Why do Filipinos grieve noisily?

It baffles me the way the furor over the execution of the three convicted Filipino drug mules in China reached the crescendo that we are seeing today. It’s as if this thing had not been hanging over Filipinos’ heads for the last several months. It first captured the broader public awareness when the Philippine Government declined to attend Nobel Peace Prize awarding ceremonies for Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in Oslo. Speculation on Philippine Government motives behind the snub at the time revolved around pressure from Beijing involving both the Mendoza hostage massacre and what was at the time five Filipinos accused of smuggling drugs across the Chinese border.

Despite the issue already gaining enough profile to prompt the government to expend significant resources to appeal to Beijing for clemency weeks ago, the outpouring of emotion seen today in the wake of the execution actually taking place is overwhelming.

The execution actually took place. The highlight on “actually” is not accidental. Filipinos seem to apply some sort of selective denial of the future. As if specific near-certainties are not real until they actually happen. I’ve observed this trait of Filipinos many times in not a few funerals I had attended in the Philippines. Some of the deceased had been sick for many months before they died. And yet on the day of the burial itself, there would still be much noisy wailing and torrential shedding of tears as the casket is lowered into the pit. In many cases, mourners would, presumably in the throes of their noisy grief, even go through the motions of trying to throw themselves into the burial pit (a cue for fellow mourners to go into similar motions to prevent them from doing so). I used to wonder, as a child (impatient to get out of the hot sun, as I watched bemused), if they would actually go through it if nobody stopped them.

What’s up with that?

It is often said that prayers help one come to terms with approaching death. Indeed even the healthiest and most prosperous of Filipinos presumably prepare for (or fixate themselves on the possibility of their “time” coming on any random day in the very near future on their God’s whim) whenever they porstate themselves before their Lord in prayer. So in considering the renowned length of the average Filipino wake and our renowned prayerfulness that is underpinned by a morbid fixation on a possible death the next day, I remain baffled by the noisy grief being expressed by Filipinos over the execution of Sally Ordinario-Villanueva, Ramon Credo, and Elizabeth Batain yesterday, the 30th of March.

Does prayer really help us come to terms with death?

Or does prayer merely act as an opiate that dulls any sense of personal responsibility to face the very real-world task of coming to terms with approaching death?

I see people who mourn noisily over a death they could have otherwise prepared for in the real world as no different to people who continuously complain loudly in the aftermath of a disaster that they could have seen coming or an accident that could have been prevented. Prayer is not what a bunch of men in robes make it out to be. To me, it seems that prayer merely weakens character, transfers accountability to a nebulously-defined “God”, and provides a brilliant excuse to defer facing reality to a time when one has no option but to do so after the fact.

Noisy grieving over a death that was otherwise foreseen is the hallmark of a weak character. It’s time Filipinos change their flaccid ways, stop acting like Drama Queens, pull themselves together, and harden up.

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12 Comments on “Why do Filipinos grieve noisily?”

  1. I think this post is released too soon. Even if it’s not meant to, it can be seen as an attack on the families of the executed.

    And yes, some people grieve noisily, but that’s what people do when a loved one dies. They grieve. Some people do it quietly, some people scream until they faint. It’s not a hallmark of weak character, as you’ve put it. It’s something one can’t help.

    Not all Filipino mourners throw themselves at coffins. Have you been to a lot of Filipino funerals to actually say such things?

    And about sucking it up, I don’t think it is fair to tell their families to “suck it up”. Imagine trying to talk to a loved one who is young and healthy, knowing that they’ll be killed an hour later. Like they’re alive now and dead an hour after. It must be hard to get over something like that.

    1. I think she’s right about that; not all Filipinos are emo-minded types, you know; they’ll soon learn to get over it, though.

  2. In all fairness, I think this perspective is towards Pinoy society as a whole and not individual reactions. And in that context, I think it’s spot on; from the headlines today, you’d think the Chinese executed the whole country for no good reason.

    1. Thanks for helping clarify Ben. Yes, this is a commentary on the collective and therefore no assertion is made that necessarily describes all Filipinos, just like calling the Japanese an industrious people does not necessarily mean that all Japanese individuals are such.

  3. I agree with Camille D when she says that people grieve in different ways, and that it’s not something you can help. I don’t think it’s fair to generalize how Filipinos grieve, even more so antagonize the way in which those directly affected by the three executions express their grief. Besides, have you ever heard of Chinese funeral ceremonies? They even hire “Crying Ladies” to cry noisily for the deceased–this is part of their cultural practice.

    About the families of the 3 executed drug mules–look at it this way–they lost someone they love. A member of their family, a friend. It sounds bitter and insensitive, faulting them for feeling their loss. Having emotions isn’t weakness.

    As for your views on prayer and God, to each his own. Filipinos aren’t the only ones who turn to prayer/a higher being during hard times. (but i get your point about accountability).

  4. Yes, I see this as a commentary on the way Filipinos behave as a whole. Even if 30% of Pinoys are loud about their anger on China, it’s loud enough to make it look like the whole Philippines is angry at China. The whole country is made to look like fools just because of a few rotten eggs – which unfortunately no amount of rationalization could quell.

    Back to the title, I’d say grieving noisily a paawa effect. Y’know, public show so others will take notice and probably say, “Oh, poor you, I’ll give you money.” It’s so Da Pinoy.

    1. Indeed life’s not fair, contrary to popular belief. It also works at an individual level. You can spend an entire life doing good and then in one fell lapse in judgment do one stupid thing — and get caught — and everyone will remember you for that one stupid thing and not for your previous lifetime of do-goodery.

  5. As there is an individual Ego, there is a national Ego, consisting of the commonality of reactions, the disbelief that anyone could actually execute a Filipino, grappeling for ways to understand why . . . they are poor and therefore manipulated by society seems to be the main reason.

    It is certainly tragic for the families, who have invested their own lives in these lives.

    If one is truly going to weep for them, they ought to dedicate some part of their lives to making sure others don’t get into the same trap. And they ought to make sure RESPONSIBILITY is a word that gets translated into Tagalog correctly. So that it gets properly tied onto zoning officials who allow hovels to be built on the mudbanks, and deadbeat dads and moms who populate the country with untended and often unloved kids. And drug mules.

    1. It seems there is also some kind of collective national guilt at work here that is fueling all these expressions of “outrage” over the executions — guilt over having to have compatriots work overseas while the island population sits around drinking beer on the sidewalk, sending text messages on the latest model celphone, and singing karaoke.

  6. We, the Filipinos have the character of being too emotional. Sometimes, it goes beyond irrationality. This characteristic is being exploited by the : Churches, religions and self serving politicians. To control the people, and have power over them…
    You can see, Noynoy Aquino; some politicians; and the Catholic Bishops, offering Mambo-Jumbo prayers and Masses, for the three drug mules to be executed in China…
    These Drug Mules, took risks, because of easy money…they got caught…and they paid for their lives…this is all of it…we are making mountains out of anthills…

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