Monday, March 30, 2009

The War at Home: An Interpretation

I was on my way to the office this morning when I came across an opinion poll in Unang Hirit (the bus I was riding has a TV set tuned in to GMA 7). Arnold Clavio and the UH gang were soliciting feedback via SMS on whether or not Filipinos should react to being called a "nation of servants." One texter replied "Id rather be called nation of servants, than be called the Land of Triads, illegal drugs and pirated CD's and DVD's."

Curious, I Googled the phrase "nation of servants" and located the article "The War at Home" written by Chip Tsao. (Note: As of this writing, the HK Magazine web page is inaccessible. The article is also located here.)

The article was written as a reaction of a "patriotic Chinese man" to the piece of legislation recently enacted by the Philippine government to affirm the country's sovereignty over the outlying islands in the Spratly chain and Scarborough shoal; China currently has a competing claim over both island chains.

To paraphrase, Chao does not mind the "insults" of larger and more powerful countries (such as Russia and Japan) against the Chinese (in the form of sinking a freighter ship by the Russians and the planting of the Japanese flag on Diaoyu Island) but he takes umbrage over the "blatant threat" from the Philippine congress "to send gunboats to the South China sea to defend the islands from China if necessary." He further writes "As a nation of servants, you don't flex your muscles at your master, from whom you earn most of your bread and butter." He goes on to mention how he gave a stern lecture to his domestic assistant (read: domestic helper) Louisa, an international politics degree holder from the University of Manila, on how he would terminate her employment if war ever breaks out between the Philippines and China. He also mentions how friends make their Filipina maids say "China, Madam/Sir!" alound (ala "Sir, yes sir!") whenever the word "Spratly" is heard.

As his narrative goes from being naggingly offensive to absolutely absurd, it becomes clear that the article is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. It calls attention to China's exaggerated reactions (such as China's Foreign Ministry summoning a Philippine Embassy official to protest against the passing of the bill and the Chinese Embassy in Manila issuing statement that reiterates China's "indisputable sovereignty over these islands and their adjacent waters).

So why all the vitriol leveled at Chao? Couldn't we Filipinos identify a satirical piece when we see one? Can't we take a joke?

I think that it's simply because the plight of the Filipino domestic helpers abroad hits a highly sensitized nerve in all of us. Our Flor Contemplacions are always present at the back of our minds: that behind the dollar remittances that pay for this month's sack of rice, school tuition, a new house or even just a new PSP, a loved one is far away, toiling through God-knows-what. We all have heard stories of Filipino domestics who were verbally or physically abused by their employers. And these same domestics take a long time to leave their employers or even report the abuse, just because their family depends on their wages in order to survive.

Chao may have used his Louisa to illustrate how inconsequential the enacted legislation is but he also underscores our weakness as a nation. Really, how can a country so poor that it allows its citizens to work abroad as domestics take on China's military superiority? The same way Louisa can't argue with Chao's flawed logic despite her international politics degree.

I can't push others who were offended by Chao's comments to just laugh at the satire and get the joke. Because, really, what we as individuals and as a people endure and are willing to go through in order to feed our families is no laughing matter.

1 comment:

  1. In an article in the Philippine Star today: Asia City Publishing, publisher of HF Magazine of which Chip Tsao is a columnist, has issued an apology "for any offense that may have been caused by Tsao's column..." Tsao, on the other hand, has not issued any apology and told the Mingpao newspaper that "it was his style of writing and asked his readers to take it easy." For the entire article, visit