Chatter, just chatter

Chatter, just chatter

12:30 AM March 08, 2024

One of the secrets of Filipinos is that he has great capacity to entertain himself. In that field, he is most productive. Of course, there is a deeper layer to that, and that is what drives him to be able to find lightness and humor under almost all circumstances. Just give him time and he will get out of any emotional state that makes him sad or depressed.

How else could a people have been colonized for hundreds of years by different foreign masters and yet survived relatively unscathed. After being virtually enslaved and a rather severe occupation by the Japanese, independence in 1946 already found the Filipino people enjoying their first democratic national election. We rebuilt from the terrible experience of World War II and quickly rediscovered our footing, keeping our country as the second most developed after Japan for another 20 years.

The 1970s to today 50 years later have not been kind to Filipinos as we witnessed our steady decline from the top on our way to now almost bottom. We went through a dictatorship that managed, not only to brutally persecute its enemies, but also to bankrupt our national treasury. Imagine the years when our money was not acceptable to the world beyond our shores, leading to, of course, the very dissolution of our proud Central Bank then.

Still, Filipinos found ways to relieve themselves of their problems, enough to hold fiestas, welcome visitors, and eat plenty (and going into debt to do that). A rebellion was born from frustration, but that rebellion forgot the secret ingredient of Filipinos being able to have fun amid scarcity and conflict. So, the rebellion remains because the frustration remains, but it cannot grow, only weaks itself as modernity offers new ways for Filipinos to find comic relief. By the way, Oxford Dictionary provides an apt analogy of comic relief as follows: “Between tragic stories are a few songs supplying comic relief.”

I recently read a real estate report bragging about how a few hundred homes in a plush Makati village were being sold for an average of 1 billion pesos each. The owners of the properties are not selling because they are broke; they are selling because they want to make more money. The houses and lots in that premier village are not the only ones they own anyway. Amazing – in one small enclave in Makati, properties are worth over 300 billion pesos – and climbing.

How does that make the Philippines poor? Not the properties, of course, or their owners. The poverty is from the rest of the people, 50% of the population rating themselves as poor, some of them hungry, most of their children malnourished. It is entirely plausible that a few hundred families own and control more than 80% of the nation’s economy and wealth. The proverbial saying about the rich getting richer is strongly affirmed in the Philippines. As far as the other half of the saying, about the poor getting poorer, it may be debatable but well within the ballpark.

The picture seems bleak – and it is in the eyes of those who know and believe that the Filipino people deserve much more – and can possibly have much more. In the first place, poverty is not self-inflicted. Millions of Filipinos are simply born poor. That is their inherited legacy from parents who themselves were born poor. Privilege and poverty both appear to be, first and foremost, associated with one’s birth circumstances – born rich or born poor.

But bleak to progressives or idealists is not necessarily to those born in that unfortunate circumstance. For the poor whose whole lives have been difficult have a different idea of what is truly difficult. To the poor, a little hunger is normal, but starvation is difficult. Frustration is normal, and anger is not easily reached, or breached. That is why rebellions cannot succeed unless they find that one emotional, dynamic moment of convergence – as in the 1986 people-power revolution.

While most young Filipinos descend to a learning poverty catastrophe, the puppeteers at the very top of the power and wealth chain are learning very well how to play the game of control. Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. and Joseph Estrada found themselves public and well-established in the global Who’s Who of plunderers from government. After that, a few more former presidents can possibly make it, too, but have found ways to avoid the mistakes of Marcos and Estrada – thus far.

In the meantime, Filipinos address their frustrations in traditional ways that are enhanced by cultural traits. First, we do not go into the essentials. Essentials are simple, true, and obvious. But essentials are painful, too painful to confront and keep top of mind. Non-essentials, though, all the way to inanity, are easier to carry, chismis easier to understand than principles, jokes lighter than the truth, and lies even more entertaining and flexible to further stretching.

Fiestas with lights, loud sounds, and lots of food are better than critical discussions and debates, especially the life-threatening. To many Filipinos tired of poverty and the sacrifices that come along with it, fantasies and lottos are a powerful escape, aside from alcohol, that is. Asking and receiving subsidies (ayuda) are more profitable than striving for more opportunity and productivity. Plus, many local and national officials are only too happy to give money that does not come from their own pockets (but often enough find their way inside).

It is no surprise, then, that national conversations are more chatter than intelligent discussions, and non-essentials offered as topics rather than what can build the nation and the Filipino people. News or speculations about the romances and drama of entertainers beat any sane discussion about charter change. And it is easier for our lawmakers to keep it that way than aggressively educate citizens on their responsibilities and the accountability of public servants – from Malacañang to the barangays.

A question I am often asked – “what can save us from ourselves?” My answer, “Nothing except unbearable pain.”

TAGS: Filipinos, independence, opinion

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