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?