Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Doctors and sailors

Updated. 17 January 2008

In the Comments section of MLQ3's blog, I may have been too harsh on our doctors for their reaction to the perceived Desperate Housewives slur. I called them 'whiny'. Just in case you were hibernating, around September last year, an episode of Desperate Housewives had one of the characters (Susan Meyer, played by Teri Hatcher) having a checkup with her gynecologist, and the gynecologist's diagnosis was that she was in menopause, causing the character to ask for the doctor's credentials: "Can I check those diplomas because I want to make sure they're not from some med school in the Philippines."

And all whiny hell broke loose. The Fil-Am community exploded in indignation. Racial slur!, they cried. They demanded an apology from ABC. Not to let an opportunity like this pass, Filipino politicians in these islands gleefully, and with hearts bleeding, demanded that ABC apologize. Petitions were put up and signed. Filipino blogs exploded in all their racially slurred fury, defending the doctors' honor. "Woe unto us Filipino doctors," the doctors cried. "Woe unto us," the crowd chorused. Boycotts and general ill-will followed suit. Oh, the middle classness of it all! The Middle Class deemed it fit to defend our doctors' honor. (ABC eventually apologized, but the Fil-Am doctors arent going to let it pass that easily. They slapped them with a lawsuit like good Americans.)

Fast forward a couple of months later and the world came to know of a two-decade-long insult in the waters of the world towards Filipino seamen via an episode wherein a US Navy vessel almost opened fire on an Iranian speedboat. Lewis Page, a former Royal Navy sailor, writes in The Register:

Anyone who has spent time bridge watchkeeping at sea east of the Suez Canal will be aware of what's known as the "Filipino Monkey" phenomenon. All ships at sea are required to maintain a listening watch on VHF marine channel 16, so as to hear distress messages, collision warnings or other calls. It's the equivalent of the Star Trek "hailing frequencies", as it were. However, you aren't supposed to just blot out channel 16 with chitchat - if you want to hold a conversation or something the correct form is to change channels after establishing comms on 16. In that way, the primary channel stays open for urgent stuff.

In northern waters, this is what happens. Once you get down into points south and east, the knowledge that large numbers of people absolutely have to listen to you - like it or not, as a requirement of maritime law and professional seamanship - seemingly becomes an irresistible temptation for a lot of people in possession of VHF sets.

The most popular phrase used by these people is "Filipino Monkey", said by salty old seafarers to have started out as an insult against Filipinos but now just meaning "I'm bored and want to piss a lot of watchstanders off".

"Filipino Monkey" is not a person, not a group of persons, no matter what CNN, or any other international news agencies say. (The ever-dependable Wikipedia has an entry on the Filipino Monkey that says, "It is likely that this title has come about due to a suspicion that such pranksters originate from the Philippines."*) If they had simply dug deeper, asked questions, or applied good ole common sense, they'd know that "Filipino Monkey" is a taunt aimed at Filipino sailors. It was meant to insult them. Remember this has been going on for 20 years and yet this is the first time we have heard of it. Now notice how a Filipino sailor handles it:

The two tone alarm has gone again and this time it’s a pan pan from La
Coruna Radio, other side of the Bay of Biscay. You wouldn’t mind so
much if it was just the official users of VHF and MF radio that you had
to contend with, but oh no there is every manner of animal sound, and
jungle noise on the VHF from people who should not be on the radio, let
alone a ship. One moron was calling out, “Gorilla from Manila, and
Filipino monkey” my watchman who is from Manila laughed and said that
it is often Indian’s who call this out to provoke a response from
Filipinos, who say “Indian I can’t see you but I can smell you”.

(via a link in MLQ3's blog about the taunt.)
What did the sailor from Manila do? Did he whine, "Woe is me, a poor defenseless Filipino seaman! I have to endure these taunts, oh wretched man that I am."? No. He... laughed. And said they usually return the compliment. Never mind that probably the fella wasnt Indian although he might have been. The point is, even though he wasnt going to take that, he returned the taunt in good humor. He didnt whine to the United Filipino Seafarers, or Filipino community at large, whose politicians would be quick to take advantage of this. Remember this has been going on for 20 years. It is a game to them: You call me a monkey, I'll call you a pus-filled flea on a plague-ridden rodent.

