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Mar 31

You’re right

Reyna elena dot com is absolutely correct to take me to task for presuming to catalog people without their permission, something Victorina attributes to a cultural disconnect. Both are absolutely correct: my criticism of those criticizing Chip Tsao was arrogant: unthinking, unfeeling, and unpardonable on my part, because, while entitled to my own opinion, there was absolutely no justification for me to make a sweeping judgment about my countrymen. A negative judgment based on nothing more than my own writerly biases: in other words, a bigoted, prejudiced comment fully deserving of condemnation.

Every reader makes up his or her own mind about whatever it is they read; your opinion is as good as mine; and when enough are of the same opinion, well, if there’s smoke, there’s fire.

That Hong Kong columnist deeply offended many Filipinos and instead of castigating my countrymen, I should have recognized the outrage as a manifestation of our collective sensibility, grounded in deep grievances about what drives so many of us to work overseas, under degrading circumstances, and in the face of often insurmountable obstacles that get in the way of securing a decent, dignified, place in the world for so many of us.

I had no right to pass a dismissive, disparaging judgment on fellow Filipinos, merely because they hold an opinion contrary to mine. Not all of us write, but all of us read, and each one is capable of rendering judgment on matters of taste or the lack of it, concerning anything they read. The writer has a particular responsibility to trust the reader, and if a reader reacts in a particular way, one must accept criticism just as one would accept praise.

I thank these two bloggers in particular for putting me in my place, and I hope they will accept this apology, which I extend not only to them, but to anyone offended by my comment on FaceBook.

For what it’s worth, and purely in the spirit of fostering discussion, let me put forward some of my views concerning satire in general, and Chip Tsao’s piece in particular.

I personally believe that we are a nation born of satire, because it was one of the most effective weapons used by our Founding Fathers as they waged two campaigns: first, to convince their countrymen that they were precisely that, a people with a country they should call their own; and second, to assert before all peoples in all climes, that we are a people the equal of any in the world.

That satire was, at times, quite funny, at other times, quite cruel; that satire lampooned Filipinos and foreigners alike, and Filipinos who had a prejudice against their own countrymen that matched, or even exceeded, the prejudice held by foreigners. It didn’t matter if the satirical pen wielded by our Founding Fathers produced sophisticated or crude, tasteful or rude, pleasant or revolting prose. The point is, they used it, and in particular, the two novels that are in a sense, the founding documents of our country, were satirical works meant to hold up a mirror to reveal, as Rizal put it, the social cancer afflicting the Philippines of his time: and he knew full well the fate in store for those who dare to hold up mirrors for others to see themselves in, whether they want to or not. It got him shot; and before that, it got his books banned and garnered imprisonment and exile for those who dared, not even to take up arms against the authorities, but to laugh at them.

If we hold up as heroes those who wielded their pens -often cruelly- and as much against their own countrymen as the foreign officials and churchmen they opposed, I don’t see how we can deny others the right to take up their pens and do unto others as our heroes have done unto ourselves (for they continue to hold up that mirror to every generation that bothers to re-read what they’ve written). I also don’t see how we can call for the same intolerance -to the extent of demanding some sort of retribution, or even cruel and unusual punishment- when it comes to opinions that we find deeply offensive.

The Founding Fathers fought words with words, opinions with contrary opinions, and demanded of those whom they viewed as prejudiced and bigoted nothing more or less than a fair hearing, a chance to rebut their arguments, and an opportunity to disprove wrong facts with true ones. All the while being careful to point out what they most definitely could not and would never tolerate: silencing dissent with force of arms, and the kind of fanaticism that led to Inquisitions and book-burnings.

To my mind we have a kind of historical obligation to recognize that, perhaps more so than many other countries but at least as much as some countries familiar to us, we are a people and a country that owe our very existence to the commitment of writers to challenge, irritate, offend, and outrage others.

It is for this reason that I oppose our existing sedition and libel laws; and calls for declaring people persona non grata may be all right in places like Singapore, but I think such blacklists have no place in a country whose national hero was once blacklisted on the basis of his writings.

And it for related reasons that I opposed demands for Justice Cruz or Malou Fernandez to resign: it would have been a kind of censorship.

At the same time, every reader has a right, indeed, a duty to react to anything that a writer puts forward and with which the reader disagrees. And, if the writer and his publisher are dependent on the public for their livelihood, the public has a right to take its business elsewhere if its objections remain unheeded by writer and publisher.

Now, with regards to Chip Tsao’s piece, I approached his piece with these questions in mind.

Was he presenting his own opinions, or was he writing a satirical piece? There is a difference between writing, “I, Chip Tsao, think the Philippines is a nation of servants,” and putting those words in someone’s mouth for effect, which is what satire is. It seemed to me that what he was trying to do, is to put on paper what you or I might do when making fun of someone by assuming the character of an exaggerated blowhard. This assumes, of course, that the reader knows he does this on a regular basis; a flawed assumption as it turned out (would it have been different if every single statement that caused Filipinos offense, was attributed to a fictional character who employed a Filipina? Perhaps; it might also have given Tsao a way out).

