Sunday, October 23, 2011


MAD TIMES: September and October 2011 was rocked by news of murders and suicides nationwide as seen in these newspaper and news sites' headlines.

As you can see in the headlines above, we are indeed living in mad times.

Throughout last month and this month, our evening news programs and newspapers were filled with headlines about various murders, suicides (and some, murder-suicides) and other crimes of passion. Although for some, these events are just common place and are no longer shocking, for many, it still strikes a delicate nerve, to think that back in 2009 the Philippines ranked 14th among the happiest countries in the world. Filipinos are known to smile and relax despite the onset of various personal or national calamities. And yet, we still have these gruesome deaths going on everyday.

I made me wonder though: What could be running on these people's minds to commit such dreadful acts?. And with all the psychologists and psychology students we have in this country, what is the state of our society's mental health?

My curiosity led me to search for statistics regarding the status of our society's mental health during the last decade as well as the status of our mental health services and facilities. I've stumbled upon the following results:

1. The National Statistics Office’s  Disability Survey in 2000 ranked mental illness as the third most common form of morbidity, or type of disease, after visual and hearing impairments among Filipinos. The same survey showed that 88 Filipinos out of every 100,000 population with mental problems.

2. In 2004, a DOH-commissioned Social Weather Stations survey found that 0.7 percent of total Filipino households have a family member who has a psychological disorder such as depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy, and substance abuse.

3. A 2006 DOH study showed that 36% of government employees reported to have experienced mental health problems at least once.

4. In a 2007 study by the World Health Organization (WHO), 9 out of 100,000 general population have been diagnosed with schizophrenia. The same survey also showed that there are only 3 mental health workers for every 100,000 population, and that only 0.02% of the health budget is being used for mental health.

Furthermore, I also found out that there is no law on mental health that has been enacted (or pending enactment) in Philippine Congress (probably because they are all schizophrenic as well). With this condition of our country's mental health and mental health services/facilities, it really is no surprise why crimes of passion are becoming a trend these days.

Which leads my curiosity to another question: "Who should be responsible for making sure that most Filipinos will have access to quality mental health services?"

The incapability of the public sector only means that other sectors of society, most especially the private sector, must be put in the equation to provide at least basic mental health service to our people. But this does not mean that the public sector won't strive to provide the same services. By applying the current public-private partnership scheme, this could be done. The government could allow private psychiatric firms to operate as part of public hospitals in order to make such service more accessible to the public (but of course, with consideration to the impoverished when it comes to service fees). However, if we really want to strike the issue of mental health from its roots, basic mental health services must also be made available not just in the mental health sector but also in the education and business sectors.

Mental health services must begin in schools through quality guidance and counseling services to students, since it is in these ages where individuals begin to make sense of their mental and emotional conditions. Students face a great deal of stress through bullying, academic pressure, peer pressure and other factors. An an early age, they should made well aware on how to manage their thoughts and emotions given these circumstances. However, not all public and private schools have a working and decent guidance and counseling department. 

Also, all private (if not public) companies and firms, whether local or multinational, must have some form of psychiatric service embedded within its human resource department. This is to ensure that the mental health condition of Filipino employees can be monitored and responded to if the need arises. It may be an additional cost for companies, but it will ensure them that their workers are always motivated to work and have high productivity rates. 

If legislation about mental health would be enacted, it should contain sections which requires the mental health services I described above. In that way, there will be an across-the-board response to this persistent need for mental health. In the end, this will not just pave the way for better working or living conditions, it could also pave the way for a more just and humane society of Filipinos in the future. TSS

Friday, October 21, 2011


NO MERCY. Gadhafi, seen here, bloodied after his capture and death.
Photo courtesy of Agence France-Presse.

Before news of his death came out, I already expected Muammar Gadhafi to die.

But not in the way I saw it happened.

All along, I thought he was going to be captured alive. Then sent to prison and treated with accordance to law. I thought he will be put to trial for his crimes to humanity. Chances are, he's going to be hanged or shot for his crimes. My thoughts were somehow reminiscent of Saddam Hussein's death back in 2003. But soon, it dawned on me why that idea was did not happen -- Iraq was occupied by the Americans at that time, majority of Iraqis are Sunnis just like Saddam who looked up at him throughout his regime.

Libya is different. What we have there are a group of oppressed and defiant revolutionaries who will risk everything and will resort to anything just to get their freedom back. Unlike the Americans, they won't think twice about killing the famed despot on the spot upon arrest. And that is what exactly happened.

I am appalled by the savagery of the rebels who captured Gadhafi -- how they took him out of that sewer pipe and dragged him by the hair to a waiting truck, how they displayed his still alive body to the multitude of bystanders with their cellphone cameras, how they shouted in celebration and brandished their weapons insensitive to the needs of the dying man. It makes me cringe and think twice about the type of people replacing  the long-time and long-hated tyrant. Sooner or later, the same savage people will find their selves fighting for influence, power and resources. Given the still murky future which awaits Libya, it is still likely that it will revert to being an isolated state once these savage rebels take the reins of government. From here starts a never ending cycle of savagery unless someone more civilized takes over.

