For whom is your ‘medicine’ for?

For a medicine student, Facebook is a nice place to explore other people’s ideas and to connect with other students and doctors who share tidbits of their experiences and opinions online. I chanced upon an article shared by a friend about Tu Youyou, the awardee for the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2015.

Tu was the recipient of half of that year’s prize for her contributions in discovering a novel therapy for malaria. It was reported that she took on this research upon orders from Mao Zedong himself. Tu said that she did not want to be famous for her work, saying, “I do not want fame. In our day, no essay was published under the author’s byline.”

However, in contrast to what Tu Youyou has managed to have, our culture sometimes depend on patronizing people to prove their worth, and medicine is not indifferent to this. People flock to the clinics of famous doctors because they are proven to make miracles happen. We are sometimes required to claim our practice as ours, to treat ‘medicine’ as our own.

Here at Roxas Hall, we are taught to be cautious and generous to our future patients. Since day one, we are constantly reminded that medicine is not a means to become rich. We are even challenged that if our goal to become doctors someday is to be rich. We must stop this journey once and for all.


‘Trip to Mars’

We were taught that rational prescriptions to patients might even mean prescribing no medicines for them. Of course, we are told not to follow what some doctors do, where they overprescribe medicines whether the patient needs them or not, either broad-spectrum antibiotics for simple infections or a range of medications from one company.

I have heard about a doctor that would require all laboratory tests and prescribe a third-generation antibiotic together with other medicines manufactured by a certain pharmaceutical company whenever a patient comes for a checkup. I would always hear gossips about doctors who avail of “trips to Mars” every year because of exceeding quota for a prescription.

It is sometimes disheartening that people would look at doctors like predators who about themselves first. While we know that these instances exist, it can sometimes demoralize us since we’re taught to be total opposites of these doctors.


‘Laway lang ang Puhunan’

Even though social media websites can inform the learned, they may also become avenues for bullying and false accusations toward health practitioners. Some of these reports are unfair and may even be false; patients tend to think that they are masters to be served and not patients to be cared for. However, there are some cases where patients’ accusations were true.

Aside from the “loyalty prescription” happening, physicians tend to be the subject of ire from patients because of expensive consultation fees. They would always say that doctors can charge any amount and only have their saliva as an investment, as they burden patients with numerous laboratory tests and high fees.

Even those in government hospitals are being accused of taking advantage of patients. We can’t deny that these things are happening as the advent of faster information exchange continues to hound us with these stories.


Rich Doctor, Poor Doctor

We can’t also deny that people see doctors as those from the upper social strata levels. Most doctors would drive cars, live in big houses, and wear expensive clothes. Because of this, people see medicine as a good money-making profession, offering the best future for everyone.

Meanwhile, doctors who are not extravagant in their appearance would sometimes be called ineffective, with the absence of their wealth a proof that they do not do their jobs well. As a student, I become astounded by this narrow-minded comparison but cannot help as this is what society has shaped our fellowmen’s attitude.

Again, we can’t deny that medicine has become a vanity desired by people for personal gains. But does this qualify as a necessity in this journey?


Giving our ‘Medicine’ to the People

In 2014, the Department of Health (DOH) debunked the notion that the country lacks doctors. Officials were quick to retort that the Philippines has enough doctors. They said that there was just maldistribution due to low compensation for those willing to serve the people.

However, after two years, former DOH Secretary Paulyn Ubial said that we still need 15,000 doctors. Our doctor-to-patient ratio is stuck at 1 doctor for 33,000 patients, especially to far-flung areas. This led the country to devise schemes that encourage doctors to choose service even just for some years of practice. But this must not prevent us from striving to be effective healthcare providers for our sick countrymen.

Aside from learning to be effective physicians someday, we must also strive to change doctors’ views. I hope that our graduates will be like beacons set apart and show compassion to people, letting them know that we have nothing more but service to offer. Our ‘medicine’ should be for people who need it.

