Explore: Manila to Mindanao

At 9.20pm on Sunday, 15th February, BBC2 screened a programme titled ‘Manila to Mindanao’ as the final episode in the ‘Explore’ series from broadcaster and New York Times best selling author, Simon Reeve. The prior three episodes had taken him to Argentina, East Africa and Turkey. He was joined in the Philippines by young journalist Seyi Rhodes and BBC correspondent Katya Adler
As with all programmes seemingly documenting the Philippines, there was a lack of positive images and stories. Not to mention the random oriental sounding music which was offensive. After watching the programme, you would feel like the country is in freefall! BUT we have to remember, this was not a tourist holiday programme!

They did discuss relevant issues from the modernisation of the country affecting the traditional way of life both in Luzon and in Palawan, the Catholic doctrine that still dominates our country, they touched upon the political tension with regards to killings and kidnappings, the long-running conflict between the Communist NPA (New People’s Army) and the Philippine Army and then went to southern Mindanao and spoke to a Muslim teacher on their struggle for independence for the Bangsamoro Nation. They even interviewed Imelda Marcos! We have to admit as Filipinos that the truth hurts and we need to understand these issues!

These are all issues we are all aware of but rarely discuss and sometime dismiss…BUT WHY?
The biggest reason is that we do not really know what the details are. If we want to know more and make a difference then we should discuss and research the issues affecting our country and then register to vote and make a difference by electing a new Government…if that is what you believe it will take. Dual-Citizenship entitles you to vote in the Philippines, although you cannot run for office as a dual-citizen!

Going back to the issues discussed in the programme, modernisation is a problem every country face and is why indigenous peoples such as the Aborigines, Maoris and Native Americans fight hard to maintain their traditions and culture, it is no wonder the same thing is happening in the Philippines. Spain grouped over 7,000 islands as the Philippines and expected us all to become countrymen, this is why Wales and Scotland have a degree of Independence within Britain and why India was split into India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka when the British left. To a certain degree this tribal history still exists, with people from Ilocos, Pampanga, Manila and Visayas, to name but a few, having distinct differences and separate associations and community groups.

The situation in the southern Mindanao region, which should not dominate the country’s news is one that is very complicated. You have an Islamic ethinic group claiming persecution, with a country and nationality thrust upon them, claiming that their people are being killed, this could be Sarajevo or Gaza. The Bangsamoro Nation believe they were never conquered by Spain and have had their land taken from them and so want it back. However this would open up a can of worms. In a previous article, Philippine Generations wrote about a movement to rename the Philippines, thus erasing our dependent history to Spain and establishing a new independent identity. Should the Islamic southern Mindanao region be made an independent state, what is stopping the Ifugao, Igorot and Aeta people’s caiming the same? The country would be in an even bigger mess!

The political tension in the Philippines is taken for granted by those of us in the UK. Many of us do not know what life was like under Marcos’ martial law, or how now after liberation, military coups and corrupt presidencies, journalists and left-wing thinkers still fear for their lives. This is a major issue when countries in the west raise questions on safety and freedom in the Philippines.

There have been more political and Islamic killings in Thailand than the Philippines in the last 5 years, yet Thailand is still held up as a paradise holiday destination. So perhaps all we need is good publicity as their political situation is in worse shape than ours! Even after the demonstration at the Thai airport stopping flights and disrupting western holidaymakers people still believe the Philippines would be more dangerous to visit!

With regards to the issue of contraception, this is a major stumbling block with regards to the development of the country. More children born into poverty increases all the negative stereotypes you can imagine, disease, lack of education, crime, prostitution, death, starvation, to name but a few. It is somewhat irresponsible to discourage the use of contraception. The argument is that outside of marriage people should not be having sex, but part of the problem is married couples having too many to afford. The thinking of the Church is that it will create an atmosphere and culture of free and easy sex as pregnancy can be prevented although they also believe it will encourage abortion, something that could not happen if contraception is used. This is not an issue of religion, but more of education and one that is very much needed in the Philippines. At least we do not have an AIDS epidemic as in India or Africa, otherwise the lack of condoms would be disastrous.
Okay they talked about the people living in the Cemetery, it was featured in the Times last year, so they must have felt it was in the public interest. At least they didn’t show Smokey Mountain again or the Manila sex clubs! We should take this as a positive step as they are dealing with bigger issues. Let’s not forget they profiled the rice terraces, described as the 8th wonder of the world, the Church in Quiapo and the Black Nazarene procession which was positive. Not to mention the Tarsier preservation and the Eco-tourism development. At the end, they did say despite the problems, the Philippines is one of the most beautiful places you can visit.

