People of the Philippines v. Malu Fernandez (In re: The People Asia Article)

Date posted on August 22, 2007

I was waiting in my dentist’s receiving room a few months ago when I read your article in the June 2007 issue of People Asia. I remember feeling incensed by the way you denigrated your fellow Filipinos and the pompous way you name-dropped Malone, Vuitton, the places you’ve been to and the *more* famous people with whom you hobnob. However, I was alone at that time and thought it would be inappropriate to direct my indignation to the unsuspecting receptionist in front of me.

I have completely forgotten about it until today, when I read my friend’s blog entry about your article. It was only then that I read the wealth of literature written about you and your article, and realized how much it has rocked the blogosphere and the massive campaign that had since been launched seeking for your firing or resignation (in a parallel universe, I’d probably even applaud the impact you’ve created).

What I say here may never reach your expensive computer screen (my blog’s no People Asia after all), but I will say it anyway, to add fuel to the already raging inferno borne of the outrage over your… existence.

Following her recollections of her trip to Boracay and Greece, Malu Fernandez goes on to write this about her layover in UAE (the whole article is at the bottom of this blog):

“However I forgot that the hub was in Dubai and the majority of the OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) were stationed there. The duty-free shop was overrun with Filipino workers selling cell phones and perfume. Meanwhile, I wanted to slash my wrist at the thought of being trapped in a plane with all of them. Of course, everyone in the economy class was yelled at for having overweight hand-carries. Mine was 17kg (ssshhhh!!!).

“While I was on the plane (where the seats were so small I had bruises on my legs), my only consolation was the entertainment on the small flat screen in front of me. But it was busted, so I heaved a sigh, popped my sleeping pills and dozed off to the sounds of gum chewing and endless yelling of “HOY! Kumusta ka na? At taga san ka? Domestic helper ka rin ba?” Translation: “Hey there? Where are you from? Are you a domestic helper as well?” I thought I had died and God had sent me to my very own private hell.”

“On my way back, I had to bravely take the economy flight once more. This time I had already resigned myself to being trapped like a sardine in a sardine can with all these OFWs smelling of AXE and Charlie cologne while Jo Malone evaporated into thin air.”

Many people have called you a bigot, accused you of being insensitive, elitist… even a pig (and most of them were quite literal with the last).

If I were one of your unfortunate friends, I probably would’ve advised you to pack up and fly back to Greece, wait it out, then come back when the dust has cleared. You see, this could have easily have blown over had it not been for your callous response:

“As I type this, I’d like you to know that it’s not about whining, complaining and bitching but just stating the facts. Just recently, I wrote a funny article in my magazine column and my friends thought it was hilarious. It was humorous and quite tongue-in-cheek, or at least I thought so, until the magazine got a few e-mails from people who didn’t get the meaning of my acerbic wit. The bottom line was just that I had offended the reader’s socioeconomic background. If any of these people actually read anything thicker then a magazine they would find it very funny. Most people don’t get the fact that they need bitches like me to shake up their world, otherwise their lives would be boring and mediocre.”

“Although it may sound elitist to you the fact is this country is built on the foundation of haves, have-nots and wannabes. One group will never get the culture of the other. Although I could mention that it is easier to understand someone who has a lower socioeconomic background that would entail a whole other page and frankly I don’t want to be someone to bridge the gap between socioeconomic classes. I leave that to the politicians in my family who believe they can actually help. Now I seriously ask you, am I being a diva or are people around me just lacking in common sense? Perhaps it’s a little of both!

You seriously ask us if you’re just being a diva or if we are simply lacking in common sense. Allow me to find an answer by being explaining why I was particularly offended by your writing.

I thought it was mighty arrogant of you to disparage the OFWs in that flight simply because they were behaving opposed to how you would, or because they reeked of cheap perfumes. The way you doggedly pointed out their nationalities, you clearly wanted to dissociate yourself from them because they were Filipinos, yet in the same paragraph, you unwittingly state the obvious. That you are, alas, no different from them. A Filipino who fly coach and a transgressor of International Civil Aviation carry-on luggage policies.