I’m glad that Roxas Hall has been constant in reminding us to be humble and serve the Filipino people, asking us to define who we offer this dedication to become doctors. How about you? For whom is your ‘medicine’ for?

Happiness is the Key

I tried to give this post with the title “Pursuing Happiness” but that would be too cliché. I was planning a post series about happiness which I started here but my schedule prevented me from doing so. For now, I felt an internal nudge telling me to write about this.



Too often we would hear people say that man’s ultimate goal is to be happy. I have struggled with the idea as long as I can remember. Growing up as a church minister’s son, I have concluded early in my life that happiness is not paramount. Of course for a Christian, it is living according to God’s precepts. But a person’s goal must be something so rewarding and must always start with something unreachable.

I always wanted to be like my dad. His duties as a pastor of our local church were attractive. Even though I grew up as a shy kid, I will always wonder how my dad interacts with people treating even strangers like old-time friends. By the time I graduated in elementary, I told myself that I would be a computer engineer, whatever that profession means. I would never follow any of those two since after graduating from high school, I took up business administration. Now, I am pursuing the life of a medical doctor.

The evolution of my attitudinal change flashed in my mind when I was working with my adopted family for our community work. They were telling me about what they were doing to remedy their sickness including their medical experiences for the last few months. They told me about people who tried to dupe them into buying expensive food supplements and about the drug they are keeping as an emergency pill that was clearly not related to the ailments that they have.


Broken Smile

I planned to make my visit short and just record their vital signs and verify some information that I took months before. However, my visit went on for an hour where mostly I debunked their misconceptions and answered their questions to the extent of my knowledge. I admit I was thankful that their questions were not too technical but I loved the feeling of exchanging ideas with them, seeing their interested and satisfied faces, and the total exercise of the event that was happening before my eyes.

It culminated when I notice the firstborn in the family looking eagerly at my nameplate, at my stethoscope, and at my notes. His face was serious and I feel like he was trying to say something. Before I left I asked him if he, too, wants to be a doctor someday. He smiled and answered yes.

His parents were quick to tell him that they may not afford medical education or that now is not the time to decide about it. I dispelled their fears by telling how many doctors are needed by the Philippines and that there is still hope for free medical education someday. They both looked at their son and agreed.

I can’t believe I would be inspired by that scenario. I realized that man functions to follow his need to be happy. He wants to satisfy the longing in his heart that would ultimately make his heart smile.


Trigger-Happy Obsession

We are often obsessed with the difference between joy and happiness. Often, joy is something that dwells in our hearts and may persist no matter what the circumstance is. Happiness is the feeling that we feel due to something that happened. I agree that the preceding definitions are correct.

However, the dictionary would tell a different story. For Merriam-Webster, joy is “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires,” and happiness is “a state of well-being and contentment.” By the looks of it, they seem to be similar. We have joy in our hearts but we still try to seek happiness and that is never wrong.


Happily Blessed

Religions and self-help programs would guide people to achieve happiness. Because of its English etymology (using blood to consecrate something), we associate the word “blessed” with the act of making something holy. We forget that in the religious context, it also means someone who is happy.

The most famous sermon of Jesus Christ is His Beatitudes which are beautiful in meaning and structure. We call it beatitudes because it has sentences that start with the word beati which means “happiness or blessedness.” This sermon sums up some of the values that He taught and it says that the person who follows them will be happy.

To make yourself happy is not even contradicting to a Christian. The mere fact that believers live their lives to give God happiness is reason enough to say that pursuing happiness is a holy act if done the right way. Belivers disregard that God’s happiness would result to their own happiness.

As long as we do not hurt others, we can chase anything that would make us happy. I think I have a newfound outlook on my life and would now try to seek my happiness.

Oh, the things medical school does to you.

