A real howler

The Filipino Monkey story apparently involves a guy -or guys- who do the radio version of trolling and spamming:

Rick Hoffman, a retired captain who commanded the cruiser Hue City and spent many of his 17 years at sea in the Gulf was subject to the renegade radio talker repeatedly, often without pause during the so-called “Tanker Wars” of the late 1980s.

“For 25 years there’s been this mythical guy out there who, hour after hour, shouts obscenities and threats,” he said. “He could be tied up pierside somewhere or he could be on the bridge of a merchant ship.”

And the Monkey has stamina.

“He used to go all night long. The guy is crazy,” he said. “But who knows how many Filipino Monkeys there are? Could it have been a spurious transmission? Absolutely.”

Furthermore, Hoffman said radio signals have a way of traveling long distances in that area. “Under certain weather conditions I could hear Bahrain from the Strait of Hormuz.”

Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon, could not say if the voice belonged to the heckler.

“It”s an international circuit and we’ve said all along there were other ships and shore stations in the area,” he said.

The report above says the phenomenon has been reported as being around since the 1980s, and suggests it could be a deranged veteran from the heyday of the US bases in Clark and Subic. But the Navy Times seems to have gotten its facts wrong (see gCaptain.com link below).

The Americans, after all, composed this song:monkeys_zamboanga 1.mp3 (audio lifted from They Were Expendable, starring John Wayne)

Or, we ought to consider this, it could be a deranged Filipino, too. As the famous comedy_-_filipino_sex 1.mp3 audio file put it, a “Filipino pancit-eating mother hamper” (not work safe, not for kids, click the link at your own peril!) was the creation, more likely than not, of a Filipino, too.

In The Filipino Monkey Strikes Again (and again and again…), gCaptain.com gives the lowdown on what is, apparently, one of the occupational hazards for Filipinos manning the merchant vessels of the world:

First of all any seaman, military or commercial, can tell you their is no heckler know as the “Filipino Monkey”. Rather it’s a phrase that’s been uttered by thousands of mariners for decades. This harassing radio call with racial origins is made over the radio when a sailor hears the distinct accent of a Filipino mariner on the VHF radio. Why is it said? Mostly out of boredom but also for the simple reason that it is sure to get a heated response.

It also happens to be the bane of every Watch Officer’s existence; a joke that is no longer funny but refuses to die.

gCaptain then links to another blog, Tim’s Times, which gives a Filipino account of the practice:

The two tone alarm has gone again and this time it’s a pan pan from La Coruna Radio, other side of the Bay of Biscay. You wouldn’t mind so much if it was just the official users of VHF and MF radio that you had to contend with, but oh no there is every manner of animal sound, and jungle noise on the VHF from people who should not be on the radio, let alone a ship. One moron was calling out, “Gorilla from Manila, and Filipino monkey” my watchman who is from Manila laughed and said that it is often Indian’s who call this out to provoke a response from Filipinos, who say “Indian I can’t see you but I can smell you”. So childish and these guys are in charge of ships, frightening, and these days it is all being recorded, so you must be dealing with stupidity, says a lot for the profession…

Going back to gCaptain, he points to the US origins of the taunt (immortalized by Hollywood, as the audio file I linked to above, shows):

Initially I was shocked that a Navy ship, or any ship, could not have known the taunt was a joke. This is seamanship 101. I clearly remember having the taunt whispered in my ear by an upperclassmen during my plebe year that the Naval Academy and by the time I received my officers license I had heard it hundreds of time. How could the officers of the cruiser Port Royal not know this was a common joke? I’m admitting still confused but after hearing the audio file I must say it doesn’t sound like the typical ‘Filipino Monkey’ taunt.

Another blog, Cyborg’s Contemplative Corner, has this story:

My boyfriend S is as true blue a sailor as you can get, and there’s no greater joy for him than to pour over nautical maps and write captain’s logs. He would insist on keeping the radio on, tuned to the unencrypted frequency used by sailors to casually communicate with each other.

It was the first day of our voyage and on our radio channel we had picked up the conversation between two Pakistani sailors on different cargo ships who randomly contacted each other and then proceeding to chat. This was particularly interesting to me as I was the only one on our boat who understood Urdu so I listened intently as they spoke of their ships, where they were going, what food they got on the ships, what cargo they carried and so on.

And then suddenly, unexpectedly, it happened.

There was no mistaking what was being yelled –

“Filipino monkey! Filipino monkey!”

And so it went on five or six times more, before the sailors could recover from their conversation being so rudely interrupted.

And then one of the Pakistanis retorted

“You bastard, I’m not Filipino, I’m Pakistani”

But there was no stopping this fellow. On and on he went.

“Filipino monkey! Filipino monkey!”

