The Papaya Revolution

Bartolome works as a manager in a major TV Network. This piece was published in the Yellow Pad column of Business World, 23 August 2004 Edition.

Every now and then these thoughts enter my mind: How many Filipinos
really want to be Filipinos? How many would want to be somebody else or
at least, be somewhere else?

One cannot help but notice the many things we Filipinos do to alter the
things around us, including our very own bodies. One of them is
language. Until now the language issue continues to bug us. If you read
the papers, notice that those who complain are Filipinos who cannot
understand why there are still a number of stupid “kababayans” or
“paisanos” who insist on using our native tongue. They say that we
cannot achieve progress unless we become an English-speaking nation.
Obviously, they have not studied the history of Japan, Korea or the
other developed countries in the world. And so, the more ambitious
people from the provinces who come to Manila try to their best to lose
their provincial accents and then join the elite crowd in the
metropolis, not only in learning to speak English, but with an American
or British accent as well.

Actually it’s funny. Our government officials speak English. The laws
are written in English. But when they campaign, they always turn to the
vernacular. Translating laws into the language so people will
understand them is very difficult. Telling the people about their empty
promises during the campaign is not.

The call center phenomenon has added more arguments for the need of the
entire nation to be English-speaking, using an accent their callers
would understand.

It is not just the choice of which language to use that makes us want
to be something else. There are those who believe that looks are very
important. Nowadays, I take extra care when buying bath soap because
most bath soaps now have papaya extract or some other chemical agent to
whiten the skin. White is beautiful! I don’t really know how many
Pinays would like to have lighter skin, but if the number of bath soaps
and other chemical solutions sprouting in the market is any indication,
whitening the skin is a priority and a real need of most Pinays and, as
one TV ad suggests, even among Pinoys. Whew!

It doesn’t end there, of course. Attend a cabinet meeting in Malacanang
and inspect the shirts, shoes, ties, dresses, socks, and, if possible,
the underwear, etc., of the high officials of this billion-dollar debt
laden country. I bet, more than 80 percent of their clothes and
personal effects are imported. Many are signature brands, too.

Well, they would probably say, they have no choice. The quality of
Filipino clothes and other personal accessories is not good enough.
It’s true even with food. Local chocolates are not good enough.
(Although ChocNut is a favorite of many. But then ChocNut is made of
peanut, not chocolate.) But is this a valid reason for a Filipino
government official occupying an important post? Honda was not good
enough when it started. Fujifilm was quite inferior to Kodak when it
began. Sony was not on par with U.S. electronics in the 1950s. But the
Japanese patronized these and gave them the chance to improve. Now
they’re world class. And despite the funny English instructions and
blurbs on the packaging of many Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese
products, the products themselves are superior. In other words, even if
the English captions in our products use superior syntax, if the
quality if the products themselves are inferior, then these are unfit
for the global market. What matters more is the product and not the

If it’s any indication, the papaya revolution tells us something about
ourselves. It really seems that we are more concerned with appearances
than what is inside. We value the diploma more than the education. We
give more importance to the accent than what is being said. Try
listening to the DJs of FM stations in Manila.

The OFW phenomenon, I must admit, is born out of a need to earn a
decent income for the family. It is truly a sacrifice for many parents
to leave their families behind just to meet their economic needs. But
wanting to go to the US and become US citizens is something else for
many of our countrymen. Most simply want to have a better opportunity.
They are willing to work very hard to have a decent home and education
for their children. Something that is not possible for many hardworking
people here.

Even as I cringe while witnessing all these, I am amazed at my niece
who has everything that many Filipinos in the Philippines want: she is
tall and looks very much like her Swiss mom. She was born in the US and
has traveled to many countries. Yet, she wants to come home and learn
Tagalog. My brother’s daughter has visited the country several times.
She wants to know more about her dad’s country, especially his
hometown, the culture and the language. She belongs to a group of
Filipino Americans proud of their heritage.

I wonder how she will react if she finally stays in the country a
little longer and finds out that Pinays want to be just like her: tall,
fair-skinned, English-speaking and with an American accent at that?

No comments yet.