Now I can't explain the disparity in the reactions of the doctors and the seamen to a perceived racial slur, but I have a few theories. It probably has something to do with security. Not financial security, but the security in one's place in society. Shipping companies keep getting Filipino seamen because theyre the best. The Filipinos are confident of that and they know in their heart that no matter what some schmuck says on VHF channel 16, theyre still the best. Our Fil-Am doctors on the other hand, even though their skills are right up there with other doctors (Bill Clinton's personal doctor when he was president is a Filipino), theyre still insecure. They dont want this insecurity exposed, so they whine and slap lawsuits.

Also, Fil-Am doctors are, well, Fil-Ams, that is, Americans. They have imbibed a politically-correct lifestyle and a Hollywood-style progressive politics where when you feel insulted, you come crying to the Nanny State who will take care of you and wipe your tears away. The seamen are different. Theyre Filipinos...Pinoys. They have long realized that if they want to improve their lot in life, they better do it on their own. They are a self-reliant bunch who, even though they would want their government to give them some perks, know that their government would probably let them down. So they fight their own battles.

Inodoro ni Emilie in the comment section of MLQ3's blog post linked above is concerned that because the 'slurred party' are our sailors, it won't get the same level of indignation from the country's Middle Class, the way the Middle Class rose to defend the Fil-Am doctors. He's concerned that there seems to be a double standard: "It’s like saying U.S. based pinoy professionals are levels way above the evolutionary ladder that there’s no need to fuss about this incident." Maybe there's some of that going on, I dont know. But the fact remains that as in life, although our seamen would appreciate our support, they dont really need it. They can take care of themselves. Theyre not a whiny bunch.

*This sentence has been deleted from the Wikipedia entry as of 17 January 2008, but it still says that Filipino Monkey is a pseudonym.

Update: 17 January 2008. In the comments section of this post, I mention that in the video of the Strait of Hormuz incident I saw, the threatening words of the prankster werent audible. According to this report, the reason for that is because the words "I am coming to you... You will explode..." was spliced in later in an elaborate ruse to sensationalize the story. The source of the deception, according to the story, is the highest echelons of the US Department of Defense.
On January 9, the US Navy released excerpts of a video of the incident in which a strange voice - one that was clearly very different from the voice of the Iranian officer who calls the US ship in the Iranian video - appears to threaten the US warships.

A separate audio recording of that voice, which came across the VHS channel open to anyone with access to it, was spliced into a video on which the voice apparently could not be heard. That was a political decision, and Lieutenant Colonel Mark Ballesteros of the Pentagon's Public Affairs Office told IPS the decision on what to include in the video was "a collaborative effort of leadership here, the Central Command and navy leadership in the field".

"Leadership here", of course, refers to the secretary of defense and other top policymakers at the department.
Pentagon seems to want to make it appear that the US Navy warship was "this close" to firing on the boats based on the threat, but Navy officials themselves deny that they were about to fire, revealing a rift between the Pentagon and Navy officials.
The other elements of the story given to Pentagon correspondents were also discredited. The commanding officer of the guided missile cruiser Port Royal, Captain David Adler, dismissed the Pentagon's story that he had felt threatened by the dropping of white boxes in the water. Meeting with reporters on Monday, Adler said, "I saw them float by. They didn't look threatening to me."

The naval commanders seemed most determined, however, to scotch the idea that they had been close to firing on the Iranians. Cosgriff, the commander of the Fifth Fleet, denied the story in a press briefing on January 7. A week later, Commander Jeffery James, commander of the destroyer Hopper, told reporters that the Iranians had moved away "before we got to the point where we needed to open fire".
Someone wants a war to happen. And it sure aint the Navy.


cvj said...

Apart from it's potential tragic consequences, it would also be amusing to credit the Filipino Monkey for rattling the Americans. Listening to the voice in the tape, i could believe that he was a Filipino. His intonation, accent and choice of English words is something i normally overhear being broadcast in the walkie-talkies of the Security Guards back home as well as in the mobile radio of the airport taxis in NAIA.

Jego said...

I saw a video where the supposed audio from the prankster wasnt really clear. But one thing I noticed was the Navy sailors. Theyre just kids. I could imagine how scared they were. Especially after a commenter over at MLQ3 pointed to a simulated war game where a fleet of speedboats decimated a fleet of warships.

cvj said...

Our resident neocon DJB did say that 'Iran is next'.

Jego said...

I was wondering about the chances of a 'withdrawal of support' from the USN for their civilian leadership.

Another thing that's disturbing is that this is an election year. If it's true that the Pentagon can pull a stunt like this so close to the elections, then they must be pretty confident that the next President of the US wants the same thing they want.