The funny in the Filipino

Lilio T. Carreon Jr.
Are Filipinos trying to escape our country's harsh realities through humor?

We are a nation known to the world for our collective ability to stay happy.

Even the international survey made by, in time for the celebration of the UN International Day of Happiness, showed that Filipinos ranked 5th among the happiest people on earth, with a score of 80 (Paraguay ranked 1 with a score of 84).

This, indeed, is something to be happy about. The sad reality, though, is that in all the many generations that we have spent mastering this cheerful perspective, we have also developed an attitude of apathy towards matters that call for our seriousness.  

Week after week, we wake up to different insufferable issues, for example: China opposes Philippines’ appeal to Southeast Asian countries to denounce reclamation in South China Sea; Indonesian President Joko Widodo remains unmoved by pleas to spare Filipina convicted drug-trafficker Mary Jane Veloso from death sentence; and over 200 people in General Santos City live with HIV.

While these issues were all over the news repeatedly aired in the morning, afternoon, and evening programs, what trended as a hot topic of discussion among netizens was the story of an ophthalmologist from St. Luke’s Medical Center tagged as “netizen’s newest eye candy.”

The pictures of the young doctor/model in board shorts thrived in the social media and perpetually circulated among netizens for a minimum of at least 24 hours. Like how the forests of Baguio and Benguet caught wildfire a few days ago, stories of encounter with this gorgeous doctor also spread.

Dr. Mark Sylvester Agas possibly received more search hits than China’s occupation of Kagitingan Reef.

The doctor’s photos became viral not because he is being the best at what he does, but plainly on the merit of his good looks. And being the happy people that we are, jokes about more and more people wishing to have eye problems so they could go to St. Luke’s for a checkup and to check out Dr. Agas also became popular.

HUMOR. Are Filipinos more interested in petty jokes than social issues that matter?

This scenario is not uncommon in the life of the Filipino. Our aggregate inclination to the trivial when faced with the imminent has been proven on several occasions:

  • The flooding in Metro Manila after the Habagat in 2013 created ripples of memes online showing Filipinos soaking or swimming in the floodwaters, acting out as mermaids, Olympic swimmers, divers, or surfers – making the perennial problem of flooding in the streets of the metro a laughing matter.
  • The horrors in the aftermath of the Typhoon Yolanda and the waves of allegations against the culprits of the PDAF scam, which could have ignited a much needed passion to be involved in informed discussions, were drowned by the amusing circus of the Vhong Navarro-Deniece Cornejo drama.

The colossal attention given to the Mamasapano incident, in which 44 members of the Philippine National Police – Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) were brutally killed in a battle while in pursuit of an international terrorist, was eventually upstaged by the fracas that surrounded the controversial Chiz-Heart wedding. In the the same way the DongYan wedding, which lived up to the “royal” label only in terms of cost, competed for the public’s attention on the protest against the president’s seeming indifference to the Typhoon Seniang-stricken areas. After all, his non-appearance in the arrival honors for the fallen heroes was conveniently outshined by the unannounced visit of his sister at the wake, in the pretext that she came in her own volition to comfort the devastated families. 

Who didn’t get the milk tea scare after the death of two in the still unexplained poisoning in Ergo Cha Milk Tea Shop? But of course, everyone also got to ride the joke that netizens conveniently served in the social media to attack the perpetrators of the society by saying, “bigyan ng Milk Tea ‘yan!” (give them milk tea!) 

The PUNCH Line

This is one reason why we are among the happiest people on earth. We are skilled at shrugging off issues that matter in favor of the frivolous and trivial. This has become a part of our culture of finding a convenient distraction from the overwhelming, recurrent, and unsolved issues of corruption, poverty, and calamities, among others.

We escape the gravity of these matters by laughing at them. We turn our eyes from the real issue and look to the gut-busting, nonessential stories that surround them. And after the laughter has subsided, we entertain ourselves with the next most amusing story.

No issue is ever bigger than the Filipino humor. We take pride in our ability to find something to laugh about in almost anything, no matter how consequential it may be.

While there is nothing wrong with choosing a jolly outlook in life, it can be dangerous to mistake it for indifference to matters that are not necessarily “happy,” but should be given thorough consideration and conscious involvement. Sadly though, even our humor can sometimes get in the way of igniting meaningful discussions that could make us informed and enlightened.

Our preference for cheerfulness and optimism draws us away from the bitter and ugly realities that needed to be brought to the table. It is no wonder that trivial issues created to distract our attention naturally find their way to our consciousness whenever there are more significant matters that need our attention. 

Who laughs the last?

We are a happy people, and we always know how to start a good laugh.

In every Manny Pacquiao fight, in every Miss Universe pageant, or in every grand finale of any reality show on local TV, we mechanically divert from what greatly affects us as a nation to chatter upon the funny, entertaining, and happy. 

In the biggest fight of his boxing career, Pacquiao will once again bring to the country not only the potential of another glorious win, but most importantly, a distraction of monumental proportions that we can all indulge in while our country’s dispute with China, the impending death of Mary Jane Veloso, the Mamasapano incident, the PDAF scam, and all other issues that make or break our nation disappear altogether in the background.

Let’s just pray that Pacquiao would intercede for us, so we would not end up looking funny to the world. –

Lilio Tuares Carreon Jr. writes essays and poems when he is not in the classroom teaching English or coaching debate. Currently, he is serving the students of Makati High School.

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