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Re-branding the Image of the Filipino

World class designs from artists such as Vito Selma do much for “Brand Filipino” – in this picture Vito Selma’s Paisley Accent Chair from Interior 360

By Didi Paterno-Magpali

 Changing stereotypes take time. But these women say that with the right packaging and mindset, the Filipino image can be positively re-branded.

Most every Filipino can remember the uproar that ensued when the Oxford English Dictionary included in its definition of Filipina “a nanny or maid”.  The nation went up in arms to complain and fight for their honor.

An editorial by the Philippine Center for Journalism said that the definition, tantamount to being called a ‘nation of nannies was so psychologically devastating, the only way to salvage our dignity was to put up a fight to defend not so much the honor of nannies, but that of a psychologically battered nation’.

It turns out the entry in the Oxford English Dictionary was just the beginning.

Teri Hatcher in the show, Desperate Housewives, demanded that her doctor show her medical diplomas “to make sure they are not from some med school in the Philippines.”

Alec Baldwin referred to a Filipina married to a US national as a mail order bride. And most recently, Lucy Liu said that she if she got any darker, she would look like a “little Filipino.”

It was clear. The Filipino has an image problem.

Ellen Samano – Photo by Dawn Almario

Ellen Samano: Filipinos have to look the part

“You cannot really blame other nationalities for looking at (Filipinos) this way. Because this is what they see everyday in the malls, restaurants, hotels, parks and other public places. Even in their work places.” says Ellen Samano, branding and marketing communications virtuoso.  Formerly the head of account management of global advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi X in Dubai, Ellen founded Sparks of the World, a company specializing in motivational, inspirational and educational seminars customized for Filipinos in the Middle East, specifically the UAE.

“Many skilled Filipino professionals such as engineers, nurses, CPAs [certified public accountants], interior designers, architects are literally unseen because they stay inside their offices and their work does not require them to dress up well. It may seem pretty basic, but what we see with our eyes automatically creates a perception, especially in this market.”

Ellen puts further perspective into the oddity of Filipinos in this region. “Geographically, the Philippines is quite far from the Middle East, so we are mutually unfamiliar with each other.  We are somehow out of place in this territory. Imagine an Emirati living in the Philippines.”

Adding the context of historical relations, Ellen relates, “Limited interaction with the region was through the laborers and skilled workers who first came here as contract workers. Hence, Filipinos are probably one of the least credible nationalities in this respect. And this somehow affects our overall marketability.”

By way of analogy, Ellen says the UAE is like a huge and busy supermarket with different products and brands, where the employers are consumers looking for a bottle of mineral water. “Think of all the 220 nationalities living here (in the UAE) as different brands of bottled water. If you were the consumer, which brands would you choose and buy? Which brands, or rather nationalities, LOOK the most credible?”

The irony of it all is that “Filipinos are (indeed) qualified, but are not visually credible.” Ellen then stresses the need for Filipinos to be packaged in a professional way. It is not enough to be hard working, responsible and reliable, because those traits only come after the “actual product taste test”, where Filipinos have to prove themselves worthy.

“We need to break away from being seen as a nationality that is happy-go-lucky, subservient, and easy to take advantage of,” Ellen stresses.

Artist Tini Meyer with Guest of Honor HH Sheikh Nahyan Mubarak Al Nahyan at the opening of Interior 360

Tini Meyer: Stop feeling “kawawa”

“The Middle East is the only place that Filipinos are looked down upon.” Says Tini Meyer, artist and founder of Interior360, a Dubai-based art gallery. “In Europe and in North America, people don’t really care because (how people perceive you) is more merit based.” she elaborates. Tini, half-Filipino and half-German, has travelled and lived in various parts of Europe as well as Canada.

Whenever she gets visitors at the gallery, which showcases Filipino design and art talents, Tini gets two distinct reactions: “Either they think prices should be cheap just because (the pieces) are from the Philippines or they are pleasantly surprised at the level of quality.”

Though there still is the negative stigma attached to Filipinos and the Philippines, there is hope “Actually, (seeing these pieces), foreigners are now starting to believe in the power of Filipino talent, which is highly influenced by Filipino fashion designers based in Dubai such as Michael Cinco, Ezra and Furne One.” Tini believes that art is one of the good avenues to help change the perceptions of our people “With art, there are no boundaries. People care more about the art. Yes, the life of the artist matters, but it is more about the art.”

But she still encourages all Filipinos, not just the artists, to help create the change in perceptions of other nationalities. Her advise is very simple “Filipinos should start believing in themselves and stop feeling kawawa. Be very good at what you do. Do your job well with happiness. Even if you are just a waiter, serve people with a smile.”

The change from within

“It is (simple, but) not easy and it will take time, one Filipino at a time, because the change has to come from within. We have to believe that we are NOT second rate.” stresses Ellen, who has begun to lead this change through her Filipino branding and imaging seminars. “I want to change a mindset. We have to market ourselves better. The investment is on the acquisition of the right knowledge on how to style, package and carry yourself. If you have the right personality skills, confidence is a natural aftermath. Overall, it requires a bit of extra time and effort to be conscious and to actually apply the principles.”