Was the point of the piece to slander Filipinos or to take Tsao’s fellow Chinese to task? I thought that his main purpose was to paint a highly unflattering picture of his fellow Chinese as cowardly chauvinists who wouldn’t dare tangle with anyone except the Filipinos, and only because the Filipinos happened to be in a financially dependent situation. Chip Tsao in blowhard mode, doesn’t dare question the Russians but happily picks on Filipinos, as do all his household-help-employing Chinese chums. The picture he paints of these employers is a disgraceful one: they have no problems with underpaying and overworking Filipinos, and then they castigate them for daring to assert their country’s sovereignty; the treatment he describes is fully in keeping with the brainwashing and bullying the Chinese themselves endured during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. The whole thing is an indictment of the false sense of superiority of modern-day, wealthy Chinese, who forget, not so long ago, “No dogs and Chinese” signs were posted in Hong Kong (similar signs were posted in Manila), that once upon a time the Chinese provided coolie labor for the world, and that poverty was endemic in Hong Kong and all of China not so long ago, either.

I don’t know if I’d go as far as Indolent Indio, who says Tsao’s on our side; I would definitely go as far as to point out his primary target was his fellow Chinese; that he took them to task for acting like the kind of arrogant Western colonizers the Chinese used to hate; and what’s worse, they’re being prejudiced to fellow Asians while the Chinese remain meek in the face of say, the Russians. What I think happened was that he failed to consider that not everyone would consider his portrayal of a Filipina as either warranted or permissible. Connie Veneracion, pointing to this piece, doesn’t think Tsao holds Filipinos in affection; I think the most he did was simply to make a nod at the wretched working conditions of many Filipinos but that from first to last, the main focus of his attentions -because they are also his readers- are his fellow Chinese.

But this was the root of my folly: to step into his shoes, to the extent that what took over was a feeling of solidarity as a writer, forgetting my first duty to always uphold solidarity with my countrymen. In the end, much as I happen to feel positive about anyone who dares to challenge his fellow Chinese and their monolithic, increasingly aggressive state, that is Tsao’s fight and not mine.

Some blogs and their own take on the whole thing: Ricky Carandang; The Marocharim Experiment; baratillo @ cubao; The Tao of Pao; Manila Bay Watch.

114 comments

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  1. Angel C. de Dios

    TonGuE-tWisTeD wrote, “Satire, written competently, need no explanations.”

    Please read the book “Satire: Spirit and Art” by George Austin Test (you could preview this on Google Scholar) – The following is a sentence from this book:

    “….Perhaps that is because satire in the minds of many people is misunderstood….”

  2. TonGuE-tWisTeD

    No need to educate me. You may need it more than I do.

  3. Angel C. de Dios

    Ken Kamoche of Daily Nation (Kenya) has joined the discussion.

    And NY Times Ben Schott has now added “Nation of Servants” to his Vocab.

  4. Alraz

    Another blogger, unnamed, wrote this different aspect of Chip Tsaos column

    http://streetstrategist.blogspot.com/

    Besides, language, this piece has some interesting statistics.

  5. Angel C. de Dios

    Thank you for sharing the link below:

    http://streetstrategist.blogspot.com/

    These are much more thoughtful (as opposed to a knee-jerk type) responses, in my opinion.

  6. ramrod

    dodong must not be living in the Philippines, if he is, maybe in Mandaluyong (loob).

    How would any decent domestic here and abroad take this uproar in their defence seriously? Lets look at reality here? How much are we paying our domestics locally? slave wages right? how much are the HK domestics being paid? In my opinion, these so called defenders are hypocrites. Can we honsetly say we are treating our domestics better here than abroad? Can we clean up our backyards first before commenting on others’?

    On being insensitive to other races? Have you ever been in an elevator with Filipinos and Indians? Almost always you’ll hear snickers from our Pinoys, as if its not obvious that they are poking fun at the unique aroma coming from some armpits, even daring to talk about it in tagalog for all to hear.
    Observe a person with polio walking, almost always you’ll see/hear a fellow Filipino make fun of him.

    Insecurities are for people with egos small enough for others to step on, thats where the childish tantrums or outcries come in handy. We can take the high road, shake it off, and work harder, work better, smarter, and quietly succeed…do a better job than anyone else to make way for fellow Filipinos…
    If we listen to these pretenders/hypocrites, we’ll never mature, as someone pointed out we will always be “a nation of hecklers.”
    Deeds count more than words…

  7. ramrod

    I believe Manolo was sincere in his apology and this picking on him by another blog should stop. Regardless of what others say about him, I believe he has BALLS, and he stands for what is right.
    …unfortunately he is much smarter than some people, is that a fault?

  8. d0d0ng

    Ramrod on, “Lets look at reality here? How much are we paying our domestics locally? slave wages right? how much are the HK domestics being paid? Can we honsetly say we are treating our domestics better here than abroad? Can we clean up our backyards first before commenting on others?”