The Pakistanis then resorted to the most gentlemanly course open to them and proceed to cuss the hell out of this fellow in the choicest Punjabi expletives. S had noticed the drone of this anonymous radio user (and how the conversation had switched from Urdu to English) and came down.

S: “What’s going on? Who’s screaming?

TM: “I have no idea. He just randomly barged into their conversation and started abusing”

S: “That’s weird. I’m sure I’ve heard this same guy on this radio frequency say this before as well.”

That incident kept repeating for the next two days that we were close enough to Piraeus. Invariably, at some point during the day, the two Pakistanis would use the radio to chat and the anonymous guy would barge in and constantly chant “Filipino monkey”. The guy was not only batshit crazy, but he seemed to get no sleep at all. For no matter what time of the day the Pakistanis chose to chat, sure enough, within minutes our abuser would appear and start insulting them.

This would then blow out into a full scale insult war with the Pakistanis responding with choice words in Punjabi. As we sailed closer to Santorini, the exchanges became less frequent and then stopped altogether. However, as we approached Piraeus on our way back, sure enough, our sailor tormentor was back in action, this time harassing two Indian sailors. The modus operandi was the same – the sailors would start using the open channel to chat and then within minutes the man would begin his incessant drone of “Filipino monkey” in an extremely annoying sing-song voice. The sailors responded with swears, the man did the same, and then it just was a trade off of a volley of abuses.

I haven’t been back in Greece after this trip, but every time S goes home and sails, he brings back stories of the “Filipino Monkey” man, still his up to his insane ways, polluting the pristine airwaves of the Aegean with his racist nonsense. However, S and I always thought the man was a local phenomenon, probably some Greek man with intense resentment for the fact that modern cargo ships predominantly draw their crew from the Philippines.

What’s peculiar is that Filipino seamen have, apparently, been living with this monkey business for years, and have turned it into a game, and nothing more.

Equally, and even more, peculiar, is how the whole thing not only seized the headlines, but, as Scott Macleod of Time’s Middle East blog asks, Did “Filipino Monkey” Almost Cause WWIII?

There may be a serious problem here. Has the Bush administration’s demonization of Iran so pervaded the U.S. government that the judgement of vital decision-makers is becoming dangerously clouded? So when a possible practical joker issues a threat to a warship, you have a Strangelovian military chain of command from Bahrain to Washington racing to insist that the crazy, murderous mullahs in Tehran are at it again. By the Pentagon’s own account, one of the warships very nearly took out at least one of the Iranian vessels but the order to fire was prevented at the last minute when the speedboats turned away. It goes without saying that an armed clash like that between two long-time adversaries could have ignited a much larger confrontation. Bush recently warned that Iran’s nuclear ambitions have raised the specter of World War III and he has not ruled out a U.S. military strike on Iran to degrade its uranium-enrichment facility.

In due course, I hope that we establish who issued the verbal threat to blow up the U.S. ships. Was it “Filipino Monkey”? An imitator? If the Pentagon had better proof that it was an Iranian, we would have seen it by now. Incidentally, the Iranians always denied making the threat, and accused the U.S. of hyping a routine ship-to-ship interaction in international waters into a fabricated confrontation. “This is an ordinary occurrence, which happens every now and then for both sides,” Iranian Foreign Minister spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini said immediately afterwards…

If “Filipino Monkey” or somebody of that ilk turns out to be the culprit, it means that the Pentagon either can’t tell the difference between a prank and a threat, or that it’s too busy confronting Iran to bother trying to do so. Either way, it’s another reason to worry.

On an unrelated note, for reference purposes, here’s the House of Representatives Committee Report 1653 on the Garci Tapes:

Committee Report No 1653-2

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Manuel L. Quezon III.

74 thoughts on “A real howler

  1. Justice League, i prefer the seaferers’ stoicism. Their relative equanimity indicates that they’re more comfortable in their skin. The Doctors’ response betrays a certain insecurity although, in their case, that insecurity may have been justified under the circumstances.

    There’s also something to be said about the “wala na lang reklamo, pagandahan na lang ng insulto” approach. I remember Manuel Buencamino made a similar point during the Malu Fernandez episode.

  2. Cvj,

    Well the watchman from Manila laughed so I can’t join your view on stoicism.

    You are at least trying to consider the response to the Desperate Housewives, very well then.

  3. it’s not as if this behaviour merits wide viewership as the fictional but highly entertaining desperate housewives. what no filipino doctors coming to aid some wounded egos here? surprise, surprise. – inodoro

    inodoro, good point about those upset over desperate housewives. – mlq3

    It is of absolutely no national concern for us. Those insulted by the Desperate Housewives quip were, in my humble opinion, whiny. – jeg

    Agree with Jeg. The doctors in question should’ve followed the Filipino seamen’s example and acted like real men. – cvj

    first of, the comparison is night and day.
    in the case of the ‘filipino monkey’, kanino kayo mag re-reklamo? you don’t even know the origin, baka ‘pinoy’ din ang nag upmpisa. ‘filipino monkey’ ang handle niya.
    at saka parang away-kalye lang yun. palipas oras. just like flamers in blogs.

    in the case of the desperate housewives, the scene was IN america. it was a response by the fil-am community to a VERY visible target. hindi suntok-sa-buwan. it’s their problem. they are americans and they have all the rights to ‘whine’ in america.

