Ang Pinaka, literally means "the most". It s also the name of a popular television entertainment show here on GMA News Channel on a Sunday evening. Hosted by Rovilson Fernandez. It is a top ten countdown of virtually everything; the top ten places to visit in Illocos; the top ten bikini bodies in show business; the top ten places to eat in the Metro; the top ten hottest, hunkiest actors. You name it, Ang Pinaka has probably counted it down at one time or another.
In the spirit of Ang Pinaka, I present for your delectation and delight today, my top ten things I love about The Philippines and also my top ten things I dislike (note: Not Hate...just dislike). I don't hate anything about this country, but there are one or two things that do annoy me from time to time...and I suspect annoy some other people as well. So...without further ado:
Ang Pinaka: Thing I Love About the Philippines!
10/ The Scenery:
This is a nation of over 7,000 islands. Sure we all know about Boracay, Coron, and Puerto Princess, but the reality is you are never very far from some of the most breathtaking scenery you will see anywhere in the world. From the rugged north of Illocos; to the mountains of Baguio; to the central plains of Luzon; to the Chocolate Hills of Bohol; to the Beaches of anywhere in this country; you have the choice of the most gorgeous vistas to be found anywhere. The sunsets here are to die for. I just cannot understand why so few visitors come here for their "Asian experience". We just have to get the word out more. It's not just more fun in The Philippines...it's more beautiful too. I come from New Zealand, a country famed for its scenery, and yet what I see here never fails to inspire me, to relax me and to refresh me.
It has been said many, times by many different people, but that's just because it's true. Filipinos are an indomitable people, able to rise above adversity, able to face immense challenges with a smile and a "let's just get it done attitude". If this sounds a little cliched then it is only because we have seen this spirit rise up in the face of calamities, so many times before, that we now take it for granted. Almost 400 years of colonial domination has created a psyche that is prepared to accept that "shit happens" and we just have to deal with it. I am always immensely impressed by the way the people rise to these sometimes seemingly insurmountable problems. You only have to look at the responses to the Bohol earthquake and Super Typhoon Yolanda last year to get some idea of the uncrushable, unbeatable Filipino spirit.
8/ The Heritage:
Perhaps it's a sign of my getting older, but the thrill of adventure tourism has paled somewhat. My idea of an exciting day here is to tour the old Churches, the Museums, and admire the old architecture. For this, one of the best places I have discovered is Vigan, in Illocos Sur and of course, Intramuros in Manila. We also toured some wonderful Churches, a year or so ago in Iloilo, when we were there. The Spanish influence in this country was immense, over that 350 odd years, and the heritage they left behind provides me with many hours of pleasure. The Churches, in particular, are amongst the most beautiful buildings and the most richly decorated I have ever seen. It saddened me when I realized the 2013 earthquake in Bohol had destroyed many magnificent Churches, that I had yet to see.
There are many different indigenous populations that make up this country and I have seen a real effort in the past few years for indigenous people to be included in the mainstream of Filipino life. For centuries the uniqueness of these indigenous cultures has been suppressed, derided and diminished through inter-marriage. Each one of these indigenous groups; be they Aetas, Ifugaos, Mangyan, Lumad, Kalagan, or any of the other many distinct cultural groupings; their cultural diversity, their unique language or dialects, their special cultural treasures of dance, song and literature are now all being promoted and celebrated. Filipinos, it seems, are finally beginning to realize that they are not clones of Spanish/American culture, but that they do actually have their own rich and diverse cultural identity. Long may they continue to embrace and revel in their cultural heritage. It is the key to Filipino identity and crucial to the country, going forward.
6/ The Youthful Vitality of the Country:
Over half of the 90 odd million Filipinos in 2010 were under 25 years of age, with around 34% under 15 years. While this does provide some unique challenges for any Government; with respect to education and employment, what it also does is to create a vibrant, technologically savvy youth that can lead this country deep into the 21st Century. When this is compared to many Western Countries we find that one of the biggest tasks facing them is care of the elderly and provision of social security for the aged. The Philippines, by dint of its youthful population has a young, willing workforce capable of building a social security system that can support those elderly who have no familial support. More importantly, from a personal perspective, the young population gives the country a young and fresh feel. It is full of young people seeking to make their way in the world...it gives a feeling of hope for the future.
