Filipinos: World's happiest?
by Teodoro C. Benigno

Philippine Star 16 October 2002

Just about a month ago, I felt dazed, wobbly, befuddled after conversing with a relatively young Roman Catholic priest. It was at a birthday celebration of a close friend at a Malate restaurant. The celebrant requested me to join the priest at his table and I readily obliged. Little did I expect our brief meeting would shock me to the roots of my hair. I inquired, I think, as to the legendary patience of the Filipino, his resignation, his fatalism. I asked innocently of course whether the Church's preachments and teachings contributed to this attitude of suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune gladly. The query was asked in good grace, could never have been considered as offensive.

Well, the monsignor's reply floored me as though an ironball hit me on the neck. He said, without batting an eyelash, that Filipinos were the happiest people on earth. How do you prove that, Father, I asked. He replied this was the result of a survey undertaken by a reputable poll organization. And he added the survey also showed the Japanese were the unhappiest people of the globe. You really believe that, I asked. He said he did. Look around you, don't you find the Filipinos happy?

I replied, again very gently, that I couldn't consider suffering people, a deeply deprived and oppressed people happy. I mentioned our poverty, the fact majority of our people lived in slums or squatter areas. I added our people were getting hungry, only able to eat one or two meals a day. Then I poured it on. How could the Filipinos be happy when many were getting sick, when babies were dying because they had no milk to suckle, when children were literally dying in their parents' arms?

The good Father simply smiled. "What you are talking about," he said, "is physical pain." The Filipino takes this pain very well. Inside him, the grace of God resides and this is the opposite of physical pain. I said Father, you must be joking, I do not see how anybody can be happy in the midst of all this poverty, when the poor get buried much more often than the rich, when the curse of sickness deforms the human being, when a baby, who has all the right to live, shivers greatly and sinks into permanent darkness. Isn't life the gift of God? Isn't life to be nourished and preserved at all costs?

Everybody around the table was of course listening and so were those occupying the adjoining tables. The reverend father fidgeted for a brief moment before begging to leave, saying he had other things to attend to. I surmised, of course, that our conversation had gone a little bit too far, And perhaps I was getting emotional. I was. I couldn't stand the assertion that Filipinos were the happiest people on earth. Following the reverend's logic, life on earth mattered little. What mattered was getting into heaven and if poverty hastened this, then so much the better. The more impoverished he is, the happier the Filipino becomes. Heaven swings into view.

I just couldn't accept this crap.

But it jarred and shocked me no end. Elsewhere in Asia and other regions and continents, millions worked very hard, sought jobs, sought education, struggled from morning to sometimes almost midnight not just to keep alive, but extricate themselves from poverty. They had a vision. They looked at tomorrow, well into the future. They had leaders that prodded them to struggle more fiercely at the oars. That way, progress would materialize, eventual access to better jobs, health, education, a decent, caring society, a leadership conscious of the common weal, love of self, love of God and love of country.

But that priest could be right and others who talked, felt, and believed like him. Against poverty and wretchedness, the Filipino had a coping mechanism. If everything was God's will, then his unhappiness was illusory. He was meant to suffer on earth, because this prepared him for the rewards of paradise, eternal happiness. And yet, even if I try to go along, it is crap, unadulterated crap. It somehow excuses the sins, the sordid shortcomings of the rich. It flattens out all reason, leaves one to the mercy of a medieval theology. Might is right. And when might is the sole arbiter of earthly things, so be it. The succor of heaven will come anyway.

Whence this culture of ours? Are we Filipinos fated just to sing and pray, fall on our knees, accept every misery because this is the will of the Almighty?

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