(Updated with a statement from the Department of Education)
In a Facebook post yesterday, Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña shared a page from a government-approved elementary textbook that had many netizens raising their eyebrows because of how it explicitly glorifies Western features.
The Department of Education said in a letter to Coconuts Manila that it manages only the centrally procured textbooks being distributed to public schools nationwide. “If the textbook you mentioned is used in a private elementary school in Cebu, it is not a government-approved textbook,” Undersecretary Lorna Dig Dino said in the statement.
The text comes from a story about family members. In describing the mother, the narrator says “unlike most Filipinos, she has curly hair that makes her more beautiful. She looks like a mestiza with her pointed nose and white fair skin.”
According to Osmeña, the book was from his friend’s grandchild, who is a student at an unnamed private elementary school in Cebu.
Followers of the mayor, who is very active on social media, were quick to call out the story’s problematic message.
Netizen Aldave de los Reyes said in the comment section in Cebuano, “This is your standard of beauty. What this book shows is not right, don’t pretend that those aren’t your standards too if you also say “she’s beautiful, BUT dark.”
He continued: “It hurts, why are we all praise for white skin in these books? Why are we skin-shaming fellow Pinoys?”
Another netizen, Hannah Rivera Davis said, “This is so bad. This is why our people don’t see the beauty in each other. They criticize those for being darker skinned, and those who look different. We have so many whitening products, hair straightening products, everything and anything to change how Filipinos would normally look. It’s so sad that we pick on each other for that.”
Late last year, a group from Cebu called Sutukil Sauce, posted a parody video that poked fun at whitening product commercials that often shame and portray dark skin in a negative light.
In a recent conversation Coconuts Manila had with Ph.D. scholar EJR David, author of Brown Skin, White Minds, he said Filipino children are “bombarded and inculcated” with ideas that white skin is more desirable than dark skin.
Although Osmeña declined to name the school, he told Coconuts that the textbook was approved by the Philippine Department of Education (DepEd).
This is not the first time the DepEd has come under fire for approving textbooks with questionable content.
In 2016, activists called the department’s attention on a book they said “sanitized” the reign of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
The book titled Lakbay ng Lahing Pilipino (Journey of the Filipino People), published by Phoenix Publishing, trumpeted the supposed economic achievements of Marcos prior to martial law. The textbook blamed floods and natural disasters to a reduction of harvests, which supposedly led to rebellion in the country. It made no mention of the human rights abuses and systemic corruption of the dictatorship.
According to guidelines for textbooks uploaded on DepEd’s website, content should “respect racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity in our society. Avoid bias and stereotypes in reference to any individual or groups and avoid inaccurate, unnecessary or inappropriate portrayal of or reference to racial/ethnic or cultural customs, symbols observances, festivals, dress, names or language.”