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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Trouble in the diaspora

 
 
A malicious and hideous blog that goes by the title of Blood Stained Singapore has become the bane of the Filipino diaspora in the prosperous and sovereign city-state and island nation in Southeast Asia.
 
Catching fire in blogger traffic, the sensationalist post has been viewed 529,301 times and shared in social media platforms. The original blog post dated May 24 encourages Singaporeans to show displeasure and intolerance for Filipinos. For a while it has appeared to be taken down, but was republished on Monday, June 16.
A sharp rise in the foreign population of Singapore has ratcheted up racial
tensions. Photo by Reuters/Edgar Su.
The aforementioned Singapore blogger has proposed a five-point guide for Singaporeans to show they do not tolerate the presence of Filipinos whom he has described as having infested the island nation. Here are the five ways the blogger recommended showing displeasure to Filipinos:
 
1. When you encounter a Pinoy waiter/waitress or customer service officer, reject and ask for a replacement by telling this: “Could you kindly ask a Singaporean staff to speak to me? Your standard of English – there is much left to be desired.” If the idiot continues rambling on, tell him/her with a smile: “Your English sucks, capisce? Get the fuck out of my uncaring face and find me someone else, pronto.”
 
2. When the Peenoise become rowdy or do not deserve basic social decorum, a little “nudge” in the right direction won’t harm. Just make it look accidental. Pump your fist in victory later when they are out of your sight. We understand sometimes they just don’t get it, so a little more force must be employed. Like what this unsung hero did: “This morning at Bishan Circle Line MRT I pushed a Pinoy out of the train before door closes.”
 
3. When dining at Jollibee or any other Filipino themed restaurant, toss food into your mouth, chew thoroughly, and then spit it out. Bite another morsel and repeat. Do this till your plate is a masterpiece of regurgitated nastiness. Ask for the bill (pay in cash), scribble “Pinoy food fucking tastes like shit” on the receipt and remember to leave that piece of paper behind.
 
4. Never render help when Filipinos are involved in serious traffic accidents. Do not call the ambulance. But you have our permission to take photographs so they can be tweeted later with the caption: Hopefully another Pinoy has breathed his last on the little red dot. RIP.NOT.
 
5. Pray for a flood of biblical proportions to descend upon Orchard Road on 8 June (Filipinos have cancelled a parade to celebrate Philippine Independence Day because of public order and safety concerns). Go to the nearest church and pray. Pray hard for divine intervention aloud. Make sure God (and the Pinoy sitting next to you on the same bench) hears every word.
 
6. The Singapore blogger added #6 to his anti-Filipino guide as a bonus point. If you see a Pinoy cashier at NTUC, Cold Storage or Giant, throw a can of Baygon into your shopping before approaching him/her to make payment. When the cashier picks up the insecticide spray ready to do a barcode scan, ask him/her wryly: “Is this effective against Filipinos? Sorry, I meant cockroaches.”
 
On its face, the blog appears very juvenile and immature. It has created a groundswell of infuriated comments on the web from both Filipinos and Singaporeans alike. It also caught the attention of civil society organizations in Singapore which put out a statement condemning racist and xenophobic rhetoric and behaviour in Singapore that threatens the human rights of all (especially migrants) and the health of political discourse.
 
On the other hand, the blog could just be a troll which in Internet slang is someone who posts inflammatory statements with the intent to upset and provoke readers into an emotional response. The goal of the troll is to draw blog traffic towards his or her site, which the Singapore blogger has obviously achieved in attracting more than half a million viewers.
 
But not to Marc Titus Cebreros, chief of the Philippines’ Human Rights Information and Communication Division, who considers the Singaporean blog as “a black and white case of hate speech and hate mongering that deserves to be condemned and penalized.” Rightfully so, because such hate speech and mongering is penalized in many jurisdictions in the world today. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also condemned the “thuggish behavior” of people who harassed the organizers of the Philippine Independence Day celebration, calling them a “disgrace to Singapore.”

Orchard Road in Singapore where Filipinos originally planned to celebrate
Philippine Independence Day last June 8 but was cancelled due to public order
and safety concerns. Photo by Komar/Shutterstock.com
Reading through the long thread of comments by Filipinos on the Internet about the Singaporean blog has surprisingly revealed a treasure trove of interesting and intelligent opinions, dealing with issues that range from the pleasant and innocuous behaviour of the Filipino diaspora to the various arguments on why so many Filipinos are leaving the country to work abroad. The exchange of opinions is both lively and enlightening, so unlike the social and political forum on the web I have joined which is largely peppered (pardon my lack of sense of humour) with trite and hollow postings by members who are supposedly adept in political and social issues.
 
Going back to the Singaporean’s xenophobic blog, this irrational fear of foreigners and their unwarranted bashing appear on the rise almost everywhere in the world. Sometimes the familiar chant of “USA, USA, USA” that we hear during sporting events strikes a diaphanous sense of superiority, a triumphal exclamation of exceptionalism, especially when we hear it in non-sporting occasions. But most of the time, this unwelcoming attitude to foreigners is unjustified.
 
