AFTER gaining such mileage for being the resort du jour for fancy weddings and exclusive pictorials (READ: the Senator Chiz Escudero-Heart Evangelista nuptials) – the kind that makes you wonder if it’s even in the Philippines at all – Balesin Island Resort has gotten the kind of press any business for the wealthy and elite would love.
Or hate. As the resort’s press release has inadvertently asked: What is this hullaballoo?
One can believe that it’s been going on for a while, Balesin offering its members meal options for the yayas they bring along on their vacations at the exclusive resort. And certainly it is believable that the members themselves asked that these options be made available, because while we’d like to think that our yayas will like the fancy food that we like, it’s also possible that they’d rather have simpler Pinoy fare like adobo and bangus.
Of course, the truth is, some of us would also rather have simpler Pinoy fare.
And this is how the yaya meal actually came to be revealed: someone not-a-yaya, wanted the same meal that was served the yaya. She was told that it was not for her, that she couldn’t order it even.
That was the mistake that opened a can of worms. It could be that the waiter did not know how to deal with such a question, rare as it is that anyone would want the adobo meal over whatever’s on the menu. Or maybe even rarer, having a yaya eating her meals accompanied by her alaga and her alaga’s grandmother.
Whatever the reason for this grand reveal, it took one Maggie Wilson-Consunji, beauty queen and model, to take offense and get Balesin the mileage it does not quite want or need. Of course she got it wrong the first time: her yaya could order anything on the menu, but no one else could order the yaya meal. Too, she says, the mere existence of the yaya meal was offensive.
Because apparently when we sell exclusivity we don’t think elitism; and when we speak of the wealthy and the rich, we’d rather not imagine those who serve them.
Some lessons in class
There were classier ways of dealing with the need for simpler meals for everyone who goes to Balesin, as there are classier ways of responding to the backlash of being revealed as elitist.
There’s simply apologizing for having offended someone like Wilson-Consunji, as well as every person who has raised a fist at Balesin. There’s explaining about how this was something the members of the resort had asked for, and they named it to make it easier on said clientele – which by the way is not the rest of us who can’t afford Balesin anyway. There’s just falling silent, and waiting for the noise to die down, the way things do on Pinoy (social) media.
Instead, Balesin released the worst press statement it possibly could on the issue, saying they could not even understand what the hullaballoo is about, because they were merely providing a service that was demanded by their clientele.
Probably worse than Balesin though are the members of the club who have revealed their own confusion on the matter: aren’t yaya meals convenient? It’s not offensive at all because they in fact treat their yayas like family, they pay their yayas well, they even bring their yayas on their vacations! What is so wrong about catering to their yaya’s taste?
One is reminded that while there’s exclusivity and elitism, there’s also a pretty clear thick line drawn between the old rich and the nouveau riche. Because one imagines that the old rich actually make their yayas family, and call them Nanay or Ate, or simply call them by their names. They eat with them at the dining table, and make sure they are comfortable – members of the family as they are.
But none of this is surprising really. What has been extraordinary is the grand display of class consciousness, the noise that’s been generated against the yaya meal, and what that reveals about us and the limits of our ability to discuss class difference as we live it every day.
As we actually do exist because of it. Because there are the peasants of Hacienda Luisita, so rarely discussed, but suffering as we speak, in the hands of a family that has refused to give them their due, that refuses to even treat them as people. These are farmer and peasant families who have tilled the land all their lives, who have made the hacienda what it is.
There are the farmers on whose tired backs we all live, they who do not reap what they sow, because what they earn is not commensurate to the kind of work that they do. Instead they suffer in the hands of feudal lords, if not because of globalization and cheaper goods, and a government that does not care for developing agriculture, a public that does not care to engage in discussion.
There are the countless minimum wage earners, under contractual employment, living with oppressive employment conditions. Whose lives might be changed were capitalists and oligarchs kinder, willing to provide them with social security and health benefits. Whose lives would be changed if government cared enough to approve the P125-across-the-board wage increase, one that workers have long deserved.
But alas, this class difference is not one that gets the kind of media mileage that the yaya meal has gotten. And one can only fear that this is really all we can manage, because it’s easy to take a stand against it maybe? Because it doesn’t disrupt the status quo so.
We might think that winning the small battles is as good as winning the war. But to make paninindigan against the yaya meal! Ibagsak! just does not suffice. The class war is more complex than that.