  4. In 1998, after filming Brokedown Palace in the Philippines, Danes told reporters on the film’s promotional tour that Manila was a “ghastly and weird city” that “smelled of cockroaches, with rats all over, and there is no sewerage system, and the people do not have anything — no arms, no legs, no eyes.” Oddly, these remarks did not go over well in the Philippines, where most people actually do have arms and legs and flush toilets.

    do you remember this? what’s the connection with the desperate housewives bruhaha? bibeth orteza. i’ve read her comments about the DH thing being ‘whiny’ but she was so ‘animated’ against clair danes back then.

  5. i,m not sure if it’s a consensus in here, but i can sense a growing sentiment against pinoy’s apparent oversensitivity and tendency to overreact to “insults”, real or imagined . the malou fernandez brouhaha, the “desperate housewives” tongue-in-cheek comment, the drilon shoe inspection incident at a u.s. airport shortly after 9/11, the howard stern “insult” – these are just a few of the things that, i think, were blown out of proportion. so much time and energy have been expended and wasted and for what? incidents that could have been passed off as expected hazards of living, have been made into global spectacle that only served to highlight pinoy’s lack of “class” – a seeming struggle to find and demand respectability that may or may not be there in the first place.

    the “cruel” but funny jokes of the likes of carson, lenno, letterman, conan, chris rock, eddie murphy and others that poke humor at anything and anyone, regardless of race, sex/sexual preference, age, national origin,
    language or color, are treated exactly that, jokes, and do not usually ruffle feelings or warrant legal action, unless patently vicious or malicious. i think the reaction, if any, is more of a self-esteem issue. a self-assured, confident person or group would not be
    as easily offended or “insulted”.

    i think the less easy we pinoys are to take offense (or to take ourselves too seriously) for comments that are not too pleasing for our ears, the better we can interact with the rest of the world and, probably, gain real respect in the process. it’s a rough world out there and not too many like cry babies.

  6. it’s not oversensitivity bencard. the issue is not even about who can take punches and make counter punches pretty well. i trust our maritime ‘simian’ brothers are capable of fending for themselves. sila pa!

    the danger is in the instituionalization of the term as part of the military register, which to dina is appropriate for an away-kalye. me agrees on dina’s confinement.

    but when you have a u.s. navy imbibing the taunt and making it an official part of their military code, the insult only amplifies the perception of what we pinoys are good at: making noises. [and yet we take offense at benign0 for pointing this out to us.]

    in statistics, ‘noises’ are undesirable interferences. take the u.s. military analogy from here: we are a bunch of noisy-makers, pretty much like monkeys.

    take the insult lightly, sure–ako pa, shit catcher. am i being a cry baby? no. am just warning how this racial label and a meme of an insult can easily cross from the sea to the cyberspace. imagine calling you unggoy if i perceive that your arguments are nothing but noise to me. see, the taunt is not directed to you as a person but to your arguments, but how can you tell the distinction? haven’t we all been taught that labeling is rude? if ‘filipino monkey’ is a jargon among rowdy, bored mariners, let it remain there. but for an army of war freaks to adopt the phenomenology mere monkeys is less offensive unless you attach further the label, filipino.

    there is further danger in your suggestion to take this issue lightly without reflection. because while we can be pachydermic in our response to racial taunts or jokes, sooner or later, this light-heared attitude gets in the way of how we view other races–like every racial slur is, hey, a joke.

  7. Bencard,

    Don Imus said something like “nappy-headed hos”.

    What the heck does the term mean?

    Why did a womens basketball team who made it to the finals take such offense in that?

  8. inodoro n.e.& justice league, i think i don’t have to point out that “jokes” that are “vicious and malicious” cannot be taken as jokes, and in reality, are pure and simple assault of a verbal kind. for instance, implying criminality ( theft, cheating, lying) in the guise of humor, or suggestions of someone’s immorality (ho, whore, bitch) are never funny and naturally invite justified action or retaliation.

    to a well-adjusted person, a taunting reference as a monkey is no worst than being called “palos” ( a kind of fish), leon, tigre, or alamid. it could even be viewed as a left-handed compliment being that a monkey is considered among the wisest or most clever animals.

  9. UPn,



    The Desperate Housewives issue implied Medical incompetence or negligence. Depending where one is at; incompetence or negligence is a crime.

