Only a people with self-confidence issues and a massive inferiority complex are as touchy as Filipinos. And only a political class that serves no purpose other than to amuse them and to pander to their worst instincts 24/7 reacts as quickly to every joke uttered in the planet that has the remotest reference to these isles of absurdity.

In a reprise of the teacup storm over a column by a Hongkong hack who said the Philippines was “a nation of servants,” some Filipinos are beside themselves over Alec Baldwin’s tongue-in-cheek threat to import a Filipina mail order bride who can bear his children. Baldwin made the remark while a guest in TV’s The Late Show with David Letterman.

The remark was actually made in self-deprecation, and over his age, 51, which in Hollywood would qualify as advanced. Baldwin said he was so desperate to have children he was thinking of “getting a Filipina mail order bride, or a Russian…”

But most Filipinos, and certainly none of the politicians, caught the irony—or even the reference to Russians, who incidentally don’t seem to be overly concerned. Several senators of the Republic demanded an apology (Zubiri), excoriated Baldwin for his “insensitivity,” (Legarda), demanded that he be declared persona non grata (Revilla), and claimed that “Filipinas are not for sale” (Legarda).

US actor Alec Baldwin is with the cast of the TV comedy “30 Rock,” in which the phenomenal Tina Fey rather than Baldwin’s the real star. He’s a political liberal who supported the candidacy of Barack Obama, and one of whose less unmemorable movie roles was to play the lawyer who managed to get the racist killer of civil rights activist Medgar Evers convicted 30 years after Evers was killed.

While one can argue that most Caucasians are racists at heart, there’s no evidence that Baldwin belongs in that humungous category of man(un)kind. But his remark does demonstrate how widespread in Western popular culture are less than edifying perceptions of Filipinos and the Philippines.

We saw that in one episode of the TV series Desperate Housewives, where a doctor’s having graduated from a Philippine medical school was disparaged. But we’ve also seen it in the word “Filipina’s” being synonymous to domestic help in many European countries, as in “Once I have enough money, I’ll get me a Filipina.”

In the United States, “Filipino” as a synonym for gardener, janitor, driver, apple picker or some other menial goes back to Empire Days (have those days really gone?), when, after all, many Filipinos did go into those occupations.

There’s a Nelson Algren short story, written in the 1940s, in which the term is used precisely in that sense, and another (“The Man With the Golden Arm,” if memory serves) in which a knife –probably a “balisong,” or fan knife — is described as a “Filipino gut-ripper”.

Another story, this time by William Saroyan, “Our Little Brown Brothers the Filipinos,” while actually rooting for the underdog, would very likely be interpreted as insulting by critics who don’t know any better, because it contains such observations as that “Filipinos don’t grow to be that big” in reference to the protagonist of the story, a six-foot-tall Filipino wrestler.

Should we care? We wouldn’t if such references and remarks aren’t touching the raw nerves of truth. Popular wisdom can be cruel, but it’s usually based on at least a quantum of evidence.

If there’s a perception that the Philippines is among the world’s major suppliers of mail order brides, it’s because, despite Republic Act 6955, or the Anti- Mail Order Bride Law of 1990 (Yes, Virginia, there is such a Philippine law), Filipinas do continue to leave for the US, Japan, and various countries of Europe precisely as mail order (or Internet) brides.

If there’s a perception that most Filipinas are domestics, it’s because thousands of them including those with college degrees leave the country of our sorrows daily so they can mop floors and do the laundry in North America as well as in Singapore, the Middle East, Japan, Taiwan and Australia.

And if there’s a perception that Filipinas are for sale, and cheaply at that, it’s because thousands of them do grab at the chance to live in the United States or some other country with better plumbing and garbage collection even if they have to exchange their virtue for it.

Which brings us to the case of “Vanessa,” whose rape by a US Marine who’s in the country courtesy of the Visiting Forces Agreement is the second to have been revealed among the abuses that agreement has once again made possible. The Women’s group Gabriela is urging “Vanessa” (not her real name) to file a complaint against her rapist, despite the country’s recent experience with the case of Suzette Nicolas.

Nicolas was the “Nicole” who, after three years of insisting that US Marine Corporal Daniel Smith raped her, withdrew that claim last March, as a result of which she’s now living in the US with 00 from Smith. And, of yes, Smith’s earlier conviction was also reversed by the Court of Appeals.

The three women justices of the Court of Appeals reversed Smith’s rape conviction by the Makati Regional Trial Court, declaring, among other pearls of wisdom, that the supposed rape was actually “a romantic episode.” Apparently these justices don’t go out much, having sex in a moving van with one man while three others cheer him on not being any normal human being’s idea of romance.

But these are abnormal times, and I’m afraid that if Gabriela gets its wish and “Vanessa” does sue, there’s no telling what can happen next once the idea of living in the Promised Land (in these post-Biblical times, the US) is dangled before her.

I’m not saying that “Vanessa” is going to fold as Nicolas did. Only that it’s best to be careful what you wish for. Sorry, Loren, some Filipinas — make that many Filipinas — are for sale in the fire sale that the Philippines, thanks to its poverty and desperation, has become.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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  1. seems that the 2010 election is really just around the corner, as politicians try to hitch a ride on every / any issue that would land them on the news… it only betrays their stupidity, though.

  2. No thanks to the biggest mail-order-bride in the Palace. ‘ Whore of Babylon ‘, more like.

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