Luther’s movement was more than just religious

Lately, in light of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I have filled my blog with posts about this movement within the Christian faith and its modern relevance. These posts were stemmed from my responsibility at my local church where I serve as worship leader and head of communications.

As much as I would want to write more about my experiences as a medical student, I cannot release myself from my faith and given this platform I think it is proper that I allow my religious expression to be heard. I have long considered this journey towards medicine as a hard path; I have repeatedly admitted in my posts about the backlogs in my education and of many hindrances that follow them.

That is why this Reformation was so important for me. In the past, this celebration would have been a day of pride for me where a man of faith braved the odds and expressed his beliefs giving us Christians, of all denominations and groups, the kind of faith that we have now. However, as a person in the academe, I came to realize things about this movement that has kept me striving for my goal.

I have made October as my month of pondering and devotion towards my worldview and the events that happened 500 years ago gave me a chance to introspect and be inspired more.


Luther wanted to start a discussion

October 31, 2017 marks the 500th year of Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses in the church door in Wittenberg about his realizations on the church practices during his time. He wanted to have a discussion with his community and with the church officials. This plan would be the cause of a schism within the church that would eventually lead to wars and violence throughout Europe.

People would often refer to the chaos that happened during the Reformation but neglect the fact that Luther wanted to talk. In the modern era, we have seen that conflicts can be resolved through discussions. Even though our world is still filled with violence and chaos, sitting with other people and talking about the problem could truly help.


He paved the way to the questioning minds of the Enlightenment

The Age of Enlightenment was the period in Europe where reason dominated world ideas in the 18th century. Early Reformers often had backgrounds in humanism and philosophy, giving them the leeway to reject traditionalism and turning to the Reformation movement which offered a faith based on reason and scriptures.

The Enlightenment also gave rise to atheist philosophers and those that reject Christianity. While believers would say that this is a downside, the Reformation was never in vain. It gave people ideas that they alone can decide what they want to happen to their lives and began questioning the ideas the predominated their time.

The process of questioning would eventually pave the way for a more comprehensive scientific culture that continues until today.


The movement tried to dissuade people from superstition and turn to the academe

The faith during Martin Luther’s time often includes several traditions which he pointed out to be inconsistent with the scriptures. Superstitions were also rampant with people doing unnecessary things for their peace of mind. With traditionalism taught as unequal to the scriptures, superstitions started to wane, even though not instantly.

More and more people became interested in studying science. Even in the religious world, people would discuss their faith based on studies that they have done. This culture of studying still has a grip on our modern world and the Reformation may have a hand on this.

A fun fact that I knew just this year is that some universities in Europe still practice nailing their theses on a wall after completing them, mirroring what Luther had done to his.


The movement inspired people to work from the heart

The early Reformers were influenced by the writings of Augustine of Hippo which is often depicted holding his heart in serving God saying, “Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” In the same way, seals of Luther and Calvin also feature the heart as a way of showing that service to God must always be done wholeheartedly.

Because of this, generations were told to strive and succeed. Many minds were opened to the fact that if the work is done properly with all dedication, good outcomes await. Many can attest to this fact and continue to be a source of inspiration.


The Reformers taught that people should keep on reforming

The second generation of Reformers has a strong message embedded in their writings: semper reformanda. Always Reforming. They said that the Reformation has not ended. The need to reform is still there. But not the doctrines, the creeds, or the forms. Our lives must continue on reforming until the coming of the Savior.

We can say that this thrust of telling people to always change has inspired people to innovate, to look for more truths, to formulate ideas that show reforming, to strive for better things. The Reformation has given us many things but more than just our way of worship, it has given man a new way of life.


Final thoughts

I consider my failures and heartaches as those things necessary for my growth. But I know that I still have the chance to be better, I still have the chance to reform. The influence of the Reformation is undeniable and it has given an impact on the lives of all the people on earth.

We still look forward to more things that we could change for the better. Semper reformanda.

