Strengths And Weaknesses Of The Filipino Political Character

by: jun asuncion

Part 1: The Virtue Of Sincerity As The Foundation Of Sustainable Political Culture

Lack or flawed sincerity  underlies our socio-political underdevelopment. What is sincerity? Webster dictionary defines it as honesty of mind and intention. It is therefore closely related to honesty. The political Filipinos have the fondness of making things complicated; they corrupt a simple thought or action habitually and they are now trapped within this system they created themselves. The whole nation seems to have been trapped by this system. Personal interaction is reflected in national politics. For after all, the individual trees define the quality of the forest.  This is implied in the Confucian’s Analects which contain the following statement in Chapter I:

(主忠信。毋友不如己者。過,則勿憚改。)Hold faithfulness and sincerity as first principles. Then no friends would not be like yourself (all friends would be as loyal as yourself). If you make a mistake, do not be afraid to correct it.”

Simply put, a sincere leader produces sincere followers. A sincere president gathers around him sincere public officials.  Just look at what the insincere presidents in the past and the insincere incumbent president have done: They have ruined the political culture and the national economy. These presidents produced insincere politicians all over the country and an overall primitive and stupor political culture, making all existing political structures dysfunctional. While blessed with abundant natural resources and enough labor force inside and outside (OFW), and while the world organizations are sincerely sending their developmental funds to Manila, the  character-deformed and greed-driven politicians were- and are busy channeling these funds to their own bank accounts under the protective shields of  Bank Secrecy laws  and the constitutional Right Of Privacy.

Lack of sincerity complicates and weakens human transactions of all kinds. Not to support Abbu Sayaf, Al-Qaeda  and any form of terrorist or mafia organisations or rebels like the Tamil Tigers, NPA or MILF, etc., but I guess,  viewed within their organisational and operational context, sincerity is not a rare commodity among these people for the price of insincerity is very high. The result of their success is obvious for until now government forces the world over have failed to destroy them and the truth of their indestructibility is proven with each day. On the other side, our laws paradoxically protect the insincere and erring government servants. It appears therefore that all efforts displayed publicly of fighting poverty, corruption, insurrection and a better political system are helpless for  until now we still do not have a government that’s sincerely addressing these issues.

It’s not that we Filipinos are born thieves but we are not sincere with our ethical-moral standards, leading us easily to transgress them in case of  material insufficiency, opportunity or  power afforded to one by virtue of his office. The Philippines is one of the most plundered nations in the world- by its own civil servants. And when a president, a state prosecutor or an agrarian under-secretary steal public funds, it is definitely  not only a case of character weakness but  an act of treachery. This logic of greed cascades from top to bottom at high speed from the national to the local governments down to the barangays, thus destroying the very foundations of political culture and the socio-economic structures of the nation almost irretrievably.

What is Character?

Again our Webster: 1. Character is the sum of qualities by which a person (or a thing) is distinguished from others ; 2. Charater is the stamp impressed by nature, education or habit.

Filipino Weaknesses: 

1. Utang Na Loob (Debt Of Gratitude). Up to a certain point it is a virtue, but too much is a trap in itself.  We Filipinos exaggerated this trait unwittingly believing this was natural to us, hence, good. In truth, this is a colonial residue. This is not strength but rather a weakness for it is built upon our belief that we Filipinos were of lesser value. This resulted to over-subjugation in order to survive. Filipinos did survive, but heavily damaged from within. This exaggerated Utang Na Loob prevented the Filipinos from developing that Selbst-Bewusstsein or Self -Confidence necessary to get out of our miserable situation. The revolutions freed the Filipinos from the oppressors physically, but the oppressed has remained in their psyche. Applied into  politics, this trait is at the core of corruption for this prevents the mind from siding to the ideals of common good but rather reduces it to side with things or with people whom the political Filipinos are indebted to -or beholden to- in one way or another.

2. Crab-Mentality. This is what divides the Filipinos as one people and therefore prevents the building of a  progressive nation. For instead, we pull each other down out of envy or just plain egotism. We cannot replace  burdensome administration  if each of us chooses rather to solo his fight and achieves nothing. This is the weakness of the opposition against the incumbent administration: Each prominent opposition politician is running for presidency instead of rallying their forces together behind one candidate of their own. The opposition in the Philippines is splittered, kanya-kanya. In politics, nothing great is accomplished by a lone wolf. The administration has the greater command because aside for its  established political machinery, they have the support of local governments who are dependent on them, and so it is  most likey that the administration’s candidate will win the election. And so the stupor of governance remains; our nation doesn’t move forward but rather backwards- like a crab.

3. Ningas-Cogon. This reinforces the crab in us for this means total retreat after taking a few steps to the front. Good politics can achieve something substantial if it is held on a steady course over time. The same way with fighting for a cause. Nothing will happen if the people cannot stay and fight to the end. To come and go as you wish is never a big help to your team. With this, nothing will ever be accomplished.

4. Mañana Habit. This is the reason why everything has been delayed in our country. We push everything for tomorrow, so don’t ask for progress now for with this habit, progress will never be a thing of today but will always be a thing of tomorrow. This habit, combined with ningas-cogon, utang na loob and with the crab on top with bad choice and lacking in sincerity, then you have the perfect picture of the Philippine society of today – and, maybe, of tomorrow. A number of beautiful laws have been created but their implementations are pushed for tomorrow, good bills are made to wait for years before passed into laws therefore allowing crimes  to happen which could have been prevented.

Hiya or Shyness, false modesty, self-deprication are interrelated qualities which are typically overemphasized among Filipinos. Again, depending on the degree of manifestation they could be “strengths” in that they give the Filipino character that distinctive flavor or even attractiveness for other observers. Psychologically, it is an expression of a deep-seated complex of inferiority – being hit by the rod for centuries.

 Filipino Strengths:

1. Strong Family Orientation (Family-ties). After all these years, I still consider this trait as our strongest strength for it is the reason behind why the Philippines is still existing even in the face of high migration, internal conflicts, political and economic crises: The Filipino families just stay together. Filipinos abroad normally go back home even after years of being away simply because of their loyalty to their family and relatives. This is not class-specific for it is indeed a strong trait observed not only among the poor but even among the affluent Filipino families.

2. Utang Na Loob (Debt Of Gratitude). As mentioned, this is a Filipino strength when kept in proper place (private life), hence doesn’t rob us of our objectivity and correct performance of our public duty. This trait shows our thankfulness- or of looking back- to people and situations that have touched our lives positively. This is inherent in all other strengths of the Filipinos.

3. Pakikisama (Social Flexibility).This is the result of long experience and contact with foreign cultures since the beginning of Philippine history. Closely related to Pakikiramdam or Pakikipagkapwa-tao, I translate this as social flexibility for this what is all about being a Filipino in a social setting – that of striving for harmony in our interpersonal relationships. This makes us attractive to other nationalities for we can easily connect with them and give them the feeling that we understand and accept them. To this belongs the habit of subordinating ourselves to others- especially to the white skinned-nationals, which I consider a learned reflex developed during our long history of ambivalence-eliciting colonialism. The rod had for centuries shaped our reflexes that we still have today, conditioned our pattern of responses to certain social ideas and situations. The idea for instance that to be involved in politics is “meddling” with the affairs of others (the politicians) when in fact politics is everybody’s business.

But Filipinos’ early exposure to other languages like Spanish, English, Chinese and Japanese contributes to this flexibility and social competence facilitating social connections even in international settings. The many Oversea Filipino Workers scattered all over the globe has also the effect of contributing to the Philippines’ linguistic know-how for many of these OFW and expatriates bring with them the languages they have learned in their many years of working and living in many countries of the world. I suppose the Philippines is one among the polyglott countries in the world.

4. Endurance. Also a product of our difficult historical struggles. Extreme social, political and economic problems resulting from colonizations, wars and recurring natural catastrophies have moulded the Filipinos into a strong people when it comes to dealing with difficult situations over an extended period of time. This is the foundation of our patience. Patience is never a natural gift but is a result of experience. With this strength, Filipinos survive difficult situations at home or away from home. Resoluteness is very much related to this, a trait we badly need in our political leadership and for us to counter the ningas-cogon tendency.

 As you can see, strengths and weaknesses of character of the people are to some extent interrelated and dependent on the context and to the degree in which they are manifested. Like the trait of Utang na loob, this is inherently a social strength but its presence in political affairs seems to rob the Filipinos of their objectivity and sense of duty. Endurance is in itself a positve attribute but this reinforces the mañana habit in a certain way which in turn prevents the Filipino to develop that attitude of urgency, causing him not to look for solutions to the problems immediately. Strong family orientation is a virtue but it easily slides to clanism, hence builds up political dynasties,  augments expediency, kanya-kanya attitude and crab mentality but diminishes the  perception of common good and  nationalism.

Technically, if character is a collection of habits, and habit  a conditioned behaviour or sets of responses, and character determines our behavior to a particular situation or groups of situations, modifying habits through training can therefore effect a change in character and ultimately our behavior.

This is what the politicians, civic and church leaders mean by moral revolution, which is a term so vague that they end up not really knowing what to do but  to the  false belief  that reciting long litanies and holding hands together in circles  they could already solve this national dilemma.

Of course, nature (genetics) also accounts for the development of character but this is another topic by itself. What interests us is the effect (stamp according to Webster dictionary) of culture and habit (experience)  for this is the more practical way of explaining the Filipino political character and of devising a model of political character building with the habit as the starting point of modification.

 Part II: Is Utang Na Loob- Debt Of Gratitude Or Debt Of Goodwill?

We begin with the language by agreeing that Debt Of Gratitude is the commonly accepted English translation of Utang Na Loob in our Philippine culture. Taken at face value, this English translation suffices to explain what Utang Na Loob means to a non-Tagalog speaker,- and it’s just alright if we Filipinos, not the Americans, have decided to use Debt of Gratitude as the equivalent English translation. The main point now is not to debate about the suitable English translation for there is none, but to describe what Utang Na Loob means in our culture. Utang Na Loob really means more than Debt of Gratitude if one would dig deeper beyond the semantic usage. The source of confusion is surely in its English translation, for as Filipinos we know exactly what is meant by Utang Na Loob. Debt of Gratitude should be shipped back to America where it is rightfully used and understood.
Utang Na Loob is more than just being able to pay back the performance you received and then to have no more obligation thereafter- as in a contractual transaction between you and a plumber whom you hired to fix your drainage. In interpersonal relations the western people will thank you for the favors you have given them- and that’s it, the thing is settled, no other obligations.
In our country favors received are paid back with a moral obligation that is long lasting. It is not merely being indebted to somebody that ceases once repaid, but it is being unquantifiably indebted to somebody be it your parents who nurtured you, your older brother or sister who sent you to college,  your doctor who saved your life- or the politician who gave you the job or your share of the graft.

Translated literally, Loob means within, interior, inside, internal, inward, inner, deep : hence Utang Na Loob could mean by way of:

1. Negative definition- as to be deeply indebted to somebody morally, obliging involved party or parties to a reciprocal responsibility;

2. Positive definition -as the Filipino attitude of Sincere Deeper Thankfulness.

Debt Of  Gratitude-as we understand this English equivalent is more of common ethical condition of being indebted , whereas Utang Na Loob as we practice it is a cultural attitude of sincere deeper thankfulness.

This is my understanding or definition of this traditional Filipino value. Debt of Gratitude is very much similar to Schuld der Dankbarkeit- its German counterpart. At the surface, these two foreign equivalents mean the same as our Utang Na Loob. The difference enters in practical application for then other cultural traits mingle with it and so the resulting different expressions causing observers to a qualitatively different observation and understanding of it, hence the incongruence and inadequateness of the English and even German translation.

