POSTSCRIPT / May 21, 2000 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Poor German hostage tagged as a prostitute!

PITY poor Renate Wallert, the seriously ill German housewife held hostage with several other foreigners by Abu Sayyaf terrorists on Sulu island.

As if her predicament were not problematic enough, a major newspaper went out of its way to call her a “fraulein” in its front-page story on the hostages last Thursday. The head said: “$2-M ransom demand for fraulein disclosed, denied.”

The German word “fraulein” — supposedly the equivalent of “Miss” referring to a single, young woman — is now widely construed in her native country as a woman of loose morals, someone who could be a prostitute.

Kaawaawa naman. Hostage na nga, tinawag pang prostitute!

* * *

THIS unsavory connotation of “fraulein” spread extensively after American forces stationed in Germany during the last world war freely used the term to refer to that kind of woman, the type that heat-seeking GIs were/are wont to pick up.

So derogatory has the term become that a decent German would now hesitate to use “fraulein” to refer to a young unmarried lady, unless he wants to convey that the woman is a prostitute or at least someone of ill repute.

Even assuming that the editor exhumed the word meaning from its pristine pre-war past, it was still the wrong description for a 57-year-old woman. More so because she is not a “miss” anymore, but a housewife.

In Germany nowadays, it would be insulting to call a lady who is at least 25 years old a “fraulein.”

* * *

A LESSON for us may be that in our clumsy effort to sound smart or learned by pretending to lapse into a foreign tongue, we could be tripped by a tricky turn of phrase, an idiom, or a contemporary connotation.

In our journalism stylebooks, we’re reminded that certain racial or nationality terms (such as Jap for Japanese and Negro for blacks) must be avoided because of their pejorative sense. But the hues of racial prejudices keep changing.

Moro — reminiscent of our “Hay moros en la costa” colonial days — is supposedly another of those emotionally charged words to avoid. But when Muslim rebels called themselves Moros (as in Moro National Liberation Front), many of us started using the tag without any qualms at all.

Pretentious headline writers, by the way, sometimes replace that word “without,” with the French word “sans.” While there are enough of us who have tasted “Sans Rival,” many readers still cannot pronounce the nasal French “sans,” much less guess what it means.

* * *

BUT some words pertaining to nationality are a no-no not because they have a negative connotation, but because they are absurd, redundant or non-existent. An example is “Thailander,” a non-word erroneously used in place of the simpler and correct “Thai.”

We cringe every time we hear radio-TV newscasts and read news reports referring to American “citizens,” German “nationals,” Indian “nationals” (or worse, “Bombay”), and the like. We save valuable time and space by dropping the unnecessary “citizen” and “national.”

On the other hand, “Chinaman” is a derogatory, now archaic, reference to a Chinese, who incidentally should not be called “Intsik” even by the most licentious tabloid writers.

* * *

SOME sensitive compatriots abroad resent being called “Pinoy” over there, something we cannot understand. Until somebody explains this objection to us, we will continue to use Pinoy when handy.

But “Flip” or “Flips” is something else. The term is used by some Americans to refer to us in ridicule. As the word also implies something wrong in the brain department (like the politicized name “Brenda”), the more we resent the word. We hit back by referring to their pea brain in a big body, but the tit-for-tat is never productive.

Another name supposedly frowned upon is “Frisco” to refer to San Francisco. We resided in that charming city by the Bay long enough to qualify as a native, but we never understood fully why our Caucasian neighbors did not want the city called Frisco.

Well, if they don’t like Frisco, they may have to resign to another emerging appellation — Sanfo. Many frequent visitors prefer to use Sanfo as phonetic equivalent of the initials SFO assigned to the San Francisco international airport.

* * *

SFO reminds us of MNL, which are the airline industry initials assigned to Manila (now Ninoy Aquino) international airport.

When we were still dabbling in travel writing and presumptuously dishing out advice on visa problems, we were shown the Philippine passport of a grumbling Filipino/Pinoy/Flip whose US visa application had been rejected.

