Filipinos face New Year brimming with hope

Benigno D. Tutor Jr.

Ninety one percent of adult Filipinos face New Year with hope, according to the 2006 Social Weather survey. Surprisingly, among those who have experienced hunger at least once during the last three months, 90 percent express hope in the coming year, only 2 percent lesser than those who have not experienced hunger at all.

Filipinos are renowned optimists, always topping the world survey on hope. Filipinos easily trounce first-world countries, including Germany, where this survey started, which has barely budged from 58% since reunification.
Critics of this survey argue that the Filipinos’ unusually high self-evaluation of future prospects stems from a semantic difference between the Western idea of “hope” and the Filipino’s “pag-asa.” The Filipino’s “pag-asa” is an offshoot of his “bahala na” attitude which motivates him to bet positively rather than negatively on the future. In other words, it is not based on a realistic expectation of future conditions or on calculable economic parameters.

Others hail the Filipinos for proving that happiness is not all about money. Such incurably rosy perception of the future is even more remarkable, considering that the Filipinos usually approach Christmas facing an onslaught of natural and man-made disasters and shrinking pockets.

Interestingly, the above results are supported by two unrelated global surveys. On one hand, a UN-sponsored study shows that 85% of global assets are owned by 10% of adults, 20% of whom are Japanese. On the other hand, an MTV Networks International (MTVNI) global survey shows that among the 16-to-34-year-olds, the Japanese are the most miserable in the world. Pitiful how the Japanese work so hard to buy happiness, only to find out that it’s not available on the shelf!

Filipinos, on the other hand, seem to attain happiness effortlessly, no matter the circumstances that surround them. They welcome January as the ancient Romans did—as a passage through new doors and gates (of which Janus is the god), and hence as an opportunity for new openings and beginnings. Filipinos subscribe to the belief that life is an endless wheel of fortune (gulong ng palad)–and so even a string of misfortunes will someday be broken by a chain of luck. Asked by NHK in a talk show why Magpakailanman is among the top five TV programs in the Philippines, I replied that the success stories dramatized in these programs embody the aspirations of the world’s most hopelessly hopeful people. Backstage, a Japanese crew agreed by recounting an unlikely scene she had witnessed in the midst of Tondo’s squalor—the indescribably happy face of a scraggly child vendor.

As Christians, Filipinos possess the healthy outlook that wrongs can always be righted, that mistakes should be forgiven seventy times seven, or infinitely. Indeed, the Filipino’s belief that second chances spring eternal underlies his brimful hope. However, this year being a seven, or a perfect number in Judeo-Christian custom, it will do us Filipinos well to temper our hope with reality, replacing our passive expectations of the wheel’s stroke of luck with an active pursuit of our personal betterment, and our wishful thinking of a fairy-tale twist of fate with a planned course of action for our future.