I was never sold on Gawad Kalinga. I’ve always equated it with a specific kind of religiosity that to me reeked of conservatism. I also always thought that it became a convenient way to do Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for many-a-Pinoy company: go build houses, get a tax shield!
It might be why this meltdown with GK Head Tony Meloto did not surprise me. Certainly I took it with a grain of salt. At the same time, there are some jokes that are just difficult to forgive. Without a transcript or recording of the speech itself, we’ve got a she-said-he-said between the University of Hawaii-Center of Philippine Studies (UH-CPS) and Meloto. It’s reason enough to have this discussion on sexism and elitism.
The speech undone
From April 8 to 11, UH-CPS celebrated its 40th Anniversary with an international symposium, where Meloto was to deliver a speech to an audience of “academics from all over the world, the UH community and Filipino community leaders and members.” (CPS Statement)
UH-CPS has since written a statement outlining what they thought was offensive about Meloto’s speech, and apologizing for having invited him at all.
According to the UH-CPS statement, Meloto “characterized the Philippines as ‘broken,’ and poor people in the Philippines as ‘hopeless’ and ‘violent’.” Meloto also talked about his “philosophy of ‘social’ entrepreneurship [as]simply a celebration of global free market capitalism and the efforts of white, male, European and US entrepreneurs to bring prosperity to ill-fated Philippines.”
But “most disturbing” about Meloto’s speech, said the statement, was its sexism. “His belief that the ‘greatest asset of the Philippines is our beautiful women,’ and that the future of the nation can be advanced by using them to attract the ‘best and the brightest’ men from the West, and enticing them to invest in the Philippines, was outrageously sexist and deeply offensive to everybody in the audience, as well as patronizing and disrespectful to Filipino women in particular.”
Meloto also talked about “the need for Filipino women and their white husbands” to produce what Mr. Meloto (apparently humorously) called “cappuccinos.”
To UH-CPS, Meloto “appeared to present such a policy of seduction and reproduction as a solution to the problems of economic development in the Philippines.”
I do not doubt the sincerity in Meloto’s response to UH-CPS (GK website, May 26). But it does reveal a man who demands that we take what he says at face value, and imagines an audience enamored by wit and humor, no matter how politically incorrect.
Meloto cannot believe he’s been called sexist and elitist “especially after hundreds of speeches in the Philippines and abroad, and after caring for the poor every day, protecting women and children and promoting pride as a Filipino everywhere I go in the last 20 years.” He also asserts that UH-CPS could have written him first for the courtesy of a reply, “before unleashing it to social media.”
But he misses the point: UH-CPS wrote that statement to apologize for having invited Meloto, and to declare that they did not share any of his views. That statement was not about “hating on him” as Meloto’s defenders have asserted; it’s about one organization taking responsibility for having picked the wrong speaker for its symposium.
Meloto is correct though about the online mob. But he has to realize that many were not sharing this statement unthinkingly. If at all, it was an opportunity for others to air their own experiences with regards Meloto and his speeches, or what they thought was problematic about GK as an institution. Many are valid critiques by the way.
Also: just because he has never been told that he is sexist or elitist, does not mean he is neither. It’s entirely possible that no one has had the balls to come out with it because he is Meloto after all, with his own battalion of defenders, a sacred cow to some extent.
Elitist and sexist
Meloto asks: “How can I be elitist when I spend almost every day of my life with the least privileged in the slums, with victims in calamity areas and the landless farmers?”
But charity is elitist. There is nothing that makes one feel one’s power over the less privileged than notions of charity, of being in control of another person’s life, and in relation to GK of re-creating the poor’s life into one that is “acceptable,” because “decent” and “productive.” For Meloto to think he is no elitist because he does charity work tells me that he does not problematize GK at all, and that’s utterly disappointing.
Meloto asserts that he is not sexist. What he did was speak “candidly about bright foreigners finding the Philippines as the land of opportunity, hub for social entrepreneurs and the most beautiful country in Asia, including our women.” His own daughters married foreigners who have since decided to live in the country.
He invokes his work in GK as a measure of his non-sexist nature. In GK Villages, men are disciplined through values formation, and domestic and community violence against women are not tolerated. He asserts that where “Men are usually the criminals,” “Filipino women are our biggest blessing because of their caring and nurturing nature” and that he has “nothing but the highest respect for our Filipina women who are the heart of our home and community.”
But Meloto’s statements reek of sexism, even as he uses these to assert otherwise. The woman as “blessing,” as “heart of the home,” as those who can get foreign men to stay in the Philippines, and who can get pregnant with cappuccinos, are nothing but sexist assertions that peg us to the roles of nurturer and mother, asserting our value solely in relation to men.
In fact, to even equate the Filipina with the beauty of the nation is the oldest sexist (and colonial!) metaphor in the book. Meloto speaks of us like a tourist product to be marketed, one that is reason for foreigner to come visit the Philippines.
It’s bad enough that when you do a Google search for Filipino women, the prostitution and mail-order-bride sites come up. We don’t need a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee unthinkingly invoking the same about our women.
Someone like Meloto should be far better than that.