“Signed calling card gets cop in trouble,” read a headline in an earlier edition of the Inquirer last Wednesday.
I thought I’d write about the evolution of cards like these and their strange mutation in the Philippines, where you flash someone else’s card rather than your own to try to get special privileges.
In the Philippines we tend to favor the term “calling card,” which is actually an older term, used mainly in Europe, for a card with a very different purpose. These cards first came about in the 18th century, when social etiquette required that you first send, through a servant or footman, a card with information about yourself, to ask someone for permission to visit.
On the visiting card you would use initials to express the intention of your visit. French was the language of etiquette, so you put “p.p.” (for “pour presenter”) to indicate that you simply wanted to introduce yourself. If you already knew the person you wanted to visit, you still had to ask for permission to congratulate them for some felicitous development (thus, “p.f.,” for “pour feliciter”), to thank them (“p.r.,” for “pour remercier”) for a gift or favor, or to express condolences (“p.c.,” for “pour condolence”).
We don’t need to go through such lengthy procedures now to visit someone, although I sometimes think it’s still gracious to call first, even with close friends, to ask if it’s all right to drop in.
The calling or visiting cards have since evolved into business cards, a way to introduce yourself to new clients and partners and to sustain their interest in what you have to offer. The business cards are important, giving a first impression of who you are. Putting too much information on the card, or having a poorly designed one, can backfire and make you lose a client.
I’m more impressed with minimalist cards, which contain very basic information. I’ve even received cards with just the name of the person, who writes additional information on the back, depending on who is getting the card.
I feel that business cards should be mainly for business, and should not include personal information like your phone number, or a private e-mail address. If you are comfortable with someone you’ve met, then you can write the additional information on the card after you’ve talked. This creates a special bond, I’ve found.
There’s also etiquette around the exchange of business cards. Filipinos tend to be like Americans, a bit too casual with the cards. I’ve seen people sliding their card down a table, “Uy, pare, card ko,” which you should never do in other Asian countries, especially with East Asians (the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans).
Protocol requires that you hand your card to someone with two hands, sometimes even with a bow if the person has a higher status. When you receive someone’s card, you should look at it and show interest, even making conversation—for example, “What an interesting title you have, a knowledge director.”
Business cards seem to have taken a strange twist in the Philippines.
I’ve written in the past about how calling or business cards have become modern anting-anting or amulets. Instead of giving out your own card, you flash some VIP’s business card, hoping to be protected from harassment or accorded special privileges. Having the VIP sign the card makes it an even more potent anting-anting.
Now it would be in bad taste if the VIP wrote on the card, “Do not harass my friend,” so there’s the standard “Please extend assistance,” followed by a signature. This takes us to the case of the Philippine National Police director, Alexander Ignacio, whose card was used by model Alyzza Agustin to evade getting a ticket for a traffic violation. Agustin wrote about the incident and posted it on Facebook along with a photo of the calling card carrying the note “Please assist my EA, Alyzza Agustin.”
Ignacio did not violate any law here, except perhaps misrepresentation if Agustin was not his “EA” (which can mean “executive assistant,” or an executive’s right-hand person).
As for Agustin, she obviously saw no problem with the way she had evaded the law using the card, until the adverse publicity came about. The Facebook posting has since been deleted, according to the Inquirer report. (Ignacio has denied knowing Agustin, who has also posted an apology to the official and his family.)
I don’t know how this practice came about, but I suspect it may have started with Chinese-Filipinos who were (and still are) particularly vulnerable to harassment or extortion by law enforcers and politicians. At social gatherings of the Chinese I’ve often seen people, especially the older ones, showing off their business card anting-anting to one another and seeing the highest connections with the gods and goddesses. By carrying some politician or military official’s signed business card, they expected immunity from harassment.
Such business cards have become a source of corruption and impunity, in the sense of people thinking they do not need to observe traffic rules, or other laws, just because they’re under the protection of some VIP.
I want to emphasize that this Chinese-Filipino origin is only a theory. These modern anting-anting are now used by non-Chinese as well, as shown in that recent incident.
It’s sad that all this has become a game of the disempowered, including the hapless traffic enforcer worried that he would lose his job if he issued a ticket to a well-connected person.
But really, those who use the business cards are also in a sense disempowered, relying on the power of a patron, through the calling card. I’m finding that the more disempowered a person is, the more he/she tries to rely on symbols of power. Drivers are a prime example, and for good reason because they are often victims of the arbitrariness of traffic enforcers who need money for merienda. So the drivers try to get business cards from their employers and employers’ friends to flash to traffic enforcers who flag them down. For added protection, they buy fake PNP stickers on Recto (yes, where you get the fake diplomas). The stickers on the windshield, the VIP business cards and the employer’s “PNP anniversary” car plates—all function like rosaries and crucifixes against today’s aswang.
I am glad people are reacting now to the entitlements around VIP business cards. It’s time we put an end to this nonsense. I’ve actually thought of putting on my cards an inscription in English that will be the opposite of the existing “Please extend assistance”—something to this effect: “This card does not extend, or ask for, special privileges.” Maybe stated in Filipino, and intended for traffic enforcers, it would be more straightforward advice for them not to be intimidated and that a card is a card, not a talisman or amulet: “Huwag kayong magpaloko. Card lang ito, hindi anting-anting.”
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