At least as far as millions of overseas Filipino workers and their families are concerned, the "Most Hated Pinay" Award goes not to Imelda Marcos or Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo but to Manila society columnist Malu Fernandez.
This dubious honor was attained by Ms. Fernandez with just one article which appeared in her regular Manila Daily Standard (“Fierce and Fabulous”) column which dealt mainly with the hedonistic lifestyles of the Philippine rich and famous. In that piece, “From Boracay to Greece,” which was also featured in the June 2007 issue of People Asia magazine, Fernandez wrote of her travel to Boracay and of her spur of the moment decision while there to spend her Holy Week vacation in Greece.
Fernandez is apparently accustomed to riding in first class or business class but on her flight to Greece, however, she decided to “bravely” fly in economy class. This is how she recounts her trip: “To save on my ticket, I bravely took an economy class seat on Emirates as recommended by my travel agent……However I forgot that the hub was in Dubai and the majority of the OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) were stationed there. The duty-fee shop was overrun with Filipino workers selling cell phones and perfume.
“Meanwhile, I wanted to slash my wrist at the thought of being trapped in a plane with all of them. While I was on the plane (where the seats were so small I had bruises on my legs), my only consolation was the entertainment on the small flat screen in front of me. But it was busted, so I heaved a sigh, popped my sleeping pills and dozed off to the sounds of gum chewing and endless yelling of “HOY! Kumusta ka na? At taga saan ka? Domestic helper ka rin ba?” (“Hey there! How are you? Where are you from? Are you also a domestic helper?) I thought I had died and God had sent me to my very own private hell.”
After a nine-hour flight, Fernandez landed in Greece and quickly “washed the plane off” her as the “Louis Vuittons” under her eyes, she wrote, were “enormous.” Despite the cold, she “bravely went about in a lightweight sweater and a throw.” ("Bravely" is apparently her favorite description of how she does things.)
“On my way back, I had to bravely take the economy flight once more. This time I had already resigned myself to being trapped like a sardine in a sardine can with all these OFWs smelling of AXE and Charlie cologne while Jo Malone evaporated into thin air.”
From Meryl Streep, we learned that the Devil wears Prada. From Malu Fernandez, we know she also wears Jo Malone perfume, which sells for $100 per 100 ml bottle (approximately 5000 pesos), unlike the cheaper Axe and Charlie colognes some OFWs prefer.
As soon as Fernandez’ article was published, word about her condescending depiction of OFWs quickly spread through the Internet to the blogosphere of OFW communities throughout the world, especially to the 1.5 million Filipinos in the Middle East. Through various OFW blogs, hundreds of Filipinos expressed their personal anger at the person they called the “mahaderang matapobre” (a meddlesome person who contemptuously looks down on the poor). [Google the words.]
Francis Sangalang wrote from Dubai: “We are already having a hard time here working under the hot climate then we get a strong below the belt blow by our own kabayan who has totally no idea on being an OFW.” Ingrid Holm, from England, chimed in: “You wrote that you wanted to slit your wrists because you were stuck in coach with all the OFWs. I am moved every time I am on a flight with OFWs. I am reminded of their resilience. Of how hard they work, and how they keep the Philippines going. The economy relies on their bravery. You should have slit your wrists, hon. And you are going to hell if you don’t change the way you think. Think of sitting in coach, imagining your personal hell as a personal foreshadowing.”
The vitriol fueled by her article, which she personally thought was a product of her “acerbic wit”, did not cause Malu Fernandez to back down one bit. Instead she responded by throwing gasoline to the fire: “The bottom line was just that I had offended the reader’s socioeconomic background. If any of these people actually read anything thicker then a magazine they would find it very funny. Most people don’t get the fact that they need bitches like me to shake up their world; otherwise their lives would be boring and mediocre. I obviously write for a certain target audience and if what I write offends you, just stop reading.”
So the lower class OFWs can’t read anything thicker than a magazine, huh? And they should be grateful for self-proclaimed “bitches” like her for making their “boring and mediocre” lives exciting? If there were hundreds of Filipinos denouncing the “mahaderang matapobre” in various blogs and print publications before, her rejoinder caused thousands more to vent their spleen at her utter contempt for the poor. In his blog, Loi Reyes Landicho compiled a list of things for OFWs to tell Malu Fernandez when they see her. On the top of the list was this: “In case you die, we’d like to attend your funeral. However, we’ll probably just go to work that day. You know… business before pleasure.”
The “deeply personal insults” and “death threats” she received eventually caused her to resign from the Manila Daily Standard and People Asia. In her statement which she released in her website, Fernandez wrote: “To say that this article was not meant to malign, hurt or express prejudice against the OFWs now sounds hollow after reading through all the blogs from Filipinos all over the world. I am deeply apologetic for my insensitivity and the offensive manner in which this article was written, I hear you all and I am properly rebuked. It was truly not my intention to malign, hurt or express prejudice against OFWs.”
Even as she "bravely" travels around the world regularly, what Malu Fernandez failed to realize is how much the world she travels in has changed. Twenty years ago she could have written about the “que horror!” of being surrounded by OFWs and gotten away with it. Not anymore. The Internet and the blogosphere it produced, coupled with the economic power of their remittances, have empowered the OFWs and leveled the playing field. It’s not safe to be a “matapobre” now.