SOME American friends of my sister couldn’t believe what they saw on TV in 1986. In her Miami home, they were watching the news from the Philippines which showed a huge protest rally at Edsa, people giving flowers to armed soldiers, and the soldiers accepting them!

To Americans, the stranger is quiet, easy-going, happy-go-lucky. But here he was, daring, heroic.

How do you figure out the Filipino?

In 1989, news on the most serious attempt at a coup d’etat against the administration of Cory Aquino was also covered by TV. The scene was of some tambay running away from the sound of guns behind a building in Makati. The street kids looked scared out of their wits as they ran. A couple of them ran, too, but giggled where they stopped, surely a way of hiding their fear.

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I watched this news in Florida and I didn’t know how to explain the Filipino to my sister’s American friends.

What kind of man is the Filipino?

Over two decades after, I was confronted with the same sense of recognition of something undefinably familiar as I watched on TV the crowd over at the Quirino Grandstand during the peaceful inauguration of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and at the Quezon Memorial Circle during the inaugural party. The crowd sang, danced, laughed, screamed in fun in yellow dresses and yellow ribbons. it was party time again.

Some things happening make an observer stay still and watch.

So I’m once again confronted by the thought of what in the world is a Filipino, really.

The life of a Filipino would be made complicated or sweeter by the network of interrelating, interdependent people minding one’s and other people’s business. He doesn’t drop work at 5 p.m. exactly, not if the boss asks him kindly to put in a few minutes more for free. The Filipino is always dependent on someone and vice versa—depending or being depended on in an amazing human network of mutuality.

That’s probably why it’s easy for him to dance in the streets during rallies.

Melodrama, orality and slapstick are attempts to hide shyness and the sense of insecurity.

And he doesn’t change. Even in New York, as he has learned to show the impersonal stare of the ultra-urbanite, he’s still the warm Filipino who’ll meet you at the John F. Kennedy Airport and carry your baggage for you, still the solicitous friend.

Looking for the Filipino in a paper during a summer class years ago, I found out that you can’t make conclusions out of the Filipino you meet every day. But you’ll have a fair idea of him if you look twice.

Take “A Season of Grace” by N.V.M. Gonzales and see the farmer Doro, neighborly, uncomplicated, a man of peace at any cost, a man of ease and laughter—the Filipino in dominant number. He’s hardworking, resigned to a cyclic lifestyle dictated by the turn of the season. As in the characters of Gonzales’s novel, he’s un-elaborated, ordinary, very human.

Other people see the Filipino as gregarious, hospitable, forever smiling even when he disagrees, or says, “Perhaps,” or gives a kind of “Yes,” and laughs politely.

Outside a rally, the Filipino is modest, shy, sentimental, indirect, superstitious, even passive. Put him in a stressful situation, he is self-conscious and insecure even as he hides this with a laugh, then he becomes political!

In the middle of political events, he moves out of these indications and becomes atypical, a sort of aberration, like a Rizal or a Marcos, the thousands in the Edsa Revolution, the thousands voting for Noynoy Aquino (followed by Erap Estrada!) on May 10, 2010, cheering in the streets on Inauguration Day!

Now, he’s in what the Filipino calls a new era. Then he waits for changes in his life, and he waits.