Disaster has a passport Mr. Bean, err, Mr. Tsao

chip-tsao as Mr Bean

Yup, Hong Kong based columnist Chip Tsao sure looks like our favorite funny man Mr. Bean. But unlike Mr. Bean, who could make us laugh to tears easily without even muttering a word, Mr. Tsao is not at all funny. And, this self-confessed “patriotic Chinese man” has learned of it the hard way.

Recently, Tsao wrote the article “The War At Home” that appeared on Hong Kong Magazine and on its online site March 27, 2009. In his piece, Tsao ranted about Manila’s claim over the disputed Spratly group of Islands. This, according to him is “beyond reproach.”

“The reason: there are more than 130,000 Filipina maids working as $3,580-a-month cheap labor in Hong Kong. As a nation of servants, you don’t flex your muscles at your master, from whom you earn most of your bread and butter,” wrote Mr. Tsao.

Of course, Mr. Tsao’s unsavory remarks made a whole nation’s blood boil. Filipinos from all walks of life and from all over the planet, lambasted the writer for this out and out “racial slur.”


Reactions from angry Filipinos flew in from different directions. This ranged from demanding an unconditional public apology from Mr. Tsao and from the publishers of the magazine; to the filing of a stern diplomatic protest by the Philippine government; to a nationwide boycott of all things Hong Kong. Migrante International, the largest OFW alliance worldwide, even wanted Chip Tsao declared “persona non grata” in the Philippines.

Migrante couldn’t be more correct when they said:

“The article written by Mr. Chip Tsao smacks of unqualified racial bias that vilifies the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos in Hong Kong and puts them in danger of persecution and harm. We demand no less than a public apology from Mr. Tsao and from the Hong Kong Magazine for allowing this bigoted garbage to appear on its pages.”

The Philippines’ Bureau of Immigration (BI) responded to Migrante’s call. In a directive issued Monday, BI chief Marcelino Libanan ordered that columnist Chip Tsao be barred from entering the Philippines pending a public apology on his part for the national insult. Libanan even volunteered to one day give Tsao a personal tour of the Philippines if only to drive home the point that ours is not a “nation of servants” but a “nation of professionals.”

Of late, and after stirring up a hornet’s nest of outrage, Tsao’s publisher and editors have apologized “unreservedly” for any offense caused by the article. But Tsao has yet to issue his.

In a recent AFP report, Tsao even hinted that “people in Hong Kong,” Filipinos included, who were riled at his writing, couldn’t take a joke. He explained that he has just “taken a dramatic role to express the sentiment of Chinese nationalism.”

“It’s my usual tongue-in-the-cheek, satirical writing style. People in Hong Kong are not used to this style, but native English speakers would have no problem understanding my message,” he said.

State of denial

From his own words, we can deduce that Tsao is in a state of denial and that he’s not about to say sorry in spite of the international indignation that he has caused. Tsao is still bent on passing off his racist article as a “satire,” sorely missing the point that no one’s even laughing.

United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-MIGRANTE HK), a group of Filipino workers in the former British colony, through its Chairperson Dolores Balladares, a domestic worker; gave Tsao, “a best selling author and columnist,” a dressing down and a lecture on what really constitutes a political satire.

“Political satire as a journalistic device is used to challenge or even make fun of authorities and the status quo. Mr. Tsao did not do so in his latest column. Instead, he further beats up the already low and downtrodden.

Behind such lines that Mr. Tsao may likely but wrongly justify as satire, there lies the precarious reinforcement of the master-slave treatment of domestic workers. Mr. Tsao makes it appear that it is alright to denigrate us and take potshots at us.

In his failed attempt to be witty, Mr. Tsao regrettably trivialized the very serious domestic workers’ situation in Hong Kong society. Such an article to appear publicly is very dangerous for it projects that it can be socially-permissible to treat domestic workers as no more than slaves ready to be lectured, ordered around, easily threatened with termination, and made to jump at every whim of employers.”

Disaster has a passport

Chip Tsao has to realize the lesson that – as a by-line in Mr. Bean’s recent movie goes – ‘Disaster has a passport.’ This lesson was learned quite bitterly by Filipino journalist and self-confessed “diva” Malu Fernandez after she collectively derided the army of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) when she said in an article that she would rather slash her wrist than be trapped in a plane loaded with OFWs; and the US TV giant ABC who aired a ‘Desperate Housewives’ episode in 2007 which belittled the Philippines’ medical profession.

As a nation that is buttressed by the hard-earned money sent home by almost 10 million overseas Filipino workers scattered in 192 countries all over the world, we are a country that is easily fumed each time somebody attacks the dignity of even a single OFW.

Almost all of us have a parent, a better half, a sibling or a friend overseas, courtesy of the past and present regime’s three decade old Labor Export Program that is why we automatically relate to racial slurs as that of our own.

But while Chip Tsao deserved the disaster he’s in right now and that it is but just to rile at every Chip, Malu and Susan Meyers (character in Desperate Housewives played by actress Teri Hatcher) out there, we should also hold the Philippine government accountable for exporting three thousand Filipinos on a daily basis to dirty, difficult and dangerous jobs overseas in exchange for their billions of dollars of remittances.

If only we Filipinos could channel our impressive demonstration of collective outrage at the successive racial slurs we have encountered, into militant resolve and action to radically change the socio-political landscape in the country so no one would be forced to be an OFW and run the risk of being denigrated, humiliated and treated as second class citizens abroad; I’m sure Mr. Chip Tsao wouldn’t be enjoying the international attention he’s in right now because “Luisa,” his Filipina maid, wouldn’t be working for him in Hong Kong, cleaning his toilet and windows for “16 hours a day.”

Luisa would be in Hong Kong as a tourist and not as a maid. Otherwise, she’d be with her family here at home, happily cleaning her own toilet and windows while contributing, in her own little way, to the betterment and progress of her country.

This is the kind of society we Filipinos should rage about and work hard for.