A Dignified Death for the Ill Old Persons

As a Christian, I was taught to never fear death because I have a Savior that has given His life for my sins, giving me an assurance that there is life after death. If we look into this fact from a secular point of view, this belief somehow gives meaning to life and it stands to give people hope that death is not the end.

Other faiths also have their own version of the afterlife, if those belief systems advocate one. But there are also those ideologies that do not offer an image of life after death. However, all of these beliefs offer their own kind of explanation to life and its impending end.

I am not afraid of dying. I think I am ready to leave this world anytime. But having people leaving me behind is another story. Even before I had experienced a death in the family, I have been avoiding the thought of them dying.

My first experience of dealing with the death of a loved one was back in 2015. My paternal grandmother died due to complications too many that I was not able to inquire. I was just accepted into medical school and was still recovering from the stress of graduation. I was coping from a commencement of a long distance relationship and was still adjusting to the demands of a fresh graduate. Then, our relatives called and informed that my grandmother was already dying.

I was not able to express my real feelings on her death. I was able to meet her alive in a hospital bed one week before she died. Her condition was very foreign to me at that time; I was still not exposed to medical terminologies and other health stuff. As much as I wanted that scenario to be an inspiration for me to reach my dreams of being a doctor, I now think that the sadness and the realization that life is short somehow contributed to my first failure in medical school.

Earlier today, we were learning about caring for old people. In closing his lecture, our teacher read an article from The New York Times entitled One Last Visit to See My Patient. Written by Dr. Danielle Ofri, it was an essay talking about how she encountered the death of one of her patients. Coincidentally, her essay features the story of her Filipino patient which made it even more relatable. You can read the article here.

Basically, the essay aims to advocate early hospice care for patients in contrast with the current practice of only suggesting it to patients who are expected to live for less than six months. The essay cites a study to prove that early palliative care actually improves life expectancy. As for the case of her patient, she was able to extend her life for 18 months.

Dr. Ofri’s patient has everything that she needed. She was well supported by her children, giving her the best healthcare in New York unlike most of the geriatric patients here in the country who do not have the opportunity to be seen by that caliber of a doctor. The patient was given all the comforts on the day of her death where Dr. Ofri realized that “had won the lottery. She’d lived a long and happy life, with a loving extended family in two countries. Her final days were being spent on her own couch, among her plants and family, her favorite TV shows and music.”

As our teacher was reading the essay, I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I wanted to cry and again feel the sadness of losing my grandmother. She did not die like Dr. Ofri’s patient. She was not on a couch. She was not surrounded by plants. She cannot even see well. She cannot hear well.

Instead, I remember her on that hospital bed, stationary and weak, connected with different tubes, with a plethora of intravenous fluids hanging by her side. She was constantly comforted by my aunt in the midst of her grueling pleas to ease her pain. She was jaundiced and teary-eyed, and she whispered to my ear, asking for prayers so that she may come home.

She was not surrounded by her children, only one was there. She did not have a personal doctor to assist her in the last moments of her life. We did not know if she still wanted to live. We did not know if she wanted to go. She already lost much of her cognitive function and there were no means to ask her what she wanted. The only thing that I know is that the physician informed my aunt that to resuscitate will be futile. Then, all tubes and life-supporting apparatuses were removed. My grandmother left this world peacefully.

Yes, she did not suffer when she died and as a Christian, I know she met her Creator with open arms. But after hearing the essay, I know she was not able to leave her life in a dignified way. In part, I instantly envied Dr. Ofri’s patient. But then, I began to realize that my grandma will not be the only one in this country that will be deprived of a dignified death. And then I wept some more, albeit deep inside.

Even though I felt sad remembering about my loss, I can’t help but ask myself when will I be able to come to terms with this feeling. I am still living in denial that my loved ones could leave me behind. I still feel that I am not ready to face that moment in my life yet. But the article left me thinking about the dignity in death.

