Azkals: Victors or Victims?

Voltaire Tupaz
Netizens discuss racism in the country yet again. Does it really exist?

MANILA, Philippines – The Azkals have recently emerged as victors at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup playoffs in Nepal. But when they arrived in the Philippines, they were given a “victim’s” welcome following the “They-are-not-Filipinos” remark made by GMA 7 news anchor Arnold Clavio. 

The comment enraged Azkals fans.


Others raised the racism card, sparking debate about Filipino identity. 

Crowdsourcing identity

Was it a “sexist, racist, or lookist” remark, columnist Jessica Zafra asked, in effect dissecting the nuances of the controversy. 

Zafra observed that public opinion on Clavio’s remark has veered away from the sexual harassment complaint filed by former Philippine Olympic Committee president Cristy Ramos against Azkals Lexton Moy and Angel Guirado.

“Clavio’s outburst is unfortunate because it’s diverted the discussion from sexual harassment, an issue that has not been discussed intelligently in our country because it triggers wildly emotional responses,” Zafra said.

However, Zafra recognized how the controversy has paved the way for Filipinos to revisit their identity, asking the question: “What IS a Filipino?”

Zafra ended with a quip: “Maybe the problem is not racism or sexism but lookism. Could it be that the reaction to Clavio’s statement is so passionate because he’s…uhh…because he umm…because he doesn’t look like the Azkals?”

Filipinos don’t know what racism is

Meanwhile, GMA News online blogger Katrina Stuart Santiago raised the question on whether Filipinos understand racism to begin with.

“One truth about racism is that we Filipinos apparently don’t know what it means,” Santiago wrote.

Santiago explained that Filipinos “have trivialized it no end, using it to describe any statement that highlights the Azkals’ difference from the rest of us who (1) are kayumanggi, i.e., are brown-skinned, (2) are Pinoys who grew up here, and (3) share common values and concerns based on, not necessarily just because of, numbers (1) and (2).”

“The history of the term will tell you it is about white supremacist ideology,” Santiago added.

However, a statement entitled “a short collective response to Katrina Santiago” circulated, rebuffing Santiago’s contention and branding it as a “borderline racist idea.” 

“Arnold Clavio was clearly asserting the belief that his race (Filipino) and colour (a clear reference to kayumanggi) were superior to the Azkals – brushing aside the fact that all the Azkals were tarred by him with the same brush because they did not stop the alleged ‘sexual harassment’ and that they are actually Filipino – the elephant in the room – please can we point out that Lexton Moy and Angel Guirado are very different colours,” the statement said.

But the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) thinks Clavio’s comment may have promoted “brown-skin chauvinism.”

“While many Filipinos, and not only the Azkal team members, are of multi-racial origin, and that being Filipino is not a matter of skin color, some viewers and listeners may have been misled into thinking otherwise in a rare case of ‘my-brown-skin-is more-Filipino-than-yours’ chauvinism. Clavio should be more careful because he also anchors GMA-7′s news program Saksi. Clavio should go beyond pleading for understanding and should forthwith apologize, and so should GMA-7,” CMFR said in a statement.

In his show, Clavio asked for understanding. GMA 7 defended Clavio and asserted it saw nothing “racist, discriminatory, libelous, or malicious” in his commentary.

AZKALS. Are they victims of racial discrimination?

No such thing

As far as the government is concerned, racism is a non-issue.

The Philippines is a signatory to the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

The Convention defined “racial discrimination” as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”

In its 2008 periodic report to a UN body implementing the ICERD, the Philippines made an official stand stating that “Racial discrimination is alien to the prevailing mores and culture of the Filipino People.”

It added: “Racial discrimination has never officially or factually existed in the Philippines, neither in a systemic nor formal nor intermittent nor isolated manner” because “Filipinos have essentially the same racial and ethnic origins.”

Expressing concern over such statement, the UN body issued the following concluding remarks: “While the denial of the existence of formal racial discrimination might be acceptable, the Committee wishes to note that even well intentioned or neutral policies may directly or indirectly have negative or undesired effects on race relations and lead to de facto discrimination. The Committee reiterates its observations that no country can claim that racial discrimination is nonexistent in its territory, and that an acknowledgment of the existence of the phenomenon is a necessary precondition for the fight against discrimination.” –

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