of the scam on the country's image.
"Noong araw, iyung image natin was dictated by what was in the news. Hindi tayo nagma-marketing as a country. Now, we have a continuous image program for the Philippines so even when we have this problem, para na tayong Thailand, we get past it. We don't let up now. We don't stop our investment on our image."
Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya earlier said the Philippine government started investigating since Day 1 reports of the alleged scam.
READ: How does the 'tanim-bala' scam work?
He said airport authorities recorded 1,214 cases of passengers carrying bullets in 2012. He said the cases include empty bullets as souvenirs, necklaces, and anting-antings or amulets.
He said the number increased to 2,184 in 2013 and dropped to 1,813 in 2014. As of October 2015, airport authorities have so far recorded 1,394 cases of passengers carrying bullets.
Abaya noted that there is a declining trend in passengers carrying bullets at the four terminals of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport: 977 in 2012; 2,035 in 2013; 1,510 in 2014; and 1,212 so far this year.
The transportation secretary noted that the actual number of cases is only about 0.008 percent of the total number of passengers leaving the country every year.
"It appears that the cases have been blown out of proportion. Let us be mindful that when allegations cast aspersions on all, it is not far-fetched to think that some of those tasked with our security will suffer from lower morale. This will be a disservice to all," he said in a recent press conference.