To confirm whether it was the rambutan that was used in Ugly Betty, I googled the episode and it was indeed the fruit. But I also stumbled upon a chat room arguing about the rambutan's origin. Malaysians and Filipinos frequent the site and they started a debate whether the fruit is Philippine native or not. The exchange of words bordered on obnoxious. It however fueled me to do my own research on whether the fruit is native to RP.
Most literature would credit Malaysia and Indonesia as the origins of Nephelium lappaceum or rambutan. But the tree has been domesticated widely in Southeast Asia. So much so that the fruit has equivalent cultural uses and vernacular names in different Southeast Asian cultures. But undeniably the fruit has become common in this region and in the Philippines has been associated in the identity of different places, like Davao. However, some scientist could still not discount the fact that much of the philippines is still unexplored. The islands of Palawan and parts of Sulu have exhibited similar flora and fauna of that of the Malaysian plate. Plus there are vague accounts of wild old trees of rambutan (and lanzones) found in some Philippine forests.
Whether the rambutan is native or not may not be proven in the near future. But what might be sad is that there is a confirmed Nephelium variety that might be greatly unheard of by Pinoys. This species, Nephelium ramboutan-ake or bulala (some may call it kapulasan), is very much native. I had only seen a fruitless tree before, which I could not tell apart from the rambutan. The fruit is said to be less sweet, but the hair is shorter and less pronounced. I only saw it in pictures.
A few weeks ago I scouted for some latundan bananas in Nepa Q Mart ( which was along my way home) when I chanced upon a familiar fruit resembling the rambutan. It had shorter hair but was very much redder in color than the rambutan. The vendor was selling it under the pretense that it is the more popular fruit. But even with the seller's confusion, it didn't hinder me to buy a couple of kilograms of the suspected bulala. I brought it home to have it tasted by members of our household. They found the bulala less sweet, more sour. My dad says he likes it better than rambutan because it has more flavor and easier to eat. The skin was easier to break than rambutan. The flesh is more tender. One down side is that its shelf life might be shorter. The day after I bought it, a lot of the uneaten fruits were already rotten. But even so the bulala shows much promise, maybe better than its famous cousin. We could hope that more Pinoys would discover this Philippine native and develop it to a more marketable variety.