But even the more civilized can become savage too, and we've already seen it earlier this year. You see, Gadhafi is not the only madman killed this year -- Osama bin Laden was also killed back in May. And while you might think that the Americans will breathe a calm, sigh of relief, the celebrations that followed were no different to what the rebels in Libya are now doing. Nor are they different from hooligans whose football team just won a championship.

Which leads me to question: Why do we celebrate the death of a person, let alone an evil one?

Despite the cruelty of Gadhafi to his own kind, the Libyan rebels still owe a lot to his existence. Without Gadhafi's 42 years of dictatorship, they won't realize and aspire for what true freedom really means. I believe that only when a people is chained and enslaved that they will truly know what liberty is. Thus, the savagery that these rebels have shown is not what Gadhafi deserves. This acts only justifies his own tyrannical deeds and tramples on the very essence of freedom. If a person values freedom, that person must value life, for no one can live without freedom and no one can be free without life.

I am one with the Libyan people in their achievement of the liberation they have sought for so long. But I will never be one with savages, whether tyrants or freedom fighters. TSS

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Naokray ka na ba?

Most of us Filipinos, especially those living in urban areas, have already experienced this okray thing one way or another. You could be simply telling your co-workers about how you were able to finish your assigned task early, when suddenly, one of them hollers, "Ikaw na! Ikaw na!". Or, you could be giving jokes in an inuman session with friends, when one of your gay friends bursts your moment by making okray. In social media website, in movies, even in music, okray has become a common way of dealing with people.

Okray is the gay lingo term for "diss" which means "to treat, mention or speak of rudely". In Filipino, panlalait o pamimintas. Filipinos have this penchant for rudely pointing out flaws that they see in other people, but people from the third sex have made a good job out of this that they created okray as term for it. Thus began the proliferation of okray in Filipino society.

Why do Filipinos have this penchant for pang-ookray?

The most obvious culprit is our Spanish heritage. These vain Europeans have made it their life to pinpoint the ills and flaws of our "ancient and backward society" since they came here in the 15th century. They embodied this perspective in various literary works, in Sunday sermons from the pulpit, and have been described in detail by Dr. Jose Rizal in Noli Me Tangere. Even Spanish historians, writing about the Philippines (especially about the Propaganda Movement there), have dissed our compatriots in various editorial articles in conservative newspapers at that time. Even when they left in 1898, the Spanish legacy of dissing other people did not wane and was thus ingrained in us.

This culture of pang-ookray become more widespread after World War II, especially after the time when Martial Law was declared. The repressive regime of Ferdinand Marcos had everyone thinking twice about bashing the famed strongman and his policies, but this didn't stop some from making okray. TV host and radio DJ Ariel Ureta once mocked the government slogan "Para sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan", changing it to "Para sa ikauunlad ng bayan, bisikleta ang kailangan". His pang-ookray meant a day's worth of biking around Camp Crame as punishment. The downfall of the regime in 1986 gave many Filipinos their freedoms back, including the freedom to diss government officials or ordinary people alike.

The proliferation of pang-ookray in the late 20th and early 21st century Filipino society was largely attributed to the rise of the third sex and the widespread use of gay lingo. This new language put a new spin on pang-ookray, introducing new words, phrases and expressions with various meaning that are beyond the usual convention. This enabled people to mock and diss others without having to be offensive or without the knowledge and understanding of the person being mocked. With this development came the mushrooming of various comedy and gay bars, as well as TV shows, where pang-ookray would become a common form of entertainment, much to the dismay and annoyance of some.

Why do modern Filipinos continue to spread the culture of pang-ookray?

One thing I noticed with pang-ookray is that, while it occurs across all social classes, it is certainly most associated with the middle and lower class members of society. And the subject of their pang-ookray are usually people who belong to the upper classes (most especially, government officials, celebrities, and other famous personalities). But this is not always the norm. Others have also lampooned personalities or even ordinary people who are just plain obnoxious, annoying or stupid. And in the era of social networking, this pang-ookray has leveled-up to a type that is fast, widespread and uncontrollable. Some notable examples are what happened to Christopher Lao (after driving his car through chest-deep flood water during Typhoon Lando in August this year), to presidential speech writer Mai Mislang (who tweeted about her negative comments while visiting Vietnam together with the Presidential entourage) and the officials of the DPWH (whose photoshopped picture of their inspection of Baywalk in the aftermath of Typhoon Pedring this September went viral). Some forms of pang-ookray have become more than just comic relief. As in the case of Lao and Mislang, pang-ookray can become sinister and damaging, to the point of causing grief to people affected.

Which leads us to reflect on another issue: Are we becoming an Okray Nation, which sees sarcasm, mockery and rudeness as legitimate forms of self-expression? Are we a society that finds comfort and entertainment pointing out and putting to shame the mistakes and innocent stupidity of some?

While I refuse to believe, from my point-of-view, it is indeed a well-established norm in our society already. Filipinos, by nature, are not mapamintas or mapangmata, and I believe that is still an innate goodness in us that we somehow find uncomfortable to let out because it is not the norm society in general is used to. While pang-ookray can be of no offense for some, or have learned to cope with it, not all people in this society have the capacity to do so. Not that they have special needs and all that, but rather, due to the fact that they are human beings with dignities to be valued and cherished.

I hope this article enlightens us to consider our actions the next time we think of making our fellow Filipino the laughing stock of humanity. TSS

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