May Parsons, The Filipino-British nurse who administered the very first COVID-19 vaccine shot, was honored by the Department of Tourism (DOT) through an ad in London as part of its latest campaign. However, the advertisement has been drawing mixed reactions from politicians and netizens alike.
Parsons on Twitter shared photos of buses showing a banner with her face and a text that read, "The nurse who gave the world's first COVID-19 vaccine. A Filipina. WE GIVE THE WORLD OUR BEST. THE PHILIPPINES."
Parsons thanked the government for the honor. "I hope that by seeing this, my brothers & sisters, Filipino nurses, feel seen, not just in the UK but in the world," she tweeted. "Let's get heard."
I hope that by seeing this, my brothers & sisters, Filipino nurses, feel seen, not just in the UK but in the world.Let's get heard📢 Thank you @bongbongmarcos @govph @teddyboylocsin @philippinesinuk @filipinonurseuk @FSNA_UK @PNA_UKnurses @tinig_uk @LaureBeaufils @ukinphilippines pic.twitter.com/ux4q773dmn— 💙💜💙May 💙💜💙 (@mayparsons) May 7, 2023
The "We give the world our best – The Philippines" is replacing the "It's more fun in the Philippines" slogan approved by the late president Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III in 2012.
In August 2022, the DOT announced that the rebranding is in line with President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.'s vision of an "enhanced Filipino brand that is unique, attractive, and creative," which he mentioned in his first State of the Nation Address.
DOT Sec. Christina Frasco said the "fun" slogan already felt inappropriate amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and said Philippine heritage and culture must be highlighted instead.
The Office of the Presidential Adviser on Creative Communications, citing Presidential Adviser on Creative Communications Paul Soriano, told BusinessMirror that the campaign started in the third quarter of 2022 to encourage foreign investors to value overseas Filipino workers or OFWs.
"They are our soft power," Soriano is quoted as saying. "Filipino workers whose daily actions touch lives changing behaviors and shape the future of nations all over the world through their competence and compassion.”
Aside from DOT, other agencies like the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, Department of Migrant Workers, and Department of Trade and Industry are set to have their own version of the "best" campaign.
Focus on 'More fun in the Philippines' instead
Sen. Nancy Binay, who chairs the Senate tourism committee, had misgivings over the ad, urging the DOT to focus on the "It's more fun in the Philippines" campaign instead.
While she said she appreciates the latest DOT campaign, Binay in a statement noted that the "We give the world our best" campaign seemingly suggests that the Philippines is giving away its very own nurses, whereas the country has been facing shortage in healthcare workers.
Filipino nurses tend to seek greener pastures abroad, where they could earn as much as P750,000 a year, or at least P60,000 monthly.
In Metro Manila, nurses in private hospitals are paid the minimum wage of P537 daily, which is more or less around P12,000 monthly. Those in the provinces get paid even less.
As for public hospital nurses, they’re at Salary Grade 15, or P35,097 monthly. The Filipino Nurses United, however, noted that not everybody receives this amount. Over half of public hospital nurses are also contractual workers and aren’t entitled to benefits and leave credits.
This, then, makes the rebranding "inappropriate" according to Binay.
“We don’t want to commodify our people," she said, "and we don’t want to be tagged as a labor-exporting country."
She also questioned the ad's intentions, whether it wants to urge tourists to visit the Philippines or foreign hospitals to hire more Filipino nurses.
She said the DOT should come up with "other renders and permutations" of the "It's more fun" campaign inasmuch as the "Best" campaign should have more.
“We appreciate the initiative and the effort to give the Philippines the needed boost in the global market," Binay said.
“But sad to say—from a tourism perspective—di tugma ang ‘Best’ messaging sa gusto nating ma-achieve sa Philippine tourism."
'Don't deserve the honor,' 'sad,' 'modern slavery'
Former foreign affairs secretary Teddyboy Locsin Jr., quote tweeting Parsons, didn't mince words in saying "We don’t deserve the honor."
"They made us who neglected them back home so proud of being in some small part of our sorry selves a bit like them in the UK," Locsin said. He also noted how some officials wanted to hold back Filipino healthcare workers, telling the officials, “If you get sick I hope you die. You should not be saved at their expense. You’re not worth their chance at a better life.”
A Twitter user also questioned that if the Philippines is giving its best to the world, there would be nothing left back home if all the country's best is gone. "This is sad."
Another user called the situation a "modern slavery."
"Kulang na lang PH government ad goes, 'Filipino skilled and professionals for sale!'" the user said. "Do we deserve this?"
"Instead of bragging that we send our best workers abroad, why not make sure our best workers stay here?" another one said.
In any case, several parties praised the ad for Parsons.
Tinig UK, a media group focusing on Filipinos in Britain, on Twitter praised the tribute to Parsons, saying what a way to celebrate the International Nurses Week from May 6 to 12.
Filipino Nurses Association UK in a quote tweet said Parsons "is an inspiration to us all."
A Twitter user, meanwhile, noted that her mother, a retired nurse, went back to London recently after visiting their family in the Philippines.
"I really hope she gets to see this," the user said.