Dr. Ofri was able to express the polarity of the feelings associated with death. She said that while we commonly think about sadness when someone dies, she realized that her patient may have experience joy during her last hours. If only everyone could experience the kind of dignified death as that patient had.

Like Dr. Ofri, I do think, “I hope we all have that chance.”

September 23 happened and the world did not end

I’m writing this article with the world still intact and no Nibiru disturbing our the affairs and chaos in this world. It’s safe to say that that Doomsday prophecy was just a scare.

As you can read in this article, there were people claiming that September 23, 2017 will be the day that the world will end, when the planet Nibiru will clash with earth, leaving us all without life. September 23 happens to be 33 days after the solar eclipse which contributes much to its symbolism. David Meade, the self-claimed Christian numerologist, said that all of this point to that day that was prophesied in the Book of Revelation.

A publication also uploaded a video on YouTube claiming that the event will coincide with the Rapture, which according to millenarian theology, is the transporting of believers to heaven at the Second Coming of Christ.

But as you may have observed, the end of the world did not happen. We’re still here and no planet Nibiru is in sight. NASA has statements debunking the existence of Nibiru. The attached video is from someone debunking the planet’s existence but conspiracy theorists have been trying to use the same video in trying to confirm their beliefs. A search on YouTube proves hard to find any information about NASA’s true stand on the issue as the website is saturated with videos claiming that the world will end last Saturday.

However, it is important to note that David Meade did not blatantly say that the world will end last Saturday. He said this was only the time that there will be change, much like how the ages of Pisces and Aquarius came about in the past. The Washington Post writes:

To make clear, Meade said he’s not saying the world will end Saturday. Instead, he claims, the prophesies in the Book of Revelation will manifest that day, leading to a series of catastrophic events that will happen over the course of weeks.

“The world is not ending, but the world as we know it is ending,” he said, adding later: “A major part of the world will not be the same the beginning of October.”

It was further stated in that article that “Meade’s prediction has been dismissed as a hoax not only by NASA scientists, but also by people of faith.” The publication that posted the video about the Rapture edited its title and added the words “(Date Setting A Sign, NOT The Rapture)”.

Well, we are still here and the world did not end. Contrary to what is expected from the prophecies in the Book of Revelation, the signs were not visible to all. If you’re a Bible junkie, just remember that is said that “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Mark 13:32

Happiness in Selflessness Part 1

I was planning to write on a different topic but was greatly struck by a discussion I had with a friend earlier. It came randomly, initially centered on faith, then finally jumped into something more generic but turning a bit philosophic. We were studying then and maybe we were just stressed out. But as we continued to talk and share some personal insights, I became intrigued and even spent a night thinking about everything we had talked about.

That discussion was all about selflessness. It stemmed from talking about how society demands that we should be selfless, that we should be giving ourselves to serve, to give everything that we could for harmony. We are both Christians so we also observed what kind of life a Christian is expected to have: one that does not think of himself but instead tries to help others, emulating what Jesus Christ himself had done.

Even though there are many passages in the Bible that talk about this, we can best relate it to what Jesus said when a rich asked him about how to enter God’s kingdom. That man claimed that he lived a righteous life, after the commandments. Jesus reply was,

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” – Mark 10:21

But the concept of selflessness is not limited to the Christian faith. Islam values altruism, saying that this is a true sign of faith. Buddhists say that selflessness is a path to enlightenment, taking away our cares for the world. Mahatma Gandhi, the great icon of democracy, said this famous phrase on service: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Given these, we now have this idea that selflessness is not limited to just one faith or one group of people. It is a universal truth, believed by people to pave the way for peace and excellence. However, most of the time, we feel battered by serving other. We feel fatigued, even betrayed when we feel that we have exhausted most of what we have. How can you be selfless if you have nothing left for yourself? How can you find happiness in selflessness?


