Chairman Francis Tolentino of Metropolitan Manila Development Authority shouldn’t have sent that letter to Dan Brown, author of Inferno, now a fast-selling potboiler. Or he should have at least refrained from giving the media a copy of the letter.
Mr. Tolentino’s obvious objective is to profess his love for the country and to announce it could count on him to mount a vigorous defense against any attempt to tarnish its reputation. Poor guy. Instead of a knight in shining armor, he is now being seen as too uptight and a poor sport.
New Yorkers just shrugged it off when someone called their city “the armpit of the world.”
If the residents of the Big Apple reacted at all—and many did—it was to express admiration for so clever a putdown. Instead of going up in arms (no pun intended), like Mr. Tolentino does, the residents took it as an occasion of hilarity. In fact, they tried to outdo one another supplying horror stories to illustrate the veracity of the statement.
In the book, a character, Sienna Brooks, experiencing mid-life crisis, decides to do her part to ease the suffering of the world’s poor.
Here’s the passage that Mr. Tolentino must have found objectionable:
“Through her acts of public service, Sienna came in contact with several members of a local humanitarian group. When they invited her to join them on a month-long trip to the Philippines, she jumped at the chance.”
But she gets more than what she bargains for.
“Sienna imagined they were going to feed poor fishermen or farmers in the countryside, which she had read was as wonderland of geological beauty, with vibrant sea beds and dazzling plans. And so when the group settled in among the throngs in the cit of Manila—the most densely populated city on earth—Sienna could only gape in horror. She had neve seen poverty on this scale.”
Maybe Mr. Tolentino takes offense because Inferno, although a work of fiction, has more than a modicum of truth to it. Truth hurts, and sometimes it drives people to murderous frenzy. But we should direct our ire at Filipino leaders, who have been described by objective observers from outside the country as a most insensitive lot, interested only in perpetuating themselves in power—notice the proliferation of political dynasties—and contemptuous of the people they promise to serve every election.
We’ve just elected 12 senators and 287 members of the House of Representatives. The 16th Congress will convene soon, and once more we will be treated to a spectacle of legislators and their spouses preening themselves before the TV camera, the men in signature suits and the women in made to order gowns. All that in a country notorious, as depicted by Brown, for “a horrifying sex trade, whose workers consisted primarily of young children, many of whom had been sold to pimps by parents who took solace in knowing that at least their children would be fed.”
It seems all we want to hear are praises about the country, something Vin Diesel dished out for the benefit of the media when he flew in recently to promote his film, Fast and Furious. He said he wouldn’t trade his trip to the Philippines for anything, and we lapped it all up.
“The people here are so wonderful and they don’t even realize it,” he gushed. “They have this kind of warm and welcoming energy that you don’t see everywhere.”
Of course, we should be grateful for the man for his kind words. But he too must have noticed the poverty around him. He was just too polite to talk about it. Besides he was here to promote his film, and it would be stupid to trash the country and its people.
We should not be too quick to condemn foreigners for their unflattering remarks about us. Every country has its share of poverty, corruption in the government, prostitution, and indiscipline. Sure we have more than our share of these problems, but our outrage is misplaced.
Oh, yes, the novel also tells the reader of Manila’s “six-hour traffic jams and suffocating pollution. . . . “
Maybe that’s what riles Mr. Tolentino the most. We suggest he does something about it, instead of complaining about what after all is an accurate portrayal of the city.