To some, it seems pretty harmless and just weirdly funny. To others, the concept is creepy and disturbing. And then there are those who think its kind of humor is an acquired taste.
The RC Cola ad launched this weekend created a maelstrom of opinion on social media, but nobody expected to hear from a once silent segment of society—adoptive parents. They expressed their disappointment over the ad for reinforcing old, insensitive perceptions on adoption and being an adopted child.
“This message, that being an ‘ampon’ is a negative thing, really needs to stop being a storyline not only in advertisements but in all forms of media,” says Peejo Pilar, an adoptive parent. “We’ve seen the same old cliché from local and foreign TV shows and in movies. Please, if you're a writer, a copywriter, a producer, a director... stop spreading this message that being adopted means you're not good enough.”
If you still haven’t seen the commercial, here’s how it goes: a boy comes home from school upset. “Ma, ampon po ba ako?” he asks. The boy is curly haired and darker in skin tone compared to the woman he calls Ma. “Ha? Sino naman nagsabi sa’yo n’yan?” she says. He tells her he’s always being made fun of in school. They call him “ampon.” The mom tells him something she’s told him before: do not let yourself be affected by what others say.
This leads the boy to take his shirt off, lie face down on the dining table, and demand that his mother explain the four glasses attached to his back. The mother breaks into tears and tells her son it’s time he finds out the truth: she pulls her head up to reveal a bottle of RC Cola from her neck. The next scene shows the entire family—boy and mother included—sipping the soda through straws sticking out from the glasses on the boy’s back.
It’s absurd, yes. It’s like watching a Thai commercial, yes. Some people might say it’s a masterclass in the art of grabbing an audience’s attention—certainly one of the primary concerns of any piece of advertising. But it’s also sending the wrong message, say the adoptive parents we spoke to. They are “sad” and “deeply offended” by the treatment of the subject of adoption.
Alvi Siongco, an adoptive parent, an art director for many years, recognizes the execution of the commercial is a highly subjective matter—it’s the ampon angle he wants to address. “What these folks, who apparently are ignorant still of the predicament of orphans, need to understand is that the smallest of ridicule still impacts [the children’s] chances of finding a family,” Siongco tells ANCX. “And we’re talking about millions of orphans here. Millions.”
He points out that the ad might even discourage those who are considering adoption. “Now that they’ve seen the ad, do you think they will push through with it?” he asks.
In a 2016 L.A. Times report, around 1.8 million children in the Philippines are either abandoned or neglected. Meanwhile, as per a 2018 Rappler story, “Close to 6,500 Filipino children are in need of a permanent home. According to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, 3,793 children have already been made legally available for adoption since 2009, under the care of residential care facilities.”
As a way of countering the effect of the commercial, to express their pride in their kids, and educate the public on how to treat the subject of adoption with knowledge and sensitivity, Siongco and some of his friends who are adoptive parents have started posting about their adopted children on Facebook. They end each post with the hashtag #StopTheStigmaofAdoption
Siongco posted a lovingly written note about his eldest child Lucy yesterday, Saturday. “Our daughter’s real name is Lucia and we chose this name because she truly is the light of our lives,” he said, sharing how his daughter, whom he adopted together with his wife at seven months old, is adored by everyone in their family. He mentioned how Lucy’s friends and classmates naturally gravitate towards his child because she is a caring and loving kid.
“[Lucy] knows she’s adopted,” added Siongco, “and because all her life we’ve educated her on what adoption is about, she has grown to accept it and realize what a blessing it is to be one and to everyone around her.”
Kits Zamora-Rubio posted about Ralph Thomas, or Tommy, who she legally adopted when he was 11 months old.
“We don’t consider him as a consolation prize, as how some people perceive adopted children,” Zamora-Rubio wrote. “He is our grandest prize from above.”
She described Tommy as a very cheerful, energetic, smart and friendly kid. “He is an incredibly loving child. I cannot count how many times he would hug and kiss me and say I love you to me in a day.”
Zamora-Rubio said her adoption story is the complete opposite of what the “lowly teleseryes or commercials” are trying to depict about adoption. “Tommy is aware that he is adopted and feels blessed that he is adopted by us. He says that our home is the best home. I never want the society to make him feel otherwise,” she wrote.
She told ANCX that she found the RC Cola ad offensive as it depicted a certain stereotype on adoption and adopted kids—how an adoptee looks like, how different he is from his family, how he is bullied in school, and how the child hates being adopted. “Tapos with that commercial, parang lalong nagiging laman ng jokes ang pagiging adopted,” she lamented.
Zamora-Rubio says she and her fellow adoptive parents are trying to eliminate the stigma about adoption. “Discrimination should stop. Families might open their hearts and home to an orphan who deserves a forever loving family of his/her own,” she wrote on Facebook.
In an interview, Edlyn Burgonio, mother to an adopted boy, said the RC Cola commercial sent out a confusing message. “Ano po ba’ng gusto nilang i-highlight—na tanggapin ang kakaiba? Pero bakit nila ginamit ang story ng pag-aampon? Lahat naman ng tao ay kakaiba. Parang sinasabi kasi sa ad na ang ampon ay kakaiba, kaya sila tinutukso.”
Other adoptive parents, on their own, aired their sentiments as well on social media. Trix Lareza-Clasara shared how she feels “really sad and deeply offended” that the topic of adoption is being used for comedy and for attracting attention.
She thought about her son, David. “What he’s been through at two years old,” and “the process and emotional journey we’ve been on the last month and a half,” she said, without going into detail. She also expressed her concern over the many orphans waiting for a family.
“Please don’t come at me with the ‘creative meaning’ of this commercial. And never say people are being ‘overly sensitive.’ Imagine all the supposed creative minds in one room brainstorming for a commercial—and this is the best they can do?” said the mother of three. “Come on. We can do better.”