• What the ice bucket brouhaha tells us



    The first few ones were entertaining, to say the least, but when the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge started showing up among Filipinos, that’s when it took on a very different socio-cultural context that was no longer amusing.

    I watched a few videos of the first American celebrities and politicians who took on the “ice bucket challenge” and I must admit it was fun to watch them pouring ice cold water over their heads, screaming in various ways, and all purportedly for a good cause. It was good, until the challenge became viral and then everyone just jumped into the bandwagon with very few understanding what it was all about.

    The cause was to fund research to find a cure for ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neuro-degenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, with progressively worsening symptoms due to damaged nerve cells including muscle spasticity, fasciculation, and atrophy.

    Say again? That we have to ask, “what’s ALS,” is precisely the point against this massive publicity event that was aimed at the North American and British markets, but somehow transformed into a monstrous show-off festival for online citizens. Indeed, it’s charity as vanity, as the Telegraph put it, an ostentatious display to provoke admiration among all your friends and non-friends.

    The US-based ALS Association has raised as of July 29 a total of $94.3 million (P4.1 billion!) in donations. Cheers to their officials who thought of this event, for this is one of the most successful public relations events ever. I’m sure many other charity and disease-fighting organizations, which we could boldly say are more deserving of the money, are eyeing their donors’ treasure chest with utmost envy.

    In fact, a report says that ALS at this point doesn’t even know what to do with the windfall. “We realize that there are responsibilities that come with being good stewards of these dollars,” said the charity’s spokesperson Carrie Munk, while admitting that they are unsure of how to spend all the money that is suddenly coming in, from all over the world at that, including poverty-stricken Philippines.

    We have a proclivity for aping anything that’s trendy in the United States (yes, our colonial mentality has never disappeared). So now we see our local celebrities, businessmen, and politicians starting to post videos of themselves acting silly, and saying a few catchphrases about “ALS” in the hope they will be seen as kind and generous to a worthy endeavor.

    While waiting for my doctor recently at a provincial hospital, I couldn’t avoid but seeing portions of the local variety shows, which I normally avoid watching for fear of brain atrophy. But there they were, the lunchtime entertainers, doing the ALS ice bucket challenge. But in their cringe-worthy awkward spiel, they couldn’t even explain what the acronym stood for, or what the disease was all about.

    It is sad and painful to think of all the time, energy, money, celebrity goodwill, and media airtime that were expended on an effort that will not directly benefit Filipinos. It would have been better if these local celebrities and politicians poured water over their heads, and then said they would donate to the Philippine Cancer Society instead of the American ALS, or send money instead to the charity ward of the severely underfunded, but public service giant, the Philippine General Hospital.

    I doubt very much if ALS is as prevalent here as is cancer. In my column last August 10, I wrote that every year about 98,200 Filipinos are newly diagnosed with cancer and 59,000 deaths from cancer are recorded. There are of course other diseases striking Filipinos that require only speedy medical intervention such as tuberculosis and pneumonia, and which could benefit greatly from private donations.

    Donating to Philippine charities would be a much nobler activity. If you want to do it while doing an ice bucket challenge, by all means do so. However, act now because the ALS Association is moving to trademark their water challenge. Fortune.com reported that the Washington, D.C.-based non-governmental organization filed the pertinent papers with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office last week. So very soon, you will need their permission to use the term “ice bucket challenge” for a similar charity event, and likely, even pay them royalty fees.

    Another good alternative to the ALS challenge came from Indian journalist Manju Latha Kalanidhi, who works for the rice research website Oryza.com. She advocates that instead of dousing yourself with precious water, you donate a bucket of rice to a poor person or family. The modern human’s need for digital affirmation would be met with her suggestion that you post online a photo of yourself doing the donation, and then challenge your friends to do the same.

    Kalanidhi’s counter-advocacy also stems from the developing world’s perception that throwing water in this frivolous manner is just a waste of precious resource. Of course, this is an issue that would be apparent in countries where water is scarce such as India and Africa, but I would think also in the Philippines.

    Our water costs are expensive, many rural areas still lack a reliable source of potable water, and the sources of freshwater, our rivers and lakes, are deteriorating due to environmental pollution. There are even reports of a potential water shortage next year, in a twin event with the looming power crisis.

    The ALS association website actually has a mild warning about “thoughtful water usage” when undertaking the ice bucket challenge. “If you’re in an area of the country of world affected by drought, repurpose the water for later use,” it said.

    In Philippine social media, where dissent and creative ideas abound, I found the funniest take on this ice bucket challenge. The netizens are advocating that politicians accepting pork and other largesse, violating the Constitution, or failing to fix the Metro Rail Transit, would undergo the “boiling water challenge,” and thus have their hot and final comeuppance.


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    1 Comment

    1. Do you really believe “Leftover” Filipinos (those who couldn’t escape to other countries) care about each other, or rather, I should say, about anything other than (1) themselves, (2) their immediate families or (3) their servantes-peones who carry out their bidding? Seriously? All MOST of them (there are exclusions, such as yourself and the minute, like-minded minority) care about is having a good time, living for today, assaulting the local SM, enjoying the moment. The ones who really care about their country have already LEFT it, and are – unfortunately / unwittingly – paying for the mass party back here.