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If you want to learn the real impact and lessons learnt from the Philippines bus

hijacking on the 23 Aug 2010, then you will want to read this article. Specific
ally we’ll cover the role and impact of the media, the heightened awareness create
d by the event, wildly varied responses and the impact it has on travelers. Afte
r you read this article, you should have a more balanced and informed view of th
e situation that will help you determine “Is it safe to travel to the Philippines?”
The media played a pivotal role in the event as it occurred but what is more imp
ortant is the legacy of the event and how it will influence the future. This may
seem obvious but there is more to the story. Due to the fact, there was no atte
mpt or control of the media throughout the incident, not only were live events b
eamed around the world but thanks to the online video explosion in recent years,
this event will be referenced and recalled unlike similar incidents for years t
o come. Some commentators have already predicted that the catastrophic assault w
ill become the global doctrine for military and police forces on “how not to assau
lt a hostage filled bus.”
Conventional media broadcasting coupled with the greater penetration of social m
edia has guaranteed that this event has affected far more people than any simila
r, historical example. Hong Kong is a very interconnected society with high tech
nology ownership and usage. So much so, this event was broadcast live across the
country in public areas on screens ranging from private hand phones to large bu
ilding size public screens in the middle of shopping centers. Entire shopping di
stricts stood in silence and starred as the tragic events unfolded. In this case
, it would be a better question to ask “who did not see it?” This tragedy has cut th
e very core of a country’s social heart on a new and disturbing level.
Few people who travel to the Philippines, particularly leisure, are fully aware
of the threats. Widespread access to firearms, internal low-level conflicts, vio
lent crimes, targeting of specific ethnic groups and many more. However. much li
ke a shark attack report, that grips every swimmer with dread and the potential
to over react to the real threat, this event has amplified the minority while ov
ershadowing the majority. You are still at greater risk of a bus crash in the Ph
ilippines than being boarded by a hostile gunman and shot dead. Fact! It seems t
hat the elements of the government are equally less aware.
The Hong Kong government’s total and specific ban to the Philippines is baseless a
nd more political than measured. The current government advisory indicates that
countries like Indonesia, Thailand and Pakistan have “signs of threat” and recommend
s monitoring and caution. Whereas the Philippines, the only country in this cate
gory, is labelled “severe threat” and advice states “avoid all travel.” This act has bro
ught the well meaning government advisory intent into disrepute. There is a soci
al demand to respond to this event but over stating and manipulating the advisor
y destroys the confidence and use of such advisories. It will not be held credib
le or trusted in the future. It also forces other nationalities to question just
how emotive, censored or adversely influence are their own government advisorie
There is a bigger concern, unrealized by many as a result of the government advi
sory. Many, if not all insurance policies base their assessment and policy stand
ard on government threat levels. It is a far from effective, let alone perfect,
approach but the prevailing practice none-the-less. This means, that if a govern
ment declares a travel ban to location or country, all travel policies tied to t
hat threat level are affected. This means, there are people traveling, or potent
ially traveling with a null-and-void agreement or suspended travel insurance pol
icy. How many travelers or corporate travel managers know about this affect?
When terrorists attacked the London underground and buses, how many countries ba
nned all travel to London or the UK? When thousands were killed and displaced du
e to an earthquake in Sichuan province (China) how many countries banned all tra
vel to China? When terrorists attacked a hotel in central Jakarta (Indonesia) ho
w many countries banned all travel to Indonesia? Hong Kong didn’t, why now? Even t
he Mumbai attacks were treated more rationally than this event. This is due larg
ely due to media coverage, social impact, depth and breadth of community affecte
d and the violence of action witnessed live.
This event puts us all at risk. Criminals and terrorists calculate how affective
the emergency services, police and military will be in countering or stopping t
heir plans. They have to make an educated guess unless they have firm evidence o
n just how competent these positive blockers are in fulfilling their duties. Eve
ryone now knows just how capable the police were in this instance. Others, who m
ay have been deterred in acting in a similar fashion, will potentially be embold
en to act now they know they have a greater chance of success. Conversely, those
that have been looking for “a way” to get their issue heard and grab the headlines,
now have pre-tested marketing plan laid out for them. How many incidents involv
ing buses, attacks on tourists or violent crimes will we now see in the Philippi
nes and around the world? Following the Mumbai attacks, we saw at least 3 simila
r attacks and many others prevented. Similar threats remain a concern for many t
o this day and beyond.
There is no reason to cancel all travel to the Philippines for either business o
r leisure purposes. Some will cancel travel plans because of this misunderstandi
ng, unnecessarily. Social media and conventional media are great tools but the p
opularity of any given issue should not determine the gravity of response. A sin
gle violent man created this situation and his actions alone lead to the loss of
life and suffering, not the police. No one is perfect and for the most part the
emergency services within the Philippines do the very best they can with what t
hey have but they do have shortfalls and you need to be aware and prepared for t
he consequences. Governments have the interest and concerns of the entire popula
tion in mind when they set any benchmarks. Broad-spectrum advice will never suit
the few, the prepared or special circumstances. The true risk to travelers is b
ased on the individual’s preparation, activity while traveling, support available,
ability to respond to events and location visited. If assessed specifically and
consistently, you too will determine that travel to the Philippines remains no
more/less risky than it was prior before this event. Despite what some may have
lead you to believe. Travel safely!

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