Imagine this: a daughter, coming home to the province, on board the bus, stuck on the highway. A trip that should have taken 2 hours at most has stretched 15 minutes past, then 30. Her phone rings, and she awakens from her nap. It’s her mother on the other end.
“Did you feel that?” the mother asks. “Feel what?” her daughter responds.
It was in that moment I felt genuinely scared for my life. I was on a bus, still a few minutes away from home, and my mother had tried to mask her fright by laughing it off before she tells me, “Ingat ka, anak. I have to call your sister.” My sister was at home alone that day. It was April 8th, and just a few days ago, I was in my dorm room in Manila watching a show on Netflix when the ground began to shake. I didn’t think much of it then, passing my dizziness off as a result of my lack of sleep, but then when the ground shook a second—and a third—time that night, I knew it was for real.
On April 8th, however, two twin earthquakes would hit Batangas just minutes apart, followed by two other earthquakes and a couple of sporadic aftershocks. In total, four strong earthquakes were felt that Saturday afternoon, more powerful than the earthquakes of April 4th had been.
For someone who’s never experienced exceptionally serious or grave calamities, I’m particularly terrified of them. There’s the uncertainty of never knowing when they will strike that’s worrying, but there’s also the thought of potentially being far away from your loved ones when calamity does strike that just adds on more worry to the already growing pile. And for someone who gets unreasonably anxious by these things like me, it was, of course, no joking matter. I genuinely felt that my life—as well as those of my family and my friends—was on the line. It was the first, actual, time I felt that way, and it was an uneasy thought to have to bear.
All this has of course made me upset to find that people found it in their hearts to take to social media and make jokes in light of the situation. Of course, this can just be passed off as ordinary Filipino behavior—making moments lighter and happier in times of distress and trouble. Of course, we’re considered some of the happiest people in the world. Of course, people just had to make comments in jest, because this is apparently how it’s acceptable to cope: make fun of the situation and turn a blind eye on the real issues that we face.
Even if they tried to mean well and even if I convinced myself they only meant well, I found the jokes insensitive and made in bad taste. Not only that—I feel they trivialized what woes I could only imagine those people heavily affected by the earthquakes had felt. At some point, one can’t help but feel that these people who make these jokes have become desensitized to what suffering the subjects of the laughing matter are going through.
I think it’s about time we stopped dismissing the gravity of matters such as calamities by making jokes at other people’s expense. Instead, we should strive to face these issues head on. It perhaps wouldn’t hurt to feel even the slightest bit of sympathy for those stricken by calamity, either.