We tend to laud Pinoys who make it big with their talents and capabilities and make it known to the world that we can do something big. Yet the selection of talents is very limited. Obvious example is Lea Salonga who’s an internationally renowned singer, along with Charice Pempengco. Same with APL of Black Eyed Peas and Jasmine Trias. Arnel Pineda who joined Journey is so celebrated today, especially with his recent rendition of the Philippine National Anthem at the Pacquiao-Clottey bout. Of course, there’s Manny Pacquiao himself in boxing, and Bata Reyes and Django Bustamante in billiards. There’s Efren Penaflorida, whose CNN award can be considered controversial, but Pinoys make a fiesta of it nonetheless.
But besides this, we hear little of other Filipinos who are lauded abroad… and rarely other kinds of achievements than those mentioned here.
Not that I’m disparaging the people above. I agree that they have helped put our country on the map. But the question needs to be asked: is that all we’ve got?
It’s always a Filipino boxer, singer, dancer, actor, sportsman or similar who becomes known. They’re always in the showbiz, sports or performing arts fields. Famous Filipinos come from really narrowed sectors in life. We have never heard of a Filipino biotechnologist, nuclear physicist, international poverty researcher, sci-fi or fantasy writer or anything else, something other than what is popular. Heck, Filipina porn stars are a lot more well-known too.
Of course, one can say that the Philippine science and technology fields are so neglected. But who cares in this country? Most Filipinos want to be famous entertaining or punching somebody while raking in the money, instead of finding a cure for AIDS or submitting a program for solving poverty in his home country. And those Filipinos who are trying to find a cure for AIDS or solving poverty, seem to be pushed into the background or out of the country.
This seems like shameless plugging, but I’d like to use myself as an example. Back in 2002, I joined a Yahoo group on science fiction writing where I later found a publisher calling for submissions. I dropped in some of my short stories, and thus Gate Way Publishers came out with my short story collection, SFRP2003. I’m not really earning much from this. But it is one achievement I feel proud of. This is because it’s something different from a singer or boxer. But that sad part is that it hasn’t created waves in the world. Anyway, I do presume Filipinos care less about one of their own being a science-fiction writer than a singer. But I sure wish there were other Filipinos doing the same thing I do here.
Can someone else worth mentioning step up to the challenge and be famous for something else than being a singer, boxer or book kariton-pusher (or anything as common as those)? But then again, I mean that this person should only be doing their job right, and not just trying to draw attention to themselves (reportedly the book kariton-pusher was). Fellow Filipinos laud someone else and then ride on their popularity to boost their own ego. They will go for the pretty-faced entertainer or sportsman who’s always the favorite of bettors.
Finding renowned Filipinos around is sadly marred by some hoaxes. That Flores invented the fluorescent lamp is a hoax. I searched and found the name Irene Mora, supposedly the first Filipino astronaut, but even this was declared a hoax. Tsk. Even in such a thing, deceit is used to try and make Pinoys famous.
So far, my own choices for praise include Filipino comic book artists Fred Carillos and Whilce Portacio, who excelled in comic book drawing in the U.S. Even Rex Navarette (maker of “Maritess and the Superfiends”) seems pretty laudable as a stand-up comedian and. Jo Koy had recently been featured in this blog. But there’s more than just performers. There’s a Filipina F-16 fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force named Monessa Catuncan, and there’s General Edward Soriano in the U.S. Army. But I wonder if these guys are well known compared to Efren, Lea or Pacquiao. In addition, we have to move beyond these.
Lately, I’ve discovered Marni Eusebio Cueno, one of our UP Los Banos graduates who have gone abroad for greener pastures. But his search for these pastures has led to a nobler goal: finding a cure for AIDS. He’s researching on using plant matter as a source for AIDS vaccines. He enjoined another Filipino scientist, Antonio C. Laurena, in this. They may not be good in singing (I assume) nor are they ragingly famous as Anjanette Abayari and Charice… but they sure deserve more exposure because of their goal. Should they succeed, wouldn’t that raise the bar for Filipino fame?
We have though the shadow of infamous Filipinos to break out of. Ferdinand Marcos is listed as one of the “Killers of the 20th Century,” and there are many who would agree. Wife Imelda is most known internationally for her 3,000 pairs of shoes, televised on international TV in 1986. Versace killer Andrew Cunanan may be less known to home countrymen, but not to Versace fans and family (There’s even a musical about him!). Negative images exist of Filipinos around the world that we should try to break.
I still believe the void is big for a Pinoy who’ll make it big in something else than the usual. But it’s an even bigger void for the people who believe that Filipinos should excel more in singing, dancing and boxing, and less in finding an AIDS cure or being a fighter pilot, or finding viable alternative energy resources. We sure have lots of potential choices not just in the country, but as OFWs around the world as well. They should be given the chance to shine beyond the mere generic brand name “OFWs”.
Who the Filipinos appreciate is a reflection of their rather primitive aspirations in life as a culture. It’s time to raise the standards of these aspirations.