While charges of political dishonesty besiege the Philippine presidency and question its integrity, ordinary Filipinos are found to be mostly honest.
The contrast between the present dishonest administration and that of former President Cory Aquino is highlighted by the death of the latter with testimonies on how she had conducted her presidency in terms of finances. Her teaching the Aquino grandchildren not to touch anything that does not belong to them shows the honesty of the popular president.
Once her grandchildren went to visit her in Malacanang, one of them asked her before getting a piece of candy in a glass jar atop her table: “Is this the government’s or ours?”
Three years ago, in a unique way of finding out how honest Filipinos are, Imbestigador, a Channel 7 weekly television program that Mike Enriquez anchors, shot footages of ordinary people’s reactions to 80 wallets dropped in the streets as tests around and outside Metro-Manila.
Sixty-five of the 80 wallets were returned to the Channel 7 agent with the money and papers intact. Each wallet had two Php100 bills, a contact number and a planted letter of a supposed to be mother telling her child to make do with the Php200 allowance for the week.
“Pagkasyahin mo na lang ang Php200 pambaon mo sa isang linggo. Pasensya ka na, anak (I am sorry but this is only I could give you for your week’s allowance),” said the worried mother in her letter.
People of all walks of life – students, housewives, Makati employee, drivers, construction workers, jobless in the squatter’s area and vendors– made it to the split second fame on television as they text the supposed to be owner of the lost wallet or run after the erstwhile Channel 7 agent woman whom they thought dropped the wallet accidentally.
Without any suspicion that it was only a ploy, two high school girls of Ramon Magsaysay High School picked the wallet up and texted the supposed to be owner a few minutes after finding it. They waited for its owner in a store across the school and readily returned the wallet.
Same with the driver who lives in Bulacan who pitied the wallet owner and would even add a few pesos if he had only the money.”Akala ko, nasa elementary grade ang may-ari ng wallet dahil Php200 ang pambaon sa isang linggo. Lalo akong naawa nang makita kong hindi pala bata ang may-ari (I thought at first that the owner of the wallet is only in the elementary grade because the Php200 is so small but I pitied her all the more when I found out I was wrong,” he said while facing the camera.
Following the trail of some of the 15 people who did not return the wallets, Mike Enriquez had traced one old woman who immediately went to a store to buy some rice. A man and a teenager on the street who are strangers to each other divided the Php200 equally with each of them getting Php100 as share.
Professor Louella Bara of the University of the Philippines Sociology Department explained it is hard to measure the honesty of Filipinos. But with 65 people returning the wallets is a sure display of this virtue, which is widely believed to have been disappearing as hunger and poverty spread.
“The 15 people who failed to return the wallets may not have cellphones or could have already gone far that returning them may mean spending more than Php200 from their own pockets,” the professor surmised.
Now let us retrace the footsteps of our ancestors four hundred years ago. When the Chinese merchants could not enter the Philippine islands because of a Spanish prohibition (which was actually meant to exclude them from engaging in business and eventually annihilate them), the Filipinos became their commercial agents who brought the goods from Chinese junks to the native buyers.
Chinese merchants trusted the Filipinos that even if they did not know them they gave them their silk, jars, etcetera, on consignment to be paid usually after a year.
Chinese documents attest that the Filipinos unknown to them returned to the port at the exact time agreed upon with the exact payment paid to the Chinese traders.
Filipinos – rich or poor – have been, indeed, honest through generations.
I cannot help but ask myself about how we have been raising our three children upon hearing the story of honesty of one domestic helper and her tricycle driver husband.
The story of Mildred Perez-Boden, the 38-year-old honest overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in Hong Kong who returned an envelope containing HK$350,545 or about P2.1-million to its owner despite being jobless, serves as an example to many Filipinos.
Not expecting any reward, she was grateful of the box of biscuits the owner of the money gave to her as an expression of gratitude.
A few months earlier hundreds of miles away, her husband Eddie Boden, also returned a bag containing P20,000 to his passenger who left the money in his tricycle in Nueva Vizcaya. He was given P10 by the bag’s owner for his fare.
They have an honest family whom their two teenage children can be truly proud of, indeed.
Mildred received the Ulirang Bagong Pilipino Award when she went home last month. She is a native of Sitio Anao, Barangay Aliaga in Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya who was forced to resort to scavenging for empty bottles and plastics to survive in Hong Kong. She had been a domestic helper when her Taiwanese employer assaulted her sexually forcing her to drop her work and file a case against her employer.
Hong Kong laws stipulate that a person who files a case in court cannot work pending resolution of the case leaving Mildred jobless for several months.
While doing her daily scrounging, Mildred found on a pile of trash the $176,000 cash in denominations of $1,000 and four checks of various amounts. She found the money stuffed in a small packet in a garbage bin on the corner of Pottinger Street and Des Voeux Road in Hong Kong and returned it immediately after contacting the owner on May 29.
Calling her the “face of a true Filipino”, Brother Eddie Villanueva of the Bagong Pilipinas, Bagong Pilipino Movement, said: “Her inspiring story has captured the imagination of a generation that is seemingly getting used to the marketing pitch that living a good life simply means seeking personal aggrandizement and serving self-vested interests.”
Villanueva exalted Mildred in a simple ceremony citing her “one act of honesty amidst adversity” as a validation of the “innate nobility of Filipinos.”
Indeed, Filipinos have been honest since time immemorial. Obscured by time, there had been testimonies by merchants on board Chinese junks at the turn of the 17th century who entrusted their goods to unknown people to bring and sell their products all over the islands.
A Spanish edict prohibited the Chinese merchants from entering the country that the role of selling the goods was assigned to the Filipinos. These unknown Filipinos had been returning to the port exactly a year the goods were entrusted to them to pay back the Chinese merchants the exact amount they agreed upon – without signed papers – at specified time.
This honesty we learned from our ancestors was handed down to every generation that Mildred and Eddie have been, in turn, teaching their own children, as well.
May our tribe increase.