pop goes the world: open mouth, insert foot

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  7 March 2013, Thursday

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

A senatorial candidate succeeded in offending Filipino nurses all over the world when she disparaged them in a recent debate.

Thanks to social media and the indignation of people in behalf of one of the hardest-working sectors of the nation, Las Piñas representative Cynthia Villar’s remarks on nurses went viral, something she probably didn’t anticipate when she aired her brains on national television.

She said that nurses don’t need to finish a nursing degree because all they want to be are “room nurses” (sic) and that in America all they want to be are caregivers, and as such they don’t need to be that good.

As expected, these utterly misguided views aroused the ire of right-thinking people, nurses included, who made the following remarks on Facebook:

California-based nurse Ivy: “WTH is she talking about? To be able to work here in the US legally, RN’s need to pass NCLEX, IELTS, or TOEFL to be considered for employment…[nursing] is a regulated profession that has standards to uphold. We use our brains to act in life-threatening situations to save lives.”

Misha: “It’s like saying I can become a doctor, lawyer, or accountant without going to school!”

Harwin: “Akala niya ata eh meaning ng ‘RN’ eh ‘room nurse’.”

Dr. Bob: “I am a dentist-nurse….and have had three US nurse licenses. Let me tell you, it is easier to be a senator in the Philippines than to be a nurse in the US. You will never pass the US licensure exam if you have no knowledge and competence. You can be a senator in the Philippines even if you are a certified idiot.”

If the public had a positive or neutral opinion of Villar prior to this, her stupid remarks have tipped the balance over to the negative side.

Will this faux pas be fatal for her chances in the elections?

It depends on how strong the nurses’ bloc is, many of whom are now actively clamoring against her, and how well her campaign handlers can fix this mess.

Nurses are considered heroes of the country. Many of us have nurses in the family working abroad, sending money home to help ill parents and send younger siblings to school. Any remark against them is like setting a match to tinder, as this incident has shown.

No less than United States President Barack Obama praised a Filipina nurse in his recent State of the Union address, saying, “We should follow the example of a New York City nurse named Menchu Sanchez. When Hurricane Sandy plunged her hospital into darkness, she wasn’t thinking about how her own home was faring…Her mind was on the 20 precious newborns in her care and the rescue plan she devised that kept them all safe.”

Online sources say Sanchez was born and grew up in Catanauan, Quezon, and obtained her nursing degree at Mary Chiles Hospital in Sampaloc, Manila, before immigrating to the US in the 1980s.

How unfortunate that a Philippine politician should be the one to put down the country’s own nurses, rather than lifting them up.

And to be so ignorant of the facts as to confuse nursing as a profession to merely comprise being “room nurse” and that caregivers don’t need to be all that good is to show the world the quality, or lack thereof, of her mind.

In terms of political communication, specifically with regard to a candidate’s electoral campaign, Villar’s statement makes damage control necessary, before the information spreads and turns off potential voters.

However, that’s too late. Social media has ensured that this has gone viral. In any case, any information that is disseminated over mass media is impossible to take back; all that can be done it to mitigate its potentially negative effects.

This was done by campaign handlers when Villar apologized on her Facebook Page (her statement since taken down) and to the Philippine Nurses Association. It is customary, in order to regain goodwill, to humbly beg for forgiveness – something few, if any, politicians do once already in power.

Political communication is all about symbols – their construction and manipulation. Political aspects are equated with the people running for office – one is “green”, another “incorruptible,” a third “belonging to a family that has served the people for decades.”

Villar and her handlers must now find out what people think she symbolizes. The nouveau riche standing up for her fellow rich and advancing their agenda? The wife of the builder of homes that shelter Filipinos? (Those homes aren’t given away, by the way. People pay for them and enrich the Villar coffers.)

Who is Villar – just another person with money who wants to extend her empire into national level politics? Is she a person with a genuine desire to serve? Both?

The people who can best answer as to her capacity to serve and effectivity as a leader are her present constituency, from whom we have yet to hear.

Is she worthy to become a senator?

From the viewpoint of a communications scholar, it will be interesting to see how Villar’s campaign people handle this in the months to come.

As a voter, for the good of the country, I’m picking people with good brains and kind hearts. Let us select candidates based not on name recognition, but on their principles, platforms, intelligence, integrity, and compassion.

Choose wisely, Pilipinas. *** 

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