Our unhappy lot | Inquirer Opinion

Our unhappy lot

/ 05:07 AM March 27, 2021

Filipinos have long nursed this image of themselves as a “happy people.” A point of pride in recent years, in fact, is the strong “happiness index” that’s supposedly prevailing in these isles.

But contrary to the perception of ourselves as a sunshiny smiling people, Filipinos in fact have ranked only midway in recent global surveys of national happiness. And the really dismaying news is that Filipinos have been feeling less and less happy in recent years. The 2021 World Happiness Report places the country at 61st among 149 countries, with a score of 5.88. This is nine places below its ranking in the previous survey, with each year’s poll based on the average of the scores in the three previous years.


This year’s score is skewed in large part by the prevailing anxiety and concern created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The score gained by the Philippines when pandemic fears are taken into consideration, it must be pointed out, is several notches below the 2017-2019 findings when the full impact of the public health crisis and its resulting dislocations in the face of the harsh and militarized government response had yet to be felt.

Today, Filipinos find themselves in the midst of a crisis several notches above the levels of misery at the onset of the pandemic, and after a year of what has been described as the world’s “longest and harshest” lockdown. As former health secretary Esperanza Cabral commented, not only are we “back to square one,” as a country we find ourselves “10 steps back from square one.”


The daily tally of new COVID-19 infections now hover at the 8,000 level, with “granular” lockdowns at the city, district, and even sub-district (purok) level imposed. With public transportation once more severely limited, and movement outside households stringently monitored, wage earners are finding it increasingly difficult to earn a living. And worse, there will no longer be any subsidy or “ayuda” for the most impoverished.

Columnist Jake Maderazo, in a recent piece in Inquirer.net, quoted Acting Neda Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua as estimating that 3.2 million Metro Manila residents, or 23 percent, now experience hunger. About half a million folks in the National Capital Region have also become unemployed, the Neda chief said, including returning and displaced OFWs.

This explosion of hunger caused by the economic meltdown follows close on the heels of a health catastrophe. COVID-19 variants are driving up infection rates, with emergency rooms and COVID-19 wards of both public and private hospitals filling up to and beyond capacity. Even more worrying are findings that 97.5 percent of people getting infected are “asymptomatic,” meaning they do not feel or show any signs of COVID-19 infection and thereby are likely to be relaxed in observing even the most elementary of precautions such as washing hands frequently, wearing masks and face shields, and keeping their distance from others.

Vaccination, much touted by the President as the silver bullet that would eradicate the danger of further infections, illness, and deaths and liberate the country from COVID-19 (“by the end of 2020,” according to Mr. Duterte’s forecast), has proven to be illusory for now in the Philippines’ case. Not only was the administration late in bringing in the vaccines (all donations at that so far), but distribution of the limited doses available has likewise been spotty, uneven, and sometimes even violative of World Health Organization guidelines on who should get priority in the queue. As things stand, so experts say, it will take years for the country to reach herd immunity, by which time there might not be enough healthy Filipinos left to vaccinate.

In this context, Filipinos might well ask: What is there to be happy about? Or better yet: What is there that we should not be unhappy about?

Increasingly, citizens do not even enjoy the basic privilege of living in a democracy: the right to express ourselves and talk about what is making us unhappy—or indignant, angry, frustrated, or flustered. The fourth quarter 2020 survey of Social Weather Stations found that 65 percent of adult Filipinos agreed that “it is dangerous to print or broadcast anything critical of the administration, even if it is the truth.” No upright, conscientious government would ever consider that kind of public sentiment as a point of pride—that its people now see it as an object of dread and mistrust.

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TAGS: COVID-19, Happiness Index, happy people, hunger, Metro Manila, NEDA, pandemic
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