Other traits/constructs that may explain the difference:

Personalism vs. Impersonalism:

Personalism emphasizes the rights and centrality of the individual human being in his or her social, political, intellectual, etc. milieu.

Impersonalism is the practice of maintaining impersonal relations with individuals or groups.

To simply illustrate: Filipinos are often heard complaining about the Westerners as cold, lacking human emotion or warmth, lacking in compassion. The Whites or Westerners in turn complain about the emotionality, close to hysterical reactive behaviour and exaggerated friendliness of the Filipinos. The reason for this is the personalistic trait or approach of the Filipinos and the impersonalistic trait or approach of the Whites. This trait explains partly the difference between Utang na Loob and Debt of Gratitude or the German Schuld der Dankbarkeit; personalized approach to life and events are as a rule is emotionally charged. In general, Filipinos put a higher emotional value to his experiences than say a white American or European who take things rather with a business-like, impersonal attitude. In other words, Filipinos tend to sentimentalize experience and cling longer to its effect as opposed to the emotional distance observed among Westerners.

This personalistic approach to life and events has its advantages in areas and situations where “human touch” or feelings are sought for by the recipients, Orientals or Westerners alike. An example to this are our medical and health workers who are in demand abroad for their known compassionate approach in nursing their patients and in their dealing with their patients’ relatives as well as with their co-workers and superiors.

Personalism permeates the Filipinos society- among people in the streets, in business and politics. This is evident in the bondingswe Filipino unconsciously form among ourselves in our social transaction. Men address each other as Pare (Kumpadre) or Brod, Kuya, Kapatid and women call each otherAte, Kumare or Tita even when they are not blood- related at all or even among strangers who just met.

Hence, it can be said that we have an inclusive attitude in our dealing with one another and even with strangers or guests- as opposed to the exclusive, separatistic and individualistic Western attitude. The term Kapwa (fellow, togetherness or own kind)) along with Pakiramdam (one’s estimation of other’s emotions or sensitivities) also play a big role in our social psychology. Our famous Hospitality Trait can only come about because of these elements mentioned.

Circular Thinking:

If our social approach can be characterized as not direct, less offensive and considerating, then we can already infer that our thinking also follows a circular pattern, a pattern which we share with our fellow Asians. This thinking is largely guided by emotional contents and intuitive elements and the centrality of human sensitivities. Our considerate and inclusive approach leads our thinking to take circuitous ways as opposed to the Aristotelian Western logic which is a more linear, hence focused, style of thinking-  goes direct from point A to point B without much regards to feelings and emotions; this thinking is guided primarily by concepts and structures. Asian philosophical, medical and religious traditions- represented in the works of Lao Zu(Taoism) are examples of circular and inclusive thinking; a good outcome of this is the Chinese Traditional Medicine which is primarily based on Chinese old philosophical concept of the interdependence of things and events.

It is in the emotional intelligence that Filipinos excel- a kind of intelligence which Salovey and Mayer (1990) defined as “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.” On the other side of the globe, conceptual and structured thinking- or cognitive intelligence has produced brilliant minds from Einstein to Beethoven, From Darwin to Karl Marx.

However, this fact should not lead us into wrong conclusion that the West is more intelligent than the East. Intelligence – when we mean by it as the capacity of abstract reasoning- is not a monopoly of the Western people; intelligent- as well as retarded- people are found in any country and an IQ of 160 in a European child has the same quality in a Filipino child when both have taken the same standardized Intelligence Test and scored the same. It is in the different cultural context that the expression of cognitive intelligence differs. A child – Asian or European- with an IQ of 160 raised in a culture where linearity, conceptual and structured thinking is emphasized will have more of his 160 IQ translated into high material performance than if the same child is raised in a culture where circularity, emotionality and intuitive thinking is emphasized.

We are familiar with the idea that Westerners are extroverted type of people, ready to solve the problems and to change the world so it  fits their needs; colonization was (and is) propelled by this type of thinking. While the Easterners are more introverted type of people, concerned with their inner world, ready to adjust their desires to the realities of the world and live with them; hence as a rule no desire to go out and colonize others (except the Imperial Japanese during World War II).

Though we have been exposed to Western mentality, I still consider that our fundamental mindset is still Eastern. Perhaps this explain why we have problem with western concepts as bureaucracy and democracy in our nation: they just do not work as they should. These concepts are products of linear thinking and impersonalism. We all know that we Filipinos are Western in written form, – our Constitution is Western style and is one of the best written body of laws and political concepts in the world, – yet we cannot fullfil the promises of our Constitution because in practice we are simply the Eastern Filipinos, our practical actions being propelled by our very own type of circular thinking and personalistic view of the world.

Democracy and bureaucracy are too abstract for us for they demand equality, rule of law and justice, loyalty not to somebody but to rules and regulations, professionalism, exactness in procedures- concepts that the Western mind adore and put with passion into actions. Whereas we Filipinos also adore them theoretically, but in practice they collide with our passions.

Democracy- as we have taken it over from the West, or forcefully injected in our mind- doesn’t fit with the strengths and weaknesses of our political character. The question that I’ve been carrying a long time already is this: Shall we change ourselves to fit to the concept of Western democracy or shall we slowly adopt a form of government that fits to our strengths and weaknesses? Or, is it easier to change ourselves or the system of government? You may help me wrestle with this question.

Back to Utang Na Loob. From the discourse above, it is implied that the Western mind would see favors as a “problems” to be solved at once, while our mind would see them as “problems” to live with. And all these elements discussed above seem to weave in and out together in our daily social interactions thus giving us a clue to a better understanding of Utang Na Loob and that of typical Filipino social personality profile.

There is more inside our Loob than just Utang Na Loob if we would examine ourselves much deeper.
Loob is a core concept in the psychology of the Filipinos which has been studied in depth by Filipino psychologists. From the very beginning, our culture seemed to have been fascinated with what is inside the Filipino and this word or concept of Loob has been a very useful tool in describing complex internal (emotional, mental and spiritual) events in the Filipino personality leading to the coining of a series of words denoting value contructs with the suffix -loob. I consider this psycho-linguistic phenomenon a very original Filipino achievement and I am even inspired to consider it as a new branch of psychology- the Loob Psychology (or Filipino Depth Psychology), which could easily fit the department of Ethnopsychology.

Loob

Here are some of the compilations by Filipino psychologists in their efforts to understand more the Filipino mind:
Nakikingutang ng loob, to seek a favor from someone
Ipagkaloob – to entrust
lagay ng loob – mood, one’sstate of mind or feeling
lakas-loob – courage
tibay ng loob – inner strength
tining ng loob- clarity of thinking, feeling, volition
kababaang loob – humility, literally “lowness of the inside”
kabutihang-loob - good naturedness
kagandahang loob – generosity, noblemindedness
may kusang-loob- one who does his work without prodding
payapang loob – a peaceful, calm person
mapagkaloob – a generous person
mahina ang loob – a coward
malakas ang loob- a daring person
malamig ang loob – an indifferent person
pikit ang loob – one who is blind to injustice
mabigat ang loob- the state of being sad, heavy-hearted
maluwag sa loob – one’sexperience of a state of being willing, cheerfully ready, literally to feel “loose/open on the inside”
wala sa loob- a state of beingunwilling, literally to “not have it in oneself”
tapat na kalooban- the state of havinga sincere inner being
masasamang-loob – criminals, literally, “those with bad inner beings”
kapalagayang loob – confidante, intimate
pampalubag-loob – consolation
kagaanang-loob – something to pacify intense emotion such as anger
The word loob, simply taken as “inside” and not a construct, is also used for “looban,” which means an interior compound, or community; and for the term “manloloob”, which means “robber,” literally “someone who enters.” (source: wikipedia )

You see now that it is worth examining the Filipino soul- or Loob. I just observed that “Walang Utang Na Loob” is not in the list above (or are there some more ?). Now, it is interesting how you would translate this into English- No Debt Of Gratitude or No Debt Of Goodwill?

But I do think that how we understand it  when somebody tells us “Wala Kang Utang Na Loob!”  is the key to understanding now the real meaning of Utang na Loob. It is not only about being indebted, but of possesing- and expecting from others-  the attitude of sincere and deeper (loob) thankfulness.

Part III   From Code Of Kalantiyaw To Mt. Sinai

 This post is not intended as an academic work but just my personal thoughts on this Independence Day and as my reply to a comment on my earlier post Strengths And Weaknesses Of The Filipino Political Character.

 A Hindu-Muslim Archipelago. We know of Datu Puti as one of the Bornean Datus who ruled in the south during the pre-Hispanic period. During the Spanish time Raja Colambu was the King of Limasawa, Rajah Humabon of Cebu, Sultan Kudarat Of Maguinadanao, Datu Lapulapu of Mactan, Rajah Lakandula of Tondo, Datu Macabulos of Pampanga, Datu Urduja of Pangasinan and Rajah Sulaiman III of Manila. There were many other Datus and Rajas all over the archipelago whom the Spanish colonial power called Las Islas Filipinas, the Islands of the Philippines. Hinduism came to the Philippines via traders between 1350 and 1389 from the island of Java during the Majapahit Empire (1293-1500) and exerted great influence on the natives of the archipelago only to be superseded within a short time by the Islamic conquest of Majapahit empire and the coming of Islamic Indonesians and Arab missionaries in the 15th century.

Hence, the archipelago was dominantly a Hindu- Muslim archipelago as Sultans, Datus and Rajahs are all Hindu-Muslim titles of rulers and nobilities. If I identify myself with the pre-Hispanic archipelago, then I’m a Hindu- Muslim; if I identify myself with the time and culture I was born in then, I am a Christian.

Genetically of Malay race, our dominant ancestral, pre-Hispanic civilized society was a Hindu- Muslim society. However, not all people at that time were Hindu-Muslims as there were people who were trapped or isolated themselves up in the mountains who were not islamized when the Muslims came nor catholicized with the coming of the Spaniards. They still exist today as “cultural minorities” (a label I dislike) like the Igorots, Aetas, Ati (Negritos ethnic group) etc. with their own culture, political organisation and system of beliefs.

The very first people who inhabited the archipelago- or some places of it- long before the invention or evolution of today’s dominant religions were animistic in their belief and world view. If I identify myself with those primal ancestors of 20-30 thousand years ago – in the belief that my family and genetic lineage can be traced back to them- then I am an animist, a being who is one with the forces of nature and see spirits in them, or much later a syncretist of Hinduistic origin who believes in Anitos, Diwatas or Bathala.

Hindu-Muslim Social Hierarchy. The independent Hindu-Muslim barangays in the archipelago and the sultanates in the south all attest to existing social communities, communities with hierarchical systems of Ruling class as Sultans, Datus or Rajahs, of Intermediate class as the Freemen or Maharlikas and of the Ruled or Unfree-class as the Alipins or slaves.

There were interbarangay commerce, cultural exchanges, etc., all transactions suggesting a kind of confederative co-existence,yet no common identity, no common laws, no central government that kept them together or a court that settled interbarangay conflicts. The mythical legal code of Kalantiyaw which was supposed to bring order to the folks of Negros was proven to be a forgery.

From Code of Kalantiyaw to Mt. Sinai. This changed with the coming of the Spanish colonizers who already have in them the concept of national government, of a nation or country, of a central powerful monarchy that rules over vast territories and colonies. But before that there was this catholization that took place, the biblization of the Hindu-Muslims, and later the changing of names, like Rajah Humabon becoming Carlos, or Mariano Kagalitan to Mariano Asuncion.

But the social structures remained the same, more or less. Allowed to keep up their lordships over their barangays, the now catholized datus had to subjugate themselves however to the new ruling class, the Spaniards, or to the new omnipotent Catholic King of Spain. In effect, the whole archipelago with all its barangays was reduced to the lower class level, if not to that of oppressed or slaves, the Alipins. In fact the new ruling class introduced a new form of intricate slavery- the polo y servicio which is a system of forced labor within the encomienda throughout the island colony.

From Suppression to Explosion. The suppression of emotions through centuries of encomienda and  hacienda slavery and injustices ultimately led to explosion. This big-bang in the history of the archipelago gave birth to the concept of freedom and nation during this colonial period which culminated by the end of the 19th century; by June 12,1898, 112 years ago, the Spanish dominion (which historically started in 1649 with the Sumoroy uprising in Samar) has ended and the first Philippine Republic was born.

This short historical review is not meant to refresh our knowledge but to remind us that the past explains a lot of things the way that the Filipinos are now, our character strengths and weaknesses and offer us clues as to why reciprocity. “debt” of gratitude, passive-aggressive traits and the like are so intense and complex among the Filipinos for the Western observers.

As one Western commenter has observed about Reciprocity and Utang Na Loob:

“I am guessing that this (Reciprocity) basically a very deep instinctual drive in all cultures, but I am curious as to why it is so exaggerated and complex in Philippines…Philippines has intensely hierarchical family and tribal structures, probably even before the foreign oppressors arrived. Within such a system those beneath perceive themselves to be powerless and lacking in rights. Without rights, any act of support would therefore seem like a gift rather than a duty. I am guessing the intensity of Utang Na Loob is derived from this.”

Utang na Loob is a form of reciprocity which, as the name suggests, a Filipino version or expression of it. The short historical review has shown that for the majority of the Filipinos- before, during and even after colonial times- their history is a history of slavery or servantry, from our tribal past to the alipin sagigilid or mamamahay during our Hindu- Muslim past and to encomienda, hacienda and peonage slaves during the catholization. (It is said that peonage was the employed by the conquistadores wherein the Filipino workers were granted debt to their own slavery afterwards for failure to work off the debt, becoming permanently tied to their Spanish employers). Even up to now, the servantry is still very much a part of our socio-economic culture. Only that now, the government exports this “labor force” to other countries.

With the coming of other colonizers, the Americans and the Japanese, the Filipinos were again forced to assume the slave mode and to suppress aggression in order to survive.

Nature or Nurture?Against this historical backdrop and if we believe that personality is also moulded by external forces, then we can rightly assume that the Filipino collective personality is a product of his total experience which is layered in complex mixtures of genetics and external circumstances over a long time. The resulting product is a distinctly Filipino character. This explains the complexity of our traits when juxtaposed against other Asian people and other cultural groups.

We Have Our Own Identity. Hence, this cry for the search of Filipino identity is a travesty, a political distortion in my view aimed at controlling the masses by sneakily activating their slave mode. We already have our own identity. I’m very cautious when I hear such phrase as “landslide victory” for then I suspect that the old trick has functioned again, that psychology has been politically abused or misused again. Also, it’s not wrong when a Westerner observes that there is exaggeration in our reciprocity trait, wrong maybe in the sense that it collides with their Western concepts of democracy and bureaucracy but in themselves our Filipino traits can never be wrong. It is not the search for identity but it’s about the search for a political system that fits our own character without sacrificing universal virtues as justice, freedom, human rights, etc.

In truth, the past still lingers in us and this is where self-serving politics get their power. Our Western commenter has mentioned that “a number of deep human traits… could potentially be exploited. One of these was called reciprocity”.

Landslide Win.When politics is just about power, then it’s only there to exploit available resources to support that power. This is very visible in our politics especially during elections. The character traits of the people are the number one target of this exploitation, material resources comes next to it. It’s not the vote that’s being bought but that Utang Na Loob of the people. A politician who is good in that will have that landslide win.

Still In Progress. Indeed, the trait of Utang na Loob- as all other Filipino traits- has evolved out of this collective past, of the confluence of events and the need to survive physically, psychologically and socially. All traits had developed and been retained because they have this survival value. And while our social evolution is still in progress, I think that these traits that we have are also undergoing some mutations. Our Filipino traits are not static and final, we are changing or are being changed by events and time. We ourselves are witnesses to how these traits conflict with things new to us or which requires other cultural tools or constructs that are either foreign or less develop in us.

Our Utang Na Loob is easily related to our slave mode than to our noble or lordship mode. This trait can only develop with such intensity and character out of social and economic survival necessity. You cannot experience the attitude of thankfulness with such intensity for things that are natural to you or that you have in abundance. Hence, for those who live in paradise, don’t expect Utang Na Loob; the same with our Tabon man in Palawan, our pre-historic ancestors who inhabited our caves thousands of years ago. I don’t think they knew Utang Na Loob as we know it now- or Hiya, Delicadeza, Freedom, Corruption, Alipin or Injustice. These things came to the archipelago with Islamization and Catholization. With these foreign oppressors, heaven is won but paradise is lost.

You’ll find this Utang Na Loob in abundance for those who experienced hell or deprivation of basic things. For the majority of us our history was a history of deprivation. Those were hellish times under foreign enslavement. There were some Filipino families who profited from these periods of hell, who maintained their feudalistic vast haciendas even until now, who still practise landgrabbing and colonial slavery practices as peonage and force labor and many of them are in the government posing as public servants. But in truth they are masters of exploiting Utang Na Loob, Hiya and Pakikisama.

Passive-Aggression. Certainly, with such a background of slavery where it was not safe to express anger or opinions but rather safer to resort to suppression and pakikisama in order to survive, we can only expect that passive-aggression is a part of colonized Filipinos coping or defense mechanisms. We know in psychology that families who forbid or deny their children the natural need to express feelings of hostilities produce adults who have this disorder. But it’s out of context to say- as our Western commenter has said- that it is a form of national sabotage if he means by it that Filipinos are using passive-aggression actively and consciously to destroy their nation and political development.

A Happy Nation? Though I can confirm the presence of this negative trait in our society, I disagree with its willful or conscious use of national sabotage. Instead, I look at it as post-colonial form of sabotage. Destruction of the people through colonial oppression doesn’t end with the disappearance of the oppressors but it continues, this trauma, this learned helplessness and passivity. Combined together, i.e. Spanish, Americans, Japanese, those were 425 years of trauma, suppression and slavery, of abuse and insult to the Filipino psyche. And add to that those nightmare decades under Marcos and Arroyo. Do you expect a healthy and happy nation by now?

Still, I wish the Philippines a happy Independence day !

(To be continued)

  jun asuncion

Bulan Observer

About these ads

14 Comments

Filed under Over a Cup of Coffee, Politics, Views and Concern

14 responses to “Strengths And Weaknesses Of The Filipino Political Character

  1. Selenium

    Spiritual Awakening.
    One which is founded on responsibility & accountability. Not the kind which one goes to a box & recite 49 krishna-pursi ,here you go , all set for another ” sin “. Do you call this moral values?

    Internal revolution in oneself. To awaken courage. Courage is the only way to dissolve fear.

    ” Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man .”

    Courage is innate in human beings.

    Daw Aung San Suu Kyi:

    ” Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear ofdeath, fear oflosing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man’s self-respect and inherent human dignity. It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man “.

    To quote her Father:
    ” Don’t just depend on the courage and intrepidity of others. Each and every one of you must make sacrifices to become a hero possessed of courage and intrepidity. Then only shall we all be able to enjoy true freedom.” – Bogyoke Aung San

    These words hits home to me. No recipient of any religious beliefs can escape from the truth.

  2. Louie Montemar

    Debt of Gratitude is NOT “Utang na Loob”

  3. Dora the Mouse

    To: Louie Montemar

    I found this article about “Debts of Good Will and Interpersonal Justice” by Leonardo D. de Castro of University of the Philippines. It is about the topic “Utang na Loob”. I will just capture a few paragraph of his article. According to him and I quote, ” Debts of gratitude are, in general, incurred by people who receive help or favors from others. But to say that a person has a debt of gratitude is not merely to say that he should be thankful for the assistance given. The indebtedness concerned is not confined to actual benefits received. In recognizing a debt of gratitude, one also recognizes the good will manifested by the benefactor to providing assistance or granting a favor”.

    “For this reason, this paper refers to “debts of good will” instead of “debts of gratitude” the contention is that the former terminology focuses attention on important features of the concept that the words “debts of gratitude” fail to capture.”

    So, “utang na loob” should be “debt of good will ” and not “debt of gratitude”?

  4. attybenji

    oo nga ano? hindi kaya ang salitang “UTANG NA LOOB” sa Tagalog can be best translated in English as “Interior Debt” or “Inside Debt”. What do you think louie montemar and dora? pwede rin tama si dora na ang utang na loob ay ‘debt of goodwill’ sa English… para sa akin ang tumpak na kahulugan niyan ay depende yan sa gamit, paglalahad, panahon o circumtancia ng panahon.

    try to consider this, how about if one would say, “Ayaw kung magkaroon ng UTANG NA LOOB sa ibang Tao”? pwede bang gamitin dito ang salitang inside debt, interior debt, debt of gratitute or debt of goodwill? malamang hindi at masagwang gamitin dahil ito ay pwedeng i-translate sa English na ” I don’t want to be indebted to somebody”, ang layo ano, he-he-he.

    anyway, like dora, i will make an extenstive research re, meaning and signifance of the words UTANG NA LOOB sa Tagalog, as a philosophical analysis.

    mabuhay kayo!

  5. attybenji

    To Mr. Montemar and Ms. Dora the Mouse:

    Greetings!

    Herein below is the thesis written by Mr. Francis Dancel, re Utang na Loob, a universal moral trait, and his in-depth analysis and readings on this virtue.

    UTANG NA LOOB: A PHILOSOPHICAL ANALYSIS

    By: Francis Dancel

    INTRODUCTION

    Much has been said and written about the Filipino, about the way he lives, and about the things he treasures. Even more has been written about the way he is and the way he relates to other people. The Filipino has been characterized as hospitable, kind, generous, forgiving, non-violent and patient. Ultimately, however, the Filipino is nothing if he is not grateful.

    It is a truism to say that the Filipino culture is one that prizes the value of gratefulness. Even as a truism, it is inadequate, because it does nothing to distinguish the Filipino from other cultures that exhibit gratefulness. Certainly, the virtue of gratitude is not uniquely Filipino. The moral quality of gratefulness is universal (Singson 1979). But while this is true, it must be stressed that Filipino gratefulness, nonetheless, is peculiarly Filipino. It is therefore not enough to say simply that Filipinos as a people place importance on the value of gratitude but that it is the way we express our gratitude which contributes, in part, to our identity as a people.

    The Filipino sense of gratitude is uniquely Filipino, just as we are uniquely Filipino because of our sense of gratitude.

    This, therefore, is the focus of this paper: to show just how peculiar the Filipino virtue of gratitude is, unique from the everyday and conventional way we have come to understand the term “gratitude,” and ultimately something altogether different from the familiar way we have come to know gratefulness.

    Perhaps, this then is the primary motivation for the manner by which the issue regarding translation is approached. Many writers have made use of various translations of Filipino gratitude. Known in the vernacular as utang na loob, it has been translated as gratitude, as debt of gratitude, debt of goodwill, and, quite literally, as interior debt. It goes without saying that the issue regarding translation is such: which English translation of utang na loob is the more appropriate one?

    Many have rejected the use of the term “gratitude” as an adequate translation, for the simple reason that the term fails to convey or encompass the complexities and the nuances of the term utang na loob. “Gratitude” as a term seems flat and contains very little, if not none at all, of the flavor and colorful nature of utang na loob. In addition, as was previously mentioned, gratitude is a universal moral trait. By agreeing to translate utang na loob as “gratitude” we lose much of the peculiarity that lends value to utang na loob. Utang na loob as gratitude becomes something common, trivial and ordinary.

    An alternative to the term “gratitude” is “debt of gratitude.” While it attempts to convey some sense of lingering indebtedness, which thus differentiates it from mere “gratitude,” it remains nonetheless inadequate and insufficient, too blunt to convey any of the complexity of utang na loob.

    There has been an instance wherein the term utang na loob has been translated, it seems a little too literally, into “interior debt.” While technically correct, it serves little purpose. “Interior debt” does not make much sense. The qualification of utang na loob implies the existence of an opposite, “exterior debt” or utang na labas. But as Singson (1979: 135) clarifies “there is not in current use in Filipino languages such an expression as utang na labas meaning external debt.” Thus, utang na loob as interior debt possesses little cognitive meaning because its foil, utang na labas is not even recognized as sensible.

    In a paper entitled “Debts of goodwill and interpersonal justice,” Leonardo de Castro (2001) has argued for the use of “debts of goodwill” as a viable translation of the term utang na loob, instead of “debt of gratitude” because “the former terminology focuses attention on important features of the concept that the words ‘debt of gratitude’ fail to capture.” He (2001) further argues that

    “Debt of good will” is meant to be a faithful translation of the Filipino term “utang na loob.” The use of the words “good will” instead of the word “gratitude” reflects an important nuance. Taken literally, the latter suggests that repayment is a matter of gratitude. But more than gratitude is called for when the recipient of assistance or favor puts a premium on the good will that is being conveyed.

    To date, it seems that no other English translation more closely approximates the meaning of utang na loob than “debt of goodwill.” However, often, as an alternative recourse, others opt to forgo translation altogether and simply retain the Filipino term, in order to convey the peculiarity of utang na loob and because, as George Guthrie (1971: 61) argues, “We want to emphasize that there is a certain distortion of meaning in translation.” Thus, no matter how much “debt of goodwill” may closely approximate utang na loob in meaning, still something is lost, some distortion in meaning takes place. Thus, going back to the question, which translation is appropriate? It seems none. This paper opts to retain and make use of the term utang na loob instead of any English translation, first, to convey the peculiarity and significant difference of Filipino utang na loob from the virtue of gratitude found in other cultures and, second, in order to avoid any distortion in translation.

    NATURE OF UTANG NA LOOB

    Having finally rid ourselves of the semantic complexities of translations, we are then free to pursue our investigation of the nature of utang na loob. The question that needs to be asked, then: just what is utang na loob?
    Literally, utang means “debt” and loob means “inside.” From this, one can see that literally, utang na loob means “inside debt” or “interior debt.” As was previously mentioned, such an explanation/translation of utang na loob is much too literal to be of any sense or use to our purposes.

    There is a need to clarify the term loob. While it literally means “inside,” translating it simply as such prompts one to wonder, “loob ng ano?” or the inside of what? Now it becomes clear that loob as inside does not make much sense. In truth, loob is more properly understood if it is done so in the context of the Filipino term kalooban.
    We will find that it is just as difficult to arrive at an exact and faithful English translation of the term kalooban as it was with utang na loob.

    Suffice it, then, to say that kalooban in a general sense refers to matters concerning the inner being, the soul if you will, of a person. However, it is not the term used to refer to the soul of a person, which Filipinos call kaluluwa. In addition, kalooban does not refer to the goodness of the inner being of a person, as there can be mabuting (good) kalooban and masamang (bad) kalooban.
    Loob, therefore in the context of kalooban refers not to literally the inside, the guts and innards of a human being, but to the inner life and being of a person. It points to an intangible, metaphysical component of a Filipino’s being, without which one would not be human.

    Given this context of loob, we begin to see one of the many subtle nuances of utang na loob that differentiates it from mere gratitude. Utang na loob is no ordinary debt. It is a characteristically strong sense of gratefulness taken with extreme seriousness by Filipinos. Utang na loob is, in many ways, a debt incurred by the inner being of a person, a soul debt, which persists and endures, even after the original debt has been paid.

    This implies that Filipinos are able to distinguish between two components of a debt. The first is the physical part of the debt which comprises the favor. This can take the form of the money that makes up the loan, or a borrowed car, or even a job that one “gives” to a friend. There are occasions, however, when even this “physical” portion of the debt may not be readily observable, as in the case of saving another person’s life. In any case, we refer to this, the component which comprises the favor, as the observable component of the debt.

    The second, and often more important component is non-observable, that is, an “internal and externally non-observable debt in terms of the good will or benevolence out of which the favor was given or done and which accompanies the act of giving or doing” (Singson 1979: 135). This second component is not so much the money or car that is being lent, or even the act of saving another person’s life (as all these fall under the first component) as it is the person’s kindness or benevolence or good-naturedness or sincere willingness out of which the giving or granting of the favor arises.

    Utang na loob arises not out of the first component, not because one borrowed a specific amount of money or a particular thing. In truth, often, the value of the loan or nature of the thing lent has little effect on whether or not a person incurs utang na loob (thought it may “magnify” the “amount” of utang na loob that must be repaid, as we shall see later). Rather, it is the second component that “creates” pagkakautang na loob or indebtedness. Utang na loob refers to this indebtedness that arises out of this benevolent willingness of another to grant one a favor, regardless of the nature of the observable component of the favor. “What the Filipino term ‘utang na loob’ literally means is that the lender is giving part of himself. He conveys good will. Thus, this is what he is owed. The beneficiary of his favor incurs a debt of good will that needs to be repaid” (de Castro 2001). The acknowledgment and eager and willing reciprocity of this indebtedness is called pagtanaw ng utang na loob.

    The willingness and even eagerness to acknowledge such internal debt of benevolence and to return it in kind by rendering a similar favor or at least through token gifts or services which function to express one’s feeling of appreciation and loyalty to the benefactor is what Filipinos term utang na loob (Singson 1979:135).

    Such metaphysical underpinnings of indebtedness are surely not without its complexities, the foremost of which is repayment. Unlike an ordinary loan or mortgage which one easily repays by fulfilling the financial obligations one has incurred, utang na loob is essentially very difficult, if not impossible to repay, primarily because the debt is an informal and intangible one. There are no contracts, no formal agreements as to how or how much utang na loob is being incurred.

    A debt of good will is incurred under informal circumstances. The giving of assistance or the grant of a favor takes place without a formal indication or clear understanding of how it ought to be repaid or reciprocated (de Castro 2001).

    This informality and ambiguity of repayment of the debt is merely the beginning. De Castro’s (2001) questions are as haunting as they are disturbing.

    But there are no formal indications of repayment terms. There are no clear bases for determining what is owed. So many questions need to be asked. Is there an obligation on the part of the beneficiary to repay the good will? If there is, can the obligation be quantified? Are there time limits for settling the obligation? Is there a right on the part of the person granting the favor to demand that he be given a favor in return? Can he ask for a specific favor?

    In addition to the informality, utang na loob is incurred implicitly and is an indebtedness that is not easily and readily assumed. Filipinos find this kind of indebtedness as something rather uncomfortable. It is a humbling, and sometimes even a humiliating experience which does not sit well with the Filipino’s sense of amor propio1, or loosely, pride or self-esteem. Often, it is only in dire circumstances that a Filipino will entreat another for help. In general, however, it is rather uncommon for Filipinos to ask for favors, especially large ones, because it involves incurring utang na loob. In those occasions when utang na loob is reluctantly incurred, sincere efforts are made by the beneficiary to not only return the favor, but to do so as soon as possible, so as to avoid feeling hiya2 (loosely, shame) and the loss of face. It is this feeling of hiya (which arises out of the beneficiary himself and not from any external source) that compels the beneficiary to repay the utang na loob.

    There is a feeling of uneasiness about being on the indebted side. This reluctance to be or to remain the indebted party encourages one to make or at least to attempt adequate reciprocation with interest as soon as the chance is given (Singson 1979: 137).

    When utang na loob is incurred, the benefactor often makes no mention of it, because to do so is indecorous and goes against the common sense of courtesy of a Filipino. The benefactor conveys good will, but must not make a big show of it. In turn, the debtor is expected to know, without being told, that he has incurred utang na loob.
    There is, however, an added twist to all this. First of all, because utang na loob is an indebtedness due to the good will out of which the favor was granted, it demands that the same favor be granted out of sheer benevolence, and not because of any expectation of reward or return. It is this altruism, this benevolence, often called kagandahang loob (or literally, a beautiful/good inner self) that creates the situation of indebtedness (de Castro 2001). However, because the favor was extended out of pure benevolence, then the benefactor must not necessarily expect compensation or reciprocation.

    Actions done in anticipation of reward or personal gain are not done out of kusang loob [one’s own inner self]. There can be no kagandahang loob if actions are tainted with a selfish desire. If one’s beneficial actions were calculated to derive public recognition or material reward, they lose the purity that is essential to kagandahang loob (de Castro 2001).

    The implication of this is clear: nothing compels the beneficiary to recognize the utang na loob, since the act was done out of pure good will, which demands that no return must be expected because otherwise, there would be no good will, and hence no indebtedness. Nothing, at least, that arises from the benefactor.

    Given the nature of kagandahang loob, it can be inferred that the benefactor does not have a right to a reciprocal treatment by the beneficiary. The reason is that kagandahang loob presupposes disinterest in compensation or reward for the beneficial act. By demanding compensation or reward, the benefactor would be negating one of the conditions necessary for the establishment of the debt of good will. If he were truly motivated purely by a genuine concern to address an urgent need of the beneficiary, he could not be making such demands (de Castro 2001).

    De Castro then argues that there is therefore no obligation on the part of the beneficiary to “repay” an act out of kagandahang loob. However, we cannot simply say that there is likewise no debt, because “The kagandahang loob needs to be returned. Thus it would seem that the beneficiary has an obligation to return the kagandahang loob” (de Castro 2001).

    The irony now is this: the beneficiary is obligated to reciprocate an act out of kagandahang loob, which demands that the reciprocation is done freely, willfully, without any external compulsion. In de Castro’s (2001) words:

    However, this last statement introduces a conceptual puzzle. Kagandahang loob requires that the agent act without external compulsion and be motivated purely by a concern for the beneficiary of his action. But how can one be free from external compulsion and be motivated purely by an altruistic concern as he complies with an obligation?

    De Castro’s (2001) solution, to which this paper adheres, is to argue that the obligation of utang na loob is a self-imposed one. It is imposed by the benefactor upon himself. “He owes it to nobody but himself to reciprocate with another kagandahang loob. It is only he who can compel himself to generate kagandahang loob without violating the requirement of the absence of external compulsion.”

    Now, because a self-imposed obligation exists, then repayment is necessary. But the question is, how does one repay utang na loob? The very nature of utang na loob demands its intangibility: because it does not in any way refer to the observable component but rather arises out of the non-observable component, it is therefore something that cannot be repaid by means of the fulfillment of any material obligation. It is unrepayable by any material means. This, however, is not to say that it is something that cannot be reciprocated. Often, utang na loob is reciprocated when a person exhibits the willingness to extend the same benevolence in turn to his benefactor. “Perhaps the only thing that can be said with certainty is that the beneficiary must be willing to repay the favor with another favor. The recipient of good will must be ready to give of himself in return when the opportunity arises” (de Castro 2001).

    We must be careful, however, not to mistake reciprocity with repayment, as, in the case of utang na loob. These are two very different things. While it is possible and even easy to reciprocate utang na loob (and in that case it may be said that a person is someone who is marunong tumanaw ng utang na loob, loosely, someone who knows how to return a favor), a Filipino often finds it very difficult to completely repay this kind of indebtedness, primarily because there is inextricable ambiguity that surrounds utang na loob, particularly regarding the amount of utang na loob that has been incurred, precisely because utang na loob is not something that can be quantified due to its intangible nature.
    There is a bitter irony in this: though utang na loob may be something that is impossible, or at best difficult, to repay, this “unrepayability” results in a Filipino feeling that he is all the more indebted, and thus strives even more to repay utang na loob. Indeed, the “larger” the utang na loob, the more difficult it is to repay, and the harder a Filipino must try to pay it back.

    The question remains, though. How does one repay a debt such as utang na loob? At the risk of contradicting what has been said earlier, the only acceptable form of repayment is reciprocity of the good will that was extended by the benefactor, even as reciprocity does not connote repayment. I repeat the words of de Castro: “The recipient of good will must be ready to give of himself in return when the opportunity arises.” Repayment of the loan, or the swift return of a borrowed car extinguishes the observable component of the debt, but not the unobservable one. Since the unobservable component is a debt of good will, then the repayment is that of good will as well.

    However, this is where the complexity of utang na loob lies. Reciprocity in terms of the willingness to “repay” the good will extended to a Filipino by a benefactor, though very much acceptable, often does not extinguish utang na loob. There is no contradiction involved here. For Filipinos, while it is possible to repay an utang na loob in the form of reciprocity, such a debt persists, endures, and often remains unextinguished.

    This difficulty in “repaying” utang na loob is not at all helped by the fact that repayment is often a game of one-upmanship. Upon falling under such obligation, a Filipino will often make grandiose acts of benevolence in the hope of extinguishing an utang na loob. After being the recipient of such benevolence, the original benefactor is now compelled to feel indebted to the original beneficiary—it is the benefactor who now owes the beneficiary utang na loob. This, in turn, compels the original benefactor to repay the newly-incurred utang na loob with an even larger act of benevolence, which then compels the original beneficiary to feel even more indebted to the benefactor than he was before. Such a cycle of payment and repayment continues, viciously and often ad nauseam, until it comes to a point when neither party knows who owes whom how much utang na loob, a debt whose amount was already unquantifiable at the outset.

    While there is definitely an obligation on the part of the beneficiary to repay utang na loob, such an obligation remains unquantifiable in terms of amount and duration. Many Filipinos nurse such an obligation over extremely long periods of time, sometimes even transcending the lifetimes of the original beneficiaries and benefactors. In such cases, utang na loob is passed on to the sons and daughters of both parties as some sort of legacy, to be fulfilled as faithfully as it was by their parents.

    Intentional failure, unwillingness, or even the mere hesitation to repay utang na loob is severely looked down upon and is considered reprehensible behavior. Ungratefulness does not even begin to describe such an attitude. Filipinos consider one who refuses to reciprocate or turns his back on such a debt of good will as someone who is ingrato or walang utang na loob. Such a reproach is not to be taken lightly. To be called an ingrato is to call into serious question one’s sense of personal honor and dignity. “It would be difficult to find a more biting reproach or invective against a Filipino than calling him an ingrate or a tao na walang utang na loob—an ungrateful one or a man bereft of a sense of gratitude” (Singson 1979: 135).

    Because of this, Filipinos find themselves educated on utang na loob rather early in life. “Filipino parents through stern and persuasive means inculcate upon their offspring as soon as they are old enough to understand that no decent person can afford to be without concern for utang na loob” (Singson 1979: 137).

    There are occasions, however, when one may be unable to repay an utang na loob, even as one may desire to do so. In cases such as these, a person is not necessarily one who is ingrato, because he is still willing, though, unable, to repay the debt of goodwill. However, that person is expected to feel hiya, which arises out of his failure, though unintentional, to repay the utang na loob.

    Failure to pay one’s utang na loob by requiting with interest brings, or at least should bring hiya or shame on the part of ingrato. Likewise, failure to render partial payments through occasional token gifts or services expressive of one’s recognition of indebtedness causes or ought to cause hiya (Singson 1979: 137).

    In the event that one fails to recognize or admit to this feeling of hiya, one is then labeled as someone who is walang hiya or shameless, a reproach which is almost as reprehensible as walang utang na loob.

    It is, however, considered improper to explicitly “collect” on an utang na loob. Just as the beneficiary is expected to know, without being told, that he has incurred utang na loob, the benefactor is expected to say little, if not nothing at all, about the indebtedness. In fact, ideally, even waiting for reciprocity for a favor granted is something that the benefactor should not do since kagandahang loob, a vital component of the indebtedness demands that he expect nothing in return. It is, however, and strangely so, common for benefactors to attempt to leverage some sort of advantage when asking for favors by calling on past favors they have granted and for a beneficiary to repay utang na loob.

    However, a benefactor who attempts to collect on an utang na loob by invoking past indebtedness is said to be nanunumbat, an act which is frowned upon by Filipino culture, for the reason that Filipinos do not like being reminded of their indebtedness. Likewise, a benefactor who performs benevolent acts in the hope of creating a situation of indebtedness between him and his “beneficiary,” creates what are known as “debts of ill will” (de Castro 1994). Strangely enough, it is for this reason that Filipinos sometimes refrain from helping others, because they are reluctant to place their benefactor in a position of indebtedness.

    OTHER SENSES OF UTANG NA LOOB

    The preceding paragraphs describe the nature of utang na loob in the general sense, as quite loosely, that of gratitude for a debt of good will. There are, however, three other contexts of utang na loob. Aside from utang na loob as a debt of good will, Filipinos also see utang na loob as a means of expressing one’s loyalty to one’s benefactors, as an entreatment or a means to make pleas, and finally as an expression of vehement disagreement or as an expletive.

    Utang na loob as a means of expressing loyalty
    to one’s benefactors

    This sense of utang na loob, as with the general sense of utang na loob, normally arises out of a benefactor doing a beneficiary a good turn out of pure good will. The emphasis in this case, however, is not so much the general reciprocity on the part of the beneficiary but “the special claim of the benefactors’ upon the beneficiary’s adherence, appreciation, and service in virtue of the special favor done or conferred out of pure good will” (Singson 1979: 141). This is to say that the means of repaying the utang na loob in this sense is manifested as a loyalty to a benefactor which arises out of the debt of good will that has been incurred. Loyalty, therefore, in this sense is understood as “grateful loyalty.”

    We must note, however, that loyalty in the Filipino context, can take on a strange twist. Often, loyalty that arises out of utang na loob means loyalty no matter what. This means that through thick or thin, right or wrong, someone who is bound by this particular kind of “grateful loyalty” is expected to side with his benefactor. There are extreme cases when this kind of loyalty demands that a beneficiary cover up the wrong doings of a benefactor (pagtatakip) if only to fulfill the obligations of utang na loob.

    This sort of loyalty is extended to a benefactor, to whom a significant utang na loob is owed. Benefactors may include a landowner whose land is being farmed and tilled by peasants, a friend who helps one get a job, historical figures who played important roles in the shaping of the country’s future, or one’s parents, or even God.
    In the case of the benefactor being one’s parents, utang na loob therefore pertains to the feeling of a deep sense of responsibility towards one’s parents as a means of expressing gratitude for one’s life and for the care and love that the parents extended to the person as a child. “Grown up children vie with each other for the privilege of taking care of their retired parents [because] they are motivated by a sense of utang na loob” (Singson 1979: 138).

    Filipinos, in general, also feel a deep sense of indebtedness to the supernatural. “The religiosity of Filipinos also takes on the color of utang na loob, gratefulness to those supernatural beings to whom, above all, they believe they owe their life and felicity” (Singson 1979: 138). We can consider the relationship between Filipino religiosity and their sense of utang na loob as something rather circular: Filipinos are deeply religious and have a tendency to celebrate religious occasions in a lavish fashion because of their sense of utang na loob. However, Filipinos feel this utang na loob deeply and most fervently because of their religiosity.

    Utang na loob as “Please do something”

    There are occasions when utang na loob takes on a completely different flavor from that of a debt of good will. This is because sometimes, Filipinos may make use of it to make some sort of plea or entreaty, or as a means of asking for a great favor. By invoking utang na loob, a Filipino places himself at the tender mercies of his would-be benefactor. In this sense, utang na loob is synonymous with parang awa mo na (or loosely, “please have mercy”). Taken literally, this sense of utang na loob seems to mean that one would be very grateful to another, if that other person would do as one asks. This, however, is too literal an interpretation and does not make much sense.

    A much better recourse is to understand this in the context of kagandahang loob, or benevolence which is the true source of utang na loob. If utang na loob arises out of the benevolence out of which a favor is given, then clearly, the supplication is better understood as an appeal to a person’s sense of good will or kagandahang loob.

    For instance, if a Filipino is in grave danger of getting hurt or mauled by an assailant, he or she might make the plea, “utang na loob, huwag po ninyo akong sasaktan” which loosely means “please don’t hurt me.” (Note that the person could have said “para niyo nang awa, huwag po ninyo akong sasaktan,” and it would be the same thing). The plea for mercy is a powerful one, particularly because it appeals to a person’s intrinsic benevolence and sense of kindness. Only a truly heartless individual can afford to ignore such a plea.

    Utang na Loob as an expletive or
    an expression of vehement disagreement

    Words, sentences and other utterances that we speak are often emotionally charged. “The language we use to express ourselves varies from the neutral to the very emotionally charged” (Seech 1993: 17). To say that a word is emotionally charged, either positively or negatively, is to say that the word evokes strong feelings within us. Words such as “bribe,” “hoard,” “selfish,” and “rude” have in general negative charges, while words such as “pleasant,” “share,” “efficient,” and “kind” have, in common and ordinary usage, positive charges.

    It is therefore common for many public speakers to make use of rhetoric in their speeches in order to be more persuasive as they make use of emotionally charged words.

    Though the word gratitude may have an emotional charge that is only slightly positive, among Filipinos, the term utang na loob possesses a very strong emotional charge. Whether the charge is positive or negative varies depending on the context in which it is used.

    Due to this strong emotional charge, there are occasions when utang na loob is used as an expression to convey strong feelings, often that of vehement disagreement, about an issue or an idea. It is also sometimes used as an expletive, though generally not a vulgar one.
    There are many examples, and these have been previously mentioned. Sometimes, when a Filipino wishes to convey strong disappointment at not being helped or granted a favor, he resorts to saying something of this sort: “Pagkatapos ng lahat ng ginawa ko para sa iyo, heto ang isusukli mo? Wala kang utang na loob!” This may be loosely translated as, “After all that I have done for you, this is what I get in return? You are ungrateful!” Filipinos in general find it a strongly charged rebuke to a refusal for a request. It is particularly potent if the one who refused owes a debt of good will. Friendships often end after an episode wherein one party makes this sort of an accusation.

