Where Asia wears a smile

Filipinos have always prided themselves in being a "resilient" people. So resilient, in fact, that even the worst disasters and tragedies couldn't wipe our silly smiles off our faces. Smiling is so ingrained in our character as a people that I dare say President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III couldn't really be blamed for the reflexive smile plastered on his face as he delivered his official statement on the 23rd August hostage crisis that resulted in the deaths of eight Hong Kong tourists. He is Filipino after all. And that is what Filipinos do -- smile.

Botched SWAT operations are nothing new in a country where mediocrity is more the rule than the exception. As Benjamin Pimentel mentioned in his kwento kwnto, back in the late 70's and early 80's the Philippine police's SWAT team was even then already known as the "Special Weapons 'Alang Tactics" team ('alang being a Tagalog contraction of the word "no"). Pimentel refers to a bank robbery siege in Cubao back then that he -- surprise, surprise -- described as a "bizarre police operation"...
The cops didn't seem to know what to do.

They made sure to take their pa-pogi (look-good) combat poses in front of the TV cameras, holding their M-16 rifles a la Steve Forrest -- even bystanders could be seen smiling, waiting for them to make their move and for the confrontation to escalate.

What is really noteworthy in the above account of a similar incident 30 years ago (aside from the already well-established incompetence of the Philippine police) are two disturbingly familiar observations -- (1) cops striking a pose and (2) smiling bloodthirsty bystanders.

Fast forward to today in the Year 2010, the words of eminent Inquirer.net columnist Conrado de Quiros may as well have been uttered back in that 1970's Cubao bank robbery siege...

"What the hell kind of people are we?";

...as he described the mob at the scene of the present-day tourist bus tragedy...
That was the one that surged toward the door of the bus as bodies were being lifted out, that minded being pushed aside by the cops while they gaped, gawked and took pictures with their cellphones. That was the one that rushed there, surged there, and stood there unmindful of the rain, unmindful of the emergency, unmindful of the dead, staring at the blood and gore without compassion or commiseration, staring at the blood and gore only with curiosity.

What kind of a people are we? We are the bunch of people who live in a place where asia wears a smile as the old Philippine tourism slogan goes.

President Noynoy Aquino -- and his smile -- merely reflect the people he, just a few months ago, giddily put his hand up to lead.


  1. let us not censor who we are now so that we can strike at the center of our dysfunctional culture where and when it happens. this is crucial for moving forward. That is, if the yellow Filipinos want to move forward with honest hearts and minds.

  2. Filipinos are happy people. Un lang nga, minsan wala sa lugar.

  3. Our culture is and misrepresented and mis-interpreted always based on the lenses of foreigners. Smiling is a coping mechanism for us... a major major coping mechanism. I will not take it away from us.

  4. We wouldn't have to cope with problems if we just fixed them.

  5. Filipinos are happy people because others are dead.

  6. August 23 incident should serve as a lesson for all us. As a Taxpayer, We should demand from our government that our police men should be trained continuously in this kind of event as well as disaster. There should be a drill, unannounced event, put up by a non government to assess them. Their should be a continues education to become a good police. The police men and woman who pose in front of the bus should know better.

  7. We should stop being defensive and rather see the situation as it is. Sorry but in this case, the "smiling" in these photos is no way caused by an appreciation of the tragedy or nervousness (which is a coping mechanism) but rather ignorance and callousness due to our damaged culture. The sooner we pinoys learn to acknowledge our flaws and swallow our price (which is a lot to swallow because we little pinoys have big egos) the quicker we move on to the road of improvement.

  8. Local people posing & smiling in front of the scene, are pinoy cold blood or what.

  9. My first reaction to reading this was to burst out laughing. Why? Because of how absurd/weird/unique Filipinos can be.

    I think it's not that Filipino's are cold blooded it's just their "bahala na" or come what may attitude/culture that enables them to smile in front of tragedy.

    Pinoys have too many problems of their own to let an incident as bad as this get them down. They might be all smiles all the time but when it comes to enduring hardships they have no equals.

    Yes, the police force were incompetent but it's not solely their fault. I bet the budget provided by them by the government is minuscule as best. They don't have proper equipment and training to handle such events. I can only hope that the government will wake up enough to do something about it.

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