A clash of cultures

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Sunday, January 27, 2013


KA DAGHAN na gyud og foreigners sa Sugbo!” is a common lament among Cebuanos as Cebu’s population of Americans, Europeans and other Asians rise with each passing year.

One sees them in the usual haunts: malls, coffee shops, restaurants and bars. They come in all categories: tourists, students, investors, balikbayans with foreign spouses, retirees squiring around young Filipinas, and fugitives from the law of their own countries, including pedophiles, gangsters and swindlers. They range from philanthropists to “undesirable aliens” like the Taiwanese drug dealer now dancing with the CPDRC jail inmates and the cold-blooded murderer of six-year-old Ella Joy Pique.

In recent years, local newspapers have carried more stories involving clashes between foreigners and Filipinos. Police blotters are dotted with incidents involving such altercations. The courts have a growing number of cases dealing with foreign nationals.

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Government encourages visitors to come to the Philippines to bring much-needed capital that create jobs and provide employment. Retirees are encouraged to spend their pensions here, where the dollar, yen and euro go a longer way.

We spend millions to convince the world that “It’s more fun in the Philippines.”

Canadian John Pope didn’t seem to think so. By the time he reached the end of his tether, Pope had a number of cases filed against him including malicious mischief, grave threats and unjust vexation.

This latest tragedy is symptomatic of a growing social tension that Cebu (and the rest of the Philippines) will continue to face as a result of the influx of foreigners.

Much of it point to a clash of cultures. The misunderstandings normally center on unreasonable expectations on both sides and exacerbated by some foreigners’ insensitivity to acceptable modes of behavior in our society.

The frankness and open behavior of foreigners oftentimes offend Filipinos. Foreigners are offended by our “loudness” and shell-shocked by the inefficiency of our social and civil systems.

What makes the situation worse is the attitude of some foreigners who act as if they know better. There are retirees who behave like demigods or mortals who have attained a divine rank simply because they hold the power of money over their young wives.

On the other hand, they see their limited, hard-earned pensions go to feeding the whole barangay and sending half the clan to school. The unluckier ones were taken to the cleaners by avaricious, husband-cheating Filipinas.

In the matter of social etiquette, I place the onus upon the foreigner to adapt to our Filipino traditions and values. A smile and a charming manner can open a door much wider than the attitude of calling upon one’s mandated, legal, or constitutional right to enter. As the saying goes, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

But more importantly, the Philippine government must prioritize setting up supplementary policies and regulations that will protect the rights of all concerned. Safeguards and safety nets should be put in place to protect both foreigners who come to our shores and Filipinos who are their hosts.

But for starters, perhaps the Bureau of Immigration can provide mandatory sensitivity seminars on Philippine culture and local practices to foreigners applying for resident visas, in the same manner that such briefings are given by Owwa for Filipinos deployed overseas?

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 28, 2013.

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