  10. “implied” is a very iffy word. often, its in the eyes of the beholder. a statement “hope your doctor isn’t a graduate of a philippine medical school” does not necessarily IMPLY that the filipino doctors are “incompetent” or “negligent”. it could mean that the school is below par in terms of world-class standards.

  11. Bencard,

    So all that “implying criminality ( theft, cheating, lying)” is often in the eyes of the beholder too.

    I’ve seen the clip. I reckon the Susan character wanted to impart the Doctor’s Alma Mater as a direct image of his competence.

    When Susan found out that the physician was a graduate of Harvard medical school; she immediately acceded to perform his recommended blood examination as she appeared to deem that his competence was assured by being a graduate of Harvard.

  12. It all started with the greek sailors who hated so much the entry of the Filipino seamen taking over their jobs, their ships in the tanker trade. The Filipino watch standers at the ships’bridges were so noisy trading experiences among themselves that the greeks were so irritated and they couldnt even get to use the common frequency. Channel 16 became the local frequency of the Filipinos and to keep them out, the greeks discovered the famous phrase Filipino Monkey so effective. The word war is normally dense at the gulf where tankers come and go, and all the way thru the Suez Canal, and around the mediterranean. The Arabs found it so effective to irritate the Filipinos also. But Filipinos are not affected much with the Arab calls. How they hate it coming from the greeks.

  13. I totally agree with you, Bencard. Its much ado about nothing.

    Vic, UPn,

    Do you that N word has become a terms of endearment between buddies? I even have a Pinoy assistant and helper who answered is the call of his best. with Whats Nigger? I have heard al lot of youg Hispanic people who called their peers Nigger.

  14. Rego, for your own safety, don’t say that word within earshot of African Americans. Pinoys and Hispanics may not mind but that’s because it’s not an integral part of their history.

  15. Rego,

    Since Bencard hasn’t returned to this thread yet; I hope Bencard wouldn’t mine but I’m sure YOU wouldn’t mind taking the cudgels for him, now would you?

  16. justice league, a vague hint as to the low quality of a medical school is not an attack on the “competence” of the doctor who graduated from it. if i say (in a light vein): ‘i hope you didn’t learn how to argue from cvj’, you would not consider that an attack against your skill as a debater, would you?

  17. btw, if i choose to retain a graduate of harvard law school over a product of justice league school of law, that doesn’t automatically mean that i regard the latter “incompetent”, does it?

  18. excerpts
    at the gulf while a big tanker was at the Hormuz traffic.
    Tanker: Small vessel on my port quarter, this is blue tanker, please, do not approach.
    a forceful voice: Revolutionary guard fleet, avoid closing in on the blue tanker. This is the US Navy Fleet!
    Eavesdropper: Filipino Monkey, the revolutionary guard cannot hit you.
    After a moment, a huge explosion on the Hormuz traffic.
    To this day I am quite sure the eavesdropper had an Ilonggo twang.

  19. Cvj,

    I hope you realize that I’m not dragging you into this.


    And the perception of whether this is “in a light vein” depends on who?

    And when told directly to the person that he is a product of a vaguely hinted inferior source; how is the person supposed to interpret it?

    And you keep forgetting that you “told” the supposed graduate of justice league school of law that you are retaining another because the first one JUST HAPPENS to be a supposed graduate of justice league school of law.

    But since you do claim that it often depends on the beholder; I’m quite curious how you would interpret the following:

    After being told of a possible unfavorable outcome of his case; the client says:

    “Now just before you go any further, I’d like to check those diplomas just to make sure that its not from some law school in the Philippines (just presuming the scenario).”

    The client then goes to see the diplomas and say:

    Now I don’t know what NONSENSE THEY TAUGHT YOU IN BENCARD SCHOOL OF LAW (which just happens to be a Philippine law school) …. etc…. and then leaves.

  20. justice league, looks like the client didn’t buy the unfavorable opinion (which is his prerogative)so he chooses a harvard graduate.

    he perceives bencard school of law is not a good-enough law school and teaches “nonsense”.

    verdict: neither lawyer (from bencard law) nor law school has viable cause of action for defamation. client has right to choose who he thinks is the best lawyer. lawyer’s rejection is not an “insult” to him.

  21. Bencard,

    Again you keep forgetting that in the actual story analogy; the unfavorable assessment came from the Harvard law graduate. And the client took his advice.

    And the teaching of nonsense is then directed upon the image of the lawyer. So what does that tell of the lawyer?

    And you keep forgetting that the client’s perception was deliberately broadcast practically around the world.

  22. Any seaman would know that there is no such thing as a definite person as the filipino monkey. It goes together with the word, indian bad smell and mario that is constantly polluting the airwaves at the high seas. But nobody could really tell where its coming from, except if they put a caller id or something similar on the VHF to identify where the signal is coming from.

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