Thursday, May 14, 2009

Candy, anyone?

Candy’s remarks left a bitter taste, pun intended. That’s Candy Pangilinan, tv, film and stage actress. Since they say that in showbiz, you’re only as good as your last performance, I am not inclined to call her a comedienne right now, her recent faux pas at a performance in SM City Baguio was not funny at all. “Tao po ako, hindi po ako Igorot,” a blog entry said that was posted, and linked to, all over the internet, particularly Facebook and Multiply.com. And the reactions, as expected, were vicious: “She’s dead meat next time she comes to Baguio;” “There will be no next time, she be persona non-grata;” “…a comedienne with little or no talent;” “boycott anything she’s involved in;” just to quote a few. There are even nastier unprintable ones. And perhaps she deserved every single one of those tirades that came from, among others, the very descendants of the first families who lived in these mountains, of that man who fought the most powerful government in the world in court (and won), Igorots who’ve risen above stereotypes and have contributed so much more to the country than Ms. Pangilinan can never, ever, equal.

I’ve seen her teary apology on TV and heard her explanation, accepted by others, rejected by some. But, though what she said is in itself a major blunder, I believe her other mistake is uttering those words in public, with a microphone, in the presence of Igorots. Because, really, most of us would never say to a child who wants to play out in the streets, “sige ka, kukunin ka ng Bumbay,” in front of an Indian man. Nor would we laugh in the face of a pirated DVD vendor when he offers us “dibide-dibide.” Ok, we’ve heard some of us utter unkind remarks about Koreans in the presence of Koreans, but that’s only when and because we know they can’t understand Tagalog or Ilokano.

Perhaps this incident brings to the fore, aside from the ugly face of racism, the fact that centuries after the Spanish colonization attempted to make this archipelago one nation, tribalism, at times defined as “the possession of a strong cultural or ethnic identity that separates oneself as a member of one group from the members of another” (Wikipedia.org), exists and continues to define the way some of us view ourselves as a people. While we’re all Filipinos, for a lot of us we’re Igorot or Bisaya or Aeta or Kampampangan or Ilokano or Maranao , etc., first. Not that that’s essentially wrong: it is good when it forges unity among a group of people, but not when it separates us from others. It is good to belong: to a family, a clan, a tribe, a region, a nation. It’s not good when, as Filipinos, we separate ourselves from others because we come from a different region, or ethnic group, etc.

In Baguio alone, there are several groups that exist and at times divide us as a community: taga-Benguet, taga-Kailnga, taga-Ifugao, taga-Bontoc, Ilokano, taga-Pangasinan, Muslim, taga-baba, taga-Manila, Koreano, Amerikano, Australiano. How many Rotary, Soroptimist, Lions, etc., clubs are there in this small city? Artists belong to different organizations. The youth belong to different fraternities, gangs. Even in the small circle I mostly move in, the theater community, parochial mentality creates a great divide among the different groups, as if it is not hard enough that there are very limited opportunities for theater artists in the city.

And from there stems our condescending attitude towards others: when we separate ourselves from others. From there stems our ignorance of others when we stop understanding those who do not fall inside the fences we build around us. And that’s probably why there wasn’t as much noise when the Baguio Country Club decided that because some Koreans do no behave properly on the golf course, all Koreans must be banned from entering their premises. In some of the barriers we have created, the Koreans do not belong, and since most of us didn’t belong inside the barriers of the Baguio Country Club, we didn’t care as much.
Candy Pangilinan’s remarks are deplorable, terrible, unacceptable. She can explain all she wants - she was referring to an Igorot statue, she was tired, she didn't mean it. Nah, we know exactly what she meant. But we ourselves can also put a different spin to it: “Hindi lang tayo IGOROT, Taga-BAGUIO rin po tayong lahat” (and perhaps we can really begin to make Baguio a better place). Or “Hindi lang tayo taga-BAGUIO, FILIPINO rin po tayong lahat” (and maybe we can start making this nation great again). Or “TAO po muna tayong lahat, bago pa man tayo naging mga IGOROT at mga taga-BAGUIO.” And then we maybe we can start making this world a better place.

There’s an update on my Facebook wall that says, “Domogan forgives Candy Pangilinan.” Well, if our good congressman can forgive and protect a president who mocked our electoral process and continues to take all of us for a ride, why not Candy?

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