Once while waiting for the Tokyo-Manila leg of my balikbayan journey, it suddenly shrouded me like a widow’s veil as I observed a big group of fellow passengers – young, pretty Filipinas on their way home for a visit from their jobs as japayukis (hired entertainers). They were an excited lot; their hand carried luggage were bursting with stuffed toys and chocolates, and each of them had really sexy cell phones, obviously perks they gifted themselves from their hard labor as yen earners. They bantered with each other about their bosses, their jobs, how long they were allowed time off, how they plan to spend their days back with their families. From what I heard – and of course this was just about an hour and a half, not quite enough to make good conclusions – life was good for them, or at least better than if they stayed in the Philippines. They could afford creature comforts and pasalubong for their loved ones in addition to monthly remittances.
What hit me was the realization that under different circumstances, these girls would be prey to aging Filipino men eager to prove their virility by taking on young, financially vulnerable girlfriends. Or, looking at it from a different angle, they could prey on older, richer guys with vulnerable egos. Either way, the preying and the vulnerability are ingredients for a train wreck. How many hearts will be ripped apart, how many homes broken if and when the mess becomes uncontainable?
Now, I am not one to go moral on men and women who stray, or who choose to buy happiness. I have no right to cast the first stone because it could very well boomerang on me. But somehow, in a situation where the man or woman holds the power (of the purse or something else) over another person, there is an injustice there, especially if that power is wielded not for love but for ego or expediency. It is this crassness, this vulgarity that saddens me whenever I witness them in whatever circumstance.
Living in Manila makes one blasé over these situations, primarily because it is very common for a married guy, particularly one who is economically comfortable, to have a sweet young thing in tow. Often it is even expected of one who has reached a certain level of success; not to do so will tag him as mahinang klase, a weakling. I saw this happening when I was working my first job for a giant broadcasting station in the ‘70s. Fresh out of college and the protective cocoon that my parents raised me in, it was alternately shocking and fascinating to me how married men (and a few women) were so unembarrassed and unapologetic about being openly adulterous. I realized that the world of showbiz is different from the world that ordinary mortals inhabit.
Later, as I became more active in journalism, I saw that it was not very different in other circles: adultery was just as common although the showbiz people flaunted it more dramatically. And so it reached a point where I wouldn’t give a second thought to someone who brings along his mistress during an interview, or to be invited to meals with couples who are married but not to each other. Welcome to the adult world, I told myself. My personal denial pattern became: certain people’s worth as a source (of information) has nothing to do with their personal behavior and, for as long as I am not personally affected, let them have their fun.
Decades of living away from that milieu and becoming more conscious of women’s rights have made me less accepting of what I thought was a normal way of life. When I was having dinner with an old male friend who brought his 25 year-old girlfriend along, I was feeling really sad because 1) I knew his wife, 2) the girl was obviously in for his money, 3) she was as young as my daughter, 4) the “dirty old man” this time was someone my age, and 5) I was no longer used to being in that situation. The openness assaulted me as much as its unfairness. I wonder what his wife had done to deserve such a betrayal? (I know what a typical macho answer would be: what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.)
There’s a popular joke among Filipino males that goes: if your wife catches you with another woman, never ever own up. If she saw you holding hands, just say you were just being kind to a stranger in need of assistance; if she catches you in bed, just say you accidentally fell on her. (Somehow, something is lost in this translation. It’s funnier in Filipino.) The trick is to deny vociferously and consistently and pretty soon, she will start doubting what she saw.
The Philippine Supreme Court has defined the grounds for annulment as: when one or both of the spouses are underage, when one or both of the spouses are gay, and when one spouse is habitually lying, I wonder if there will be a spike in the number of annulment applications based on the lying argument. Filipino women after all have wised up to their husbands’ denials of wrongdoing and are less tolerant of being neglected or taken for fools.
One thing’s for sure – young Filipino couples are now separating more frequently and much earlier into the marriage than those of my generation. That’s sad, but maybe not.