MANILA,  December 31, 2003  (STAR) COMMONNESS By Bong R. Osorio - There was rush and gush in the way the text messages came my way on the eve of Christmas. Among these messages one stood out. It was one written in pure Tagalog reminding me that the joy of the season in the Philippines continues despite the hard times, and the tragedies that uncunningly visit us this time of the year. The sender ended the message with a summon that pierced my conscience. It said, "Don’t get tired of being a Filipino." That kept me thinking, and I can’t help but ask the question, "How happy are we Filipinos?" We are undisputedly the smilingest race in Asia, or maybe in the world. But is our smile just a façade for what we really feel inside?

Maybe we can find some answers from the Happiness Index for the third quarter of 2003 as measured by AC Nielsen and reported by its executive director Fedi Magpantay in the recently concluded Advertising Congress. The study was conducted using males and females 12 to 60 years old from all socio-economic classes in urban Philippines.

The report says majority give a "good" rating to their health and their personal safety in their neighborhood. However, a "bad" rating dominates in the areas of law and order, level of pollution and environmental damage and the present economic situation in the country. For a significant number of Filipinos, their safety needs have not been adequately addressed. Still, it may be safe to say that some of our countrymen have climbed to a higher level of need, where their need for love and belongingness are being met.

I would like to believe that this is one of the reasons why mobile phones have caught like wildfire in the Philippines, and hence making the telecommunications industry one of the leading business and economy booster. Magpantay opines, "It is not just the convenience posed by the cell phones. Perhaps, it has more to do with how cell phones give us the feeling of being connected and one with our families, peers, and interest groups no matter the time, place and situation." Indeed, the advent of these ubiquitous technological contraptions has positively affected the life in the Philippines in very fundamental ways.

Through the years the Filipinos’ esteem has been swinging from one end to another in the pendulum of world opinion and our own self-concept and valuing. "Time was when the word Manila was part of international lexicon, linked as it was to fine things like manila rope, manila paper, manila hemp, Manila Bay and its spectacular sunset. Now, it is Manila traffic, Manila pollution, Manila coup attempts, Manila garbage," Magpantay stresses.

Time was when Filipina pulchritude and grace captured hearts and adulations, not only in world beauty pageants but also in dance competitions and fashion galas. Today, we cringe because Filipina has become another term for domestic helpers and mail-order brides. The world it seems sometimes prefers to dwell on our Smokey Mountain instead of our Boracay and our Banaue, and so many other wonders waiting to be discovered and projected in the international platform.

The report warns that if our annual growth rate continues at the 2.36 percent figure recorded in 2000, then our population will double by the year 2009. This staggering statistic poses a distinct challenge for anybody applying for president of this country. The question he or she faces is how to ensure that the quality of life of Filipinos will further improve and that we will finally move into the highest level of self-actualization as a nation.

Zeroing in on the advertising industry and its allied professions, Magpantay offers the following big ideas. We can mount sustained campaigns to address the areas where much work remains to be done – health, nutrition, education, and entrepreneurship. We can spearhead advocacies to develop a culture of excellence in the workplace, in the academe, in media, in public service, in all aspects of life.

We can help reclaim our sense of pride and worth as a people and as a country with a sense of history and a foresight for permanence, a vision for the coming generations instead of just reacting and plodding as we go along. We need to find the dream of our own, instead of copying what others are doing.

"Someone said that we are a hero-driven society, waiting for leaders, saviors and knights in shining armors to rescue us when we can be heroes ourselves. We should learn how to be less dependent on personalities and leaders and start thinking like leaders ourselves with great minds," Magpantay muses.

Are we getting tired of being Filipinos? Maybe a lot of us are. But then again, a lot of us are also not giving up to the tons of challenges that tire us down. We can do something to unburden our heavy loads. As a New Year resolution, perhaps we can each list down what we can do or contribute to make the Filipino life more bearable at the minimum. We can muster the collective will to shake off the dust, conquer our fears, dry our dampened spirits, throw down the gauntlet, and rise above the difficulties we have been fighting for so long now.

As Magpantay concludes, "The battle to win starts in the mind – yours and mine."

Happy New Year to all!

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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