The Good Within Us

I guess it’s time for a balancing. Too much negativity here.

One of my favorite columns of uber-pundit Randy David was that one about his plane ride experience from Davao. Although hearing the sorry state of both PAL’s fleet and its management makes me more nervous to fly with them (more than, say, the latest horror flick from NatioGeo’s Air Crash Investigations), it was what he said about that inherently Filipino trait to be such an exemplar of humanity when crises come that really mattered in the column. Prof. David must surely have given many of his readers a “warm, fuzzy feeling” moment when he related how several passengers in that ill-starred flight helped each other cope with the stress. Something so simple as a person sharing excess food in such a situation can be such a wonderful occurence in this all-too-Darkened world.

(Dammit, did we fail that badly, that something like the aforementioned can be like a ray of light after a storm? Wasn’t this what we were precisely trying to avoid, a near-Gibsonesque future?)

For about two or three days now, PDI has been coming out with news on the Vietnamese Boat People who’ve been in asylum here for the last 16 years. Perhaps as a break from the huge, stinking crap that is Gloriagate, the PDI editorial for today was precisely on this topic, and yesterday Ma. Ceres Doyo talked about “The Philippines’ Non-Discriminatory Embrace.”

Sometimes, the Filipino can be really… taxing. Everything from as “simple” as chronic jaywalking or people throwing their trash out of a jeepney window, to corruption and selfishness at the highest levels of government can really be a trial for a young person who genuinely loves his country and badly wants to help not only make it better but return it to the pre-eminent position in the international comunity it once played.

But there are really moments when what I consider the true soul of the Filipino shines through. You don’t need to look at People Power, or the many battles we fought for freedom against powerful tyrants, or even in the many innovations this noblest of races made. No. All you have to do is look at that smile – warm, welcoming and true – at the hospitality to even the strangest of strangers. Warrior race we may be, but the Filipino can sometimes be too damned nice that we don’t think our guests can do us harm (I mean, look at those who recieved Magellan and de Legaspi…). Our doors are barely locked, if at all, outside of the Metro. During fiestas everyone is welcome to partake even to the most modest of feasts (which is usually quite the gastronomical experience; province food is truly quite wonderful, no matter if it was made in the “lowliest” bahay kubo, especially to a palette that grew up on McDonald’s).

But most of all, Filipinos would not think twice to extend his or her assistance to those in need, especially to times of crisis. We can’t say no; heck, we don’t even think of saying no. Yes, yes, I fully am aware that victims of accidents or crimes sometimes lose their valuables even before they get medical treatment, but I think that’s something that’s chronic only here in the ratrace of a much-Westernized Metro. Out there, where winds are purer, the grass greener, and the river sparkles with light and life, the moment you fall, people will pick you up and help you get back on your feet with nothing asked in return. People are even thankful they were there to help you when you needed the assistance.

New Orleans comes to mind. Perhaps that’s why it was so shocking to my Filipino psyche: at the end of it all, what was boggling my Mind and profoundly disturbing my Soul was not the destruction of a major American city in the age of the Internet, but how… horrible was the reaction by people in the face of the crisis. The looting I can reconcile, it happens. Heck, it happens after a World Series or Super Bowl, so what’s new, right? But for rape and murder? For a civil defense officer telling someone in distress to go to hell and it’s every man for himself? One statement captured it all: “I don’t treat my dog that way.” Consider how many disasters we have gone through in this country. Now tell me how many degenerated into what New Orleans experienced? Isn’t it a convention of sorts that when crap hits the fan, we humans band together to live through the experience?

When the Philippines goes through major disasters like what hit New Orleans, you’ll find relief goods and volunteers by the truckloads and they just keep coming. You’ll find the people hit by that disaster helping each other; it’s rare to see Filipino communities turning on each other in the name of survival during crisis situations. No: something in the Filipino soul finds it anathema to leave others in need to their own devices when the Filipino can help even in the least bit. Like offering pastries to fellow passengers in a very unlucky flight. Or offering a home to displaced people from a foreign land.

In his Republic, Plato (through Socrates), said that people’s souls can be likened to Metals. The better the person’s soul, the better the metal that serves its analogy. It wasn’t that Plato was being discriminatory; he was simply pointing out that, though all metals are important and have uses, not all metals are the same. The Guardians, the ideal humans of his ideal society, were of Silver and Gold.

I can’t recall if it was Prof. David or MLQ3 who said it. Maybe both did. In fact, I see it a lot these days in columns: if something will save us from insanities like Gloriagate, if something will explain to the world why this country hasn’t become a “Failed State” despite all the crap that has hit it… it’s the quality of the “metal” of the Filipino’s soul.

Despite our leaders and the world they’ve brought us into, we will prevail. Because if the good within the Filipino cannot be cowed by the howling wind and driving rain of a super typhoon, or the devastating force of a volcano, or the many guns, goons and gold of a dictator, what can prevent it from shinging forth once again?

This is why you gave up a bright future with the corporations. This was why you wanted to serve the Filipino, why you earnestly believe what Ninoy said, that the Filipino is worth dying for.

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