by Alan Robles
(originally published in SCMP Nov 24 2005)
Any morning that a daily newspaper splashes a story about crime, corruption or government ineptitide, you can bet that across the land citizens will be shaking their heads over coffee and muttering, onli in da Pilipins - "only in the Philippines." The expression, which is increasingly common, seems to show Filipinos believe sins and misdemeanours have a national brand.
Well, I say enough of this: you'll find graft and crookedness in every country. As a concerned Filipino, I feel it's time to crack down on the gratuitous, self-denigrating use of onli in da Pilipins. It's time to recognise the phrase for what it is and put it where it belongs - right up there, as a label, on the shelf where news agencies file their inexplicably bizarre stories.
For instance, we all know the cliché "dog bites man" isn't news, but "man bites dog" is. In the Philippines, the correct headline would be "man eats dog". A woman complained bitterly to the police that a gang of louts on a drinking binge had decided they needed some pulutan - food to go with alcoholic drinks. So they grabbed her pet and turned it into stew.
The TV news showed the shamefaced drunks being angrily confronted by the woman, who was holding the evidence - a large glass jar with the leftovers. Should we call it Rover or hors d'oeuvre? Onli in da Pilipins.
Or what could be more Filipino than a fire in the cemetery? It probably occurs in other countries, but chances are it wouldn't be caused by an electrical short circuit because somebody was running a television and electric fan on top of a tomb.
It happened this month on All-Saints Day, when Filipinos flock to cemeteries and show devotion to their dead by holding picnics, mahjong games and parties right on the graves.
Then there's the scientific test where armed men gathered to shoot at amulets. An anting-anting is a magical charm that is supposed to make its owner bullet-proof. The men in the story set up their favourite trinkets and took turns blasting away at them.
Curiously, none of the amulets turned away bullets. And nobody thought of putting them to the ultimate test - wearing the things while they were being shot at.
I doubt any charm would be effective against my favourite armed policeman, a certain fellow who was issued a special-agent designation and gun permit. He got the firearm licence despite the possibly irrelevant consideration that he was blind.
Onli in da Pilipins Remember: treat it with respect. It's a cherished brand name with strict standards.