POSTSCRIPT / November 3, 2009 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Pinoys abroad treated to distorted TV news

NEGATIVE FARE: Many Balikbayan friends and relatives coming home from the United States for All Saints Day surprise us with questions that seldom occur to us natives who are too close to the trees to see the forest.

A number of them confide, for instance, they were somewhat afraid to come home to a country that, they had been told, is so mired in crime, corruption and violence that it is just about ready to break into pieces.

These Balikbayans represent two generations of overseas Filipinos who have been bombarded daily by Pinoy cable programming that does brisk business retailing nothing but crime and scandal, soap opera and showbiz.

There is nothing in other private media, much less in the bulletins of our embassies and consulates, that would be positive and pervasive enough to balance the dreary and dreadful reports.

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SOLO JOB: Some homecoming relatives ask me where the ABS-CBN offices are, so they can donate to the relief funds for flood victims.

To my surprise, they think the Lopez-owned network is the one in charge of gathering donations here and aboard and distributing the relief packages to victims of calamities in the country.

They are mostly unaware of whatever other organizations and the government have been doing by way of relief and rehabilitation.

After the real situation dawns on them, a few Balikbayans lament that in some people’s campaign to destroy President Gloria Arroyo, they are in effect also destroying the country’s image abroad.

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STREET SCENE: When driven around, most Balikbayan friends keep car doors locked (dapat naman) and windows rolled up. They have been conditioned to think that the nation’s capital itself is teeming with thieves poised to pounce on careless commuters.

Having seen them on TV back in the US, there is instant recognition when visitors spot the grimy waifs selling sampaguita garlands, and the amputees and Badjao women (invariably carrying a child) begging at intersections.

They know the names of all the celebrity candidates whose tarpaulins they see hanging in public places in eternal remembrance of their election bid for 2010.

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SHOPPING & DINING: Seeing the crowds milling in the malls and dining in the more expensive restos, many Balikbayans wonder how this is so when the Pinoy cable TV back home says more than half of the population is wallowing in poverty.

The malls are among the reverse-revelations to visitors from the States. Many of them marvel at how the size, stock and shoppers of our malls put to shame their malls and factory outlets back home.

The dizzying dazzle overwhelms them as they are taken to Greenbelt, Rockwell’s Powerplant, Shangri-La Plaza, Trinoma and SM City malls, among other places.

One irony is that in the upscale restos, the more discriminating among travelers do not order Filipino food but go for Italian, Japanese, Thai, Viet, Greek and exotic cuisine.

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WHERE ELSE?: It may be good that visitors are thus distracted, so it does not occur to them to ask to be taken to the national museum (where is it?) or to a theater staging Broadway-type shows, or to some first-class beach resort within driving distance from Manila.

If they have read about some classy resort in Palawan or some island paradise in the South and want to savor a change of atmosphere, one has to exert Herculean efforts to make their dream outing happen.

South of Manila, there is the Tagaytay area with its nippy weather. Bicol is out of the question. Up north, there is good old Baguio but it is suddenly too far, considering traffic, weather and all. Less traveled Banawe, Vigan and Pagudpud are even farther.

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FUND HANDLING: Back to the matter of solicitation, a few wonder aloud how much of a dollar donated to the fund-raising organizations actually reaches the intended beneficiaries.

I confess I don’t know how a dollar donation is broken down, and I doubt if the government agency, if any, licensing or overseeing the massive fund-raising know for sure.

But I guess at least 25 percent (or a quarter for every dollar) is eaten up by administrative costs. That portion goes to paying rent, personnel services, utilities, transportation, advertising and other items

One wonders also who collects the interest that piles up when the donations running into millions are deposited in the bank.

What about the handling of “anonymous” donations? If there are 100 “anonymous” donations, can the organization enter just 20 of them in the books without anybody noticing anything unusual?

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MIND-CONDITIONING: Distortion happens when people far from home are treated daily with only one kind of news and public affairs programming on the boob tube.

Whoever controls the content of such programming is able to condition the minds of mass audiences. Who ensures that viewers receive balanced and fair information?

Reminds me of that time when I was still in grade school and the Philippines sent a contingent to fight with United Nations forces pushing back the North Koreans who crossed the 38th parallel to invade the South.

Everybody I knew in my hometown read only the Manila Times and so I was unaware that there were other newspapers reporting on the conflict. As far as I was concerned, there was only one Filipino correspondent covering the war, and he was Benigno S. Aquino Jr. of the Times.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 3, 2009)

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