Writer 'an undesirable alien'

2009-03-31 14:08

Hong Kong - A Hong Kong writer was banned from entering the Philippines on Tuesday for his "arrogance and disrespect" in a column about Filipino maids that caused widespread outrage, an immigration official said.

Well-known columnist Chip Tsao authored what he calls a satirical article poking fun at Hong Kongers' poor treatment of their maids.

In the article published on Friday in the English-language weekly HK Magazine, he writes he was so angered by the Philippines' claim on the disputed Spratly Islands, where China also claims sovereignty, that he summoned his Filipino maid to give her a lecture.

Calling the Philippines "a nation of servants" that shouldn't challenge China, he wrote that he'd be forced to fire her in the event of a war between the Philippines and China.

The Philippine government responded on Tuesday to the growing uproar, among both Filipino officials and workers, by placing him on an immigration "blacklist for being an undesirable alien".

"This is our manifestation of disgust against the racial slur and insult committed by Mr Tsao against us as a people," the country's immigration chief, Marcelino Libanan, said in a statement.

He criticised Tsao's "arrogance and disrespect to the country and the Filipino people".

About 130 000 Filipinos work as maids in wealthy Hong Kong to help support their families back home. They make a minimum monthly salary of $462.

Tsao said he was misunderstood.

"There are some people who are from a different cultural background, so they can't read between the lines," he told The Associated Press, adding that if people were offended, "I very much regret it."

"It was never intended to be satire against Filipino domestic helpers. The Philippines is a democracy which I respect very much," Tsao said.

HK Magazine's publisher, Asia City Publishing, and editors issued an apology and said the column was meant as satire. They said the magazine has long championed the rights of Hong Kong's Filipino workers, who make a valuable contribution to the territory and have been unfairly treated.

"Many people have read meanings into this column that were never actually intended," the statement said. "We wish to assure our readers that we have nothing but respect for Filipinos."

But Filipino groups said the article was more criticism than parody.

"Political satire as a journalistic device is used to challenge or even make fun of authorities and the status quo. Mr Tsao did not do so in his latest column," the activist group United Filipinos in Hong Kong said in a statement on Monday. "Instead, he further beats up the already low and downtrodden."

The Philippine immigration head, Libanan, said Tsao would be removed from the blacklist if he publicly apologises. He added that if that happened, he would personally give the writer a tour of the country to show him that "the Philippines is not a nation of servants but a nation of professionals".