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PILIPINAS, Happy April Fools’ Day!

The Philippines ranked third happiest country in the world last year 2021 and in 2017, next to Colombia and Fiji. In the latest report from the World Happiness Report published by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and powered by Gallup World Poll Data, the country also ranked second happiest nation in Southeast Asia. The Filipinos are among the happiest people in the world!

Happy April Fools’ Day! It’s a joke, I greeted in advance my writer-artist friend who forwarded me these messages two days ago. But, it’s true, he insisted.

I had to double check the veracity of the message. I still could not believe, much less accept that despite the gloomy Pandemic deaths, political killings, hungry families, human rights abuses and other stresses that we have witnessed firsthand in various communities, Filipinos are still happiest?

He’s right. I am not sure how the polling groups surveyed the results. But it’s true or else, all the surveys that we see around in the national and local elections by established survey firms will just be useless pieces of data. In a sense, they verily show the level of political and social maturity of our countrymen at this time.

Filipinos generally love to laugh and pull a prank or a joke at every opportunity. Maybe it’s part of a culture of positive mindset and happy-go-lucky nature that allows us to rebound when life knocks us down from disasters, wars, and the pandemic. We are known as a happy people who can laugh even at our own failures, heartaches and crisis.

It’s resiliency. I see this in the daily struggle of the poor farmer, jeepney driver and laborer and the members of the People’s Organization of Disaster Survivors (PODiS) who plant and replant citronella, vegetables and foods for livelihood and to feed their own families. They are committed not to allow life’s circumstances to push them down and hold them under without fighting. On the other hand, there are some women of Ilaw ng Kababaihan in TBM communities who happily journey a life of sacrifice because they tell me “sa awa ng Dyos, makakaraos din.” They easily laugh at the mention of a funny Marites story from a neighbor. It’s a trait and an asset but they are beginning to be aware that being happy is not being submissive to life’s woes. With TBM’s guidance on value formation and social awareness building, they learn to be happy while struggling to lift themselves out of a life of mendicancy and decadence.

On April 1 – “April Fools’ Day” - go get a break. Pull one harmless joke and poke fun on your wife, husband, children, sibling, friends, co-worker, neighbor, roommate, board mate or anybody on the street. Playing childish pranks can be fun and even healthy! As a saying goes, laughter is the best medicine. It helps strengthen your immune system, boosts mood, diminishes pain, and protects you from the damaging effects of stress.

Being resilient, happy and joyful even in the face of adversity and life challenges is different from playing a fool or being fooled. During April Fools’ Day, playing the prankster and the pranked may be a lot of fun. But when the foolishness gets out of hand, becomes a conscious effort to fool people out of their weakness, it may be destructive.

I witnessed one unfortunate breakup of long-time best friends that happened inside a ladies’ dormitory at the Diliman campus of UP, where we stayed during college with 250 other students. It started with a prank of one dormmate telling other people that her best friend was pregnant. It was a bad joke that proved destructive: it played on the emotions of a close friend who cared about the relationship in a serious way. It was a dirty lie. It doesn’t pay to lie about a serious matter like pregnancy. It’s not fair, and also insensitive to a young woman’s condition. In the same dormitory, my roommate also played a prank on me, for which she paid dearly. She reset my alarm clock placed beside my bunk bed three hours late that I woke up late for my morning class. Amusing? But it was destructive as well.

Playing pranks on people on April Fools’ Day has been a Western tradition since the 18th century that came into the Philippines during the American period. Historians traced it to the change of New Year in the calendar from April 1 to January 1. People in France continued celebrating New Year on March 31 eve of April 1 and they became the butt of jokes. Since then, April 1 has come to mean fooling and pranking people, engaging in mischief, fun jokes, gags, laughs with family and friends.

In Filipino, a fool is called “loko loko,” “tanga,” “hibang,” or “tolongges” in street language. People get confused about pranking with straight-out lying, and those lies can do more harm than good. In everything we do, we learn to incorporate humor or satire to enjoy a moment while conveying a message. Pranks that elicit laughter to help relieve stress is good. Then I soon found out it can be a powerful weapon in political messaging or statements to have more impact. Destructive pranking is alive during elections. In the age of modern technology, this comes in the form of fake news. The 2022 elections have turned into an intoxicating arena for practical jokes, tricks not to mention fictitious stories, demolition jobs, and fake news. We see this every day posted onscreen, on YouTube, Facebook, TikToK, and social media, fraudulent messaging and calls about certain candidates. It’s April Fools’ Day every day until the day of judgement on May 9.

Remember the 2016 remark of the then-candidate President Rodrigo Duterte to go to the West Philippine Sea on a jet ski to assert the country’s rights in the West Philippine Sea? That was a pure election prank that was outrageous in the first place. In one recent forum, presidential aspirant Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso called out to penalize the sources of fake news by terminating their accounts and bringing them out of business forever. Sa lahat ng mga Filipino, ’wag manloko, ’wag magpaloko! Happy April Fools’ Day everyone!

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