Fil-Am Show of Force on 'Desperate Housewives' Controversy
October 08, 2007
WASHINGTON—(U.S. ASIAN WIRE)— Filipinos all over the United States are getting organized and showing force to protect their communities from discrimination.
While this development is obviously an offshoot of the "Desperate Housewives" controversy -- wherein a scene in one episode disparaged medical schools in the Philippines -- the idea of an anti-defamation action group is seen by some as a welcome watchdog on behalf of Filipino-American community interests.
The breadth and spontaneity of protests made feasible by YouTube and the facility of on-line communication have produced record-setting results.
As of this writing, a total of 84,865 individuals have signed the on-line petition on http://www.petitiononline.com/FilABC/petition.html.
The on-line Filipino petition also was first in the top list of 27 on-line petitions, outranking protests against violence in Burma and alleged killings by Blackwater contract guards in Iraq.
In the flurry of passionate, and even angry, comments circulated through e-mail, letters, phone calls and the on-line petitions, the disparaging remark about Philippine medical schools, albeit made through a fictitious television character, raised a sense of irony from some observers.
"Filipino doctors with training from Philippine medical schools have for so long supplied health care throughout the US, without which the bulk and quality of medical care here would not be easily maintained," Dr. Alex Fangonil, immediate past president of the umbrella organization Association of Philippine Physicians in America (APPA) and who practices urology in the metropolitan Washington area, said.
"Of course, there is still prejudice out there," he added, acknowledging the comment as an insult.
The APPA, with its current president, Dr. Virgilio Pilapil, who practices in Illinois , has also issued a memorandum of protest and call for an apology from ABC.
According to the American Physicians Association, based on the Census in 2005, there were 19,000 Philippine-trained practicing physicians in the US. A study made by AMA also shows that the Philippines ranks second to India as the top suppliers of doctors fulfilling the demand in the US , and outranks all other countries in supply of dentists and nurses.
Rules and procedures may have been changed, but there is still a constant need to increase the underserved populations in America's rural areas, not to mention the burgeoning urban areas, plus the need to fill the supply of medical and paramedical personnel in the war fronts of Iraq and Afghanistan.
This demand could not have been more evident than a big sun-bleached, faded billboard displayed on a seaside highway toward Cebu City , with the face of US President George W. Bush and the words "We welcome doctors, nurses, caregivers, and IT technicians in our country!"
As for the question of quality of Philippine medical schools, according to the International Medical Education Quarterly Volume 1, No. 2 Summer 2003, "Medical schools in The Philippines have been the source of a large number of physicians who come to the United States for graduate medical education and the practice of medicine."
The publication further notes: "Currently, there are 32 Philippine medical schools listed in the International Medical Education Directory (IMED), 30 of which are operating and 2 of which are closed. Three of the currently operating medical schools have been identified by the Philippines Commission on Higher Education as 'Centers of Excellence' and one as a 'Center of Development' based "on their track record, performance in the licensure examination and excellent faculty. . . The Centers of Excellence are at the University of the Philippines , University of Santo Tomas and the Cebu Institute of Medicine. The Center of Development is at Xavier University."
It also noted that the "first medical school established in the Philippines was the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery of the University of Santo Tomas in 1871."
Of further interest, especially to ABC and its search for dramatic diversity materials, is the fact that Harvard University's Medical School was first integrated in 1937 by a Filipina, Dr. Fe del Mundo, who, as a scholar admitted to the prestigious medical school for some graduate courses, forgot to remind the then-all male department such irrelevancy as the fact that she is female.
ABC has agreed to remove the offensive scene in the September 30 episode of "Desperate Housewives" from future broadcasts and DVD editions, according to Jon Melegrito, communications director of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA).
The ABC latest move was made in a telephone call on Oct. 4 by Robert Mendez, ABC vice president and director of diversity strategies covering the Disney- ABC Television Group, which includes the ABC Television Network that launched the popular Desperate Housewives weekly series.
Recounting the telephone conversation with Mendez to this correspondent, Melegrito said that ABC wanted to assure the Filipino American community and NaFFAA that ABC would make this change. He issued on Oct. 5, a NaFFAA press release on the ABC move.
"He said on the phone that ABC is taking immediate steps to wipe out the offending scene from all DVD editions and rebroadcasts," Melegrito said. "This means that future airing of this program will not include this offensive scene."
The controversial scene involved a comment by Susan, the fictitious character played by actress Teri Hatcher, asking her gynecologist after she was diagnosed as nearing menopause, the question, "Can I check those diplomas because I just wanted to make sure that they are not from some med school in the Philippines."
The Sept. 30 premiere showing of the fall drama- comedy series raked in an average of 19 million viewers, the series' largest-ever audience and topping the list of other television favorites with a very wide margin, according to the Nielsen report.
The comment impugning the quality of medical schools in the Philippines , and in effect the abilities of Philippine-trained physicians practicing in the US , was viewed as uninformed, derogatory or racist by Filipino American advocacy organizations and individuals as well as by the Philippine Embassy and its consular offices in the US and some government officials in the Philippines .
Responding to the mounting barrage of complaints initially triggered by a New York-based Filipino American artist's complaint and on-line petition, ABC made a brief statement -- reported earlier in the Philippine Daily Inquirer -- stating ABC's "sincere apologies" and that it had "no intent to disparage the integrity of any aspect of the medical community in the Philippines."
ABC had also sent an official apology to the Philippine government through the Department of Foreign Affairs, according to media reports.
The apology, however, was viewed at large as not sufficient. There were angry comments about suing the network.
But recognizing the opportunity to make corrections and other initiatives in improving the image of Filipinos and other immigrants through a face-to-face discussion with the television network's officials, in particular, Mendez, who is responsible for advancing diversity in ABC network's programming, NaFFAA agreed to meet with ABC.
"I think it would be more effective to discuss with them in a reasonable manner than in doing an adversarial approach," Melegrito explained, but added "until other measures are deemed necessary."
To arrive at some consensus for action, a conference call among NaFFAA members and other interested parties, was also held early morning of Oct. 5, according to Melegrito.
At this writing, a delegation initiated by NaFFAA met on Friday with Mendez at ABC's West 66th Street address in New York City. Led by NaFFAA Executive Director Doy Heredia, the delegation also involved representatives of other advocacy groups, notably the D.C.-based Migrant Heritage Commission, the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, a militant coalition based in New York ; and the Philippine Forum.
A demonstration was also held on Saturday, Oct. 6 in front of ABC offices in the district.
The meeting was intended to discuss measures that could avoid similar cases in the future as well as specific steps to improve the television network's treatment of images of immigrant and minority communities.
In the West Coast, there is also a plan to form an anti- defamation coalition composed of NaFFAA and other associations involving Filipino and Filipino American physicians, lawyers, nurses and other practitioners of other professions.
By Rita M. Gerona-Adkins
Note: The writer is based in the metropolitan Washington , D.C. area, with e-mail email@example.com.
The National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) is a private, non-profit, non- partisan tax-exempt organization established in 1997 to promote the welfare and well-being of all Filipinos and Filipino Americans throughout the United States.
NaFFAA's national office is based in Washington, D.C. Its main function is to monitor legislation and public policy issues affecting Filipino Americans and work in coalition with other national groups around common issues and concerns. In addition, the national office serves as a communications link between affiliate members as well as an information source on federal and legislative initiatives and policies relevant to Filipino Americans.
National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA)