0 Comments 29 April 2010


By Pepper Marcelo

I laugh, so I do not cry, goes the saying. The Filipino is renowned for keeping a happy disposition in spite of adversity. This trait is perhaps most emblematic in the lower-class who, in spite of poverty and other difficulties, continue to maintain an optimistic outlook on life.

So it seemed only inevitable that a competition is created to designate “The Happiest Pinoy.” Sponsored by Cebuana Lhuiller Insurance Solutions (CLIS), the aim of the event was to “rekindle the values of optimism, resilience and hope in the Filipino nation.”

“We wanted to veer away from the traditional advocacy marketing concept and this is what we thought would be effective, inspiring, unique, and refreshing,” says CLIS General Manager Jonathan D. Batangan.

A nationwide search was conducted, with more than 218 nominations from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao received by the screening committee. The nominees were shortened down to 20, and then a final six were interviewed by the judges.

After deliberations, Winston Abella Maxino, 47, chief operating officer (COO) of Hooven Philippines, was given the award for “exhibiting an optimistic outlook on life, a cheerful disposition, the ability to rise above life’s challenges and having a positive impact on the life of others.”

In his acceptance speech, Maxino said that his most special prize was the gift of insight about happiness. “Happiness is rejoicing even in the reality that our lives are suffering. Happiness is rejoicing despite suffering.”

He, along with six finalists, attended the awarding ceremonies last February at the Hotel Intercontinental in Makati City. Maxino received a trophy and P200,000, while the finalists received P25,000 each.

The others on the shortlist included: Nona Andaya-Castillo, 47, a teacher; Rex Bernardo, 39, an academic; Gerardo Gamez, 44, a salesman; Celestino Habito, 90, a retired professor; Carolina Reyes, 78, a housewife and lecturer; and Maria Kathrina Lopez-Yarza, 26, an artist and entrepreneur.

Each of them have suffered severe personal hardships but continued to excel and lead fulfilling lives. One of the judges for the event, University of the Philippines president Dr. Emerlinda Roman, was very much impressed with all of the finalists’ stories of hope and perseverance.

“As we interviewed the nominees, we became aware that there are many different views of happiness,” Roman noted. “We were humbled by many of the finalists because of their inner strength which pulled them through, their optimism and their faith.”

Maxino was born and raised in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental, the eighth of nine children. Despite growing up with asthma and allergy attacks, he became an exemplary overachiever – becoming a “Little City Mayor” in Dumaguete City at 11, and being elected the youngest Kagawad representing the youth sector of the city.

He credits his supportive family with helping him hurdle the difficulties of his childhood years. “Since I was small, I was almost bedridden because of severe asthma. But my family was there to push me all the way, their love has brought me optimism and I grew up to be very optimistic in life and I chose to be happy,”

He eventually graduated cum lade from Silliman University, with a degree in political science, carrying the distinction of being the only college student of Silliman who was the recipient of the “Most Outstanding Student of the Year” in each of his four years in college.

Health problems continued to hound him as he attended law school at the Ateneo de Manila University. He even went so far as to keep oxygen tank in his dorm room for self-medication.

After law school, he joined government service, first as a legislative assistant to then Senator Agapito “Butz” Aquino, then as one of President Cory Aquino’s speech writers. He also occupied various positions in the Philippine Postal Corp. in the mid 1990s.

In 1996, he decided to switch to the private sector, gradually rising from the ranks of Hooven Philippines to become the COO of the aluminum manufacturing company.

In 2000, Maxino was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, a degenerative and incurable bone disease which causes his spine to swell and cause his lower back pain. He spent several years in chemotherapy, taking oral steroids to lessen the pain. Doctors stopped the treatment, seeing that it was not alleviating the pain, and switched to opiates. He took the medicine gradually so as not to become addicted.

Though somewhat optimistic that there will be a cure in the future, Maxino happily accepts his life’s circumstances. “I am not less of a person because my body is broken. I do not dwell on what I do not have.”

Maxino plans to get involved in serious advocacy work to spread awareness about the disease. “It is a rare disease and there is not much number yet of patients suffering.”

He and wife Alina have three daughters. His second daughter, Brina Kei, has Down syndrome, needing speech, physical, and occupational therapy. Again, instead of becoming disheartened, he and his wife took inspiration from their daughter.

“She (Brina Kei) frequently declares, ‘I love my life and I love my future!’” he says. “I realize that she is right. Happiness is a choice. No matter what the circumstances of my life are and will be, with God’s grace, I choose and will continue to choose to be happy.”

Maxino joined the Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines and became its president. He and his group helped secure Presidential Proclamation No. 157, declaring February as “Down Syndrome Consciousness Month.” His other civic advocacy includes being General Manager of Green Earth Power and Energy Corporation.

He is also a Certified Balloon Artist (CBA), clown and magician, performing at children’s parties for free (he calls himself a “kidologist”).

“A positive outlook gets us through the most trying times,” he says. “Laughter is the best medicine. Laughter is free. Laughter does not require a doctor’s prescription. It is internally generated therefore it does not run out of stock.”

To Maxino, it is all about keeping a positive perspective no matter what happens. “I’m not saying my problems are more difficult than others. I don’t want to compare. I guess it’s not the gravity of the problem I am facing, but how I accept the problem and turn it into something positive,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

It is this characteristic, he says, that he and the rest of the finalists for “The Happiest Pinoy” share. “What is common among the finalists is that we are suffering in a major way, in my case because of an incurable disease or physical disability. We rise above our physical pain and limitations to live full happy lives. Happiness is our daily therapy and positive outlook gets us through the most trying times.”


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