On Badjao girl, free slippers, and other superficial sympathies

badjao_girl
Original photo by Topher Quinto Burgos | Source

We see a photograph of a scene basked in gold sunlight — and right in the foreground, a girl. She wears a faded pink shirt and slung around her left shoulder is a worn grey cloth tied tightly in a knot. Her eyes are dark and her hair has tinges of brown as golden as her skin.

The picture would be shared several thousand times in social media. A few more days and the girl would star in her own photo shoot. She would be in the news and in lifestyle programs. A politician’s wife would reportedly grant her a scholarship during a show known for handing out libreng tsinelas. And of course we, the audience, would feel elated for the pretty lass.

This has become a trend: photographs of poor but good-looking members of marginalized sectors go viral in multiple online platforms. A farmer, a beggar and just a few minutes ago, my Facebook feed displayed a photo of a supposedly cute kropek vendor. They grace television shows and online news articles; reporters fight over exclusive rights to their stories.

But we will never hear the story of the young boy clinging onto Badjao Girl, or of Carrot Man’s other siblings. And soon, even these trending stars’ own stories will be buried under other internet spectacles. In a nation that’s easily enamored by a former dictator’s “attractive” son  (emphasis on the quote marks) or the President’s celebrity sister, narratives about people tucked in the social margins are barely heard. And when they are, the spins are about their charming smiles and good posture—not about their people’s plight.

carrot-e1456238281988
Original photo by Edwina T. Bandong | Source

For a brief moment, we are made to believe that poor but attractive kids are given a chance to education because, well, they’re attractive. The online discourse in Facebook comment sections will not talk about how education is every Filipino’s basic right and not just a gift exclusive to the ones with morena beauty or F4 looks. Any attempt to steer the conversation and ask the piercing questions (Why is she not in school? What brought a Badjao from Zamboanga to Quezon?) are taken over by words of heartfelt but fleeting sympathy.

While these kids get a chance to finish their studies thanks to donors, the bigger systemic problem is yet to be solved.

Although all forms of assistance be it big or small are always appreciated, we should also recognize the fact that acts of charity can only do so much. Free slippers to children will not solve the problem of expensive tuition fees and inaccessible tertiary education in the country. No scholarship or modelling career could stop the armed conflict in Mindanao that drives the Badjao away from their home near the seas. And one person’s success does not necessarily trickle down to the rest of her community; there would still be thousands of other families left behind to suffer the consequences of ethnic wars and institutional neglect.

A cute face and a potential rags-to-riches narrative seem to be the new ticket out of poverty these days. But like artista searches and a big house with a faceless voice, being the star of a viral photo could only have one big winner. And when the credits start rolling and the next picture gets the thousandth click, the social ills that cause these children to be begging for coins instead of going to school still remain.

We consume, we react, but we rarely ask questions. I hope when the next big hype comes about, we start looking at the core social issues that are captured right in these viral photos.

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16 comments

  1. Ah… dun pala galing ung Badjao girl. Hindi na ko updated sa pop culture after Carrot Man. It is also good to note aside sa education the culture that they have. But at least when I saw Carrot Man’s segment in KMJS, they touched on it din. Sadly, may connotation na pogi siya/matangos ilong dahil nasakop tayo ng mga Kastila. Ang superficial ng mundo ngayon. But what do we expect in a generation where likes and shares defines us as a person?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agree! At dahil ang bilis mapalitan ng top posts at trending topics, ang bilis din nating makalimutan yung underlying issues tungkol sa kultura at kalagayan ng mga under-represented sectors gaya ng indigenous people. 😦

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  2. Sad thing is kung gusto mo talaga ng maayos na media consumption, maghahanap ka talaga or mga late night ka manonood na. Hindi kasi trending topic ang kahirapan at totoong state ng bansa. Lahat ng tao escapist. :/

    Liked by 1 person

    • True. I partly blame the media din, kasi sila ang may institutional power to raise the discourse. Pero mukha namang may effort on their part, case in point nga ‘yung nabanggit mong Carrot Man segment ng KMJS. Sana in the future mas maging in-depth ang interes ng mga tao sa pop culture! 🙂

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      • Kaso at the end of the day, it’s still a business. They’re doing their part kaso hindi tayo makakaasang ilagay sila sa primetime. Tinanong ko na rin yan when I was part of the media, it’s still ratings, ratings, ratings at the end of the day.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. lalim nito ah. problema kasi, iilan lang ang napapansin…at ang masaklap random lang yung pagkakapansin ng random civilian tapos ginagatungan na lang ng media for their own benefits. tapos tutulungan kunwari

    Liked by 1 person

  4. may nakita akong poem posted sa fb with the same sentiment, hindi ako masyadong swayed sa carrotman, badjao girl etc na hype sa social media pero kitang kita na yung katotohanan na ginagamit sila pangtakip sa bigger issues sa lipunan, sana nga change for the better is coming soon lalo na sa bagong administrasyon.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What is wrong with ordinary folk calling attention to remarkable or promising individuals, and the latter being given some assistance? Take, for example, the case of the “math wizard” waifs from the UST area of Sampaloc, Manila. Were it not for somebody’s posting of those boys’ computation abilities going viral, those kids would probably just fade into the fabric of the medicant and homeless masses, with no real shot at education… and MAYBE a better life which allows them to contribute to society.

    True, the media establishment often latches onto whatever captures the attention of the general public. Reporters, commentators, and managers of commercial media join the melee created by videos going viral, with the ulterior purpose of promoting their own ends. Still, we cannot deny that when light is shone on those overlooked segments of the community… medyo na-aambunan sila ng grasya, be it scholarships, household supplies, or whatever. One can only hope that the assistance is for the longer term, and not fueled by a “ningas-kugon” enthusiasm.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello! There is absolutely nothing wrong with calling attention to certain personalities, of course. I just wanted to raise the discourse a notch higher. While there is nothing wrong with helping token individuals, it is equally as important to give light to the bigger issues behind their stories. And like you, I also hope that the assistance handed to these kids are distributed to a wider range of disenfranchised communities for the long term. The ideal scenario, at least to me, would still be to solve the roots of their struggles and address the issues of poverty, inaccessibility of education, and IP displacement.

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  6. I agree with your sentiments. I particularly like the line you wrote: “we should also recognize the fact that acts of charity can only do so much. Free slippers to children will not solve the problem of expensive tuition fees and inaccessible tertiary education in the country.”

    Maybe because of the grave problems in our country, we get lost in the superficialities. Thank you for your insightful post.

    Liked by 1 person

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