Malu Fernandez is a lifestyle writer whose People Asia magazine article "From Boracay to Greece!" published in June 2007 created an international outrage due to its derogatory assessment of overseas Filipino workers.
The Magazine Article Controversy
In the article recounting her adventurs from Boracay to Athens, Greece, Fernandez recounts her overseas travel on a plane full of Filipino migrant workers, writing: "... I forgot that the (airline) hub was in Dubai and the majority of the OFWs were stationed there. The duty-free shop was overrun with Filipino workers selling cell phones and perfume. Meanwhile I wanted to slash my wrists at the thought of being trapped in a plane with all of them."
On her outbound flight she recounted her annoyance with fellow Pinoys, recalling that she tried to sleep but was kept up by "sounds of gum chewing and endling yelling of 'Hoy! Kumusta ka na? At taga-saan ka? Domestic helper ka rin ba?' I thought that I had died and God had sent me to my very own private hell."
Further she wrote of her experience on her way back to Manila that "I had to bravely take the economy flight once more. This time I had already resigned myself to being trapped like a sardine in a sardine can with all these OFWs smelling of AXE and Charlie cologne while Jo Malone evaporated into thin air."
- "We are already having a hard time here working under the hot climate then we get a strong below the belt blow by our own kabayan who has totally no idea on being an OFW."
Francis Sangalang wrote from Dubai (inquirer.net 9/27/07)
- "You wrote that you wanted to slit your wrists because you were stuck in coach with all the OFWs. I am moved every time I am on a flight with OFWs. I am reminded of their resilience. Of how hard they work, and how they keep the Philippines going. The economy relies on their bravery. You should have slit your wrists, hon. And you are going to hell if you don’t change the way you think. Think of sitting in coach, imagining your personal hell as a personal foreshadowing." Ingrid Holm from England (inquirer.net 9/27/07)
- "I'm *VERY* disturbed by the amount of personal attacks directed towards her not just on my blog but online. I *understand* that a lot of people were offended by her article(s) but if you are gonna attack someone, please don't resort to petty and immature remarks about her looks, her body size etc." Bryan Boy August 17 blog entry 
- "When you fly to other destinations except US and Europe, its a common scenario to see our OFW's. I am proud of them since I consider them as our heroes...the saviors of President Macapagal Arroyo....On the other hand, its common to hear them telling loud stories, stories of other people's lives, so loud that the entire occupants of the cabin would know the stories of their lives and other people's lives. They would flaunt on their acquisitions, earnings, brag their accomplishments etc.... they would even shout and laugh loudly that would awaken all the passengers on board. Honestly, its irritating and humiliating." Antonio blog comments 9/21/07 
- "Ms. Malu has written an apology about her column. She has also resigned from Manila Standard and People Asia. I guess we should just leave her alone. The anguish and remorse over what she had written is already enough to torment her. Vengeance through insulting words on her physical structure will only mean that we're stooping down to her level. Let's leave her in peace and just let her conscience do the rest. Elaine's blog comment 
The Boycott and Hate Campaign
After many Filipinos, particularly the blogging community, launched a vociferous campaign against her, People Asia magazine, and the Manila Standard where she was a columnist, she wrote defending the article, because it "was humorous and quite tongue-in-cheek, or at least I thought so, until the magazine got a few e-mails from people who didn't get the meaning of my acerbic wit. The bottom line was just that I had offended the readers' socioeconomic background."
She further continued: "Although I could mention that it is easier to understand someone who has a lower socioeconomic background that would entail a whole other page and frankly I don't want to be someone to bridge the gap between socioeconomic classes. I leave that to the politicians in my family who believe they can actually help. Now I seriously ask you, am I being a diva or are people around me just lacking in common sense? Perhaps it’s a little of both!"
The blogging community urged people to boycott both the magazine and newspaper until Fernandez issued a public apology. In the September 2007 issue of People Asia, she relented, stating: "I am deeply apologetic for insensitivity and the offensive manner in which my article was written... It was truly not my intention to malign, hurt or express prejudice against overseas foreign workers." She further stated that she was "the target of death threats, hate blogs, personal insults" and that she understood "the insiduousness of discrimination and prejudice disguised as humor." She accused her enemies of "bigotry, discrimination against overweight individuals." In her last words, she stated "I take full responsibility for my actions and I have submitted my resignation to Manila Standard and People Asia.
The controversy highlighted the emerging power of the Filipino blogging community and its effective use of alternative media to rally the Filipino public.
On September 27, 2007 Rodel Rodis of Inquirer.net called her "the most hated Pinay", stating: "Even as she 'bravely' travels around the world regularly, what Malu Fernandez failed to realize is how much the world she travels in has changed. Twenty years ago she could have written about the 'que horror!' of being surrounded by OFWs and gotten away with it. Not anymore. The Internet and the blogosphere it produced, coupled with the economic power of their remittances, have empowered the OFWs and leveled the playing field. It's not safe to be a 'matapobre' now.
In Her Own Words
- "If any of these people actually read anything thicker than a magazine they would find it very funny."
- "Although it may sound elitist to you the fact is this country is built on the foundation of haves, have-nots and wannabes. One group will never get the culture of the other."
- Full text facsimile of Malu Fernandez article page 31
- Inquirer.net September 3, 2007 article on Fernandez resuming her writing career
- Boycott Malu Fernandez and People Asia campaign of Voice of the Filipino, with over 690 blog comments
- Mabini Hall blog post on the controversy "Don’t we just hate Malu and hate ourselves for hers and our hypocrisy. How could we look away?"