There have been a handful of Filipinos who have been successful at helping shape a better image of our people such as Ellen, Tini and the Filipino artisans. Each of us has an individual role to better ourselves and project a positive image. Just as we rose up as a nation to counter insults and prejudices, we must also make a collective effort to change perception.


Ambassador Grace Relucio-Princesa – Photo by Eros Goze

Helping create the change:

Practical Tips from Nanay Amba Grace Relucio Princesa

Ambassador Grace Relucio-Princesa walks with a swagger. Her petite frame was dressed in a delicately embroidered, apple green abaca blouse and a modest pencil cut skirt with her head held up high and her firm handshake indicated that she was not short on Filipino pride.

She has a clear vision and big plans for the Filipino community, whom she considers an extension of her very own family. A mother of five children, who are living thousands of miles away from her, she shares the plight of the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos living in the UAE, whom she now considers children of her own. Hence, the popular pet name bestowed upon her “Nanay Amba” (Mother Ambassador).

Nanay Amba understands that her vision for her constituents would not come into fruition if she would not put these into more practical strategies, which could be incorporated into day-to-day living.

Integrating her own strong spiritual values and her observations of the Filipino migration phenomenon through her various assignments around the world, Nanay Amba shares her own tips, to help change ourselves in order to transform and better the perception of our people and our country in the UAE.

Tip #1: Begin with the end in mind.

Nanay Amba believes that for the UAE-based Filipinos, this set-up of being away from family is simply temporary and, in the end, they would and should come back home to the Philippines. Nanay Amba encourages her constituents to be more contemplative of the purpose and end goals in order to be clear, focused and, more importantly, avoid the many “shadows”, such as intoxication with credit cards, loans and immorality when it comes to matters of the heart.

Tip #2: Know thy self.

The lyrics of the song “Sino Ako?” resonate strongly with Nanay Amba. She often uses the song in her public appearances to help remind her constituents to reflect and clear their identity as themselves and as Filipinos. “Knowing one’s self and what you stand for keeps you grounded.” she says.

Tip #3: Be Pinoy wise, not Pinoy waldas.

“You cannot give what you do not have.” Nanay Amba stresses the importance of OFs becoming and being financially able and stable. This is why she advocates the Pinoy W.I.S.E (Worldwide Initiative for Savings Investment and Entrepreneurship) movement, “an information and education program to encourage (OFs) to save, invest and engage in enterprises that would provide sustainable income for them”, which formally launched in the UAE last November 2012.

Nanay Amba passionately promotes the movement, which offers free seminars on practical financial know-how and discipline. “Hindi por que sale eh kailangang bumili. Kung hindi naman kailangan, huwag bumili…Wag tayo maging hoarders.” she lovingly reminds her children in the UAE like the mother that she truly is.


Illustrado Day of Sisterhood

Photos By Donald Rosales and Cristina Linaza

Illustrado threw a community event for Filipinas in the UAE on the 6th April 2012, at the Almas Tower, Jumeirah Lake Towers, Dubai.

Dubbed the “Day of Sisterhood” the whole day affair dedicated to celebrating “Pinay Power” saw a gathering of 400 Filipinas from all walks of life, who came together for a whole day of learning and bonding.

An offshoot of Illustrado’s Women of Substance campaign, an advocacy devoted to the empowerment of Filipinas in the region, the Day of Sisterhood’s became a venue where attendees were provided useful information on topics that could help them enrich their lives.  The event also became a platform where the women were able to fearlessly discuss personal concerns and issues, especially those related to reproductive health and sexual empowerment.

Event host, Lalaine Chu-Benitez – Illustrado’s Publisher & Editor-in-Chief welcomes guests with the Go Pinay mantra

Phil Ambassador to the UAE Ambassador Grace Relucio-Princesa

 The affair was graced by Ambassador Grace Relucio-Princesa who opened the event with a non-denominational prayer.

Most awaited during the affair was the open forum session with renowned psychologist, author and TV personality, Illustrado columnist Dr. Margarita Holmes who flew to Dubai especially for the Women of Substance and Day of Sisterhood events.

Digerati’s Lilian Lee Bautista (L) looks on with a smile

Renowned psychologist, author and TV personality Dr. Margarita Holmes discusses sexual empowerment

No holds-barred discussion on sexual empowerment and reproductive health

Digerati’s Arlene Pulido asks the good doctor a question

During the discussion, Dr. Holmes, together with host Lalaine Chu-Benitez, Illustrado’s Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, highlighted the message that women should make the right decisions for themselves and see to it that they protect their well-being – especially when it comes to their own sexuality as well as reproductive health.

