The letter that stood out

20 Jan 2011 | By Jeremy Boo

I am grateful for the numerous letters I have received over the past few days, especially those from people who said that they are inspired to do something to help somebody anywhere. Your thoughts affirm my work and I thank you.

Among all these letters of well-wishes and congratulations, one letter stood out.

It was written by a young Filipino residing in Singapore and she was angry.

Why did you write such a negative story, she asked. Don’t you know it would affect our tourism? What have you done to improve their lives? What solutions do you recommend?

In her letter lies an implicit thread of thought that I have worsened the situation with my story, that I have exploited the story for my means.

I doubt her position would waver even if she reads my original submission and my entry about why I chose to write that story because they do not address her questions.

Neither do I hold any delusions that she is alone in her thoughts and feelings. I am therefore writing this publicly in hope that those feeling the same may understand some of my thoughts when I wrote that story.

Negativity

I do not write the happiest things. However, I was not given the indulgence of choice when I went to Manila.

Was I to write about the opulent shopping malls in Greenbelt, where washroom attendants wait conscientiously outside your toilet cubicle so that they can clean it immediately when you leave?

Indeed, what is superficially impressive will only serve to widen the dichotomy I witnessed during my short stay.

Was I to write about the success stories of Filipinos making it big on the world stage through Youtube? Perhaps, but I did not have the opportunity to meet such a person and I am not predisposed to mindless fawning.

I can only write what I saw and I saw people trying to live the best they can, impeded sometimes by their circumstances, beliefs, and government.

It is through their actions that they reveal a quality of tenacity and audacious hope that some can only attempt to muster and admire from afar.

Gold is tried by fire, brave men by adversity.

This is how I do my subjects in Manila justice.

Tourism

It is fallacious to believe that my article, or even a series of articles of such nature, will affect tourism. It is likelier for episodes such as the Manila Bus Hostage incident to affect tourism.

Poverty does not drive people away. Poverty attracts people—and this can sometimes be a problem.

For one to consider the implications on tourism betrays the paradigm with which one views the world.

Tourism is the arena of the rich. Only the rich, who can afford to sow these seeds, reaps the profits of tourism. The poor gets poorer.

And this is why they are unconcerned with tourism.

Not one Filipino I met spoke about tourism. Not one Filipino told me what I was doing will hurt tourism.

What have you done to improve their lives? What do you recommend?

I do not know. I do not have grand illusions that my article have made their world a better place. In their eyes, my article is probably inconsequential.

But my job is not to be a social worker or a policy maker or a politician or a philanthropist.

I did what I do best in, and my job as a journalist is to observe and to write.

I write so that people know that such things exist. I write so that I may inspire people to effect change with their own strengths.

I write because it is worse not doing anything.

A Question

Now that I have shared my thoughts, I ask you—anyone who is wondering why I am hurting your country’s image with my writings—what have you done?

If you cannot answer that question satisfactorily, I urge you to gather this anger in you and direct it to something useful, productive, and beneficial.

This is, after all, the very reason I wrote my story.