For instance, most of the criticisms leveled against foreign migrant labour are unfounded. In Canada and other advanced economies including Singapore, this underclass of labour is generally seen as taking jobs away from the host country’s citizens. These are mostly menial and low-paying jobs that citizens usually prefer not to take and employers are willing to let others like migrants do for them at lower wages. Overseas Filipino workers are by and large overqualified for these jobs but are prepared to be underemployed rather than remain idle and jobless at home.
 
Thus, in Singapore, most of the Filipinos working there are domestic helpers, health care assistants, in sales and retail and other service industries. These are highly qualified workers by virtue of their education and training, but could not be absorbed by the local Philippine economy because of lack of employment opportunities.
 
So when Filipinos are hired to work overseas, they are being brought in to take on low-paying jobs that are not at par with their skills and training credentials. Thus, they form an underclass that is not only underpaid, but also deprived of government protections and generally without the opportunity of a pathway to permanent residence and citizenship.
 
When the Singaporean blogger claims of “Filipino infestation” of his island nation, he is either in denial or ignorant of the benefits of Filipino cheap labour to Singapore as a whole. And when he asks his fellow Singaporeans to follow his five-point anti-Filipino guide, he goes beyond xenophobia and commits the most disgraceful act of inhumanity against Filipinos.
 
In Western Europe particularly, xenophobia against new immigrants from Eastern Europe, Islamic countries and African nations is far more serious that these newcomers are regarded as an existential threat to their dominant culture. They sanitize their nativist resentment against everything foreign with irrational arguments against immigration, and sometimes stir up extreme patriotism on the pretext of national self-defence.

According to a Hong Kong local government think-tank, even Hong Kong is now afflicted with xenophobia directed against Chinese mainlanders, which it describes as an alarming trend towards narrow nativism in recent years. It cited various reasons for the conflicts between Hongkongers and mainlanders, some bend on the ridiculous — such as traders snapping up baby formula, causing a shortage for local mothers. Or some mainlanders talking loudly, behaving in a disorderly and impolite manner, or refusing to queue up, which overseas Filipinos have also been criticized for.
 
The Singaporean blogger’s attempt to demonize Filipinos does not add to a robust political dialogue and the promotion of the values of equality and universal human rights. Civil society organizations in Singapore have spoken and they have identified that the key to addressing the economic frustrations of many Singaporeans is to amend the economic policies and structures that cause Singapore’s worsening inequality and marginalization. They are correct in saying that these inequitable policies were not instituted by migrants and will not automatically disappear if the migrant population decreases.
 
Blood Stained Singapore, the blog, does not enrich this political conversation. Rather, it diminishes the humanity of Filipinos, and Singaporeans as well.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Looking bad



As if allegations of being the mentor to the pork barrel queen are not enough to make him look bad, news of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad’s total number of 11 family members in government can’t even budge him from his enviable position of the President’s closest and most trusted ally. Now, if you’re counting, that’s about four times the sound of bad resonated in one full sentence.
 
Janet Napoles, the alleged pork barrel queen, has accused Mr. Abad as the one who taught her how to divert funds from the pork barrel allocated to members of Congress. Benhur Luy, the other whistleblower, also implicated Mr. Abad although the latter’s name was erased from his list.
 
But no matter how loud the protestations are, President Aquino appears impervious and obdurate in his belief that there is no probable cause his most trusted cabinet secretary had committed a crime. Even if the whistleblowers Janet Napoles and Benhur Luy also pointed to Mr. Abad’s direct involvement in the 10-billion-peso pork barrel scandal, similar to the allegations that form the basis of the charges against Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. The Philippine system of justice looks not just laughable but just as bad and as duplicitous as the moral standards that dictate the President’s convenient set of values.
Three's not a crowd. Senator Bong Revilla hugs Minority Leader Juan Ponce
Enrile and Senator Jinggoy Estrada, his co-respondents in the plunder case
filed by the government. SENATE PHOTO.
“There seems to be a selective justice. We are all aware there are many people involved and yet only three are charged,” according to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the official organization of all Philippine lawyers, as it questioned the government’s selective indictment of people linked to the pork barrel scam.
 
If we are to use the allegations of both Napoles and Luy to indict and eventually convict the three senators, shouldn’t Mr. Abad be judged on the same accusation? Why prosecute the three senators but show mercy to Mr. Abad? After all, the allegations have yet to be proved in court and it should be the same principle of presumption of innocence that must be applied to all, including Mr. Abad and all the President’s allies implicated in the scandal. Not presuming Mr. Abad’s innocence and pronouncing the guilt of the others accused because they happen to be outside the President’s circle.
 
Convict the three senators if you will, but don’t spare Mr. Abad because he is the President’s most trusted ally.
 
In shielding Mr. Abad from prosecution, President Aquino is showing he has no “delicadeza” and shame. The President is fiddling with the detrimental side of politics and favouritism. The same can be said about Mr. Abad’s proliferation of his kin in government.
 
