Many of us who have traveled abroad have probably encountered obscure but talented Filipino bands providing the entertainment in a hotel lounge or nightclub in even the most unlikely places in the world. Over past decades, young talented Filipino women have found gainful work overseas as entertainers or cultural dancers in clubs and lounges, much of them in Japan, earning them the term “japayukis.” And every so often, we hear of Filipino choral groups topping global competitions overseas.
For the longest time, Filipino artistic talent especially in the performing arts of music and dance have been ubiquitous globally, but mainly at the “retail” level of club and lounge gigs or one-off competitions. We have yet to see Filipino performers attain the kind of global stardom and sustained fan following that Korean K-pop groups like BTS, Blackpink, and more have achieved, for example. Lea Salonga and Freddie Aguilar were exceptional standouts, but whose fame were largely based on singular performances (for “Miss Saigon” and “Anak,” respectively) rather than from a sustained fan base built through successive performances and “hits.” There are also members of internationally popular groups who are Filipino or of Filipino origins, like Arnel Pineda of Journey and Apl.de.ap of Black Eyed Peas, but not to belittle their achievement, their popularity drew from that of their group, at least initially. Like Korea, our goal ought to be to turn talented home-grown talents into global stars through a deliberate strategy to project the country and its people to world prominence.
We see the same story in the medical field. Many Filipino doctors abroad have been recognized as best in their field, especially in America and Europe. Our nurses are sought after and well appreciated overseas for being among the most competent, hardworking, and caring wherever they work. We can rightfully pride ourselves in having the best medical professionals in the world—and yet we’ve been unable to make our country the preferred medical tourism destination it logically should be. Our neighbors Singapore and Thailand have beat us in a game we should have the clear edge in.
Back to creatives, President Fidel V. Ramos had dreamed in the 1990s of turning the Philippines into the “Broadway of Asia,” and made this part of his “pole vaulting strategies” to catapult the Philippine economy into “tiger” status. Then and now, Filipino theater artists, directors, and support staff have been hired for such theater productions staged in Singapore, including my friend and acclaimed theater director Bart Guingona, who has many stories to tell. Even as our neighbor seems to have had better claim to the “Broadway” title, it remains an opportunity for us, if we manage to do things right.
Thanks to streaming services like Netflix, our films and telenovelas can now reach paying viewers overseas with similar cultural temperaments to ours. Filipino designs and designers in furniture, apparel, jewelry, and others find wide appeal worldwide as our designers are said to be better attuned to western tastes than their other Asian counterparts. But beyond a few names like Kenneth Cobonpue and Monique Lhuillier, the Philippine brand in design has yet to attain global prominence.
Filipino cuisine is also not as well projected overseas, as Filipino restaurants abroad seem mostly content with catering to Filipino expats. Thailand, on the other hand, has made a deliberate strategy to brand themselves as “Kitchen of the World,” fostering fine dining restaurants that target western and oriental palates alike, and gunning for Michelin star ratings.
Talk has been going on for many years about projecting the Philippine brand, be it in goods, services, or creative products, but little has really happened. It needs the top level push, ample budgets, and orchestrated actions that Korea and Thailand, for example, propelled their own drives with. There are so many lessons our neighbors are teaching us. Our leaders would do well to simply take note, copy, and adapt those lessons to our own peculiar circumstances. But we have to level up our ambition, and level up our actions to pursue them, to get somewhere.
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