By Jullie Y. Daza
On Nov. 28, the South China Morning Post reported: “Xi’s ‘toilet revolution’ goes nationwide.” And how 68,000 public toilets were refurbished, with another 47,000 to be built and 17,000 rehabilitated over the next two years.
Three days later, Health Secretary Francisco Duque was quoted as saying that more Filipinos have mobile phones than those with toilets.
In their own ways, Messrs. Xi and Duque were marking another World Toilet Day, one day (Nov. 19) in the world’s calendar of important events and reminders. Who needs to be reminded of a shortage of toilets in our public buildings, parks, schools, hospitals, and tourist spots? But then, it’s easy to forget that outside the cities and urbanized areas, not many Filipino families have access to water for their toilets, let alone clean water for drinking and cooking.
The toilet revolution, according to President Xi, is one step toward improving conditions in China’s tourism industry. China has a population of 1.3 billion, but it was visited last year by 3.1 billion foreign tourists, who had to hold their breath and cover their nose when they toured the Great Wall, ancient temples, and other attractions. Not only is the visitor’s sense of smell afflicted, her eyes are not used to the “old-style” latrines that dot the countryside and out-of-the-way towns. And yet, China’s airports, even those far from the most major of major cities, are ultrasophisticated in the efficiency of their toilets, from running hot and cold water to automatic flushing and changing of paper seatcovers.
Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo recently named Mina Gabor as one of the “Women of Significance,”citing in particular her “bring home a friend” promo, but I doubt if she mentioned Ms. Gabor’s under-the-radar campaign, one that favored the ladies and urged gasoline stations located along the highways to take the lead in sprucing up their toilets. A baby step it was, but it pulled in the cooperation of LGUs, heritage sites, restaurants, shopping centers, churches, etc. One could argue that China’s uncomfortable comfort rooms never once diminished its charms, but then tourists tend to be more understanding of a country with a 5,000-year-old civilization.