We saw on one of the passport’s back pages the notation “MNL” followed by the date of the rejection in the handwriting of the US consular officer. Aha, we exclaimed, MNL could be an alert code for “Must Not Leave”! The man has been unjustly marked as barred from the States, went our pat conclusion.

This is the horrible error we fall into when we do not double-check, or when we forget that we should not only be fearless but also fair. We learned belatedly that the [MNL/date] mark merely meant that that passport had been presented to the US embassy in Manila (MNL) on that date.

* * *

BACK to the hostages. Don’t worry, the $2-million ransom demanded for their release (or is it just for Wallert?) reportedly has been put together already, mostly by the country/countries concerned.

Actually, both Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon (who disclosed in Beijing the demand for the $2-million ransom) and Secretary Robert Aventajado (who then denied it in Mindanao) are partly right about the ransom.

Siazon is right because it is true that such a ransom is being demanded by the Abu Sayyaf.

But Aventajado is also right in denying it, because kidnapping should never be made to appear profitable or the government made to appear helpless. Also, how could Aventajado’s boss get credit for the hostages’ eventual release if the negotiators merely bought (not brought) back the hostages?

* * *

THE supposed good news would be marred by the footnote that the money was raised by foreign governments getting impatient with the inability of the footloose Estrada administration to spring the hostages.

Already, Malaysia is negotiating directly with the Abu Sayyaf. Talk is also rife along diplomatic row that some governments with their citizens among the hostages had wanted to bring in their own elite commandos to rescue them.

The Estrada administration naturally balked since we would never be able to live down that kind of foreign intervention. The mess has become international and so embarrassing that President Estrada has had to cancel his coming trip to France and, possibly, also the United Kingdom.

At the rate things are going, it should be the Abu Sayyaf issuing press statements that the situation is under (its) control, di ba?

* * *

MOST of us may have forgotten that the hostages in Jolo were actually kidnapped from a resort in Malaysia and merely “shipped’ to Sulu. Our southern backdoor, alas, is wide open. Down there, there is no such thing as national defense.

Listen to Commodore Ramon Alcaraz (now retired and settled in Southern California) talk of Muslim pirates and unburden his frustration over the neglect of our maritime defenses and resources:

“What is happening in Southern Philippines reminds me of identical situations there in early 1950’s involving Hadjio Kamlon and his brave fighters fighting for a cause. He was a great guerilla leader during the Japanese occupation in Sulu, but after liberation, his political enemies filed murder charges against him for all those killed by his men even during a legitimate battle.

“There were several groups of pirates under the leadership of Mayor Badiri of Parang, Jolo, whose main objective was profit like the Abu Sayyaf, plundering coastal towns not only in Southern Mindanao but also in Indonesia and North Borneo to the great embarrassment of our government.

“Then Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay, with his ‘action agad’ mentality, ordered me to organize Sulu Sea Frontier to solve the problem. With a Naval Task Group of 10 patrol craft, an LST with two helicopters, a squadron of Air Force planes under Major Rancudo, two Marine companies under Capt. Manuel Gomez, a battalion combat team under Lt. Col. Basilio Genson, the Sulu PC under Lt. Col. Felipe Fetalvero, we were able to check the outlaws in due time.

“How come at this time, the outlaw kidnappers in Sulu and Basilan areas apparently have complete mastery of the seas where they operate, bringing their hostages from Malaysia to Jolo without any difficulties? What is our Navy doing to deny these bandits freedom at sea?

“During the 1950’s, we had barrier patrols and had two major battles with the heavily armed pirates at Kantipayan Diki and Teomabal islands. We annihilated those pirates with many killed. We were able to prosecute the leaders like Mayor Badiri, Jamiri Musa and Imam Isa.

“It did not take long after an effective naval blockade of Jolo, that Kamlon surrendered to Magsaysay aboard my flagship under the command of then Lt. Romeo Espaldon.

“If we want the Philippines to be great at last, priority attention must be given to the full development of our enormous maritime and sea power potential.”

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 21, 2000)

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