A summer of sacred cows

Patricio N. Abinales
A summer of sacred cows
'Awards and headlines can make you forget that the public will respect you more if you also recognize that as a human being, you are capable of erring.But that is really difficult for public personae to accept these days.'

I suspect it must be those never-ending awards that folks receive which make them think that they can get away with wayward comments – an off-the-cuff remark or written as part of the text. After all, the assumption is you are given that award for being a good human being. It does not take much then for you to assume that that goodwill never fades in spite of the spurious or xenophobic comments you blurt out in public.

So Gawad Kalinga (GK) founder Antonio “Tito Tony” Meloto thought he could extemporize in a luncheon at Honolulu celebrating the 40th anniversary of the University of Hawaii’s Center for Philippine Studies, on a favorite theme about brown Filipinas being a great resource to lure in white investors. (Only white investors? What about the more liquid Chinese and Japanese?) He apparently expected listeners to just laugh or smile at this insider joke. But the CPS saw something else and issued a statement bemoaning the Tito Tony’s remarks as sexist comments. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the Center’s executive committee and was there when Meloto gave his offhand blurb.)

The responses from both Meloto legions of local and international supporters and a smaller group of feminists, activists, academics back home were passionate and hard-hitting (alas hardly any strident complaint from the normally carping cabal of “progressive” Filipino-Americans). Social media took over and the debate took a life of its own. The Center’s website, for example, registered the first ever over-a-hundred hits since set up a few years back; something unprecedented since the site is rarely visited even by some of its members. The passion, anger, hurt, irritation, delight were evident in the ripostes and counter-ripostes, but there were also less fervent voices, two of which were by two friends and colleagues: Tony La Vina, and Guy Estrada-Claudio.

The firestorm compelled Meloto to issue a statement explaining his side of the story, reminding readers of the “Filipino Dream” that GK is trying to build and make come true.

Gawad Kalinga founder Tony Meloto. Screengrab from YouTube

However, an apology there was none, nor was there any straightforward denial that he made the remark.  Why? I could only surmise it comes from a belief that as one rises in stature, one becomes more and more immune to criticism. For acknowledging fault, especially from criticism of much-despised “ivory tower” ignoramuses, was like stepping down from the sacred pantheon to mingle with small secular minds. That is not what is expected of Gods and Good Men. 

And apparently of writers who believed they are sacred, too.

Last June 6, National Artist F. Sionil Jose went again on a racist rant warning readers that Filipino-Chinese could be the fifth column that would be activated when the Philippines and China go to war. He put fear in readers by declaring that a time will come when our very own Tsinoys will most likely betray us to China because of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) problem. For deep down Tsinoys – even if they were born here – are and will always be loyal to the old country. 

Jose’s column elicited a lot of angry and pained response from readers, especially Tsinoys, and they are a good read. But the best riposte is from a former colleague and a dear friend, Caroline S. Hau, who took Jose to task for being careless, lazy, and, of course, racist. 

Hau writes:

This is not the first time Jose has been trying to incite his readers to do something about and against the “many of our ethnic Chinese [who he is sure] will side with China.” In 1999 and 2000, he published a series of newspaper articles castigating “disloyal” Chinese who remit their money to China (Jose does not distinguish between remittance and investment) and continue to be loyal to the mainland (Jose does not give any statistics to show what percentage of ethnic Chinese is “loyal” to China). In the event of anti-Chinese violence, Jose preferred to pin the blame on the “Chinese [,who] have willed it [the bloody pogrom] with their contempt for Filipinos, their continued loyalty to the Mainland.” Jose also called for putting “them all in prison camps,” seizing or freezing their assets and treating “them as the enemy.”

The Nazi pogroms to eliminate the Jews, 21st-century Philippine edition. 

My one-peso addition to Carol’s piece is to speculate that perhaps Jose wants the Philippines to catch up with other countries in Southeast Asia, which were notorious for their brutal treatment of their Chinese nationals. There was Indonesia in 1965 and again in 1998; Malaysia in 1964; Vietnam in 1977-78, with the boat people. Then there was also Rama VI’s reference to the Sino-Thais as the “Jews of the East.” Jose perhaps fears that we are not anti-Chinese enough and have come to accept the fact that Tsinoys are Pinoys, as scholars from Wang Gung Wu, Edgar Wickberg, and Hau have shown. (Hau’s new book is The Chinese Question: Ethnicity, Nation and Region in and beyond the Philippines, published by Ateneo Press). 

This raises the question: does Jose still update himself frequently on the scholarship? I am inclined to answer in the negative.

There is no record yet of Jose responding to these comments, as of this writing. Then again, maybe this is too much to expect of him. He is, after all, a National Artist; he serves honorable causes (the nation) and the race (Malay Pinoys?). What is Hau but a mere OFW writing from afar? So why listen to the whining of the plebeian and – hesusmariahosep, God forbid –  the Intsik (Chinese) seriously? Indeed, why condescend when you are already way up there?

This is what awards and headlines can do to you. They make you forget that the public will respect you more if you also recognize that as a human being, you are capable of erring. And that you come out of a mess you made a much better person if you own up to your shortcomings.

But that is really difficult for public personae to accept these days. Heck, even the most corrupt of politicians claim they have God on their side as they clean the country’s Augean stables. So why can’t home builders and book owners do the same thing? –

Patricio N. Abinales is an OFW

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