On The LineBy Philip Dominguez Mercurio
What’s your impression of the Philippines? When you think of the Philippines, is it a country filled with loving, welcoming people, always smiling as they open their balikbayan boxes, filled with cans of delectable spam and corned beef, many coming straight from the North Pole, also known as Costco?
How about someone sitting next to you on train, gingerly pursuing the headlines which he reads daily with latte in hand? What do you think his impression of our country and its people are? Is it also of a country filled with spam-loving, friendly people?
Well, if you’ve picked up the newspaper for the past 10 years, what you may find printed in those headlines may not bold well with your initial impression.
“…US Combat Force... headed to the Philippines - A New Antiterrror Front” New York Times, February 21, 2003; “Bomb kills 16 near Philippine Hub” – San Francisco Chronicle, April 3, 2003; “American Among 19 Killed by Bombing in Philippines” – Washington Post, March 5, 2003.
Not exactly something that would conjure up images of people happily opening up boxes of spam now does it.
In fact, if you happened to be more vigilant about this issue like I am, you’d not only never see the spam-loving side of our country, but find a much more disturbing picture being pieced together of our country, one that Filipinos are the least familiar with but the same one, the American media seems all too delighted to retell over and over again.
For instance, along with that March 5th headline, you’ll also find a photograph showing the skeletal remains that once formed the airport terminal at Davao City. If that image of utter destruction hadn’t got your nerves reeling, chances are, what you may find written on the billboard behind the terminal, will. In plain English, the huge sign reads for all to see, “Welcome to Davao City. The most livable city in the Philippines.”
Seems inconspicuous enough, right? Of course, it does, until you turn back to the foreground and suddenly realize that this once appealing sign has morphed into a nightmarish paradox. The sign makes the unsuspecting reader tinker with the question “If this is the most livable city in the Philippines, what could be in store for your average city in the Philippines? Could it be even worst?”
Shuffle through enough of the papers and you may lay eyes on the February 28, 2003 edition of the New York Times on which you’d find two more pictures coming straight from our beloved country: one of them of a bunch of Filipina schoolchildren, giggling away in front of their elementary school, and the other, a picture of a lone schoolgirl walking alone in the schoolyard, smiling.
Seems so innocent, right? That would have been the case, if only the former image didn’t have in its mist, a Filipino marine handling a really big gun and in the background of the latter image, a basketball hoop, instead of what did reside there: lengths of barbed wire and three huge howitzers. Innocence lost? Perhaps. A place of spam-loving people living in safety and security? Highly unlikely.
Obviously, there is something peculiar about what the media is trying to achieve with this lineup of images. Their emphasis on ironic statements like on that billboard, the weapons in front of children aren’t just coincidences that just happened to end up that way. And with statements like “amid widespread chaos in the region” or quotes like “They knew that it was dangerous over there… they were in our prayer sheet, week after week, for their safety,” all in reference to the Philippines, what you don’t get is the country filled with loving, caring people. What you do get is a country resembling the likes of Afghanistan, where there is no functioning government, no intact infrastructure, where terrorist elements roam the whole of the country by the element of fear and the threat of the merciless AK-47.
This is not reminiscent of the Philippines I have come to know and love. This is the Philippines the media has created, packaged and shipped, directly to American readers everywhere, one with a very ominous message attached to it, simply saying, “You could end up dead on the tarmac of your local airport. Your children could end up living a life in utter fear while attending kindergarten. You could become what this country has already become. You could become… ‘the Philippines’”.
Suddenly, the motive behind why the media was so eager to broadcast our local conflict over the national airwaves seems deafeningly clear. Our country has become the media’s primetime example of what would happen if terrorists get a hold of a civilized nation. Who cares if our problem has been a local conflict spanning 30 years or that it involves an extremist group, Abu Sayyaf, a group of kidnap bandits with only 250 members, in a country of a whooping 100 million. What manners is that this situation ideally suits the media’ whimsical world, where it’s rebels against the civilized, the innocent American against the ‘savage’ Filipino, to prove to the American public, that terror is real, that the war on terrorism was not just a joke to be taken lightly but something that could strike at anytime, without notice, affecting the lives of thousands in the blink of an eye.
In the media’s carelessness to prove their motive, no consideration was given to those who might be effected by the dangerous hold such images may have on the American psyche, psychologically forcing them to think suspiciously about anything even remotely related to the Philippines and therefore the people who reside from there.
Suddenly, you’re especially flat-nose has special significance. No. Not the special ability to smell bagoong from a mile away but the innate ability to arouse the eerie suspicion of Uncle Sam wherever you trot.
The media may claim, they were merely just ‘stating the facts’, telling the whole truth and nothing but. That could be true. But if those same facts are manipulated, as they had been in “Act of Valor”, that erroneously labels us as a country in chaos, filled with bombs left and right that kill innocent dignitaries, Americans and our own people, to justify some agenda, in this case, the war on terrorism, then they are no longer just ‘stating the facts’. What they are doing, is messing with the very fabric that makes up our heritage, denying us the right to show our spam-loving side, and instead contented to replace it with something more diabolical where in the end the dignity of a proud people is trampled over for the sake of fighting terrorism.
This is the sad reality we are faced with, a reality which I could barely watch to see. -PDM
Philip Dominguez Mercurio, 29, is a free-lance columnist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is currently working on a textbook about Kulintang Music and has just completed MCU med-school in Caloocan City. He can be reached at PhilipDominguezMercurio@hotmail.com.