At the end of the day, if you feel positive or negative about the programme, we should discuss the issues more, but as some might say the truth hurts. If we really want to change the perception people have of the Philippines we should get involved in the decision making process by voting on issues in the Philippines, we should get involved in community and not for profit groups and organisations like Philippine Generations, FilmeFilms, New-Manila, the Philippine Community Fund, Philippine United FC, PNA-UK, Philly4Life, PinoysfinestUK and Phil-UK to name but a few. We should also advertise the Philippines to non-Filipinos we know and we should support positive examples of the Philippines and positive Filipino events. We should also promote positive role models providing a positive face of the Philippines, such as Manny Pacquiao, Allen Pineda AKA apl, David Medalla, Mutya Buena.

How brilliant would it be if Myleene Klass came out and said she was Filipino and proud??!!!!!

There are so many comments and views being contributed on facebook and the Internet. This shows people have an opinion and people care, but we should not be embarrassed of what people think of the Philippines, we should be trying to change what people think of the Philippines.

The episode can still be viewed and downloaded from the BBC website. Below is the link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00htg7d

If you have any views or would like to discuss anything written in this article, please do not hesitate to leave a comment.

By Adrian Williams



  1. philippines is seldom featured here on tv, i only remembered three programs shown here during 8 years of migration. But sadly its all negative publicity, you get embarrassed watching those but its the reality. Our corrupt politicians should be ashamed. why does this politicians could afford to live in indulgence and extravagance where thay have people living with the DEAD? I think more programs like this should be shown over the world to shame our (THICK SKINNED)politicians!!!!!

  2. philippines is seldom featured here on tv, i only remembered three programs shown here during 8 years of migration. But sadly its all negative publicity, you get embarrassed watching those but its the reality. Our corrupt politicians should be ashamed. why does this politicians could afford to live in indulgence and extravagance where thay have people living with the DEAD? I think more programs like this should be shown over the world to shame our (THICK SKINNED)politicians!!!!!

  3. Its sad that Philippines is portrayed by the BBC like this, but really as Filipino’s we know that everything shown on the documentary is the images we see ourselves when we go there. I can’t believe that Philippines has to be exposed in a bad light before the government gets off their back sides and does something about improving the country (If they can stop fighting amongst themselves and stop the internal corruption).
    There needs to be an External Vetting System in place that makes checks that the Government are meeting the needs of the People as well as the country.However that’s in an Ideal world, in reality everything is swept under the carpet and real issues are ignored i.e Humanitarian Right and so forth.
    There is a clear distinct line between the rich and the poor. The BBC decided to show the poor parts of the Philippines and all the faults with in the country.
    I can’t believe they showed Imelda M on the programme she does not represent Philippines, how embarassing that she’s even show’s her face…with her consuming stolen wealth of the Country…I could not believe she had a “Picasso” painting and a “Micheal Angelo” painting in her house… What the hell is that all about??? that money there was stolen by her and her family. It’s selfish individuals like her that leaves the rest of the country starving. It’s really a shame and really distressing to see an uneven show of wealth distribution in the country.
    Its a shame a Filipino couldn’t have done a documentary program showing the Philippines in a more optistic light….Any thoughts? Any one?

  4. This is just another programme showing how filthy the Philippines is. It does not show a good image of the country. It did not tackle our culture very much i.e. values, traditions, festivities, our love for shopping malls. It is so limited to the over publicised negative side of the country. It’s nothing new, really.

  5. As I was born in the UK, the political problems in the Philippines were literally a world away. Of course, my mother would tell me of the conflict and her stories were accompanied by my father’s as he was in the Filipino army before he migrated to the UK to be with my mother. It is such a shame that there is still political conflict. Why cannot Imelda Marcos, with her billions of dollars, help? Also with the Islamic community in Mindanao. I, myself as a Catholic, still feel a huge amount of sympathy for the people there. It is obvious that all they went is peace and their argument for independence is a feasible one. One of my closest friends is a Pakistan Muslim and he is the most peaceful person I know. It is a shame that Islam is always associated with conflict and war.

