WHILE on sabbatical at Berkeley, I was asked by an American student: "How are you doing? Are you having fun?" Finding an opportunity to advertise our country, I said, "Yes, but it's more fun in the Philippines!"

Later, I regretted having answered that way because I realized how ambiguous, ambivalent, and equivocal the word FUN is. You will be surprised to read in the Dictionary of Etymology that the word fun did not originally mean "diversion" or "amusement." For a long time, it meant "a cheat, a trick, or a hoax." I dread the day when "It's more fun in the Philippines" would mean "There are more cheats, hoaxes, and counterfeits in the country." Or worse: "Philippines is a funny country." In 1938, fake dollar bills were called funny money.

But for now, there is no need to fear. Few people read the Dictionary of Etymology, anyway. Judging from the dramatic increase of tourists in the Philippines, the slogan has immensely succeeded in seducing foreigners to come in droves. Who could resist powdery white beaches, the mystical rice terraces, the eerie underground river, immaculate blue skies, and ever-smiling Filipinos? And all these come at bargain-basement prices. An added attraction is the picture of ever-smiling Filipinos whom the ministry of tourism projects as fun-loving. They can squeeze fun out of tragedy.

But lately, our exposure to Western culture has made us equate fun with great expenditure and effort. Many Filipinos dream of going on vacation abroad, seeing places and natural attractions that pale in comparison with those our country is blessed with. So while foreign tourists pay a measly sum for the great fun our country offers, we spend a fortune when we visit their countries. While we pamper tourists with our proverbial brand of hospitality, we find unwelcoming, grouchy, and inattentive people in foreign hotels and restaurants. Worse, they bill us high and use the money to have fun in our country. Or worst, they use the money to BUY our country.

Travel around the Philippines and you will see foreigners owning many of the most pristine and beautiful lands of our country. You see high-class villages and subdivisions inhabited exclusively by foreigners and their families, living luxuriously, getting richer every day because they monopolize business and trade. They don't even make an effort to learn the local language and traditions. They set themselves apart, and with their money and connections with high-ranking government officials, they live in an atmosphere of privilege and entitlement. They see themselves as lords and masters of poor Filipinos who do the menial jobs for them. It is ironic that while the government is contesting ownership of some remote islands in the West Philippine Sea, it is doing nothing to curb the invasion of thousands of foreigners who are here to have fun, and here to stay. The government is selling the Philippines, but selling it short.


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