Monday, May 08, 2006

Justified outrage?

A little over a week since the story first broke, local papers have finally caught on to the story of a Filipino-Canadian boy punished by his lunch monitor for eating with a spoon and fork. Militant groups staged a rally at the Canadian embassy. The Department of Foreign Affairs issued a statement of support for the boy's mother, saying that the incident constituted an affront to Philippine culture. The Philippine Daily Inquirer carried a Sunday editorial entitled Pigs in Canada. All this for what has been construed as an act of racism.

In all honesty, I was waiting for something like this to happen. It was just so...predictable. After all, what else can unite Filipinos of various opinions and political leanings better than an act of criticism by a non-Filipino against our Filipino-ness?

Now don't get me wrong. Based on the story from the West Island Chronicle, the original source, the principal's response to the mother could simply have been handled better, as was befitting a person of his position.

What I would like to know is whether the reaction of the Filipino (and Asian) community at large is commensurate to the report of the alleged offense. Does this warrant what amounts to a diplomatic protest and death threats to the principal, for example?

Let's look at the most serious accusations. The lunch monitor was said to have told the boy that his manner of eating was 'yucky and disgusting.' The principal was said to have told the mother that his son ate like a pig. Here are excerpts from the article with said passages:

“Mommy, I don’t want to eat anymore,” [the mother] says [her son] told her at the kitchen table April 11. “My teacher is telling me that eating with a spoon and fork is yucky and disgusting.”


When she questioned Bergeron about punishing students for their table habits, she says he replied that, “If your son eats like a pig he has to go to another table because this is the way we do it and how we’re going to do it every time.”

Note that in both cases, these were indirect quotes from the aggrieved party. The West Island Chronicle, at the very least, should have attempted to verify with the principal and the school whether such comments were made.

Am I calling the mother and the son liars? Certainly not! But I would have expected that in an emotionally charged situation such as this, the newspaper ought to have gone for a more balanced report. And I certainly would have hoped for more thorough investigation before the international lynch mob came out in full force.

What the principal is quoted as saying is:

“I don’t necessarily want students to eat with one hand or with only one instrument, I want them to eat intelligently at the table,” he said. “I want them to eat correctly with respect for others who are eating with them. That’s all I ask. Personally, I don’t have any problems with it, but it is not the way you see people eat every day. I have never seen somebody eat with a spoon and a fork at the same time.”

which is quite a reasonable statement, except for the last sentence in which he displays his own ignorance. But that is circumstantial evidence, at best, and too weak to support the supposition of the offense.

What is intriguing is that after one follow up story, the West Island Chronicle dropped further mention of the matter. What has kept the issue largely alive are the various letters to the editor (many in condemnation of the school, though some in support) and stories from international media about reactions to the incident. Yet from the local news, nothing more.

So I ask again: is this continued outrage and the level of response justified in the context of (1) awareness of the facts regarding the offense; (2) the seriousness of the offense; (3) the stature of the person who committed the offense; (4) the actions taken to repair the offense?

If the offense is indeed deemed grave, what punishment would satisfy? An apology from the principal and the school? Expulsion of the principal from his job? Closure of the school? A public beheading? Severance of diplomatic ties between the Philippines and Canada? All of the above?

Or are we just being silly? Or worse still, are we the ones now comitting the worse offense? What does this say about us?

See also:
Philippine Commentary
Manuel L Quezon III
Caffeine Sparks

Continued in Psychology of Our Outrage


  1. Hi! This is Lauren from Just wanted to thank you for checking with the secretary at the writer's workshop about what happened to my submission. I'm still kind of in shock, but hey, there's still next year. :D

  2. That's the spirit, girl! Besides, there are several other workshops...though they're not in towns as nice as Dumaguete. ;-)