FILIPINO IDOL CRAZED
By Patricia Chanco Evangelista
The Philippine STAR 10/22/2004
I went to London last May to represent the Philippines in the International Public Speaking Competition. I gave a speech that celebrated the Filipino identity, telling the world that being Filipino is something that must never be denied.
When I competed in the local eliminations, they gave us the topic “A Borderless World.” It was inevitable, at least for me, to speak about the Filipino Diaspora. It’s true, I was out to win, and I used a feeling that is very much alive in the Philippines today: condemnation.
We have a family friend who used to be close to us. She and her family sent all their kids to America – to a better life, a better future. It hurt to have them leave, but people are entitled to their choices. They came back a couple of years ago. They invited us to dinner, and so there we were in their living room, along with their brand-new furniture and 50-inch flat-screen TV. The adults started talking about the Philippines, at least our old friend did. She said that she is glad, so glad, that her children have been saved from this god-awful country of ours. A country with awful politics, awful places, awful traffic, awful, awful people.
I’m a Filipino. I’m one of those “awful” people. And I was outraged.
I didn’t say anything then. What could I say? But when the competition gave me the platform to sp eak about a borderless world, I spoke, I said everything I wished I said years ago. I was like a madman on a soapbox, I condemned the Filipinos who chose to leave, said they deserved to be pushed down the road to hell on a handcart. Traitors and turncoats, I called them.
And I won, obviously not because of content. Sabi ko nga, angas, kaya minsan. Sometimes confidence can save the day. I still blush when I remember what happened.
In London, I didn’t win on my own. I was lucky enough to be under the tutelage of some of the best minds in the country. Great writers like Krip Yuson, Gemino Abad, Butch Dalisay, Boo Chanco and Ed Maranan, along with former ambassador Ed Espiritu took me under their wing. They never told me what to do or say, I would never have said what I did in the finals if I didn’t reach that conclusion on my own. They asked me questions, listened to what I said, and opened my eyes to a less narrow and more holistic
I almost didn’t go to London. Money is tight, and asking for government support at a time like this is difficult, close to impossible. However, it is a wonderful thing to have corporations such as Shell Philippines who believe in giving back to the country. They sent me to London with a ticket, a smile and a “good luck.” Like I said, I was lucky.
With the support of so many people, family, friends and the grace of God, I won. Hey, I’m Filipino.
I went home with cameras at my face and questions like: “How does it feel to put the Philippines on the map?” I was 18, and I have to admit, I was thrilled. I’m not the first Filipino to win, and I’m not going to be the last. But unlike a lot of winners, I have something else going for me. My mentors and rel atives are some of the most prolific writers in the country, and they made damn sure people knew what I did. In other words, I have built-in publicity. Cool, huh!
The other day, I was reading the paper and found the story of an 11-year-old girl named Faye. It was a paid ad by Bread of Life Ministries. “Unknown to her countrymen, this 11-year-old girl brought honor to the Philippines. She represented the country two weeks ago in the Intercontinental Science Quiz Net in Australia. Out of 57 countries represented, Faye garnered first place for the Philippines. Germany came in second, the United States came third.”
Faye’s story is an extraordinary one. Given financial constraints, especially since her mother was raising Faye on her own, they went to various congressmen for aid. Only one was willing to help them, in exchange for the senator taking credit for the child’s former achievements (and there were many). Her mother did what any self-respecting mother would have, she refused.
Mother and daughter went to Australia by dint of their own savings. They collected her “Best in Physics” award in Brisbane and moved on to Sydney for the Quiz. They were aided by none other than a “kind” Filipina on the plane, who very kindly stole their luggage, passports and plane tickets, leaving the pair with carry-on luggage. They sold their clothes for food, and begged for help from Filipino officials. They were given an overnight stay in a hotel, but no more. They had to check out the next day, and with no money for transportation, they walked the two kilometers to the tournament site.
They were shocked by the sight that faced them. Each competitor had his own cheering squad, a band and a flag. Young Faye had no one other than her mother. In the final round, Faye was the only Asian left competing and was cheered on to victory by her fellow Asians, the Japanese. It was a Japanese diplomat who helped them secure temporary passports, with the prize money only sufficient to bring them back home.
It is tempting to blame everything on a country that claims it is looking for heroes and does not acknowledge them. The article draws parallels to Jasmine Trias victory, why give the Hawaiian winner of America Idol the red carpet to Malacañang, when a homegrown 11-year-old girl went through hell and high water to bring honor to the country? After the Southeast Asian Games, there was no one, not a single member of the National Sports Commission to receive our athletes. True, they did not win, but they faced
their competitors with a dignity and a skill that befit Filipinos. They too represented the country.
It is tempting to revert back to the old Filipino condemnation. Awful politicians, awful government, awful people. But it would not be fair. Faye herself said, in spite of everything, “let us love our nation, for no one else will.” Brave girl that Faye.
I was lucky to be at the right time and the right place, to have the support of so many people, bringing me the opportunities I have today. Some people are not so lucky. I do not deny Jasmine Trias the moment in the sun. Her talent is as real as anyone else’s and we Filipinos love the glitz and glamour of spotlights and cameras. Yet her success has drawn a stark contrast to those who have succeeded yet were not recognized.
Butch Jimenez, one of the greatest speakers I have heard and another of those people who see the value of giving to the country, gave a speech to the graduates of UP Diliman. He said that there’s something better than having a vision: it’s having a cause.
I found my cause. I was lucky to get the attention. I am grateful for the recognition. I am honored by the chance to speak my mind and to influence people. I cannot say that enough. Helping this one girl, and others like her will be my cause. It is disgraceful for such victory to go unnoticed. One article may not make a difference, but it’s a step.
For all those times that no one said it, I say this now.
Faye, congratulations. You did the country proud.
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip in 2004