“Of course, everyone in the economy class was for having overweight hand carries. Mine was 17kg.”

And no, the parenthetical “ssshhhh!!!” does not make it cute.


Let me just say that I’d probably be the first to cringe when made witness to a fellow Filipino making an ass of him- or herself. I even admit to being embarrassed by the same airline behavior you, Miss Fernandez, had proudly written about.

There’s a gazillion of things we Filipinos should not be proud of, a gazillion things more we should change in ourselves. I admit to that, and I’d even gladly engage in a debate on how that can and must be done. But surely you can tell this wouldn’t be the proper context for that?

Perhaps what sets you apart from me and the other Filipinos you have angered is that we will never blatantly look down on our kabayan. You, however, denounce your own for no better reason than raising their voices in an airplane, getting excited about going home, and not having enough money to afford the scent you wear.

I may, at times, be embarrassed by what they do, but I will never be ashamed of who they are. For I, too, am Filipino. To deny them is to deny myself.

If only by virtue of our shared nationality, you will never see me writing about that kind of experience and having it published for the world to see in a vain attempt to elicit cheap laughs, aggrandize my image and affirm my social status. As one blogger points out,

There is a line between being hilariously offensive, and being just offensive, and it’s not a thin one. We know it for what it is, and we know it’s best to keep such thoughts to ourselves or shared only with others of similar disposition. It’s called tact.

Tact. On tact vis-á-vis humor, you might learn a little something from Jessica Zafra.


When you reacted to the emails your magazine has received, let me correct your thinking that your readers simply didn’t get your “acerbic wit.” The fact that your friends laugh and appreciate the condemned parts of your article does not mean our sense of humor is amiss. To us, it simply means those friends of yours are as mean-spirited and insensitive as the writer. And if you need us to legitimize our standing to give an opinion, let me say then that many of us do read those sheets of paper bound together in the spine and sandwiched by hard backs. (What are they again? Books! They’re thicker than magazines, right?)

Furthermore, in case you can’t do the math, the countless emails and blog entries reacting to your article translates to the countless people who have taken offense. I hope that makes it clear that we don’t need a bitch like you (bitch! finally, something we agree on!)to shake up our world. If it is wit and humor we crave, we will find it in people who can do it with taste, and the humility to boot.

You, on the other hand, should take a refresher course on journalism.

If you insist that your wit is an acquired taste exclusive only to those who belong to your niche, might I suggest, then, that the next time you write something that may be construed as unpalatable, consider instead writing a newsletter with exclusive circulation to those who share your celebrated humor. And don’t delude yourself into thinking everyone who belongs in your stratum, the “haves,” think the way you do. I have met a few of them and thankfully, they’re not all like you and your friends. I noticed that the only ones who brandish their lifestyle and write in the self-important manner as you have done in your article are those who are insecure of their status as the “haves.” In your own words, the “wannabes.”

Finally, in the same manner you expect us to accept your short-sighted defense, we also expect you to just recognize the new lows to which you have sunk in our bourgeois and peasant eyes. Do not think you can just brush off your readers’ opinions. You see, for us, it’s not as simple as putting down the magazine either. Readers pay for the whole magazine, and your inclusion as a columnist is not something we can avoid. As much as we’d like to ban you from writing, the power is not ours. It’s your editors’ and employers’ (hint, hint!). Ranting and throwing rotten tomatoes your way is our only recourse. (Maybe we should try the latter?)

Now if you can’t take the heat of your own undoing, you should think twice about getting published. You see, that, too, is what journalism is about. Responsibility and accountability.

I hope all that proves that we don’t lack common sense. That’s not to say that you’re just being a diva though. Divas, at least, have something to show for it apart from their wealth. Simply put, what it makes you is rude.

We get it, Miss Fernandez. You’re the one who doesn’t.

To those who just read my letter, be fair to Miss Malu Fernandez.
Read the article yourself. (Click on it to see the larger picture):