WOS Honoree Engr Mary Jane Alvero Al Mahdi shares some insights

Lending their expertise on other useful topics for Filipinas were Engr. Mary Jane Alvero Al Mahdi (career advancement), Financial Consultant Bey Celso (financial literacy and planning), Style Consultant Agnes Aquino-Briggs (style, image and grooming), Sherwin Lim (investing and Philippine real estate) and Jhasmin Cipriano (Pinays Take Charge Guideline).  Also adding to the educational and fun aspect of the event were the demo on Self-Defense for Women conducted by Ibrahim Rubel Beltran, a mini make-up workshop led by locally renowned make-up artist Ginno Alducente, as well as the live painting session by artist Flordeliza Pesigan.

Illustrado’s Johanna Dalocanog conducts a contest for Titan Watches

Artist Flordeliza Pesigna dances salsa while completing a painting right in front of the audience

Other elements such as the hourly Titan Watches give-away, displays from local Filipina entrepreneurs and Pinay Make-Over, as well as the free bone scan from Anlene, give-aways from Dove, Ayala Land, Xpress Money, Dunia, Giordano, as well as refreshments from Al Ain Dairy, Arab Beverages and Galang LLC made for an enjoyable day of bonding the attendees will not forget.

Titan Watch winner Jewel Rovera with Illustrado’s Johanna Dalocanog

Dr. Margarita Holmes with photographer blogger Cristina Linaza

(Center) Regina Marauta at the Meeting Love Sports stand

Free bone scan at the Anlene stand


At the Xpress Money stand

DJ Amor Dagdag of Tunog Pinoy (center) and companions

Busy at the registration

At the Dunia stand

Photographers-bloggers Cristina Linaza and Mariyah Gaspacho

At the Titan Watches standAt the Ayala Land stand

At the Al Ain Dairy stand

Light lunch and Arab Beverages refreshments



From the Red Carpet and Beyond – Shots from Illustrado’s WOS 2012 Event

Photos by Donald Rosales.  Additional images from Marlon Bautista and James Tasarra

Ambassador Grace Relucio-Princesa: Filipina Warrior

By Lalaine Chu-Benitez

She is without a doubt nationalistic: her Filipino designed clothes made of Philippine fabric, tell only of a small part of her enormous national pride.  She is spiritual and fun loving and has an unexpectedly casual air about her that’s uncommon for a person in her position. She hugs, is easily moved and amazingly breaks into song and dance in expression of her spiritual and patriotic fervor.  But make no mistake; the seemingly relaxed and informal lady is as resolute as a bull and tough as nails.  After all, her previous achievements involving the high-profile Sarah Balabagan case and the evacuation of Filipinos from Iraq, not to mention bagging a Lingkod Bayan (Public Servant) Award, is no small feat.  Meet Grace Relucio-Princesa, the new Philippine Ambassador to the UAE – career diplomat, doting mother of five, servant leader, Filipina warrior.

Of fire and ice

I sat with the Ambassador at a quiet corner of the Emirates Tower’s 50th floor overlooking cosmopolitan Sheikh Zayed Road; listening to her story as she sipped cream of artichoke soup deftly using her left hand.  “I have a natural curiosity about what life is all about, she says, explaining how she makes an effort to manage left-handed activities.  There, in the rarefied executive atmosphere of Vu’s, clad in her proudly-Filipino made shirt embellished with ethnic faces, she exuded ease and genuine warmth, not to mention a distinct sense of humor; the same persona I had seen in the several times we have met.  Save for that instance when, at a community gathering, she tactfully but very firmly refused to start her speech until everybody in the room (caught by surprise and embarrassment), simmered down and gave her their full attention – offering a glimpse of her strict side that valued discipline, the same side which advocated, “Filipino time is on time.  Tardiness is a form of violence.”

Ambassador Grace Relucio-Princesa is the first female Philippine Ambassador to the UAE.  Having spent over two decades in the Philippine Foreign Service, she had previous postings in Chicago, Cairo, Geneva and Baghdad.  She comes back to Abu Dhabi after 13 years.  Then, she worked as Consul under the leadership of former Ambassador Roy Seneres, at which time she attended to the high profile Sarah Balabagan case.  In Baghdad, as Chargé D’Affaires and Consul General in 2003, she had the unnerving responsibility of evacuating some 150 Filipinos from the country just two days before US Allied Forces started bombing the city.

As an exceptionally approachable government official, I asked the Ambassador if there was another harder-edged side to her – between the fun-loving lady who loves to sing, dance and hug, versus the resilient diplomat who has gone through quite a number of tough situations in her career in the service.  She smiled at me and said, “There should be no dichotomy to who you are. If you know yourself, there should be no need to project something else.” She then proceeds to explain, “I am an ambassador for Christ and country; a servant-leader and handmaid of God.  But I am also strict.  I say what I mean and mean what I say.  I walk my talk,” she said as a matter-of-fact.

And the lady does mean business.  Since she has formally assumed office in October 2009, the Ambassador has been engaged in a flurry of activities from her diplomatic duties to speaking to community leaders, and doing the rounds meeting Filipino groups and organizations.  She has also recently visited Al Watba prison, where she sang and hugged kababayan inmates.

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