We saw him four weeks later playing with a broken bike at the MacArthur Shrine.
Photo by ECare Compassion Ministries, Inc.
Filipino resilience: Family, faith and fun
(The Philippine Star) - July 28, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — When Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) hit Tacloban City on Nov. 8, 2013, the storm surge swept away the parents of a seven-year-old boy. The tragedy did not just sweep his parents away from him, it took away his voice as well.

We saw him four weeks later playing with a broken bike at the MacArthur Shrine. All that remained was the frail body of a seven-year-old boy whose faded eyes tried to hide a story so huge and too heavy to draw out. I greeted him and I took his quick glance as a door that opened slightly to allow me into an incredible story of tragedy, survival and anger.  

The encounter with this young boy is by no means uncommon. Yet each story had always been unique in those instances that we had purposely responded to human disasters and natural calamities in these past 16 years. 

In a calibrated response of rescue, relief and retrieval when calamities and disaster strikes, we would mobilize to join the other teams in the field from 30 to 45 days after they hit the ground.  

It has been observed that the survivors begin to feel the weight of their disrupted lives on their shoulders at that point. Connecting their shattered present to a sustainable future becomes difficult. The survivors begin to lose their appetites; they start to entertain thoughts of ending their lives. A number would actually cross the line from life to death. Our task is to provide psychosocial support through trauma debriefing and psychological first aid. 

What we had experienced in the field had taught us that the survivors are not the only ones affected by the extraordinary experience. The tragedy of loss drains the survivors of their emotional capital. The gaping vacuum of human vitality and the unending stream of needs create a growing helplessness among the first responders. This easily replaces the energy that is sapped from them day after day. Apart from the survivors therefore, the responders are likewise affected in the aftermath of disasters and calamities. 

This is the natural narrative of a people who are in the path of typhoons, whose land sits on an earthquake belt and whose cultural history is spiced by intrusions and invasions. Yet those who get a glimpse of this collage of colors on the Philippine palette would gush in amazement at how resilient the Filipinos are! 

One cannot help but be amazed at how Filipino survivors can bounce back from burdens that would otherwise weigh down heavily on other people. The west had coined the words “Climate despair” from their own journey and experience with environmental challenges. In fact, the author of the 2015 book Environmental Melancholia is quoted (by Mike Pearl, ‘Climate Despair’ is Making People Give Up on Life) to have said, “This is painful. It’s super painful to be a human being right now at this point of history.” 

The Filipino may stumble and the Pinoy may fall on the ground but helping hands do not seem to be in short supply as the fallen are quickly lifted back to their feet. 

The factors of Family, Faith and Fun have much to do with Filipino resilience. 

The family is very central in a Filipino’s life. It is vital to the person’s physical and emotional survival because there will somehow always be family in a distant place to provide temporary shelter whether in the Philippines or even in a foreign land. It is not uncommon for a family in the city to be indefinitely hosting relatives from the province as they do their business in the area. Urbanites in the same way have no problem with fully booked hotels in the provinces because there will surely be relatives living in the area even if the place they are visiting is not their home province. 

Tightly knit families are the norm in the Philippines. The godfather and godmother social status linkages enlarge the family network of blood relatives and this is further expanded by the community contacts creating a network that is dynamic and responsive to the individual. This reality creates a fine mesh that becomes a safety net, which catches members made vulnerable by disasters, calamities and challenges. The recovery of survivors is therefore assured with that functioning mesh and that effective net. 

Another element that provides core and connectivity is the Faith of Filipinos. The influence of Catholicism brought by the Spaniards led by Magellan, the Portuguese, is ingrained in the psyche of the Filipino. The arrival of the Americans allowed Filipinos to discover the diversity of Christianity. Yet, there is something deeper than these religions that establish the fact that Filipino spirituality predated the Caucasians because Islam was already being practiced by the coastal tribes and farther before the coming of Islam, the indigenous peoples of the islands had a system of relies worship and professed faith in a god, “Bathala.” Faith allows the Filipino to go beyond the experience of physical failings to muster strength and survive through spiritual surety. 

When a Filipino who had just lost practically everything in a fire or a tragedy is asked what is going to happen next, the answer would predictably be, “Bahala na.” The reply actually means it is now in the hands of God. That is the kind of faith that holds the Filipino from sliding down into deep despair that destroys the soul. Resilience grounded on Faith — very Filipino. 

Filipinos enjoy life so much that the tropical sun and the warm climate in the islands have become the bright symbols of that Filipino phenomenon, Resiliency. Perhaps the third factor, Fun, is the sum of the Filipino’s essential elements of Family and Faith. Foreigners marvel at the bright smiles in the faces of Filipinos and they are always impressed by our citizens’ gift of song. After a trauma debriefing session with survivors of Typhoon Yolanda in Palo, Leyte, we asked what they needed most apart from food and water and construction materials to rebuild their homes. They said they wanted to have a guitar! A song will always bring out a smile.

Our world has so much to learn from the Filipino. Where wars and conflicts continue to tear people apart, and social as well as environmental challenges push them into despair, the Filipino whose experience is no less than that of the rest of humanity can certainly stand with his shining example of Resiliency. - Henry Manuncia

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Henry Manuncia is the executive director of ECare Compassion Ministries, Inc. where, together with his wife Lisa, a psychotherapist, they serve survivors of calamities and disasters in the communities. Their three grown-up children, Jonathan, Alyssa Gail and David help them actively in their community work. They were named in 2018 as one of the five families nationwide to receive the 8th Jollibee Family Values Award.

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