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Sep 28th
Home Columns Reinventing the Philippines The Filipino: The Master and Lord of Suffering (Psyche, Part4)
The Filipino: The Master and Lord of Suffering (Psyche, Part4) PDF Print E-mail
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Columns - Reinventing the Philippines
Monday, 21 May 2007 13:39

(Part 4 of the "Reinventing the Filipino Psyche" Series) 

My literary guru, Fred Burce Bunao, was the first listener who got immediately my pun about one of the Harry-Potter movies. I said that the movie is about the Filipino, who is also known as the "Lord of the Sufferings," oops, "Rings." My punning exercise was based actually on that old Filipino joke that more often than not Filipino brides receive three rings: An engagement ring, a wedding ring and then suffering.

Yes, many Filipinos and Overseas Filipinos joke about their people and their miserable existence back in the homeland. They joke about the Filipino -- to use an oft-quoted cliché -- who is the master of his fate and the captain of his soul; and the captain and master of his ship of destiny. The only problem is that his ship appears to be the Asian equivalent of the SS Titanic. And just like the orchestra in that infamous ship, the Filipino band players would probably keep on providing music to the ballroom dancers until it sinks below the waves.

Somehow one could get this Titanic-like feeling while attending Filipino-American grand balls in some of Los Angeles' best and biggest hotel ballrooms. Hundreds of Filipino-American matrons in their glittering pieces of jewelry sway to the latest tunes, as if there was no tomorrow and as if their homeland was not on the verge of socioeconomic collapse. (This led me to write in 1993 "history may judge unkindly the Filipino Americans not according to the context of their character but on the color of their tuxedos and party dresses.")

"One Day in the Life of a Filipino S.O.B."

As I have written in my 1993 political novel, "One Day in the Life of a Filipino Sonovabitch" (Asiangeles Press, $9.95), the Filipinos have used essentially "humor as the weapon of a wounded people to get back at their oppressors." Yes, throughout history, the Filipino laughed his way for more than 300 years under the yoke of the Spanish colonizers, almost 50 years under the American colonial masters, four years of the Japanese wartime occupation and now more than 50 years under the control of The Imperial Manila. The Filipino has emerged, as probably the epitome of the world's most-peaceful subjects, and carried his docile trait all the way to the United States, where Filipino Americans have become the model employees. Filipino-American employees are preferred not only because they are English-speaking and qualified applicants but also because they do not complain a lot. They do not even report abusive bosses to the Personnel Department and they -- with some notable exceptions -- hate joining labor unions.

It would seem that the biggest accomplishment of the Spanish friars was the conversion of at least 85 percent of the Filipino people into subservient Christians who often emulate Christ. Yes, Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, who said that if someone slapped the right cheek of his follower, he must offer the other cheek.

But if one could say that Filipinos are the ideal followers of Christ, not all of the majority who belongs to the Roman Catholic denomination could be called honestly as "Christians." Why? How could some Filipino government officials and/or public servants and/or politicians be called Catholics when they practice their faith only on Sundays and the rest of the week they resort to their unchristian way of stealing money from the public coffers? How could some of these Filipino Catholics (and even those who belong to some other non-Catholic denominations) receive Holy Communion during their weekend worship and yet turn to their old corrupt ways from Monday to Friday? Again the reason for this hypocritical behavior is that the common people tolerate this practice.  They even joke about their corrupt politicians and public servants and their friends in the church, some of whom they call humorously as the modern-day equivalent of Fray Damaso.

Frank Sionil Jose, perhaps the Philippines greatest living novelist and probably the best Filipino candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature, has this to say: "We are poor because we have lost our ethical moorings. We condone cronyism and corruption and we don't ostracize or punish the crooks in our midst.  Both cronyism and corruption are wasteful but we allow their practice because our loyalty is to family or friend, not to the larger good." In reality Filipinos not only fail to "ostracize or punish the crooks" but also they joke about them. Look at the thousands of jokes about the deposed and now imprisoned Philippine President Joseph "Erap" Estrada. And the countless jokes and often recycled one-liners about former Presidents Fidel V. Ramos, Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino and Ferdinand E. Marcos and even incumbent President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.


A Country of Contradictions

Yes, the Philippines is indeed a country of paradox, a nation of conflicting interests and contradictions, with its people apparently following the Biblical saying that the "meek shall inherit the earth."

While there were sporadic local revolts during the Spanish regime, the inhabitants of the Philippine archipelago launched a semblance of a national revolt near of the end of the 19th century, or a span of more than 300 years. With the exception of the Muslim Filipinos, the Christian Filipinos declared war against the United States and accepted American sovereignty in less than three years of fighting.

During World War II, just more than 200,000 Filipino men and women -- out of a population of more than 18 million -- took up arms against the Japanese invaders. The rest just accepted meekly the conquest of the archipelago by Japan. And many just bore passively the brunt of the Japanese cruelty and violence and probably accepted suffering as a way of wartime life. Most of the Filipinos accepted meekly the Japanese occupation, not realizing that at the very end more than one million of them would perish.

And once more speaking in Biblical parlance, it would seem that The Book of Job is also the story of the good Filipino who suffers total disaster. Like Job, the Filipino bears silently the loss of children and property and even does not complain when he is afflicted with repulsive diseases. Like Job, the Filipino waits for divine power and wisdom that shall be God's response to his faith in poetic justice. But more often than not, Philippine courts do not do justice and few judges are poets.

But once in a while, a generation rises up to meet the challenge. The generation of Emilio Aguinaldo, Andres Bonifacio and their bloody companies, rose up in arms in the 1890s. And the rebellion continued after the Americans became the new colonial masters. But after that, the Filipino people just took in silence all the agony for the next 90 years or so. Then came the 20 years of dictatorial rule of the Marcos regime. The Filipinos decided that they could not take it anymore, they got mad as hell and staged the peaceful and nearly bloodless people's revolt at the E. de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) in Quezon City, Metro Manila in February of 1986. The people, after overthrowing the supposed tyrant, went back to their passive ways and accepted once more the continuance of their suffering and miserable existence.

And in January 2001, the people got tired of President Joseph Estrada and all the Erap jokes. They staged a popular revolt called EDSA Dos (II). Then the people went back home. The rich went back to their mansions and the poor back to their shanties in the squatter areas of Metropolitan Manila to await again divine intervention a la Deus ex machina. But so far, the gods have not come down from the Filipino version of Olympus and so the people just accepted their fate and continue with their suffering.

The Filipinos who could not longer bear the suffering at home decided to leave the country in the style of the Israelites. More than seven million of them left in search of the Promised Land or at least for the promise of decent-paying jobs. The Filipino Diaspora goes from the sands of Saudi Arabia to the sands of Nevada. Yes, the Filipino has replaced the Wandering Jew and now you can find them in more than 100 countries and on board cargo and cruise ships from sea to shining sea, in fact even on the fishing boats off Alaska.

To read the next article in this series, please click on this hyperlink:

Revisiting "The Religion of Blame" (Filipino Psyche, Part5)


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Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 January 2009 15:50

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