    I have only been able to visit the Philippines once in my lifetime. It was the best three weeks of my life. I got the best sense of community and family life that I do not feel here in the UK. I miss it terribly and look forward to my next visit there. It is true that more people in the western world should be able to appreciate the beauty and most importantly, for me, the strong sense of culture that the Philippines has to offer.

  6. to be quite honest, i felt a deep shame and sadness in my heart when i was watching it. i felt at that time that i did not want to go to work the following day. yes, the truth hurts and filipinos around the world has to face this fact. but i still feel that the documentary was biased altogother. there is so much to say about our archipelago. poverty is quite common anywhere in the world, as well as corruption in every single government there is. but the other side of the coin was not flipped. there is so much to say about the in the philippines, not just the bad ones.

  7. As a Filipino 100% born and bred in the Philippines, I actually did not find this programme offensive (Am I the only one?). I think we Filipinos should step up and face reality- how deep our problems are. I grew up seeing poverty, and its a LOT worse than what was shown on BBC (pagpag anyone?). I’m amazed that only here in UK did I see some of those ground level issues featured in mainstream media. And why is truth such a bad thing?

    The Mindanao hot topic is something very serious but hardly discussed in the Philippines. Its inhabitants make up about a quarter of the population yet they are also the poorest , most marginalised and misunderstood. Mindanao region is the nation’s bread basket yet excluded from a fair share of the national development policy and budget allocation. This is real. It needs to be brought out in the open and not swept under the rug. A UK platform is better than none.

  8. I’m living in the Netherlands but I’ve seen this program on BBC too. My wife’s a Filipina so I usually watch any program about the Philippines.

    I tend to agree that the program show mostly negative aspects of the Philippines. While all the issues discussed in the program are probably real, I completely missed the solutions. The program only showed the problems, but I’m quite sure there are people or groups in the Philippines who can contribute to the solution of all these problems. They were completely ignored in this program which is a missed chance.

    Anyway it’s good to see the discussion here, at least SOME people seem bothered by what’s going on over there and together we CAN make a difference.

  9. I completely agree with ur post! The Philippines is portrayed as one of the worst off countries on Earth by media agencies like the BBC, CNN and Aljazeera, but especially the BBC. Funny that when I posted pictures of Manila on Facebook, many of my friends in London couldn’t believe that there were malls, LRT and skyscrapers in the Metro, judging by the comments. The Jakarta terrorist bombs that hit the Mariott and Ritz three days ago were a truly despicable and unexcusable act of terrorism, and my sympathy is with the Indonesian people in their anger and sorrow, but how many terrorist attacks were shown on the Philippines by the world’s news agencies?? Also, back to the Jakarta attack, I noted how the BBC report was composited. The first thing the reporter said was eerily along the lines of: “Jakarta is undoubtable an important business hub in Southeast Asia, and Indonesia enjoys rapid development and a democratic system. In this sea of modern chrome and glass, tragedy stuck…”, while showing images of skyscrapers in Pusat and Kuningan (Jakarta’s versions of Makati and Ortigas; the business centers). In contrast, ANY news report from Manila on the BBC will always start with either outdated footage of the now non-existent Smokey Mountain squatter-colony, or cropped images of barong-barong over the Pasig river, along with saying something like “Manila is a microcosm of the Philippines; violent and tragic place of stark contrasts, plagued by the plight of its 99% slum dwelling population on one side, and the 1% of super-rich..”. It seems that the melodramatic reporting of the country via the BBC hasn’t changed since the 1970’s.

    Whatever happened to Jakarta’s squatters and poor? How about Bangkok? Or Hanoi? They are still there in their millions! Corruption, social contrast, child labour, conflict is present in nearly all Southeast Asian cities and countries.. So why just Manila?? Why just the Philippines?? Why just the Filipino on this negative reporting trip?

    There are always two sides to any coin, but so far the only single side which has been shamelessly shown to the world via career-driven journalists is the one that is always covered in mud.

