Desperate Housewives producers say sorry to Pinoys
() - October 5, 2007 - 12:00am

LOS ANGELES – The producers of “Desperate Housewives” apologized to the Philippine government Wednesday for using the country’s medical education for a punchline that prompted angry calls from viewers, an online petition of 53,000 names demanding an apology and criticism from Filipino officials.

ABC, owned by The Walt Disney Co., also said it was considering editing the episode.

“The producers of ‘Desperate Housewives’ and ABC Studios offer our sincere apologies for any offense caused by the brief reference in the season premiere,” the statement said.

“There was no intent to disparage the integrity of any aspect of the medical community in the Philippines,” they added.

In the season premiere that aired Sunday on ABC, Teri Hatcher’s character, Susan, goes in for a medical checkup and is shocked when the doctor suggests she may be going through menopause.

“Listen, Susan, I know for a lot of women the word ‘menopause’ has negative connotations. You hear ‘aging,’ ‘brittle bones,’ ‘loss of sexual desire,’” the gynecologist tells her.

Susan fires back: “OK, before we go any further, can I check these diplomas? Just to make sure they aren’t, like, from some med school in the Philippines?”

Viewers called the network to complain but the number of callers was not available, an ABC spokesman said Wednesday. As of Wednesday evening, more than 53,000 names were attached to an online petition seeking a network apology.

“A statement that devalues Filipinos in healthcare is extremely unfounded, considering the overwhelming presence of Filipinos and Filipino Americans in the medical field,” the petition read in part.

Kevin Nadal, 29, a Filipino-American college lecturer who lives in New York, posted the online petition.

“I had to rewind it over and over again to make sure I heard it right,” Nadal said in an interview Wednesday. He watched the episode online after hearing about it from a friend.

“I was immediately offended and, really, just hurt. These days, people are supposed to be more sensitive or more aware of what’s considered appropriate,” he said, adding that he was hearing from people worldwide who were distressed by the scene.

He appreciated ABC’s apology, but said he also wanted to see the dialogue removed from future airings and DVDs. ABC is taking this into account, according to an Associated Press report.

“As leaders in broadcast diversity, we are committed to presenting sensitive and respectful images of all communities featured in our programs,” ABC said in its statement.

The comment of Hatcher’s character was interpreted as a racial slur and caused an outrage in Manila, eliciting complaints from the highest government circles led by Malacañang. Filipinos could judge the scene for themselves when it was posted on YouTube.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita earlier demanded an apology “on behalf of our Filipino professionals.”

“Well, on the face, we can look at it as a racial slur. We are looked down upon too much, considering the number of our medical professionals and other professionals abroad and in the United States,” Ermita said.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Philippine Medical Association spokesperson Dr. Bu Castro also found the dialogue highly deplorable.

Philippine Consul General to Los Angeles Mary Jo Aragon wrote ABC Studios, expressing the government’s displeasure over Hatcher’s remarks that “only served to create racial stereotypes.”

Aragon also said many Americans go to the Philippines for medical services that they cannot afford at home, the foreign department said in a statement.

Also, ambassador to the US Willy Gaa wrote Anne Sweeney, president of Disney-ABC Television Group, saying the remark was disparaging and he was surprised it was allowed to be aired on US television.

“Such insensitivity betrays a complete ignorance of the fact that through the years, Filipinos and Filipino Americans have made quite a mark in the medical field across the entire United States,” Gaa said in the letter Wednesday.

Gaa said many US hospitals employ a large number of Philippine-trained doctors, nurses and medical technologists and some hospitals in major cities would not be able to operate at full efficiency without the considerable presence of their Filipino staff.

In his letter Gaa demanded a public apology from Sweeney “with the affirmation that no harm was intended and that your distinguished network would henceforth refrain from featuring such unfounded statements in your regular programming.”

Angry Pinoys

On the other hand, Nadal suggested that the show’s producers and ABC executives could make a more substantial gesture than an apology, through scholarships or donations for Filipino and Filipino-Americans and community groups.

Filipinos and other minorities also should be depicted on TV as “prominent, positive role models,” Nadal said.

“As the child of a Filipino doctor who continues to serve the most needy and sick, I was really offended by the implication that Filipino doctors are inferior,” said an email from one of the enraged Filipinos.

“The implication that Filipino doctors are not qualified is insensitive and completely disrespectful to the thousands of Filipinos who have served all over the US, many of them working for underserved populations,” the writer said.

Perry Diaz, a community leader in the West Coast and editor of Balita-USA, said the derogatory TV episode has created a negative impression and racial stereotyping of Filipino doctors.

Such generalization can only inflame further discrimination against Filipinos in the medical professions, he said.

The incident topped Philippine headlines as other officials also registered their displeasure.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chair of the foreign relations committee, has recommended that Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo send a note verbale to US Ambassador Kristie Kenney to formalize the Philippines’ protest.

Senators Ramon Revilla Jr., Jinggoy Estrada and Pia Cayetano joined Santiago’s indignation over the slur.

“This is to respectfully recommend a note verbale, or any proper diplomatic communication, as well as proper instructions to the Philippine consul general in Los Angeles in connection with the anti-Filipino statement in the TV show ‘Desperate Housewives,’” Santiago said.

She proposed the DFA issue a note verbale despite ABC’s apology.

Cayetano said the dialogue “undermined the integrity of the country’s medical professionals.”

Revilla, chairman of the committee on public information and mass media, said the producers’ apology wasn’t enough. “It is not commensurate to the damage created by the derogatory remark made in the show.”

He suggested the makers of “Desperate Housewives” formally and publicly express their apology in the next episode to signify sincerity. – AFP, AP, Jose Katigbak (STAR Washington Bureau), Paolo Romero, Christina Mendez

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