Saturday, May 26, 2007
The center of the Philippines is believed to be Manila; hence the term Manila-centric. Even now, Manila remains to be the object of every promdi's great Philippine Dream. Many Manila-based (as opposed to Manila-born) people consider themselves "superior" to people outside of Metro Manila (promdi as in from the -prom di- provinces). While Metro Manila may have all the comforts and amenities of a highly urbanized city, they also pay the price for it - pollution, high crime rate, shabby living conditions, etc. As they say, one needs money to go around Manila. To a promdi, Manila is Metro Manila, not just Manila City. Hear this - Bai, punta akong Manila. O? Saan sa Manila? Sa Las Pinas!
(Manila-centric. How else can one explain why national TV newcasts feature live Metro Manila traffic footages and reports which are of no consequence to the rest of the Philippines and the world?)
When national competitions like the Palarong Pambansa or National Schools Press Conference (NSPC) are hosted by Mindanao cities and provinces, the first thing that comes to the minds of school administrators, parents, teacher-advisers, students is: Nge! Nakakatakot dun! Daming bombing, terorista, Muslim! (Yikes! It's frightening there! Lots of bombings, terrorists, Muslims!)
We can't entirely blame these people from having these stereotypes of Mindanao as the mainstream media seem to write about Mindanao only when something bad happens. For every feel-good news coverage of Manny Pacquiao, there would be three feel-bad news of Bad Boy Navarrete's extra-marital woes.
The local government units and government offices based in Mindanao have to assure these people that the hosts won't dare volunteer their places for these national competitions if they thought the safety of the participants will be jeopardized.
To those "brave" enough to venture outside of their comfort zones, Mindanao offers a lot of eye-openers and new discoveries and lessons. Metro Manilans are awed by the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables at prices they can only see in their dreams. In fact, one common illness experienced by participants in Mindanao is indigestion and loose bowel movement from binging on fruits and food. Try resisting fresh fish grilled over coals, not reaching for more servings of fragrant rice freshly harvested from the fields.
They discover that not ALL inhabitants of Mindanao are Muslims. There are Christians too and the Lumad (tribal people) as well. Many inhabitants are Ilocanos, Tagalogs, Visayans who flocked to Mindanao to better their lot. What the media label as War is actually a series of skirmishes between the military and rebels in the countryside far from the urban centers. True, bombings happen now and then, but these happened not only in Mindanao but also in Metro Manila and elsewhere in the country. In these terroristic times, no city, province or region is safe, at all.
Muslims are not the war freaks they were stereotyped to be. Nor are they the stab-you-in-the-back traitors. Every tribe, race and culture has its share of hotheads, trigger-happy gun-toters, and every variety of snake-in-the-grass traitors. Are there no war freaks and traitors among denizens of Luzon and Visayas? So you see, these are not monopolies of Mindanaoans. In stereotyping, it's the sweeping generalizations that hurt the most. As the Tagalogs say it, Huwag namang lalahatin. Some of my very good friends are Muslims and I have had the privilege of working with Muslim bosses and co-employees.
During their brief stay, the participants see, hear and feel for themselves the reality that their host place is not at all like the media present it to be. Their impressions of Mindanao change because of this realization.
There was one occasion when the Mindanao stereotype worked to our advantage. When I was asked to serve as head of delegation for the participants to the National Schools Press Conference (NSPC) at Rizal High School in Pasig in the 90s, we were met, not by the Filipino hospitality usually accorded guests, but by the haughty superior stance of a Metro Manilan. We were waitlisted at the Cebu airport the day before so we arrived at around 11 p.m. in Manila. We were led to our quarters on the top floor of one school building and told to register the next morning. The classroom teachers assigned to our quarters were so accommodating and immediately put all of us at ease.
At six the next morning, we were called to breakfast only to be blocked by a porcine Miss Piggy lookalike teacher in charge of our delegation's meals. She said, with her nose and chin up in the air, that we couldn't partake at the breakfast table because we were not registered yet. So I looked for the registration secretariat and was told by a janitor they would start registering at 8 a.m. yet. I went back to Miss Piggy and showed her the official list of participants and the cash for payment of the registration. NO WAY! she told me. And so I asked the rest to eat breakfast outside the school premises. I waited at the secretariat and when registration was opened for the day, I told them in a loud voice, WE went HUNGRY because the teacher in charge of the meals of the MINDANAO delegation wouldn't let us for being unregistered. WE did not COME ALL THE WAY from MINDANAO to gatecrash this conference and get free meals! If that TEACHER is still AROUND at LUNCHTIME TODAY, she will GO HOME HEADLESS!!!
The secretariat, without my asking, deducted the cost of breakfast from our registration fees and profusely apologized for such treatment. I told them, YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES! You pride yourselves for originating Filipino hospitality. When you go to Mindanao, you act like first class citizens entitled to all and everything you desire, but when we Mindanaoans come here, and just because we are promdis, you treat us like shit!
Suffice it to say, Miss Piggy was nowhere to be found from the time the snacks were served for that day until the time we packed up to go back to Mindanao several days later.