Thursday, April 18, 2024

Relearning Filipino Resilience

By Sarah Madison Repollo | February 23, 2024

Estudyante siya anak, pero naningkamot diba? Dapat ingon ana pud ka.” (He’s a student but still works hard, right? You should try to be more like that.) This is what a great many adults would say at the sight of a kid working. But then, after the transaction comes to a close, the privileged would continue off to their destination—the working kid, forgotten. 

The myth of resilience has always been a hot topic in the Philippines, especially recently as it gained traction once again due to a post made by Manila Bulletin last Feb. 2. In the picture, a 12th-grade student sold sampaguita, car window to car window, along Quezon Avenue after class to gain extra income and support his studies. The photo went viral, gaining more than its fair share of mixed reactions. While many responded positively, inspired by the sheer grit and determination captured by the blurry image, many more shared the post, calling out public officials for allowing a child to take on adult responsibilities.

Unfortunately, this is not the first—nor will it be the last–case of “feel-good” stories that make you truly wonder whether they’re more inspiring or depressing. 

Two sides of the same coin

Adversity is ever-present in the lives of humans, with the degrees of difficulty varying from person to person. Some go most of their lives with only a stumble here and there, while others are parried back and forth by destiny’s hands. 

Many argue the necessity of hardships, and many more romanticize it. To some, these obstacles in life seem to strengthen people, raise their resilience, and spit them out a better person at the end of the ordeal—akin to a war-ridden hero at the end of a novel, triumphant after countless trials. With adversity, you are forced to confront your strengths and weaknesses, providing an opportunity for character development, and getting you one step closer to your happily ever after.

But what if the hardship refuses to end after the initial bout of misfortune? Sometimes, it doesn’t get better — and this is the reality many face in our world today.

In 2023, over 25 million Filipinos were classified as living under the poverty line. Though the number has dropped in recent years, countless citizens continue to live paycheck to paycheck. With the pandemic’s arrival, many of the government’s plans to slash the poverty rate to the single digits by 2028 were foiled. The country’s underprivileged are thus robbed of the opportunity to live life to the fullest.

While some make it out of that life, many don’t, and their harsh realities continue to be romanticized by the upper classes. Through Facebook posts, Pinterest boards, and YouTube documentaries, their work-weary faces are plastered front and center on thumbnails. 

Filipinos’ resilience

Filipinos are known for their resilience—even in times of calamity, sickness, and inequality.

Situated smack-dab in the middle of the Pacific Ring of Fire, the country experiences natural disasters on the regular. During these times, the news is filled with updates, warnings, and death tolls. Despite the negativity, inspirational narratives never seem to leave the media. During Typhoon Yolanda for instance, and even years after, resilience stories were constantly circulating despite many victims still lacking homes four entire years after the disaster struck.

During COVID-19’s reign, the Philippines had one of the longest pandemic-related shutdowns in a school system in the world as decided by the government, with face-to-face classes only returning after two years spent at home. But even with more than enough to catch up on, Filipinos still did not lose hope—they found ways to learn remotely, even without direct access to the internet. 

To this day, the Philippines has millions living under the poverty line, with their problems having yet to be addressed. Still, they remain capable of being happy as found by a study conducted in South Cotabato. 

This consistent resilience has gained countless questions in recent years, with many Filipinos wondering whether or not it is an admirable characteristic or a learned excuse for government inaction.

The solution

Inspiration stories are not evil. In fact, they serve a great purpose—a true beacon of light for those without motivation. What needs to be changed is not the stories themselves, but the way both the audience and the government respond to them.

Instead of branding the subjects of these posts as merely “mulat sa realidad” (aware of reality),  it is essential to see them for what they really are, “mga biktima sa realidad” (victims of reality). Through this mindset, these people become so much more than just figures, but real people going through rough times. This humanizes them and makes way for the audience to feel empathy, to search for solutions—and, by extension, to pressure the government into doing the same. Citizens are allowed to admire these icons of hard work so that they, too, can grow into the embodiment of success stories that will inspire future generations to come—so long as admiration never trespasses too far into romanticization.

As for the government, there is a need for them to be held accountable for their distinct lack of action during nationwide issues. Better environmental protection, quicker responses to natural disasters, and solid plans to address economic issues are just a few of the many things the Filipino people deserve—more so than glorified resilience stories and instances of the system failing them once again.

While the Manila Bulletin post will not be the first or last to depict victims persevering in harsh realities, what we can do as consumers of media is to continue to take inspiration, but never to forget our social responsibilities. Calling the attention of the government and working hard enough in our respective careers to create a world wherein less people become victims of reality are steps toward a better nation for all of us.

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