Proudly Philippine-made

The Inbox

By Norman Sison, VERA Files

A man is injured and the doctor prescribes a local anesthetic. "Please, doc," the patient asks. "Can't I have an imported one?"

Filipinos satirize their own foibles and the anesthetic joke pokes fun at the penchant for imports. The joke became popular during the Marcos dictatorship in the 1970s and the much-sought-after label then was "made in the USA" — a legacy of the 50-year US colonial era that ended in 1946. The PX store was the place to go to for Filipinos visiting the then-US military bases at Clark in Pampanga and Subic Bay in Zambales provinces.

The Filipino appetite for things foreign is as durable as ever and it is a mindset that one group of volunteers is trying to change. "What we really want is to effect positive behavioral change within our own social circle such as our family and friends, where we can actually change minds," says volunteer Maricris Sarino.

At ages 19 to 30, the people behind Yabang Pinoy ("Filipino Pride" in Filipino) look more like artists than nationalists. But patriots indeed they are. At their monthly potluck get-together, it's Filipino food only. Members take it upon themselves to wear clothes that either have local labels or have Filipino-inspired designs. You will not hear music by foreign bands.

When the group started in 2005, the mission was simply to encourage Filipinos to "buy Filipino" and, eventually, help prop up the fragile Philippine economy. Good business meant jobs.

"In Yabang Pinoy, we believe that true progress and development starts when every Filipino believes in being a Filipino," says Sarino.

Publicist Mark Tan joined Yabang Pinoy in 2007 and volunteers his time as a spokesperson. He points out the dormant economic power in the hands of each Filipino. "With our 100 million citizens and abundant natural resources — this potential can be unlocked if only Filipinos realize that each has his own way to contribute to real progressive change in the country through patronage of Filipino brands, products, goods, and services."

They don't just tell people to "buy Filipino". They also tell people what Filipino-made products are out there because there are some brands that many people don't know are Filipino because they sound foreign like clothing labels Penshoppe and Bayo.

On their Web site ( Facebook page and other social networks, Yabang Pinoy freely pushes local brands, big and small. It organizes an annual bazaar showcasing Filipiniana, consistently staged since November 2005.

Earlier this year, they launched their "PHmade" campaign to further crystallize their cause. Their slogan, "the Filipino is worth buying for", is a pun from a quote made famous by slain political opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr., whose belief that "the Filipino is worth dying for" steeled his resolve to return to Manila from self-exile in 1983 despite the threat of assassination.

At times, Yabang Pinoy also has to encourage local businesses to dream bigger and bolder. "For local entrepreneurs to continually improve their products and services, they have to start thinking of themselves as Filipino entrepreneurs poised to compete globally," says Tan.

But the real work, as Yabang Pinoy quickly realized, was social engineering — changing the way Filipinos see the "made in the Philippines" label.

Yabang Pinoy volunteers learned from their own experience. To believe in their own message, they have to live it. They wear wrist bands made of abaca or Manila hemp — their version of the popular baller bands — to remind themselves of their cause every day. Over 80,000 abaca bands have been sold since 2005.

The habit change, Yabang Pinoy volunteers acknowledge, takes time. "Through the years, if you keep on advocating Pinoy pride, it constantly changes you and you don't even know how it happened," says Sarino.

The ongoing territorial spat with China has given the "buy Filipino" cause an unexpected boost. Nationalists were angered months ago when the Philippine National Police awarded a contract for 60,000 pistols to a supplier that imports the Austrian-made Glock. They said the contract should have been bid out to local gun makers only to give the local defense industry a boost.

However, Yabang Pinoy refuses to adopt a combative tone. "Yabang Pinoy's campaigns have always been towards real progressive change, borne out of a spirit of pride as Filipinos, and not as a movement against something," explains Tan.

The "buy Filipino" campaign is nothing new. On August 19, 1939, President Manuel Quezon, in efforts to prepare a country for independence from the United States, issued Executive Order No. 217 to instill values among Filipinos that included buying local. "Cultivate the habit of using goods made in the Philippines. Patronize the products and trades of your countrymen."

Fast forward to 1998. That year, businessman Raul Concepcion of Concepcion Industries, maker of the Carrier air conditioner brand, launched Buy Philippine-Made Movement, complete with a "proudly Philippine-made" seal of excellence to help buyers know what to buy. But the campaign eventually fizzled out.

If Yabang Pinoy is to succeed, its volunteers say, they need to change the pervading view that "made in the Philippines" is synonymous with poor quality. Sarino points to the endurance of abaca, the world's strongest natural fiber, and she brandishes her wrist band readily: "I'm a Filipino. I have something to be proud of."

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")