    In other instances, utang na loob can also be used to express strong feelings of disagreement with an issue or a proposed idea. Take the following, for instance.

    Utang na loob lang ano! Si Gilrhea isasabak sa Miss Universe????? Ano ba kayo? BULAG? Tama na nga ang inyong pagpapantasya na si Gilrhea eh beauty queen material! Susmaryosep! Kahit balutan ng ginto at pasakayin sa 1,000 helikopter eh hinde talaga MAGANDA!!!!! HOY GISING!!!!!! Basilio, Crispin, mga anak ko!!!!!

    A little more complicated to translate than the previous example, the above paragraph roughly means that the speaker disagrees with the idea that Gilrhea is beautiful enough to join the Miss Universe pageant. A little on the colorful side, with several sarcastic remarks about gold and helicopters, one cannot fail but notice the particular context of utang na loob in this paragraph. Hardly a remark about indebtedness, “utang na loob lang ano!” is used more to punctuate the speaker’s expression of extreme disagreement with the idea of a certain Gilhrea joining a beauty pageant.

    Finally, Filipinos sometimes use utang na loob as an expletive to convey not necessarily disagreement, but strong emotions, often to shock the listener into paying attention to what the speaker is saying. For instance the expression, “Pwede ba, tigil-tigilan mo ako? Utang na loob! Huwag mo akong kulitin!” A very loose translation of the above is, ”Stop bothering me!” Much of the color of the above statement is lost in translation, particularly because this color is provided by the phrase utang na loob. Again, in this context, utang na loob is not a reference to any debt of goodwill. Rather, it acts as an expletive, making the statement “stop bothering me” a more forceful and emotional one.

    An evaluation of Utang na Loob as a cultural value

    The peculiarity of utang na loob brings with it many complexities. First is the difficulty in explicating and differentiating it from the ordinary sense of gratitude, which is universal. This we have already dealt with in the previous sections of this paper.

    What remains to be done is to determine whether utang na loob is a desirable virtue or an undesirable one. This, however, is no easy task, as in the end, the answer as to whether utang na loob is a positive or negative cultural trait is frustratingly ambiguous. That is, in some instances, it is something altogether positive, whereas in others, it is something completely negative.

    It is quite easy to understand why one can consider utang na loob as a positive cultural value. Ultimately, utang na loob is just another, though peculiar, strain of the universal virtue of gratitude. To be thankful and grateful for favors extended to us, to wish to return these favors to our benefactors, certainly, there is little that is undesirable there. That utang na loob is intensely felt and lived by Filipinos only goes to show that Filipinos, arguably, place more premium on gratitude and are able to express this in ways more profound and colorful than other cultures.

    In addition, gratitude, in particular, utang na loob, among Filipinos is not an isolated virtue, one that stands apart from other cultural virtues. In truth, utang na loob lies at the crux of many other Filipino values. The relationship of utang na loob with hiya for instance is an intricate one, with neither virtue being completely free from complications brought about by the other. One must fulfill utang na loob because without it, he must bear the burden that is hiya.

    Utang na loob is also one of the many sources of Filipino religiosity. The Filipino is bound to God, because of God’s act of creation. But more than just this creation, what solidifies this bond, and therefore creates utang na loob is that God not only created the universe, but He sustains it and the Filipino as well. God is the Filipino’s rock, his sanctuary, the one true hope that shines through the deepest darkness, and His love the one thing that sustains him. Because of this, the Filipino finds the need to return this benevolence, no matter how insufficient this reciprocal act may be.

    Hence, it is the Filipino’s gratitude to God that compels him to not only worship and praise Him, but to celebrate His feasts with an exuberance rarely matched by any other culture.

    In addition to religiosity, utang na loob is likewise central to how a Filipino forms his loyalties. While Filipinos will often be loyal to a friend or a family member, this sort of loyalty nonetheless pales in comparison to the kind of loyalty that arises out of utang na loob. A benefactor to whom a Filipino owes utang na loob can rest easy knowing that nothing short of something miraculous can make a Filipino turn his back on a pledge of loyalty rooted in utang na loob.

    Similarly, a parent can count on his child for support during his twilight years, as the Filipino views this as a means of repaying one’s utang na loob to one’s parents. It is the moral force of utang na loob that compels this: no Filipino who has any sense of utang na loob would dare send his parents to a nursing home.

    Utang na loob binds the Filipino to his kapwa, his fellowman. It forms the foundations of his loyalty, his religiosity, his fellowship with the people around him. With it, and through it, he expresses in a thoroughly unique way, his heartfelt gratitude for a deed that springs from the wellspring of goodness that Filipinos believe to be living within each and every one of us. Because of it, the Filipino preserves his identity. At no other time is a Filipino truly a Filipino as when he takes it upon himself to fulfill any and all obligations arising out of utang na loob.

    But again, a virtue as intensely felt as utang na loob is not without its negative consequences, and for many reasons. True altruism is an ideal, and even among Filipinos, such an ideal is not always upheld. For utang na loob to be binding and true, the benefactor must extend the act of good will without any thought of reciprocation; such is the demand of acts of goodwill. If any reciprocation is expected or even demanded, then the act no longer arises out of pure good will and thus no utang na loob is owed.

    Even as utang na loob demands this disinterestedness on the part of the benefactor in any sort of reciprocation, it remains uncommon, even among Filipinos, for one to act without expecting any measure of reciprocity. At its ugliest, a Filipino will attempt to explicitly collect on an utang na loob; he will resort to sumbat, to explicitly and palpably remind a creditor of the favors owed and the returns expected, in order to compel the latter’s obeisance to his whims. In cases such as these, utang na loob is used to control, to enforce obedience and compliance, and a Filipino will more often than not obey, no matter what the cost or consequences. And because utang na loob truly is compelling, often a Filipino will do something against his will or, worse, something illegal or immoral, if such a request is made against the backdrop of his pagkakautang or indebtedness.

    There are occasions when unscrupulous individuals will take advantage of a Filipino’s sense of utang na loob. De Castro relates how a person may grant a favor to another for the specific purpose of creating a relationship of binding indebtedness. For instance, he can lend an amount of money that is nearly impossible for a housekeeper to pay not because he truly wishes to help the poor person get out of a tight situation but because he wants to make that person beholden to him. His aim is to establish a prospectively profitable indebtedness. He can use the indebtedness to extract disproportionate or inappropriate favors.

    Such a scenario is not something that is unlikely. On the contrary, it is fairly common in Filipino society for housekeepers, helpers, tenants and the like, to incur not just financial obligations, but utang na loob as well. While the amount the housekeeper owes may be difficult to repay, the utang na loob eventually becomes impossible to reciprocate. This results in the indebtedness not just of the housekeeper but of his entire family as well. Thus we see, among Filipinos, cases of servants becoming indentured for life. There are even occasions when a lifetime is not enough to repay an utang na loob as the children of the original benefactors and creditors continue the legacy of indebtedness. The intensity of utang na loob gives the indebtedness enough force to survive even the death of the original contractors of the obligation.

    Small wonder, then, that Filipinos are reluctant to incur utang na loob, simply because it is very, very difficult to dig one out of such a deep hole. This is likewise the reason why some Filipinos are more than hesitant to grant large favors, because doing so means placing the recipient of the act of goodwill in a position of indebtedness. By granting large favors, a Filipino will unwittingly dig the hole that another Filipino is unwilling to find himself stuck in.

    It is difficult to say whether these negative effects and consequences of utang na loob outweigh its positive aspects. But certainly, all of a sudden, it makes us pause, and compels us to ask whether utang na loob is a positive or negative cultural value. And it is not just utang na loob that comes into question, because as we attempt to determine the value of utang na loob, we realize that we cannot avoid examining our ideas of gratitude as well. We stare through muddy waters and peer through looking glasses darkly as we ask, just what is gratitude and how much gratitude is enough? With utang na loob, the question becomes a complicated and altogether confusing one. As it is, very few, if any at all, answers are forthcoming.

    At the least, therefore, there can be no definite answer as to whether utang na loob is a positive or negative value because it is at best a two-edged sword. It must suffice then to say that ambiguity surrounds utang na loob. It is an indebtedness that is incurred implicitly, and thus, it is sometimes unclear as to exactly which occasions give rise to it. Neither party knows exactly how much utang na loob is owed, nor when an utang na loob has been sufficiently reciprocated. And finally, as to whether it is desirable or not, that too is unclear as utang na loob has its benefits and disadvantages.

    To others, such ambiguity, to have no idea whether a debt has been repaid, must certainly be frustrating. However, Filipinos in general feel comfortable with such ambiguity. As with most Asian cultures, Filipinos celebrate this indefiniteness; it is a grayness that is found in most of their other values, and it marks and colors their culture which responds with a resplendence the Filipino can call his own.

    NOTES

    1. Amor Propio may be understood as insecurity, indolence, arrogance, or irritability but is more accurately described as a strong sense of individual dignity (Guthrie 1971: 61-62).

    2. Hiya is a feeling of inferiority, embarrassment, shyness, and of alienation, which is experienced as acutely distressing (Guthrie 1971: 62).

    REFERENCES
    Omitted:

  6. I have updated this post “Strengths and Weaknesses…” and this should also serve as my answer to Louie Montemar.

    Thank you Dora and Atty.Benji for the clarifying contributions to this discussion. I’ve been busy with other things lately and so my late reply to your posts. Thanks again to all! jun a.
    —–

    Part II: Is Utang Na Loob- Debt Of Gratitude Or Debt Of Goodwill?

    We begin with the language by agreeing that Debt Of Gratitude is the commonly accepted English translation of Utang Na Loob in our Philippine culture. Taken at face value, this English translation suffices to explain what Utang Na Loob means to a non-Tagalog speaker,- and its just alright if we Filipinos, not the Americans, have decided to use Debt of Gratitude as the equivalent English translation. The main point now is not to debate about the suitable English translation for there is none, but to describe what Utang Na Loob means in our culture. Utang Na Loob really means more than Debt of Gratitude if one would dig deeper beyond the semantic usage. The source of confusion is surely in its English translation, for as Filipinos we know exactly what is meant by Utang Na Loob. Debt of Gratitude should be shipped back to America where it is rightfully used and understood.
    Utang Na Loob is more than just being able to pay back the performance you received and then to have no more obligation thereafter- as in a contractual transaction between you and a plumber whom you hired to fix your drainage. In interpersonal relations the western people will thank you for the favors you have given them- and that’s it, the thing is settled, no other obligations.
    In our country favors received are paid back with a moral obligation that is long lasting. It is not merely being indebted to somebody that ceases once repaid, but it is being unquantifiably indebted to somebody be it your parents who nurtured you, your older brother or sister who sent you to college, your doctor who saved your life- or the politician who gave you the job or your share of the graft.

    Translated literally, Loob means within, interior, inside, internal, inward, inner, deep : hence Utang Na Loob could mean by way of:

    1. Negative definition- as to be deeply indebted to somebody morally, obliging involved party or parties to a reciprocal responsibility;

    2. Positive definition -as the Filipino attitude of Sincere Deeper Thankfulness.

    Debt Of Gratitude-as we understand this English equivalent is more of common ethical condition of being indebted , whereas Utang Na Loob as we practice it is a cultural attitude of sincere deeper thankfulness.

    This is my understanding or definition of this traditional Filipino value. Debt of Gratitude is very much similar to Schuld der Dankbarkeit- its German counterpart. At the surface, these two foreign equivalents mean the same as our Utang Na Loob. The difference enters in practical application for then other cultural traits mingle with it and so the resulting different expressions causing observers to a qualitatively different observation and understanding of it, hence the incongruence and inadequateness of the English and even German translation.

