Sunday, November 30, 2014

A republic within RP

This is my column today, November 30, 2014.


We are a country that takes offense at the slightest hint of racism.  We riled against a European biscuit manufacturer that dared to name its product as “Filipino.”  We got insulted when certain groups abroad dared to make the word “Filipina” synonymous with domestic help.  We protested against  building administrations in Hong Kong and Singapore who posted signs in elevators that not only disallowed Filipino domestic helpers from using elevators, but worse, lumped them together with pets as a category.  We regularly take up the cudgels for fellow Filipinos who are denigrated on account of disabilities, or the color of their skin, or their social or economic background. 
On the other hand, we are also a people who take pride in the fact that we have a culture that is highly relational; sociologists have even developed the concept called  “Kapwa Psychology” to explain our penchant for seeing ourselves in other people.  We tend to value our worth in the way we treat or relate with others.  Thus, we are a people that have developed sophisticated social norms to deal with sticky situations.  We know a mature person does not break bad news to someone who is already going through a particularly difficult time.  We consider it uncouth to embarrass anyone publicly, particularly if the object of our anger is someone from humbler beginnings.
We call the people we hire to help us manage our households kasambahay to denote that they are part of our household.  The days when they were referred to as servants are long gone.  In fact, katulong, the more widely used word to describe them, denotes partnership – they are supposed to be there to provide help, but we are supposed to still do the jobs ourselves (or at least part of the jobs).  And for many of us, they become part of our families – valued, cared for, and treated like our own.
Thus, I was also infuriated when I read in Facebook last week that damning memorandum signed by a certain Katharine Garrido, Property Manager of ICON Residences in Fort Bonifacio, reiterating a building policy that disallows domestic helpers and drivers from using their regular elevators.   Garrido was supposed to have been acting on behalf of tenants and owners who were questioning why “helpers” were using passenger elevators instead of the service elevators. 
The backlash was spontaneous.  The post became viral and many dissed Garrido and Icon Residences.  But Garrido remained unapologetic and even aggravated matters when she dismissed the negative reactions with an emphatic “There’s no issue, it’s not for the world, it’s just for the building.  It’s hard to please everyone but this is just how the world is.” 
It’s one thing to issue unpopular memoranda simply because it is part of one’s job; but it’s another thing altogether to become cocky and to dismiss other people’s hurt feelings with zingers that border on superiority and bigotry.  Yes, the building’s policy is not for the world, but Garrido and her bosses at Icon Residences need to be reminded that they do not live in a vacuum.  They are part of a larger social and cultural environment that has its own norms and values.
Because Boy Abunda and Kris Aquino picked up the issue in their nightly TV show, more people have come to know about the issue and Garrido has earned for herself more bashers and haters.  I personally do not encourage bullying – we certainly can disagree, refute, and rebut other people’s opinions without calling them names and issuing threats.  A sister of Garrido has come out swinging at everyone else.  But no one has yet come forward with a more empathetic response or reaction that could help diffuse the anger.
Of course the issue is deeply personal even if it does not involve most people directly.  Everyone in this country either has a relative, or knows someone who is working as domestic helper.  No one wants to imagine their relatives or friends being victimized by bigotry or discriminatory practices.  It is also a values issue.  Weren’t we all taught by our parents and teachers to treat others – regardless of their stature in society - with respect and courtesy? But above all else, it just smacks of patent snobbishness and elitism.
Discrimination and bigotry all emanate from the same virus.  It’s the same virus that poisoned the minds of Nazis and dictators and gang men and consequently caused the deaths of millions of people.  It manifests in being indifferent to the plight of others.  It is shown in the many ways that some people create social barriers between themselves and others they consider less worthy than themselves.   It’s called hate.

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