In the Time of the Selfies

News stories and blogs would often refer to the people of our time as the “Selfie Generation” because of the rise of narcissism evident through the constant sharing of personal photos online. This has even come to a point where doctors have diagnosed those who are so into selfies as people who have personality disorders. However, to call the people in this fad as a generation is a misnomer because of the practice encompasses several generations.

This further extends to another coined term in the 21st century: the millenials. Millenials are defined as those who were born in the 1980s or 1990s, who became young adults in the early 2000s. It is said that a millenial would take about 25,000 selfies in his or her lifetime which, for many, is a testament to the apathetic and narcissistic qualities of this generation.

The overwhelming view of those from the older generation is that millenials do not find happiness in selflessness. The statistics mentioned above are often brought up to say how this generation would opt to follow their own desires and forget all the norms in this world, which would include helping others without any compensation. Millenials online were quick to debunk this notion and all the other views on them.

On the other hand, maybe millenials are just great overthinkers. Can we ever find happiness in selflessnes?


The Great Overthinker

But this problem is not centered on the millenials alone. People tend to overthink nowadays. The spread of information technology may have eased our lives (and enabled you to read this piece on various platforms), it also brought anxiety and chaos thanks to the loads of misinformation you can find online.

Overthinking has been much of a mental health issue and you can find many resources on line on how to battle this. More than anxiety, overthinking can also affect how we feel about finding happiness in selflessness.

In this present age, it is not unusual to know many things by yourself due to the availability of information everywhere. When you gain many skills and have a great bulk of knowledge, you often tend to strive in improving that skill. Many people would see you as a “jack-of-all-trades” but sometimes even this is discouraging.

Armed with your knowledge and skills, you would accept every favor asked of you resulting to more tasks for your part. Knowing that you have the resources, you accept these favors. You tell yourself that you love taking these favors yet sometimes you just think that you have had too much.

The world would tell us that an ability requires from us an equal responsibility. These can also be applied to other things than favors. But as the moments pass, you would think that you already have too much.

So, how to find happiness?

What will happen 23rd of September 2017? Get Ready…and Check the Facts

It’s finally September. While the Filipinos are decking their halls for their long Christmas and Green Day fans remind you to wake them up when the month ends, conspiracy theorists are here to scare your September away!

You may have seen those videos circulating online about how a giant asteroid or planet will hit the earth paving the way for the apocalypse. It means that as of this writing, there are only 22 days before the world ends. Would it end? What about those Green Day fans who just want to wake up?

A screen grab from one of the many videos on YouTube claiming the theory’s authenticity.

Well, this theory is not new and definitely now a young one since similar theories have circulated the interwebs for many years. Self-claimed Christian conspiracy theorist David Meade popularized the talks about a planet called Nibiru or Planet X, claiming to have seen a picture of Nibiru over the North Pole, further stating that the schedule of the planet to hit the earth being September 23 is written in the Bible and on the pyramids. He is the author of Planet X – The 2017 Arrival.

However, this theory has already traversed far after the idea was put forward by American writer Zecharia Sitchin in 1976 in his book Twelfth Planet: Book I of the Earth Chronicles (The Earth Chronicles) and Nancy Lieder in 1995 who claims that she is contacted by extraterrestrials and has been chosen to warn mankind about their impending doom. Since then, it was attached to the regular theories of the Apocalypse and hyped during the 2012 phenomenon.

With Meade on the helm, the talks about the end of the world are now widespread. Circulating videos say that NASA has confirmed the existence of the planet Nibiru. It must be noted that conspiracies involving Nibiru has been here for years, and was predicted to destroy Earth in December 2015, September 2015, 2012 and in 2003. But as you may have observed, we’re still here.

While the NASA has been open to a possibility of a ninth planet (before Pluto was re-welcomed to the Solar System), that was eventually called ‘Planet X’ to avoid confusion, the space agency has denied any impending Nibiru-Earth collision. However, conspiracy theorists said that the solar eclipse last August 22 was a warning for the collision next month.

