In defense of Gawad Kalinga founder Tony Meloto

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Poor Tony Meloto. I think events caught up with him and this time he said the wrong thing to the wrong audience. Maybe having Fil-Ams as his audience for too long sort of made him forget that the banal racism and sexism in Filipino humor simply does not fly with real Americans.

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My friends say he probably meant well — just that he acted in a manner consistent to the attitudes of his generation, them old farts who grew up at a time when women “knew their place”, cooked their dinners, and churned out babies. That makes sense I guess. Anybody who’s followed Mad Men will know that even American men of Meloto’s generation had really clear ideas about how women should spend their days and what goals they should be aspiring to.

The thing is, America moved on. The Philippines did not. America is now “politically correct”. The Philippines remains the same racist sexist society it was 50 years ago. You can tell by the way Filipino men still boast about their harems, casually crack crude jokes at their female co-workers, and refer to some of their compatriots as chek-wa or pana. It’s all normal really.

In that sense, we can, in principle, excuse the esteemed Gawad Kalinga founder. He was just being himself. He is a premium product of Philippine society, after all. Indeed, a lot of what he says is true. Filipinas who manage to marry foreigners are often derisively called “success stories” by Filipinos. In some gatherings I often overhear people say ang puti naman ng anak mo, buti nag-mana sa ina (“your kid is so fair-skinned, good thing she took after her mother”).

It’s a powerful legacy colonial domination left us. Its influence on Filipinos’ thinking and personal aspirations can still be seen and felt to this day. We still see association with (and impregnation by) European people as a ticket out of poverty and the bottom of the social hierarchy. You gotta hand it to Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. It’s still relevant today more than a hundred years after it was published!

Considering then that the event was organized by the University of Hawaii’s Center of Philippine Studies (CPS), you’d think its faculty would be well aware of these nuances of Filipino culture and shouldn’t be too shocked to see these manifested in speeches coming from guys like Meloto. And, I do agree, Filipino women rock! Right, Mr. Meloto? 😉

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