IT was both an object of derision and endearing amusement. Manila does not look too kindly on the person who speaks with a provincial accent. We know that from Manila?s television sitcoms, and from films too; the part given to lowly roles such as household help is usually made to speak with a Visayan accent and then becomes an object of laughter.
A Kapampangan once wrote to me that they share the same predicament. I guess it would be the same for the Ilocano and Batangueńo speakers. Cultural sensitivity toward the ?other? kind of person outside Manila has never been a trait of Manila.
It may thus have been a source of disbelief to some quarters that the person tasked to speak in Malacańang?s behalf spoke in the obviously heavy accent of the Sugbu-anon speaker. Cerge Remonde?s affable and kindly demeanor as press secretary, and his popularity as a broadcaster?which relied mainly on that provincial accent?somehow dignified the Visayan accent and gave it a brand that became easily identifiable with him.
I remember very well Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile recalling with polite respect Remonde?s heavy Visayan accent upon his bicameral confirmation as press secretary. I was ambivalent about it. I knew it would only reinforce stereotypes of the provinciano that too often have been constructed to amuse and be made fun of by Manila?s audience.
That stereotype is not absolutely correct. I live in a culture area of the country heavily influenced by the linguistic culture of old Sugbu, Siquijor and Bohol. I thus know for a fact that not all Visayan speakers speak the way Manila portrays the provincial Visayan stereotype to be. That is the problem of stereotypes. They do not represent the whole. They never do because they are constructed simply to stress the socio-political and cultural domination of the center that is Manila. It is, to me, a subtle form of hegemony.
Cerge Remonde?s demeanor as a public servant broke that hegemony. Try with all his might to shatter the deeply unpopular public persona of the boss that he served, he came out highly respected by an unbelieving public, signifying that it is virtue and character, plus a sensible use of intellect, that play primarily, not someone?s way of speaking.
It was thus with the same cautiousness that I watched just this weekend the Mindanao auditions of ?Pilipinas Got Talent? by television giant ABS-CBN. Having seen the powerful vehicle of talent discovery in ?Britain?s Got Talent,? I had conjured up images of the Philippine version as in the same league when it stumbled upon the magnificence of a spinster villager such as Susan Boyle. And look where she is now, glorified by the world.
Apart from saying I was wrong in my expectations, the Philippine version pales in comparison. The same Pinoy showbiz culture of denigrating the promdi is what bungled it.
In between talent auditions, as handlers rush to make retouches on judges Kris Aquino, Ai-Ai delas Alas and Freddie Garcia, a rudely impolite floor director goes on stage and is left to make his own spiels. Finding a convenient object of his crass intentions in the person of a student assistant who was busily mopping up the stage floor, he calls on him and goads him to sing, in between making fun of the guy?s face as similar to a ?mouthpiece,? sending the audience to a roaring laughter.
Once the poor guy gets goaded by the floor director to sing an old Eddie Peregrina song, out comes on stage Ai-Ai delas Alas who looks at the guy with a derisive look on her face, obviously an insensitive attempt to drum up comical interest. The same floor director had earlier singled out a young gay man from among the audience. When he asks him his name, he tells the guy that he should have been named ?Lyka?because you look like a horse!?
Kris Aquino did not help either in shoring up prestige for the Philippine version of this highly popular show elsewhere in the world. Managing to entice the audience with repetitive lines of ?iboto nyo si Noynoy? (vote for Noynoy)?a shock to many in the audience who do not wrongly suppose that media institutions should be non-partisan?she made one tactless remark after another.
At one point, a contestant in his 30s was called on stage. He hailed from Davao and told the audience that his late father was a blind man who begged for alms on the streets. That was how he acquired his talent?he would sing to passersby who would give them measly alms for their day?s meals. That was how they eked out a living. But as soon as the man sang, the audience knew this was a Susan Boyle in the making.
The crescendo of applause was hardly sustained when Kris wryly commented that to appreciate the contestant?s voice, one should not look at his face but only listen to his voice.
To make people laugh at another person?s expense?that is the stuff Pinoy showbiz goes by. It is a reflection of the kind of people we are and why we hardly progress at all. Pinoy showbiz teaches us to be boorish. We have yet to learn the value and virtue of respect and the charity with which we must regard people who are different from us.
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