Was the eclipse a real warning? Why didn’t we see it here?

NASA has published details about how the planets and stars will align this year including the schedule of the eclipse and the various equinoxes for the year. The autumnal equinox is projected to happen on September 22, one day before the theorists projected day of the apocalypse.

For Meade, he refers to what the Bible says in Isaiah 13:9-10 as the warning about Nibiru:

See, the day of the Lord is coming
    —a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—
to make the land desolate
    and destroy the sinners within it.
The stars of heaven and their constellations
    will not show their light.
The rising sun will be darkened
    and the moon will not give its light. (NIV)

Other videos also say that on that day, the sun will be in the constellation Virgo (the virgin), along with the moon near Virgo’s feet. Additionally, Jupiter will be in Virgo, while the planets Venus, Mars, and Mercury will be above and to the right of Virgo in the constellation Leo and is a fulfillment of a sign in Revelation 12:-2:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. (NIV)

While the Bible did say that God made the stars to “serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years” (Genesis 1:14 NIV), a Christian would remember about what Jesus said in Matthew 24:36 on when the end would come:

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (NIV)

So why do people bother with making the schedule when the apocalypse would come? Why not prepare ourselves for it instead of worrying about the time? For a Christian, preparation would have been preparing one’s self to meet the Savior. For other, preparation would mean acceptance of what we have now and value selflessness.

It is too bad that NASA is often brought into this discussion but they may be the only institution that conspiracy theorists can cite to legitimize their claims. Theorists have shared that there will be 15 days of darkness in November but have since been confirmed to be false.

So what will happen on the 23rd of September 2017? We’ll see. But I hope it would be a fine day. Have a nice one!

Filipino Christmas: Celebrating the Holidays for Four Months

It’s nearly September and your friends might be sharing this meme for several hours on the first. In the early days of online social media, Filipinos would post Christmas messages at exactly 12:00 AM of the said day. But nowadays, people would make fun of this overly-advance holiday spirit and place Jose Mari Chan’s face in their profiles.

But would Filipino Christmas be complete without Jose Mari Chan’s “Christmas in our Hearts?” Originally released in 1990, this album would become the best-selling OPM album of all time and would top selling charts for albums since then. Filipinos all around the world would know that cassette tapes and CDs of the album would be played starting September 1.

If you have read this blog, you would know that I, too, am a junkie for Christmas. This season just brings back wonderful memories of childhood and its Christian side has always been a story of hope and love for all generations. But why the need for a long celebration?


A Time to Cringe

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August is often called tigkiriwi for Hiligaynon-speakers, a time marked by poverty and hardships. For people in working in rice fields and sugar cane plantations, the month is when the rice fields are not yet ready for harvest and sugarcane mills are not yet active. The term tigkiriwi comes from the root word kiwi, which means “turned or twisted aside, awry, oblique, inclined, sloping, slanting, leaning, canting, crooked.” The cringing face is the hallmark of this month.

Those working in sugarcane plantations would say that this month is part of what they call the tiempo muerto or dead season which starts in April covering the Holy Week celebrations which commemorate Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection.

These facts alone tell that August is deemed a sad month for the people especially from those in Western Visayas. With no harvest in sight, and all the funds spent up with the enrollment fees and other school needs in June, the tigkiriwi season will surely elicit cringing faces from struggling families trying to make a living. This fact also explains why the planned change of the school calendar in the country may not be a totally good idea.

Given these, Filipinos seek for something to draw them out of the worries of August. September poses as a symbol of hope.


Ber months or Beer months?

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The last four months of the year all end in -ber and the ingenuity of Filipinos led to coining the term Ber Months to refer to them. Christmas music would be heard from malls, most notably SM malls all over the country which would set a schedule for holiday tunes to be played. FM stations also start playing them from time to time.