    Other traits/constructs that may explain the difference:

    Personalism vs. Impersonalism:

    Personalism emphasizes the rights and centrality of the individual human being in his or her social, political, intellectual, etc. milieu.

    Impersonalism is the practice of maintaining impersonal relations with individuals or groups.

    To simply illustrate: Filipinos are often heard complaining about the Westerners as cold, lacking human emotion or warmth, lacking in compassion. The Whites or Westerners in turn complain about the emotionality, close to hysterical reactive behaviour and exaggerated friendliness of the Filipinos. The reason for this is the personalistic trait or approach of the Filipinos and the impersonalistic trait or approach of the Whites. This trait explains partly the difference between Utang na Loob and Debt of Gratitude or the German Schuld der Dankbarkeit; personalized approach to life and events are as a rule is emotionally charged. In general, Filipinos put a higher emotional value to his experiences than say a white American or European who take things rather with a business-like, impersonal attitude. In other words, Filipinos tend to sentimentalize experience and cling longer to its effect as opposed to the emotional distance observed among Westerners.

    This personalistic approach to life and events has its advantages in areas and situations where “human touch” or feelings are sought for by the recipients, Orientals or Westerners alike. An example to this are our medical and health workers who are in demand abroad for their known compassionate approach in nursing their patients and in their dealing with their patients’ relatives as well as with their co-workers and superiors.

    Personalism permeates the Filipino society- among people in the streets, in business and politics. This is evident in the bondings we Filipino unconsciously form among ourselves in our social transaction. Men address each other as Pare (Kumpadre) or Brod, Kuya, Kapatid and women call each other Ate, Kumare or Tita even when they are not blood related at all or even among strangers who just met.

    Hence, it can be said that we have an inclusive attitude in our dealing with one another and even with strangers or guests- as opposed to the exclusive, separatistic and individualistic Western attitude. The term Kapwa (fellow, togetherness or own kind)) along with Pakiramdam (one’s estimation of other’s emotions or sensitivities) also play a big role in our social psychology. Our famous Hospitality Trait can only come about because of these elements mentioned.

    Circular Thinking:

    If our social approach can be characterized as not direct, less offensive and considerating, then we can already infer that our thinking also follows a circular pattern, a pattern which we share with our fellow Asians. This thinking is largely guided by emotional contents and intuitive elements and the centrality of human sensitivities. Our considerate and inclusive approach leads our thinking to take circuitous ways as opposed to the Aristotelian Western logic which is a more linear, hence focused, style of thinking- goes direct from point A to point B without much regards to feelings and emotions; this thinking is guided primarily by concepts and structures. Asian philosophical, medical and religious traditions- represented in the works of Lao Zu (Taoism) are examples of circular and inclusive thinking; a good outcome of this is the Chinese Traditional Medicine which is primarily based on Chinese old philosophical concept of the interdependence of things and events.

    It is in the Emotional Intelligence that Filipinos excel- a kind of intelligence which Salovey and Mayer (1990) defined as “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.” On the other side of the globe, conceptual and structured thinking- or cognitive intelligence has produced brilliant minds from Einstein to Beethoven, From Darwin to Karl Marx.

    However, this fact should not lead us into wrong conclusion that the West is more intelligent than the East. Intelligence – when we mean by it as the capacity of abstract reasoning- is not a monopoly of the Western people; intelligent- as well as retarded- people are found in any country and an IQ of 160 in a European child has the same quality in a Filipino child when both have taken the same standardized Intelligence Test and scored the same. It is in the different cultural context that the expression of cognitive intelligence differs. A child – Asian or European- with an IQ of 160 raised in a culture where linearity, conceptual and structured thinking is emphasized will have more of his 160 IQ translated into high material performance than if the same child is raised in a culture where circularity, emotionality and intuitive thinking is emphasized.

    We are familiar with the idea that Westerners are extroverted type of people, ready to solve the problems and to change the world so it fits their needs; colonization was (and is) propelled by this type of thinking. While the Easterners are more introverted type of people, concerned with their inner world, ready to adjust their desires to the realities of the world and live with them; hence as a rule no desire to go out and colonize others (except the Imperial Japanese during World War II).

    Though we have been exposed to Western mentality, I still consider that our fundamental mindset is still Eastern. Perhaps this explain why we have problem with western concepts as bureaucracy and democracy in our nation: they just do not work as they should. These concepts are products of linear thinking and impersonalism. We all know that we Filipinos are Western in written form- our Constitution is Western style and is one of the best written body of laws and political concepts in the world- yet we cannot fullfil the promises of our Constitution because in practice we are simply the Eastern Filipinos, our practical actions being propelled by our very own type of circular thinking and personalistic view of the world.

    Democracy and bureaucracy are too abstract for us for they demand equality, rule of law and justice, loyalty not to somebody but to rules and regulations, professionalism, exactness in procedures- concepts that the Western mind adore and put with passion into actions. Whereas we Filipinos also adore them theoretically, but in practice they collide with our passions.

    Democracy- as we have taken it over from the West, or forcefully injected in our mind- doesn’t fit with the strengths and weaknesses of our political character. The question that I’ve been carrying a long time already is this: Shall we change ourselves to fit to the concept of Western democracy or shall we slowly adopt a form of government that fits to our strengths and weaknesses? Or, is it easier to change ourselves or the system of government? You may help me wrestle with this question.

    Back to Utang Na Loob. From the discourse above, it is implied that the Western mind would see favors as a “problems” to be solved at once, while our mind would see them as “problems” to live with. And all these elements discussed above seem to weave in and out together in our daily social interactions thus givingus a clue to a better understanding of Utang Na Loob and that of typical Filipino social personality profile.

    There is more inside our Loob than just Utang Na Loob if we would examine ourselves much deeper.
    Loob is a core concept in the psychology of the Filipinos which has been studied in depth by Filipino psychologists. From the very beginning, our culture seemed to have been fascinated with what is inside the Filipino and this word or concept of Loob has been a very useful tool in describing complex internal (emotional, mental and spiritual) events in the Filipino personality leading to the coining of a series of words denoting value contructs with the suffix -loob. I consider this psycho-linguistic phenomenon a very original Filipino achievement and I am even inspired to consider it as a new branch of psychology- the Loob Psychology (or Filipino Depth Psychology), which could easily fit the department of Ethnopsychology.

    Loob

    Here are some of the compilations by Filipino psychologists in their efforts to understand more the Flipino mind:
    Nakikingutang ng loob, to seek a favor from someone
    Ipagkaloob – to entrust
    lagay ng loob – mood, one’sstate of mind or feeling
    lakas-loob – courage
    tibay ng loob – inner strength
    tining ng loob- clarity of thinking, feeling, volition
    kababaang loob – humility, literally “lowness of the inside”
    kabutihang-loob – good naturedness
    kagandahang loob – generosity, noblemindedness
    may kusang-loob- one who does his work without prodding
    payapang loob – a peaceful, calm person
    mapagkaloob – a generous person
    mahina ang loob – a coward
    malakas ang loob- a daring person
    malamig ang loob – an indifferent person
    pikit ang loob – one who is blind to injustice
    mabigat ang loob- the state of being sad, heavy-hearted
    maluwag sa loob – one’sexperience of a state of being willing, cheerfully ready, literally to feel “loose/open on the inside”
    wala sa loob- a state of beingunwilling, literally to “not have it in oneself”
    tapat na kalooban- the state of havinga sincere inner being
    masasamang-loob – criminals, literally, “those with bad inner beings”
    kapalagayang loob – confidante, intimate
    pampalubag-loob – consolation
    kagaanang-loob – something to pacify intense emotion such as anger
    The word loob, simply taken as “inside” and not a construct, is also used for “looban,” which means an interior compound, or community; and for the term “manloloob”, which means “robber,” literally “someone who enters.” (source:wikipedia )

    You see now that it is worth examining the Filipino soul- or Loob. I just observed that “Walang Utang Na Loob” is not in the list above (or are there some more ?). Now, it is interesting how you would translate this into English- No Debt Of Gratitude or No Debt Of Goodwill? But I do think that how we understand it when somebody tells us “Wala Kang Utang Na Loob!” is the key to understanding now the real meaning of Utang na Loob. It is not only about being indebted, but of possesing -and expecting from others- the attitude of sincere and deeper (loob) thankfulness.

    (To be continued)

    jun asuncion

    Bulan Observer

  7. louie c. montemar

    dear bulan observer, dora and atty. benjie:

    thank you for not taking my simple comment in the negative. this is precisely what i wanted– that we rethink, research, read, reflect. ang utang na loob ay kaugnay sa ating dalumat ng pagiging “magkakapatid.” iisa lang ang ating loob. napatid lang tayo sa ating mga pisikal na anyo. iisa tayo. magkakapatid.

    salamat. ;-)

  8. Thank you Louie for your feedback.
    I have finally read this philosophical analysis of utang na loob by Francis Dancel as shared to us by atty.benji, which I found to be very illuminating as he tried to show utang na loob in different contextual relationships and meanings. He wrestled at length to show the difficulty of translating utang na loob into English, giving us other choices in viewing this much debated Filipino trait.

    Nevertheless, I find no necessity in finding the suitable English translation; debt of gratitude should suffice when explaining this to foreigners. Two things to know why there can be no adequate English translation: First, English and Tagalog are languages that are products of different cultural thinking and worldview, second, utang na loob is such a complex concept for it is a cultural attitude with all its nuances that evolved through history and which cannot be captured by a single term.

    I also observed that Dancel’s or De Castro’s use of philosophy to analyse utang na loob complicates this term a little bit more. Take this statement for example:

    “For utang na loob to be binding and true, the benefactor must extend the act of good will without any thought of reciprocation”.

    - How can my not thinking about reciprocation (or not expecting repayment) determines or defines the experience of utang na loob in the other? The beneficiarie’s reaction to a favor may or may not necessarily result to utang na loob even if the benefactor explicitly expects non-repayment or even explicitly expects repayment of the favors he gives. One thing, we also know that there are simply people who are Walang Utang na Loob.

    Or this one:

    “That utang na loob is intensely felt and lived by Filipinos only goes to show that Filipinos, arguably, place more premium on gratitude and are able to express this in ways more profound and colorful than other cultures.

    - I have trouble looking for the meaning of profoundness of our gratitude in our political character and how it relates to nation-building. Many other cultures whom the author think may not possess the profoundness of our gratitude are perhaps more unified and progressive than the Philippines. If this is such a case, such a profoundness that Dancel is referring to does not necessrily mean a political character strength. Many of our past presidents for example got the trust and votes from many honest citizens but these presidents did not show their utang na loob, but instead plundered (Marcos, Estrada…) and cheated the nation (Arroyo).

    jun asuncion

  9. Art Burroughes

    Wow thanks for this blog! Its very useful as I run seminars on personal power here in Philippines. “Getting things done” for Westerner’s can be challenging in Philippines and more and more I have this perception that passive-aggression resulting from 300 years of colonialisation is a tragic form of national self-sabotage.

    I used to own a book titled “influence” which cited a number of deep human traits which could potentially be exploited. One of these was called reciprocity.

    I am guessing that this basically a very deep instinctual drive in all cultures, but I am curious as to why it is so exaggerated and complex in Philippines.

    Philippines has intensely hierarchical family and tribal structures, probably even before the foreign oppressors arrived. Within such a system those beneath perceive themselves to be powerless and lacking in rights. Without rights, any act of support would therefore seem like a gift rather than a duty. I am guessing the intensity of Utang Na Loob is derived from this.

