FILIPINO jokes often express our deepest fears. We kid about everything, specially grafters and oppressors.

Gambling Lord Stanley Ho, one wisecrack goes, told Joseph Estrada, who was ousted for plunder: “Mr. President, please accept this Mercedes Benz as sign of my appreciation to you.” Erap snapped: “Sorry, I don't accept bribes.” Ho insisted: “Let me sell it to you then for P100.” Erap: “OK. I'll get two!”

We poked fun at martial law. Remember the captain who asked Ferdinand Marcos to promote him to general. “Just answer one question Captain,” the dictator said, “How much is two plus two?” Earlier, 53 colonels flunked that same question by answering: “Four.”

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“Simple, Mr President,” the captain replied. “Two plus two equals four---and all for you, Sir.” “Raise your right hand, General,” a beaming Marcos ordered.

“What’s the difference between corruption in the US and the Philippines?” ask overseas Filipino workers. Answer: “In the US, they go to jail. In the Philippines, they go to the US.”

“Can our vaunted Filipino sense of humor be harnessed to help us get through the sickening corruption of our times?” asked the towering Jesuit intellectual, Bishop Francisco Claver, in his article: “Of Laughter and Red Hot Coals.”

Claver fought martial law. He wrote the searing 1986 Catholic Bishops pastoral letter that denounced Marcos’s snap election as fraud-ridden.

“A government that assumes or retains power through fraudulent means has no moral basis,” he wrote. “(It) cannot command allegiance of the citizenry...

“That government has the obligation to right the wrong it is founded on… The wrong was systematically organized. So must its correction be… We, the bishops, stand in solidarity with them…

"Our acting must always be according to the Gospel, that is, in a peaceful, non-violent way… (This) depends fully on the people.”

That was Edsa 1. After that came Czechoslovakia’s “Velvet Uprising,” Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution,” Georgia’s “Rose Rebellion and Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolution.”

Filipino expatriates abroad swap jokes, I suspect “in reaction to the deep shame they feel in the constant citing of their country of origin as one of the most corrupt in the world today,” Claver said. “They trade painful jokes for possible cathartic effect.”

“Is it possible to creatively use humor as a means of purging graft? I have two arguments to make: one from Philippine culture, another from Christian faith.”

One glaring defect common to the corrupt is their utter shamelessness. Can jokes, even ridicule at their expense, rekindle in them an ordinary Filipino sense of hiya?

Christ himself constantly used ridicule against his enemies among the Pharisees of his time. So did Paul the Apostle in his quarrels with Judaizers. Paul even talks of pouring red-hot coals over the heads of one’s enemies by doing good to them (see Romans, 12, 21).

That is “something we will be doing to our corruptors if we are to be able to help them, through ridicule and humor, to cease from continuing the harm they’re doing. So, pouring burning coals on their heads, as Paul teaches?

“It is a thoroughly Christian act of charity that we should give more thought to the intransigent fix we are in as a people. For laughter can indeed be salvific-—for both the corrupt themselves and victims of their corrupt ways.”

(juanlmercado@gmail.com)