    Ramrod, you wanted us to look at reality and yet you and others (like http://streetstrategist.blogspot.com/) failed miserably to grasp the economic reality of between Hongkong and Philippines in terms of earnings and so the wide disparity in countries’ ability to pay corresponding wages. In addition, you are imputing that such low scale ability to pay in the Philippines is maltreatment. Perhaps, the treatment is better left at Mandaluyong mental to which you were very familiar with.

    The bottomline, economic difficulties in the Philippines is not a reason to fall silent and accept human indignities from a foreign writer. In essence, you believe that a poor person has no human dignity to begin with until he can succeed. It is clearly wrong and lacking maturity either.

  9. d0d0ng

    below is the excerpt lifted from posting at
    http://schott.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/09/nation-of-servants/

    Starting with James Fallows’ 1987 Atlantic article, “A Damaged Culture,” Filipinos have been thrust (often by their own intellectuals) into a sort of national inferiority complex by the foreign press. These protests were step in the right direction.

    As a long-time foreign resident, I am actually quite proud of my adopted countrymen’s refusal to sit back and take it. God bless Pinoy pride.

    Weldon McCarty
    Manila, Philippines

  10. d0d0ng

    http://streetstrategist.blogspot.com/

    From a Filipino who lived in Hongkong for more than a decade and yet do not understand the disincentive Hongkong policy to set a higher wage minimum for foreign workers. The local protectionist policy is taken literally as protection of foreign workers as opposed to employing its own citizen from mainland China without any minimum requirement.

    His “love of satires and hate of hypocrisy” is a better cover to his misguided subservience to a foreign country for its mistaken policy. He described in detail everything wrong with Philippines, subtly speaks his own inferiority complex ready to laugh at his and his own country’s expense.

    If that is not enough already, he offered his low self-esteem and self-inflicted injury that “the reason there are no Filipina domestic servants in the US, Canada, Germany, Japan, Switzerland and similar First World countries, is not because the Philippines does not want to export its servants there but because they do not accept Filipinas as servants.” The true reason for not having a Filipina as servants has nothing to do with particular race but there is just no employment petition category for foreign domestic helper.

    People start at misconceptions and assumes them as gospel truth.

  11. Diego Jurado

    I have this Cantonese friend who went to Boracay. Coming back home to HK she posted on facebook: “Back from the Philippines, I’m so dark I look like a maid”.

    A couple months after the Philippine trip she went to Thailand. I just had to ask her what she looked like as a result of her Bangkok weekend. “What else but a prostitute”, was her answer. Hilarious. So…what’s worse? None of our Thai friends freaked out about her very public comment, just like I didn’t freak out about her “maid’s tan”.

    I’m not in any way defending Tsao but I think it must be pointed out that Pinoys have been reacting so strongly to what he said in one article when the snobbery at home, here in the country, is just as, if not more intense. It’s certainly ubiquitous. I’m sure some of you were discouraged by your parents to be behavioral equals of your household help. Who here wasn’t raised to be more educated, have better table manners, speak better, in general not act like maids? Who here isn’t guilty of ever thinking, “she looks like a maid/he looks like a driver”? Seriously. Does it hurt more when a non-Filipino speaks of our realities?

    How about the uproar over that actress who, after filming in the country, commented that Manila was “filthy, polluted, a slum city”. Some of the indignant people were a bunch of my Mom’s friends, upper-class, educated, ersatz aristocrats. Mom and I couldn’t figure out what their problem was. Were they contesting the fact that Manila IS filthy, polluted, and slummy? Can ANYONE deny it? Or were they pissed off because some foreign cunt vocalized these truths? It’s as if this actress (who she is is completely incidental) was violating a gag order by describing the city.

    What I think is that we as a people are pathologically melodramatic; it cripples us. So much time and energy are wasted wallowing on shit that at best gives our realities a cheap, trivial, and temporary varnish and at worst keeps us just the way we are. Sinking.

  12. Diego Jurado

    ……as he calls this a country of maids I realize that I and many of my kind grew up in environments that believed and declared “Chino, cochino”. I would really be a hypocrite for thinking he shouldn’t be calling us a country of criadas when I unapologetically and stubbornly believe they’re all cochinos, whether from China, HK, Taiwan, Singapore, Chinatown [insert country here].

    If you were brought up in a similar environment you know what I mean. If you weren’t, then you won’t ever understand.

    The point is, he’s no worse than me and my people.

  13. Diego Jurado

    MLQ3 I cringe when I imagine the pressure you must have felt to apologize for that comment you made about Pinoys and their obvious mastery of satire. Too bad you can’t stick to your guns protected by the shield of anonymity.

  14. taxj

    If it hurts, it should. If it doesn’t, good for you. If it’s true, be thankful. Love your enemies, they tell you your faults.
    If it’s untrue, so what? Does an unjust accusation diminish our stature in anyway? If it does, it should. It shows how fragile we are. I WAS for the ban. Thanks Manolo, and all the other commenters.

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