    When a BBC or CNN reporter nitpicks at the Philippines over its neighbours, s/he insults the Filipino. We are a nation of maids to many people in the UK and the west, and judging from history, they do not want to give up their new found legal outlet to vent their veiled racism and superiority-complexes easily, so we have to force them to change their views and thoughts towards us and our country.

  10. Why is everyone seem to be ashamed? That is the truth about Philippines. I’ve been living here in the UK for 22 years and I didnt go back there for 12 years and when I came back I think its gotten worst. It was shocking to find out that people are living with the dead, but one thing I know after not visiting our beloved country for a long time one thing that never changed is how Filipinos seem to be happy and just getting on with life. In 2006 we went to Boracay a typhoon just went past there and damaged a lot of houses but I didn’t hear anyone complain they just get on with fixing what was damaged. Yes Philippines has beautiful beaches just like Thailand but it’s dirty and poor too that’s not something to be ashamed of because Philippines has wonderful happy friendly people that just gets on with life and willing to survive come what may and that programme showed that. And as Filipinos we should be proud of that.

  11. I’m sorry I have to be so frank but THIS IS SUCH A DULL ARTICLE!!!!!!!!!! It is frustrating as a young British Fillipina to read. Important? yes. Relevant? Yes. Accessible? No. At least Myleene Klass has very successfully raised awareness of Fillipine identity…and in a very accessible way which is surely the only way these important issues can begin to be acknowleged. An organisation as crucial as Filipino Generations should surely be complementing and collaborating with a profiled wellplaced celeb like Myleene Klass, Mutya Bueno as opposed to criticising, rambling and burning the bridges we have managed to build. Thank you. Adrian Williams you have an opportunity here surely?

  12. Hi Melissa,

    Thank you for your comments, I value all opinions and I felt, as you named me, I really should reply to you.

    My article was written in early 2009 in response to a TV programme on the BBC. It has had a lot of responses by people both here and on Facebook.

    With regards to my comments on Myleene Klass, I stand by them. She should serve as an inspiration to our community as being the most prominent Filipina in the UK. Unfortunately, up until the 2009 Barrio Fiesta, Myleene had been a very prominent absentee from our community. In 1997, when I was the Chairman of the Youth Division of a Global Philippine Charity, Myleene and her sister were booked to play the harp and the violin respectively at a Charity event in Kensington. That was the last time I saw her at a Filipino event. She refers to herself as Southeast Asian, as opposed to a Filipina. For the past three years we have been trying to work with, and increase her profile within her own community. Unfortunately, her management company has consistently told us that she is unavailable. As she works with both the BBC and ITV, why has she not fronted or led any programmes that highlight her identity? I guarantee that if she had stated that she was a Filipina, and discussed her identity or culture on TV during the ‘I’m a Celebrity…’ TV programme, just as the Animaniax on ‘Move like Michael Jackson’ had done, she would have won. We had even shot footage of her at the 2009 Barrio Fiesta, with her talking about being a Filipina. However, we were instructed by her management company that we could not use her footage.

    Last year in November 2009, when we held the ‘Philippine Generations Guanabana Charity Gig’ for the victims of the Philippine Typhoons, Myleene sent signed photographs for use in an auction. Mutya Buena attended the event, posed for photographs, donated a book about her life and engaged with other guests. There is a noticeable difference between the two. Despite all of this, I would happily work with Myleene and I understand she may have issues with her management controlling her image. The decision on her involvement rests on whether or not the publicity is deemed worthwhile. Last year her appearance at Barrio Fiesta coincided with some of her commercial activities. I understand all this, as she is in a commercial industry. However, in the end, she should be able to decide on issues she would like to be involved with. Perhaps the information has not been filtered through from her management, however, this is purely speculation.

    I would love to know how Myleene has ‘…very successfully raised awareness of PHILIPPINE identity’? I am unaware of the initiatives she has led; if you can point them out to me, I will happily stand corrected.

    I am not sure how my article is not accessible; I’m really not sure what you are trying to say when you state: ‘Accessible? No’. Please clarify.

    PHILIPPINE GENERATIONS is all about collaboration, sparking conversation and debate. Please Melissa, do not assume we make unqualified statements. If you would like to find out more about how we work and what we do, please feel free to get in touch with me.

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