Still smiling Pinoys amidst calamities

JUST BE - Bernadette Sembrano (The Philippine Star) - November 15, 2015 - 9:00am

“Be careful not to smile when you’re in calamity areas,” a concerned colleague told me about the photos that I posted on my Instagram account when I was in Casiguran, Aurora in the aftermath of Typhoon Lando. I couldn’t agree more. I recall the Quirino Grandstand hostage crisis where selfies by the bus drew flak. Same goes for the Zamboanga siege. These incidents are no laughing matter.

But to be candid about it, I’ve been to many calamity areas wherein the residents themselves are laughing, and smiling, and asking for selfies. It’s not the typical image that you would expect of anyone who lost their homes and livelihood.

I first visited Casiguran two years ago because of Typhoon Labuyo, and recently, because of Typhoon Lando. Residents said Lando was far more brutal than Labuyo, and yet, I observed, that they seemed less desperate now than before. I’m guessing it was because more lives were spared this time.

This is the same observation that I have of areas with informal settlers that are often victims of fire like Baseco in Manila. The residents there are not first-timers when it comes to losing their homes, and even so casually, they know where to vacate.

Evacuation centers become like picnic areas and playground to the children. But none of this is obvious when we do our live reports because we plead with the residents not to do a pogi face as we report on national TV.

Resilient is definitely one word that would describe us Filipinos. We have the capacity to smile at the most damning events (provided that no life is lost). And we’ve mastered the skill of smiling even during adversity. A woman from Casiguran told me, “What else can we do but to smile?”

Consciously, I try to adopt this attitude whenever I am with survivors of calamities. I try to smile even if what stares at me is heartbreaking. Empathy is not the same as pity. A person in a desperate situation does not need our pity but they need to draw strength from us, and us from them. For me, it’s more of the latter. They possess a strength that I cannot fathom.

I wonder though what all the suffering makes of us Filipinos. The survivor becomes more resilient... how about the rest of us Filipinos? Hopefully, not apathy.

When I was in Aurora, I observed that there seems to be less humanitarian activity going on. “Why are people not helping?” I thought to myself then. Not because people are smiling means that they don’t need help.

People flash their brightest smiles because they are hanging on to their dignity and hope. And I suggest that the rest of us do the same. We help not only when we feel like it, as if it were some fleeting emotion, but because we ought to. And when you help, do it with a smile.

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