TORONTO - A poster in one of my egroups called the dearth of quality and relevant shows on Philippine television a "national tragedy" after taking note of what she says is "the scarcity of time allotted for national and local news while so many boring hours are devoted to junk programs such as tearjerker dramas, flashy noontime shows, sordid showbiz gossip, and shallow game shows".
The assessment echoes what many people feel. I also believe it to be true.
Fact is, the giants of Philippine television have invaded Filipino communities abroad, including the United States and Canada, where they relentlessly wage a ratings war in the pursuit of the mighty dollar.
Here in Toronto, the invasion has turned Filipino community organizations into battlefields, pitting friends, provoking hostility and perpetuating a hollow mindset that borders on decadence.
How much of a hold these giants have on the community is a question wanting and needing an answer.
What's the dollar value of a sponsorship, for example, of ABS-CBN-TFC of the Mabuhay Festival by the Philippine Independence Day Council, or of the Pinoy Fiesta by the Philippine Canadian Charitable Foundation?
The issue comes up because the parties have raised their animosities to a level that encourages division while burying the community in an avalanche of trashy entertainment.
More than a year ago, the sex kitten named Katrina Halili was foisted on the Toronto Filipino community by her principals, GMA-Kapuso, through its sponsorship of the Mabuhay Festival. One thing for sure though, was that the menfolk came alive (as in "nabuhay") judging by the number who ogled and videoed her.
The TV network did not have the heart to see her downslide, courtesy of a sordid sexual encounter with her lover Hayden Kho and posted worldwide in the internet, but it did have the gumption to market her as a fragile, immaculate, non-virgin, deserving a second or third chance at redemption.
Another "victim" being presently marketed in Toronto is Maricar Reyes, the doctor-turned-model-turned-actress who gained her share of glory being in full passionate sexual congress with the same lover that Halili had, the seemingly inexhaustible stud named Hayden Kho.
I don't care much if Halili, Reyes and Kho do a threesome, or maybe a foursome to include his rediscovered beauty queen during their raunchy breaks. The issue is why do the TV networks turn a blind eye to these concerns and impose them on the community.
Don't the community and the caregivers in particular, deserve a more respectable treatment from GMA and ABS-CBN? Filipinos abroad look for entertainment that edifies; entertainment that's wholesome and which could counter the negative stereotypes and bad publicity about the Philippines and a whole bunch of crooks there in leadership positions.
My opinion is that the more controversial the entertainments are, the more money the TV channels rake in. In short, everybody is laughing their way to the bank while the community is left empty in mind and pocket.
One of these days, Maricar Reyes will be seen in a different light, role-playing the late caregiver Juana Tejada in what promises to be a tearjerker. Why, of all people, has she been chosen by ABS CBN to represent her knowing the sexual controversy surrounding her?
"It's a bit scary to play Juana," said Reyes in a published interview with Toronto Star. She and other members of the cast were reenacting a scene at Earl Bales Park a few weeks ago.
"Juana did a lot for the Filipino community here," she told her interviewer. "She is probably the most celebrated caregiver. I want to do justice to tell her story right".
But how can she do justice when she invites attention to her past than to the cause that she's trying to immortalize in film?
Her "sex video made me conclude that that is the reason why Maricar Reyes never agreed to be in Congress (referring to a congressional inquiry)," said one unidentified commenter who admitted having watched the video. "She's quite wild in the video that shocked me because she looks innocent on camera".
I thought many members of the Filipino community in Toronto are trying hard to uplift these caregivers from a prejudiced mainstream perception of being willing slaves. Remember the case of two caregivers against a defeated MP? Remember the caregiver who was murdered after she witnessed a grand theft?
I just hope Maricar Reyes' sexual proclivities (some parts are still streaming in some websites) will not rub on Juana Tejada nor on Filipino caregivers because that would be grossly unfair. She's dead alright but the memory of her as a fighter lingers on in the community.
"Maricar is not a role model for us, but Juana is," says a nanny who prefers to remain anonymous. "We want somebody to look up to".
It is my hope that Reyes' digital presence will not in any way affect the hundreds of caregivers who also fall victim to sexual predators. Anyone with a computer can readily access the steaming videos in several websites and that worries a number of caregivers who fear being associated with her bedroom manners.
"Masisira ang reputasyon ng mga caregivers (the reputation of caregivers will be ruined)," was a reaction shared by several caregivers interviewed for this story. Some have heard about Reyes' misadventure and a few managed to view it off work.
Now they're taking umbrage at what they feel was a desecration of Juana Tejada's memory and a distortion of her background. Officials at ABS-CBN have not commented on the issue. Tejada's lawyer also did not reply to questions.
From what I read about Juana Tejada, she sacrificed and toiled hard as a caregiver in Toronto for her family. I personally admire Juana Tejada for her inner strength in fighting a wrong. In my estimation she deserves recognition for what has been been attributed to her sacrifice.
Her memory is better served by having actors who do not have the baggage that would forever be identified with them. It seems to me that the motive of ABS-CBN was to relaunch Maricar Reyes with a drama that's sure to attract the caregiving community and perhaps the rich Canadian market.
The Philippine network giant is celebrating its 20th anniversary by offering Juana Tejada's story in its "Maalaala Mo Kaya" drama anthology, one of the many special episodes the company says is "filled with stories that will surely touch" viewers' hearts. And line its pocket?