StreetTalk – Laughter for disaster relief


We Pinoys take pride in our resilience and our capacity to survive and maintain our sanity under the most difficult conditions. It is said that at the height of the Asian economic depression in the late 1990s, the Philippines was not as badly off as the rest of the region.

A less resilient citizenry would have rioted against the government. But our people took the hardships stoically.

Economists attributed that to the “sound economic fundamentals” of the country. However, according to the folks living in the squatters’ area across  the creek from my house in Paranaque, they never even realized there was a “depression.”

“Depression? What depression?” snickered Mang Karyas, an aging tricycle driver in the neighborhood. “Our life has always been like this since the Japanese occupation – isang kahig, isang tuka!” And then he added: “Eto, buhay pa rin!”

The light-hearted analogy with free range chickens (“one scratch, one peck” and “we still survive”) isn’t lost on most of us. We Pinoys do manage to survive under the harshest conditions. I think the main reason is our ability to find something humorous in the most tragic circumstances.

The Mt. Pinatubo eruption in Pampanga in 1991 was considelaired the second most powerful volcanic eruption in the 20th century. It claimed thousands of lives, devastated Central Luzon, buried countlesss homes and farmlands under lahar and hastened the closure of two of America’s biggest overseas military bases, Clark Air Base and the Subic Naval Base.

Yet, we Pinoys managed to crack a joke about it, referring to the disaster as an “Eraption,” punning the name of then-Senator Joseph “Erap” Estrada.

‘Eraption” also served as a naughty double entendre when used in the context of Estrada’s womanizing (putok nang putok or frequently erupting), a reputation that, inexplicably, could have helped him win the presidency.

“Erap” Estrada was a multi-awarded star of Tagalog movies. I also spent many years in Philippine show business, as a movie reporter, a screenplay writer and a director. As such, I was exposed to the hilarious – sometimes cruel – practical jokes that studio people played on each other.

The studio term for practical joke was “good time.” Needless to say, everyone had a good time, except the poor victim of the joke.

The rule in show business was not to get mad, but to get even. If the practical joker happened to be a director and the victim was an actor or a member of the crew, the idea was for him to get even with someone of lesser rank.

Insults flew fast and often on the movie set, such as the one most often used on new and aspiring actors: “Pinabibili ka lang ng suka, bakit ka pa nag-artista?” (You were just sent to buy vinegar, why did you decide to become an actor?’). Or the equally stinging, “Next time, bring your own reel of film!”

In the new millennium, social media has provided an outlet for practical jokers and punsters. Pinoys in Manila and in the US are notorious for these.

The recent winter calamity in Texas, which saw millions of homes without water, electricity and heat, causing Texans  to suffer in the freezing cold, was fodder for social media punsters.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz was virtually “cruzified” when he and his family “escaped” out to the warmth of Cancun in Mexico. Their flight was also characterized as a “double cruz” because the senator should have stayed in his home state to attend to the needs of his hapless constituents, instead of sneaking out to a less hazardous location .

Cruz gave a shallow reason for the trip (he said he just needed to accompany his daughters to Cancun but that he really intended to return immediately to Texas). The bad publicity did force Cruz to fly back post-haste to Houston even as critics called him “Lying Ted” and “Flying Ted.”

Among Filipino-Americans, the social media broiling took really funny turns, with clever postings such as  “Cruz’s takas (escape) makes our blood boil,” which in turn invited the riposte, “that’s good because you badly need the heat” and “keep cool man…uh, I mean, keep warm!”

When Donald Trump lost the presidential election to Joe Biden, punsters referred to him as “Donald Lame Duck,” and when his defense tactic in the Senate impeachment trial was to wash his hands and pass on the blame to his fanatical supporters, one columnist ran the headline, “Donald Ducked!”

When the first Gulf war flared up in the 1990’s, an elder sister, who was a medical doctor and a reserve Lt. Colonel in the US Air Force, volunteered for active duty. She expected to be dispatched to the battle front, but Saddam Hussein surrendered “too soon” (to the relief of her family).

Undeterred, my sister asked to be assigned to Clark Air Base in Pampanga. But then Mt. Pinatubo erupted and the air base had to cease operations.

The family managed to force a pun on her “good luck.” First, it was “all Kuwait on the Iraqi front” and then her Clark Air Base plans “went up in smoke.”

But my sister refused to be grounded. She finally got a posting in an air base in Germany.

At 84, she has finally retired. “But,” she insists, “not yet retarded.”

And speaking of the former President, it was no exaggeration that Donald Trump was called The Lyin’ King. In fact, it was said that the one truthful thing that could be said of him, would be the inscription on his tombstone:

“Here lies the Lyin’ King.”

(Of course if some grave robbers were to cart off his remains, that inscription would cease to be true).

Indeed, the Pinoy’s sense of humor can range from the light-hearted to the macabre.

There’s the prominent community leader and dear friend whom I will call Roger Ramos (not his real name). Because he never arrived on time for community gatherings, his grand entrance would always be greeted with the announcement:

“Here comes the late Roger Ramos!”

But, to my mind, nothing can match the gleeful announcement of the late Tagalog comedian, Bentot:

“Hey, everyone is invited to the house.  Masaya. There’s plenty of food and a lot of guests.  Patay ang tatay ko!”