China’s song, Cebu’s COVID-19 tunes | Inquirer Opinion

China’s song, Cebu’s COVID-19 tunes

Apparently believing it can lull Filipino sensibilities with some schmaltzy video music, China has unleashed its propaganda machine with a song online. Ostensibly promoting harmonious relations, the video is obviously also aimed at boosting China’s image to try and counter the damage it’s done vis-à-vis its disastrous handling of the Wuhan coronavirus.

Under the auspices of the Chinese Embassy, Chinatown TV, and a Beijing media outfit, the online video features songstress and Camarines Sur Vice Gov. Imelda Papin singing in Tagalog along with two Chinese singers warbling a song in Mandarin called “Iisang Dagat” (One [shared] ocean). The dedication of the 4-minute video posted on its social media is to “Those who contributed to our fight against the epidemic (sic) in both countries, especially the China Medical Expert Team sent to the Philippines.”


The fact that the word “pandemic” is not used is interesting. Some weeks ago, a panoramic overview of the city of Wuhan circulated on Facebook showing some fantastic architectural sites in that metropolis, apparently meant to impress Filipinos by showing it’s not an ordinary city that harbors filthy wet markets selling endangered animals to Chinese consumers.

Papin has received flak from various quarters for her involvement in the video, prompting her to defend herself by saying she had accepted the Chinese invitation to sing because she considered it a worthy effort, adding that she was not paid. It’s hard to believe she’s so obtuse to not realize she was taking part in a blatant piece of propaganda.


“Iisang Dagat” displayed English lyrics against a background showing clips of shipments of medical goods and ambulances donated to the Philippines, received by Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. Other official recipients were shown gratefully accepting other donated goods whose markings prominently displayed their provenance.

All this is taking place soon after China issued a statement replying to a Philippine diplomatic protest about a Chinese corvette aiming its gun at a Philippine Navy ship patrolling our border in February 2020. It read: “The Chinese Government has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea, its islands and adjacent waters.” So much for sharing “iisang dagat.”

China has also claimed two islands in Philippine territory as belonging to Hainan province. Then there was the incident in June 2019 at the disputed territory of Reed Bank when a Chinese vessel rammed a Filipino fishing boat with 22 men onboard who were abandoned, later rescued by a Vietnamese vessel. The Duterte administration downplayed it as an “accident,” highlighting its aversion to denouncing China in any way, since the President always declares having close ties with that big power from whom he hopes to benefit from its largesse.

While the Philippines flails about to contain the pandemic, it has itself embarked on a musical way of coping with COVID-19. In contrast to the slick Chinese propaganda production featuring popular singers warbling about displays of brotherhood, the Pinoy work looks amateurish but displays the local penchant to turn crises into entertainment.

In my suburb of Cebu City, I have recently been awakened some mornings with songs blaring from an area nearby inhabited by informal settlers (once called “squatters”). It seems our barangay has fielded a van to convey its public announcements by means of songs in Cebuano (and occasional English lyrics) urging the populace to beware of catching the virus. One such song is a syncopated mélange of rhymes, all of which repeat “coronavirus” in between advising folks to cover “baba og ilong,” and stay at home. There’s advice to those with “sip-on o ubo” to listen to the “gobierno.”

A song in English goes: “Mother, Mother, I am sick/Call the doctor very quick/Doctor, Doctor, shall I die/No, my darling, do not cry.” The old-timers among us may still remember that piece of doggerel.

Other jingles deal with not throwing “ang inyong basurahan, para dili mo ma takdan” (takdan means contagious). Some tuneful lyrics go: “Paminaw mong tanan, ang virus gikan sa Wuhan, nagalibot sa kalibutan…” (Listen you all, the virus from Wuhan, circling the world…).


The songs reminded me of Yoyoy Villame, the ’70s Cebuano troubador who entertained the nation with his songs about Cebu life, pretty women, his personal trials, and Pinoy customs.

My recent morning serenades are a nice way to hear public service announcements. One presumes they’re aired throughout the province and in other regions in their dialects.

Trust us musical Pinoys to add songs to liven up the dreary atmosphere. Once the lockdown is unlocked and folks can go out and hold hands without worrying about washing them (since there may have been no water, anyway), there will surely be singing and dancing in the streets when life returns to normal.

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Isabel Escoda has been writing for the Inquirer since the late 1980s

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TAGS: Cebuano songs on COVID-19, Commentary, coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus philippines, Iisang Dagat, Isabel Escoda
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