According to news reports, there are 11 relatives of Mr. Abad currently holding positions in the government, which include his wife Henedina, currently a representative in Congress for the province of Batanes and vice chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee; daughter Julia, head of the Presidential Management Staff; son Luis, chief of staff of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, as well as four nephews, one niece, and two first cousins occupying various government posts. By all appearances, this is nepotism on a grand scale. It is as if the Abad family now owns a large portion of the government, like it is their own plantation or fiefdom.  
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and President Benigno Aquino III.
This type of nepotism in public service, however, is not really unusual. The alignment of politics in all levels of government in the Philippines, whether for elective or appointive officials, depends on kinship and family ties. Hence, why we will always have political dynasties that dominate the political landscape. The same favouritism or influence is also wielded by CEOs or top executives in the private sector in the appointments of their children in high positions in the corporate structure.
 
A social science research conducted in the United States, which was published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, revealed that rich people exhibit narcissistic tendencies and higher levels of entitlement among those of the higher income and social class. The study found a sense of entitlement for children of the rich that they could go through life without feeling guilty about having rich parents and being born with certain environmental advantages.
 
When the respondents were asked to depict themselves as circles, with size indicating relative importance, richer people chose larger circles for themselves and smaller ones for others. Another experiment found that they also looked in the mirror more frequently. The study suggested that wealth may breed narcissistic tendencies—and wealthy people justify their excess by convincing themselves that they are more deserving of it.
 
According to the study, the rich get jobs through family connections. After going to whatever elite university their parents attended, getting a job at whatever firm their parents worked at seems only natural. The culture of hiring in Wall Street, for example, confirms this observation that direct nepotism in the hiring process is prevalent in the hiring of children of rich people by giant financial firms.
 
Nepotism to some extent is probably tolerable in privately-owned corporations since the owners would rather put their trust on their children and close relatives. However, it is generally frowned upon in the public service for it shows an appearance of unfairness when it comes to hiring or appointing relatives in government.
 
Who’s to blame if Mr. Abad has 11 relatives in government? Perhaps, he is more than qualified to be the Budget Secretary, a position that demands the President’s unflinching loyalty and trust. His wife cannot also be pigeon-holed in a group who succeeds in politics because of family connections because she was elected by her constituents. She succeeded Mr. Abad in Congress. Of course, marriage to Mr. Abad also helps her secure the powerful position of vice-chair of the House Appropriations Committee. Their children, Julia and Luis, both occupy high and significant positions in the government’s bureaucracy because of their familial links to Mr. Abad which are their strongest assets, notwithstanding their professional wherewithal to perform the rigorous demands of their jobs.
 
But having so many relatives in government can perpetuate a deeply unjust social order. We have seen in the past how the cronies of Ferdinand Marcos had strengthened a repressive political regime. Mere appearance of nepotism is bad. The Abad family makes it look worse than bad. If our system is one of aristocracy, then Mr. Abad could be excused for ensuring the appointment of his family members to King Benigno’s court.
 
Yet, President Aquino keeps harping on his “matuwid na daan” as his government’s mantra, that if there is no corrupt, none will be poor. That’s fine if the President will apply the same standard to members of his own cabinet. But it is not fine when he spares one or two in his cabinet on one hand, while he prosecutes three or more who happen to be his political enemies, on the other.  
Indignation rally. Protesters massed outside the Supreme Court while the
justices were deliberating on the legality of the Disbursement Acceleration
Program. Photo by Danny Pata.
Filipinos as a whole are tired and fed up with this government’s hypocritical and phony attitude to the prosecution of corrupt officials in government. Except for the impeachment of the former Supreme Court Chief Justice, and he was not even charged of corruption, President Aquino’s government does not have a track record of success in prosecuting corrupt officials. Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo remains in detention for the crime of plunder even if not one single charge brought against her has been proved before the Sandiganbayan. The question this time is whether the government prosecution would be able to prove the guilt of the three senators? Sandiganbayan has already allowed them bail so it does not augur well for the prosecution at this early stage.
 
In my previous blog, Presumed guilty, I wrote about the current President’s distorted understanding of the presumption of innocence afforded all those accused of committing crimes. To him, only his allies and friends should enjoy the presumption of innocence unless proven guilty by a competent court. Those on the other side of the fence, his political enemies, are meant to be prosecuted and presumed guilty as charged. This is plain double standard in applying the law. That’s why the President is so relentless and persistent in sheltering Mr. Abad and others in the cabinet who have also been implicated in the pork barrel scandal. His hands are not clean and he doesn’t want the people to see them.
 
But the people will not be fooled this time, not even by the yellow media that promotes this government as immaculately clean and beyond refute. There is growing consciousness among the people that corruption and nepotism in government mirror the unjust and unfair concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few elite families.
 
The more this President defends his own allies, the more he looks bad. And the more his vision of a straight path looks crooked. Plus ├ža change….