The Philippines is a clan based society. Family first, region second and country third seems to be the standard viewpoint of most Filipinos. Although this can have some negative side effects, such as putting family or regional interests ahead of the National interest, I still put it as one of the things I love and admire about The Philippines. As a Westerner, I struggled initially with this whole concept of OFW's. To me, it seemed an anathema; that people would essentially abandon their parental responsibilities to travel overseas and work. It seemed to me that the children would be better off having both their parents with them as they grew up. I know better now! I have enormous respect for the self-sacrifice that so many parents make in order for their children to receive a quality education and a good start in life. These parents have one desire; that their children have a better opportunity at life, than they did. How can I not respect that sentiment? It is a reflection of the incredibly close family bonds that there is almost always somebody willing to step into the breach as surrogate parents for the children of OFW's...be it the Husband or Wife of the OFW; the Lola and Lolo, the Tita, or Tito, or even elder siblings. I have learned not to judge until you have walked a mile in their shoes. Immense kudos to all OFW's!
4/ The Food:
Where to start with the food. I love most Filipino food. I will admit there are one or two things that I cannot stomach...and trust me, I have tried; they include bagoong and balut, but those aside I adore most Philippine cooking. I couldn't imagine not having rice at least twice a day now...and who would have believed that three years ago...certainly not me! For the record; my 10 favorite dishes, from 10 to 1 are: 10/ Lechon (manok or baboy...it matters not!) 9/ Pata tim 8/ Bulalo 7/ Pancit Shanghai 6/ Pancit Canton 5/ Menudo 4/ Embutido 3/ Adobo 2/ Sisig (must have itlog on top though) and my No.1 all-time ang pinaka Filipino food is: (drum roll please)...Lumpia Gulay! (No surprise there to my wife). There are so many other wonderful foods that I just can't cover here. I'll have to do a blog just on foods I think.
You know; anyone that knows me knows I'm just a tad cynical sometimes and when I first came here I did put the innate friendliness I encountered down to one thing...I was white, I was a Westerner and they thought I must have money. Three and a half years later, I'm totally ashamed of myself for thinking that. The truth...the reality...the plain fact is that Filipino people are, in general, incredibly friendly, incredibly open and incredibly sharing. One of the most important reasons I love living here is the laid-back, relaxed, almost sleepy attitude of my fellow inhabitants of this country. Maybe it's their strong moral background instilled in them through their parents, the Church (heaven forbid!) and School but whatever, people here are just plain nice and they are just plain nice in a selfless way. They generally expect nothing in return for their kindness and generosity. The Philippines often scores highly in happiness surveys, so maybe that's the key...despite every trial they face, Filipinos are just naturally happy and friendly people. I love it!
2/ The Theater that is Philippine Politics:
Much as I would like to stay away from Politics, it seems I just can't. I'm drawn to it in much the same way as the actors, singers and dancers in this country seem to be drawn to it. It truly is the grandest stage of all! As a keen student of political machinations and of people, I totally love and thoroughly enjoy watching the soap opera that is Politics here, playing out on a daily basis. Whether it is the Impeachment of a Chief Justice or the pending imprisonment of three incumbent Senators, there is nothing quite more like "Days of our Lives" than the evening news on the Solar News Channel. For me, the highlight recently was the "Privilege Speech" of actor, turned Senator, Bong Revilla prior to his corruption case going to the Sandiganbayan and prior to his imminent arrest. Sadly, for me, it was in Tagalog, so I didn't get all the nuances of the speech, but you did not have to be a Filipino speaker to appreciate the wonderful theatricality of his delivery and his words,..an excellent script Mr Revilla...I wonder who wrote it for you...Who will play you in the movie? I understand he is considering running for President in 2016 but I wonder how easy it will be to campaign from the detention cells in Camp Crame? Politics - Pinoy Style! Still a source of great entertainment for me.
My Number One Ang Pinaka reason why I love the Philippines!
1) My Family Here:
OK, if that sounds a bit soppy and sentimental, I don't care. I make no apologies for this topping my list. From the very first moment I set foot on these islands I have been brought into the fold of a wonderful family. My gorgeous and loving wife Thess, should be immensely proud of the seven children she has raised. The elder children accepted me, without question and have treated me with care, courtesy and inclusion from the very start. As one of them said to me early on; "If Mama's happy, I'm happy." I have also had a chance to be an influence in the lives of my two youngest step-children; Angeline and Amelia Rose, who have welcomed me into their lives with genuineness and love. I have loved the opportunity to play a small role in their development as human beings and I am forever grateful they never resented my arrival in their lives or resented my taking their Mother's time away from them. BUT I reserve my biggest love, my biggest admiration and my biggest thanks to my beloved wife. A cross-cultural marriage is a lot harder than many think. There are language, cultural and moral differences that need to be worked through. She has never let misunderstandings come between us and the trials and tribulations we have faced in the past years, we have faced together in unity. She is my No.1 idol and I am her No.1 fan. Someone in the Bureau of Immigration once asked me; "Why do you want to live here, New Zealand is such a lovely country?" My answer then and my answer still is; "Home is where the heart is...and my heart is here." Thank you my darling, for making my home so special.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 2 of ANG PINAKA: The top 10 things that mildly annoy me about The Philippines.