    Art

    • Thanks Art for your nice comment. Below is my reply, still incomplete as I view it and would like to continue it some other time.
      Thanks again.

      ——-

      From Code Of Kalantiyaw To Mt. Sinai

      by jun asuncion

      This post is not intended as an academic work but just my personal thoughts on this Independence Day and as my reply to a comment on my earlier post Strengths And Weaknesses Of The Filipino Political Character.

      A Hindu-Muslim Archipelago. We know of Datu Puti as one of the Bornean Datus who ruled in the south during the pre-Hispanic period. During the Spanish time Raja Colambu was the King of Limasawa, Rajah Humabon of Cebu, Sultan Kudarat Of Maguinadanao, Datu Lapulapu of Mactan, Rajah Lakandula of Tondo, Datu Macabulos of Pampanga, Datu Urduja of Pangasinan and Rajah Sulaiman III of Manila. There were many other Datus and Rajas all over the archipelago whom the Spanish colonial power called Las Islas Filipinas, the Islands of the Philippines. Hinduism came to the Philippines via traders between 1350 and 1389 from the island of Java during the Majapahit Empire (1293-1500) and exerted great influence on the natives of the archipelago only to be superseded within a short time by the Islamic conquest of Majapahit empire and the coming of Islamic Indonesians and Arab missionaries in the 15th century.

      Hence, the archipelago was dominantly a Hindu- Muslim archipelago as Sultans, Datus and Rajahs are all Hindu-Muslim titles of rulers and nobilities. If I identify myself with the pre-Hispanic archipelago, then I’m a Hindu- Muslim; if I identify myself with the time and culture I was born in, then I am a Christian.

      Genetically of Malay race, our dominant ancestral, pre-Hispanic civilized society was a Hindu- Muslim society. However, not all people at that time were Hindu-Muslims as there were people who were trapped or isolated themselves up in the mountains and were neither islamized when the Muslims came nor catholicized with the coming of the Spaniards. They still exist today as “cultural minorities” (a label I dislike) like the Igorots, Aetas, Ati (Negritos ethnic group) etc. with their own culture, political organisation and system of beliefs.

      The very first people who inhabited the archipelago- or some places of it- long before the invention or evolution of today’s dominant religions were animistic in their belief and world view. If I identify myself with those primal ancestors of 20-30 thousand years ago – in the belief that my family and genetic lineage can be traced back to them- then I am an animist, a being who is one with the forces of nature and see spirits in them, or much later a syncretist of Hinduistic origin who believes in Anitos, Diwatas or Bathala.

      Hindu-Muslim Social Hierarchy. The independent Hindu-Muslim barangays in the archipelago and the sultanates in the south all attest to existing social communities, communities with hierarchical systems of Ruling class as Sultans, Datus or Rajahs, of Intermediate class as the Freemen or Maharlikas and of the Ruled or Unfree-class as the Alipins or slaves.

      There were interbarangay commerce, cultural exchanges, etc., all transactions suggesting a kind of confederative co-existence,yet no common identity, no common laws, no central government that kept them together or a court that settled interbarangay conflicts. The mythical legal code of Kalantiyaw which was supposed to bring order to the folks of Negros was proven to be a forgery.

      But the social structures remained the same, more or less. Allowed to keep up their lordships over their barangays, the now catholized datus had to subjugate themselves however to the new ruling class, the Spaniards, or to the new omnipotent Catholic King of Spain. In effect, the whole archipelago with all its barangays was reduced to the lower class level, if not to that of oppressed or slaves, the Alipins. In fact the new ruling class introduced a new form of intricate slavery- the polo y servicio which is a system of forced labor within the encomienda throughout the island colony.

      From Suppression to Explosion. The suppression of emotions through centuries of encomienda and hacienda-slavery and injustices ultimately led to explosion. This big-bang in the history of the archipelago gave birth to the concept of freedom and nation during this colonial period which culminated by the end of the 19th century; by June 12,1898, 112 years ago, the Spanish dominion (which historically started in 1649 with the Sumoroy uprising in Samar) has ended and the first Philippine Republic was born.

      This short historical review is not meant to refresh our knowledge but to remind us that the past explains a lot of things the way that the Filipinos are now, our character strengths and weaknesses and offer us clues as to why reciprocity. “debt” of gratitude, passive-aggressive traits and the like are so intense and complex among the Filipinos for the Western observers.

      As one Western commenter has observed about Reciprocity and Utang Na Loob:

      “I am guessing that this (Reciprocity) basically a very deep instinctual drive in all cultures, but I am curious as to why it is so exaggerated and complex in Philippines…Philippines has intensely hierarchical family and tribal structures, probably even before the foreign oppressors arrived. Within such a system those beneath perceive themselves to be powerless and lacking in rights. Without rights, any act of support would therefore seem like a gift rather than a duty. I am guessing the intensity of Utang Na Loob is derived from this.”

      Utang na Loob is a form of reciprocity which, as the name suggests, a Filipino version or expression of it. The short historical review has shown that for the majority of the Filipinos- before, during and even after colonial times- their history is a history of slavery or servantry, from our tribal past to the alipin sagigilid or mamamahay during our Hindu- Muslim past and to encomienda, hacienda and peonage slaves during the catholization. (It is said that peonage was the employed by the conquistadores wherein the Filipino workers were granted debt to their own slavery afterwards for failure to work off the debt, becoming permanently tied to their Spanish employers). Even up to now, the servantry is still very much a part of our socio-economic culture. Only that now, the government exports this “labor force” to other countries.

      With the coming of other colonizers, the Americans and the Japanese, the Filipinos were again forced to assume the slave mode and to suppress aggression in order to survive.

      Nature or Nurture?Against this historical backdrop and if we believe that personality is also moulded by external forces, then we can rightly assume that the Filipino collective personality is a product of his total experience which is layered in complex mixtures of genetics and external circumstances over a long time. The resulting product is a distinctly Filipino character. This explains the complexity of our traits when juxtaposed against other Asian people and other cultural groups.

      We Have Our Own Identity. Hence, this cry for the search of Filipino identity is a travesty, a political distortion in my view aimed at controlling the masses by sneakily activating their slave mode. We already have our own identity. I’m very cautious when I hear such phrase as “landslide victory” for then I suspect that the old trick has functioned again, that psychology has been politically abused or misused again. Also, it’s not wrong when a Westerner observes that there is exaggeration in our reciprocity trait, wrong maybe in the sense that it collides with their Western concepts of democracy and bureaucracy but in themselves our Filipino traits can never be wrong. It is not the search for identity but it’s about the search for a political system that fits our own character without sacrificing universal virtues as justice, freedom, human rights, etc.

      In truth, the past still lingers in us and this is where self-serving politics get their power. Our Western commenter has mentioned that “a number of deep human traits… could potentially be exploited. One of these was called reciprocity”.

      Landslide Win.When politics is just about power, then it’s only there to exploit available resources to support that power. This is very visible in our politics especially during elections. The character traits of the people are the number one target of this exploitation, material resources comes next to it. It’s not the vote that’s being bought but that Utang Na Loob of the people. A politician who is good in that will have that landslide win.

      Still In Progress. Indeed, the trait of Utang na Loob- as all other Filipino traits- has evolved out of this collective past, of the confluence of events and the need to survive physically, psychologically and socially. All traits had developed and been retained because they have this survival value. And while our social evolution is still in progress, I think that these traits that we have are also undergoing some mutations. Our Filipino traits are not static and final, we are changing or are being changed by events and time. We ourselves are witnesses to how these traits conflict with things new to us or which requires other cultural tools or constructs that are either foreign or less develop in us.

      Our Utang Na Loob is easily related to our slave mode than to our noble or lordship mode. This trait can only develop with such intensity and character out of social and economic survival necessity. You cannot experience the attitude of thankfulness with such intensity for things that are natural to you or that you have in abundance. Hence, for those who live in paradise, don’t expect Utang Na Loob; the same with our Tabon man in Palawan, our pre-historic ancestors who inhabited our caves thousands of years ago. I don’t think they knew Utang Na Loob as we know it now- or Hiya, Delicadeza, Freedom, Corruption, Alipin or Injustice. These things came to the archipelago with Islamization and Catholization. With these foreign oppressors, heaven is won but paradise is lost.

      You’ll find this Utang Na Loob in abundance for those who experienced hell or deprivation of basic things. For the majority of us our history was a history of deprivation. Those were hellish times under foreign enslavement. There were some Filipino families who profited from these periods of hell, who maintained their feudalistic vast haciendas even until now, who still practise landgrabbing and colonial slavery practices as peonage and force labor and many of them are in the government posing as public servants. But in truth they are masters of exploiting Utang Na Loob, Hiya and Pakikisama.

      Passive-Aggression. Certainly, with such a background of slavery where it was not safe to express anger or opinions but rather safer to resort to suppression and pakikisama in order to survive, we can only expect that passive-aggression is a part of colonized Filipinos’ coping or defense mechanisms. We know in psychology that families who forbid or deny their children the natural need to express feelings of hostilities produce adults who have this disorder. But it’s out of context to say- as our Western commenter has said- that it is a form of national sabotage if he means by it that Filipinos are using passive-aggression actively and consciously to destroy their nation and political development.

      A Happy Nation? Though I can confirm the presence of this negative trait in our society, I disagree with its willful or conscious use of national sabotage. Yet I believe that this goes on in the unconscious level in our political dynamics and hinders progress. Passive-aggression might have been a form of rebellion- or sabotage- against the colonial government at that time, a conscious one. But now, I look at it instead as extension colonial destruction. For the destruction of the people through colonial oppression and maltreatment doesn’t end with the disappearance of the oppressors but it continues, this trauma, this learned helplessness and passivity. Combined together, i.e., Spanish, Americans, Japanese, those were 425 years of trauma, suppression and slavery, of abuse and insult to the Filipino psyche. And add to that those nightmare decades under Marcos and Arroyo. Do you expect a healthy and happy nation by now?

  10. This post seems to be interesting for bloghoppers all over and it tells us that the world wants to know the Filipinos.
    My writings on this topic are just my personal views and are mostly written “over a cup of coffee” with a guitar on my lap and music running in my mind.

    With time, however, it is also becoming interesting for me. So I went through it this morning and, as usual, I discovered writing errors. I tried correcting them. So my apology for disturbing the readers’ sense of textual harmony.

    I’ll try to add more to this post with time but I hope to receive more intelligent and critical feedbacks.

    jun asuncion

  11. Anonymous

    its ok ;)

  12. Anonymous

    ….well!just respect ones opinion……galing ninyo lahat tnx nakaresearch ako….

    • Ven Cheock

      Bulan Observer

      Hi Jun,
      I was reading your remarkable posting I got from your Bulan Observer. It was commendable! It was a very broad observation of Filipino life.
      I can sense you are a highly intelligent with a keen mind of Filipino Way of Life with a noble purpose for a better Life sa taga-Bulan. Ano mo si Tiya Leni Asuncion?

      I was raised in Bulan, Central area. Now I am an old man, 75 years of experiences of life. I left Bulan since I was 15 years old to Manila, then at 36 years old I immigrated to Los Angeles. but I regularly visit Bulan during vacation. Although I was away for 60 years, I am still fluent in Bulan dialect. Kay taga Bulan baga ako, di man malimutan nato magsuramaton maski gurang na.

      Congratulation saimo.

      Sumasaimo,
      Lolo Bansoy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s