In the past, people would even try to decorate their homes prior to September 1st just to embrace the festive feeling of the coming season. While these phenomenon has decreased in recent years, many families and establishments would still try to do this feat.

Meanwhile, people would eventually associate beer with the Ber Months. A 2001 survey of subjects aged between 15 and 74 years (total sample size n = 10 240) found that the rate of regular drinking was 11.1% (total), 13% (males) and 5.9% (females). Regular drinking was defined as drinking on four days or more per week. But if you’re around the community, you would see that beer consumption is rising during this months.

Together with the initiative of a local beer brand to bring the German celebration of Oktoberfest in the country, the emergence of the Beer Months moniker was legitimized. Unlike other Oktoberfest celebrations in the world, this coincides with the Ber Months with various celebrations across the archipelago from September to December. However, the German Club in Manila also celebrates this event, albeit more faithful to the original festival which, as of this writing, is in its 79th year.

The 2016 Oktoberfest hosted by the Manila German Club.

Perhaps this association only proves how right the tigkiriwi idea of the previous month is. With beer, people can be happy and be festive.


A Coping Mechanism

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Maybe this early celebration of Christmas is nothing but a coping mechanism. The country has experienced various hardships in the past. From its three centuries under Spanish rule to the Marcos dictatorship, one can see how the need for a long-term celebration is imminent here.

As of this writing, the country is bracing itself for the 10th typhoon to enter the area. Typhoons enter the country’s area of responsibility during the last part of May and would even reach until December. The country has been called the most exposed country in the world to tropical storms and though these storms may hamper Christmas celebrations, the mere promise of happiness by the season aids in coping with the stress that they may bring.


“I remember the Child…”

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The Philippines is known to be the fourth largest Christian country in the world with 90% of Filipinos are Christians which consists of 80.1% Roman Catholic, 1.8% Evangelical, 0.7% Iglesia ni Cristo, 1.1% Aglipayan, and 2.2% other Christian groups including other Protestant denominations. Majority of these Christian groups celebrate Christmas and because of this, it is not surprising that Christmas is a famous celebration in the country.

The Christ child has been viewed as a symbol of hope in the country. The Gospel message of God sending His only Son to save humanity has been the closest idea of redemption for the people. The promise of a new life in Christ and His coming may have enticed people to love the celebration that comes only once a year.


Christmas Economics

Of course, Christmas also has the promise of better earnings for business owners and more compensation for wage earners. The rise of sales because of buying gifts, decorations, and food, plus the added consumption of electricity and personnel is what it takes for the economics of Christmas to be deemed beneficial.

The country has the Presidential Decree No. 851 or the 13th-Month Pay Law that provides employers to give extra pay for regular employees to be given by December 24th every year, perhaps to give more purchasing power to employees during the holiday season.

Meanwhile, government employees in the country also get their 14th-month pay by virtue of Budget Circular 2017-2 covering all civilian, uniformed, and military personnel that has been in government service for at least four months of service since July 2016. This pay is given as a midyear bonus in the month of May.

However, the Philippine Statistics Authority gathered data in 2014 and concluded that more than a quarter of the total establishment employment were non-regular workers. Employment of nonregular workers in establishments with at least 20 workers as of 30 June 2014 was placed at 1.336 million – more than a quarter (29.9%) of the total establishment workforce of 4.472 million. This only means that these non-regular workers cannot avail of the provisions given above. The issue of contractualization is still widespread in the country even with the Department of Labor and Employment’s policy of banning endo in 2016.


Merry Christmas sa gihapon!

Maybe all of these woes still lead people to for ways to comfort themselves. Christmas is a simple celebration rooted in the modern Christian tradition, solidified by several events in the people’s lives. All of the reasons I gave may just be that. But the Filipino’s long celebration of Christmas is a beauty to behold.

And before Jose Mari Chan serenades you, let me be the first to greet you: Merry Filipino Christmas!

May that star on Christ’s still shine today and give us hope ’til Christmas Day!

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