Apparently, Filipinos are kind and compassionate to the poor and downtrodden. At least that is what some Filipinos tell themselves. Who would have thought, right? Considering there are so many naked street children begging or sleeping on the streets of Manila and many parts of the country and considering pagpag (leftover food from fast-food restaurants scavenged from garbage sites and dumps) is starting to become an accepted “delicacy” in the country, one would think that the opposite is true – that Filipinos in general are anything but kind and compassionate to the poor and downtrodden.
Recent events left a columnist at a local news site baffled and at the same time touched by what she perceives as Filipino generosity – the willingness to offer aid to the thousands of Rohingya refugees stuck on a rickety boat drifting in Thai waters. It was enough to compel Patricia Evangelista to write about how heartwarming it was to know that Filipinos would readily offer refuge to those in need. It was enough for her to say how proud she is to be Filipino. Her article commending the “kind” gesture of Filipinos likewise touched thousands of readers who appreciated her effort to highlight the “caring” heart of Filipinos.
The sad saga involving the Rohingya refugees eventually ended with Malaysia and Indonesia accepting them into their shores. Meaning, the Philippines didn’t end up providing the aid they offered after all. But this fact did not stop a lot of Filipinos, including the so-called writer to laud the entire Philippine society and even credit the “happy” ending to Filipinos. Evangelista also believes the Philippines had “some influence in the sudden reversal of positions” of Malaysia and Indonesia’s stand on the refugees. In other words, she thinks we shamed our ASEAN neighbors into becoming more “humanitarian”.
This only highlights the truth about some Filipinos — that those who are desperate for any kind of validation from the outside world magnify little gestures, albeit symbolic in nature, ten times just to prove that we are a compassionate people who are just waiting for our destined greatness. The said article also generated a lot of highly emotional and irrational comments like “Indeed, Filipinos are one of the most loving and generous people on earth. I’m proud to be born a Filipino!”. I could not help but think of the poor and destitute in the Philippines who have not felt the love and generosity that this commenter was talking about.
It was hard not to shake my head in disbelief at how easily some became delusional just by a single event that we had very little participation in. They were quick to lap up and document what they probably thought was an opportunity to shine on the world stage. Evangelista succeeded in doing that by putting Filipinos above other people from other societies. She wrote as if Filipinos were better than our ASEAN neighbors because they initially said that they were unwilling to accept the refugees. To be sure, she was judgmental in her assessment of other countries’ tough policy on human trafficking. It is something the Philippine government should seriously think about if they really care about the condition of the migrants who end up in far worse condition after resorting to paying human traffickers just to jump the immigration queue.
The write up and the reaction to it made me realize that some Filipinos would not think twice about putting others down just to feel good about themselves – a kind of self-righteous act which is the opposite of being humble and compassionate.
The truth is, most Filipinos have become so accustomed to the sight of beggars and homeless people in the Philippines to the point that they have become desensitized to the poor’s wretched plight. It is a real mystery why despite the kind and generous image we try to portray to the outside world, we fail to walk the talk when it comes to our own people. Some would say that the situation of the poor in the country has become out of control that it is not easy to “help” them. Some simply blame the corrupt public officials who they say are robbing the people. Never mind that Filipinos routinely vote for corrupt public officials and allow them to abuse their power with impunity while in office.
Whatever the reason, the wretched existence of the poor in the Philippines is a stark reminder that most Filipinos are usually apathetic and indifferent to their predicament. Having said all of the above, I am of the belief that being generous to the poor will not solve poverty in the Philippines in the long term. Charity is good when needed but it doesn’t fix the root cause of the problem. The citizens’ participation in nation building is vital to stop the country’s spiral to degeneracy.
Unfortunately, a feel-good article that highlights our society’s “little successes” is not enough to move most Filipinos to do the right thing. In fact, the notion that we are better compared to others is detrimental to the people’s mental health. It keeps Filipinos in denial that the country is slowly sinking. One day, Filipinos could find themselves fleeing to a safe haven on a rickety boat just like the Rohingya refugees if they do not act sooner.
[Photo of Rohingya courtesy Huffington Post.]
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