Originally published on 2018/11/08

Recently, screenshots from Miss Earth Canada’s Instagram post made the rounds. It wasn’t some catfight between candidates. Instead, it was a revelation of sexual harassment and the inaction of the pageant’s organizers.

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Photo by Vonecia Carswell on Unsplash

According to Miss Earth-Canada Jaime Yvonne Vandenberg, she and several fellow candidates experienced sexual harassment from one of the sponsors of Miss Earth 2018. This man started harassing her on the second day of her stay in the Philippines. He got his number somehow and kept asking for her hotel room number.

Worse, this sponsor offered to “take care” of her needs and help her “get further in the pageant” in exchange for sexual favors.

How on earth is that ever right? But when Vandenberg and other candidates, Miss Earth-England Abbey-Anne Gyles-Brown and Miss Earth-Guam Emma Mae Sheedy, brought this to the attention of some organizers, they were effectively told to play nice and be friendly with the sponsors.

It is this practice, this mentality to force people to “play nice” that forms the heart and soul of the Filipino value of “pakikisama.” In Bisaya, there’s no one exact word that sums it up, and I don’t know other equivalent terms in other dialects and Philippine languages, but the idea is the same.

Play nice. Be friendly.

Even if you’re being bullied, harassed, or made to feel uncomfortable.

It’s one of the values that we Filipinos are proud of, and it’s not inherently bad. We’re known as some of the friendliest people on the planet, and we hang on to that label desperately, like a drowning man to a lifesaver.

But this mentality is so easy to abuse. And because it’s such a Filipino thing, we shrug it off as part of our culture. Well, the idea certainly, but it should never be used as an excuse to enable despicable behavior, like sexual harassment.

While Vandenberg didn’t name the sponsor, Miss Earth-Guam Emma Mae Sheedy certainly did, and if you’re going to grab someone’s backside and say that the Latinx candidates should dance for you, then you deserve the disgrace and so much more.

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One thing we Filipinos hold close to our hearts is our #PinoyPride, so we prefer to hush things up if there are problems and smile genially while telling people to “Play nice. Be friendly.”

Yet, this very thing is a blight on our country and pride as a nation. Let’s not kid ourselves. This has happened before, in showbiz, in the workplace, in school, in the government.

It’s just that more and more people who were harassed are speaking out.

And they should not be hushed and told to play nice and be friendly.

Miss Earth-Canada had this to say about the Filipino organizers: “I went through almost two weeks of sexual harassment before anything was done about it.”

When they had told the team managers, this is what happened:

“The team mangers laughed and told us to be nice.”

Obviously, it’s no joke to go against a bigwig, a sponsor who has money and power to his name.

But as every Filipino who saw the movie Heneral Luna know…

“Walang nakakaangat sa batas kahit na presidente.”

No one is above the law, not even the president.

And certainly not an event sponsor.

This is not to say that pakikisama should be erased form our culture. Learning to work well with others is a valuable trait, especially in the workplace. When you learn to deal with others and learn to compromise on things, sometimes you learn something new or develop as a person.

Someone who was raised spoiled or who breezed through life expecting things to fall on their laps will need to learn pakikisama because not everyone will fall over themselves to please them.

The point is, this Filipino culture should not be used as an excuse to force someone to endure something they’re not comfortable with.

We, as Filipinos, should not take pride in something that people take advantage of to take advantage of others.

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