GOWANUS Summer 2000
The Filipino-Pakistani Interface

By Abbas Zaidi


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"There are only two kinds of Filipino women who come to Paris. If she’s good-looking she’s either an entertainer or a prostitute. If she’s bad-looking she’s a domestic helper,” Filipino Senator ‘Nikki’ Coseteng was told by a fellow Filipina in Paris (Asiaweek, September 15, 1993).  It’s not just Paris, though, where Filipinas are pegged as either prostitutes or maids. This stereotype  of Filipinas is found everywhere in the world. A recent study in Singapore shows that when Filipinas enter nightclubs they are sexually molested to varying degrees because they are assumed to be hookers. If they protest, they are kicked out by the club managers who refuse to accept them as normal patrons. The only Filipina identity in a such a place is that of a whore. 

Sex is also considered to be an implicit part of the job for Filipino housemaids. When cases of forced sex by employers in Southeast Asia and the Middle East were reported to the authorities there , little action was taken. It was only when a maid, Sarah Balagbagan, killed her Arab employer for raping her that some attention was paid to Filipinas'  condition as sex slaves. Even then, nothing meaningful resulted. The assumption that "Filipina" equals "sex" is so entrenched in Southeast Asia that if a Chinese, Malay or Caucasian male marries a Filipina, people hurl insults at her, saying  she has hit the jackpot. Ironically, Filipinas are despised even in Bangkok, one of the world’s prostitution capitals. 

Such impressions of  Filipinas by no means represent a stereotype without any truth. A visit to Manila or elsewhere in the Philippines (except Mindanao where a civil war is in progress) will confirm that,  despite being a devoutly Catholic country, the Philippines is a pit of carnality where males and females of every age are cheaply available. Customers come from every part of the world to sample the wares, and there is no policy in place to ensure the sex workers are not carrying AIDS or other infectious diseases. As a result, when Filipinas take jobs abroad as maids, clerks or checkout girls, they are assumed to be moonlighting as prostitutes. 

For similar reasons, Pakistanis and other Muslims are assumed to be religious psychopaths, waiting to strike at the heart of the West. 
Anyone visiting Pakistan has little trouble understanding why, when  they see for themselves the abundance of lashkars ("armies of Islam"). You will hardly find a nook or cranny where a lashkar does not operate. Although they belong to different antagonistic sects and are sometimes as eager to reach for one another’s jugular as for an infidel’s,  they mostly have a single goal in common: worldwide jihad. The flag of their own exclusionist version of Islam must fly in Moscow, Delhi, Jerusalem and even ultimately in Washington D.C. Their very palpable presence has been felt in Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir  and the Central Asian Republics. 

So, is the Philippines a nation of prostitutes and Pakistan just  a nation of crazed Islamists? 

Of course not. The Philippines and Pakistan are poor countries. The majority of the people in both places are primarily concerned with survival. In the Philippines, a relatively free society, offering one’s body for sale is the quickest and cheapest way to earn money. In Pakistan, a suppressed society, the easiest way for the unemployed to earn a living is to offer their lives for a cause they are told will be richly rewarded in the hereafter. 

One major difference between the two ways of making a living is that, since the jihadi movements are financed by ultra-conservative elements outside of Pakistan, women are totally excluded from participating. 

Two nations, two different formulas for survival: Where you have poverty and freedom, you get the prostitution'; where you have poverty and oppression, you get the jihadi. Both countries are resource-rich and have enormous human resources largely untapped because of official corruption, incompetence and venality. As a consequence, poverty dehumanizes the greatest part of the populations of both countries which, given an environment of fair play and good governance, could live just as normally and respectably as any other people. 

(Abbas Zaidi <manoo@brunet.bn> was editor of The Ravi (1985), Pakistan's premier and oldest academic magazine published by Government College, Lahore. He also edited Interface (1990-91) for the Program in Literary Linguistics, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. Zaidi has taught English Literature in Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan, and worked as assistant editor for The Nation, Lahore.)