Strengths And Weaknesses – The Filipino Character

Or, Your Journey To A Better Society


Democracy, as we understand it by definition and as our Constitution attempts to provide it for our nation, is still light years away from us Filipinos. For though there is election, in effect we elect always the same set of politically powerful people, the Oligarchs. The conduct of election itself is in practice influenced (vote buying, giving of favors, threats and extortion, etc.) by these groups of people- and therefore the outcome. We have in practice a form Oligarchic Democracy in the Philippines.

We see in political history a reflection of the biological nature of man and the confirmation of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, the survival of the fittest. You have never seen an instance in nature where the weak dominates the strong. The degree of strength and in size  determines the instinctive inclination of animals to row themselves in proper positions in their jungle hierarchy. But it’s different in man owing to his moral instinct .This moral instinct is also a by-product of the evolution of the brain in response to his social environment, the organ that has released man from this jungle hierarchy, given him the power of abstraction and reflection and a sense of responsibility.

Ironically, radical political theories and political revolutions that we know have been based upon this sense of responsibility. Karl Marx saw the exploitation of the peasants by their feudal lords and industrial capitalists and devised a theoretical system to liberate them which was then put into action by Lenin and the Bolsheviks during the  October 1917 revolution.This failed in the long run because this system was against the natural instincts of man to Possess (market and economy) and to Self-actualisation (individual development) for one thing, and other thing  was that the system of communism, which was supposed to liberate them, turned into (or got stuck in)  totalitarianism (state regulation of almost all public and private matters!) and this enslaved them in the end. It is interesting to note how these forces of destruction and creation work in strange ways. Marx would turn in his grave if he would hear about the positive economic developments in China as capitalism ( free market) – which for Marx means “poverty in the midst of  plenty” – and personal possession (private property) were gradually allowed again, allowing them to rise up out of the poverty resulting from years of communism. Now, Oligarchy (defined as the rule of the rich and powerful few) was originally developed also to stop the rule of one man,- the Monarch, so as for power to be distributed. And now Oligarchs keep the power to themselves.

Yes, these political dynasties in the Philippines. They are the rich and powerful few, the Oligarchs of our nation! They are the ones who dominate our ugly political landscape, and they are not really attractive to people who crave for social and economic justice- not only in the Philippines but also in many places on earth. This dynasty-political system has long been a burden to the nation for it hinders our progress, fosters nothing but corruption and alienates the rest of the population from politics. With the growing resentment among the population, it’s about time that legislators should work on this issue (The main problem is that our legislators themselves come from these dynasties!). It is possible to remove the existing dynasties on two conditions: First, through a morally strong President who would see this task as his lifetime achievement (nothing else) and  by putting into effect Section 26 of Article II of the 1987 Constitution which reads “the State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit “Political Dynasties as maybe defined by Law” – and to amend this section by removing the disturbing word  “maybe“. Marcos tried it once, only he ended up building new ones! A military coup d’ etat aiming to save the country usually turns to a tyranny itself. So this is not a case for  the Philippines. Second, that these political dynasties, on local and national level, should now give way for more citizen participation in the electoral process so as to avoid anarchy. History teaches us that democracy is one thing, people’s emotion is another thing. That when a certain threshold is exceeded nature takes over civilization once again and gives way to eruption of emotions of hate and revenge leading to destruction and killings of politicians.- an event we call as people’s uprising or revolution. Look at Tibet today, or Haiti, Zimbabwe, Kenia and Pakistan. Or remember our Edsa People’s Power which ended Marcos’ Dynasty. The people literally overrun the object of hate (mostly corrupt politicians) to re-establish democratic order. Viewed in itself, the use of brute force and violence is indeed a primitive, non-democratic method, but interestingly  the end justifies the means when the end is the restoration of democracy  itself. This is the paradox of democracy bein g manifested in a political rupture. Our political dynasties can help much in changing the course of history if they would give way, therefore, easing political tension in our nation. With today’s economic and world food crises (mess of globalization!), poverty amidst plenty, we are back to the mother situations that had given birth to revolutions in the past. On the other hand,  economic and political crisis fragments and traumatises a society, thus making it susceptible to other ideologies, as in the case of Germany’ in 1918, when, after being defeated in war, plummeted to social, cultural and economic crisis. The Germans were too weak and hungry as to desist the rising National Socialism of Hitler. Hitler, originally an Austrian, promised the German nation alleviation from hunger and from the trauma of world war I. This seductive promise ended up as the biggest trauma itself for the German nation until today. The Filipinos, too weak to resist, may  also become susceptible to other ideologies.

The Philippines is already a capitalist society, and must not repeat  the experience of China which first adopted communism only to flirt with capitalism after its bitter experience with the former. And basically, we  have more political freedom compared to the Chinese of today. These two elements- free market and personal freedom- are also present in progressive societies like  Finland, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Switzerland, Japan, etc. But what is lacking that progress seems to be withholding itself from us? This brings us back to the center of human society- to man in general and (in the Philippines) the individual Filipino, in particular. Every modern Filipino is faced with these elements: the economy, politics and his choices. Do we have bad choices or can we not constructively deal with our freedom? I personally think we have bad choices. Try to examine the extent of discrepancy between our agreement and our corresponding choice of action. Our basic national agreement is best illustrated in the Preamble of our present Constitution which says:

We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God, in order to build a just and humane society and establish a Government that shall embody our ideals and aspirations, promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace, do ordain and promulgate this Constitution “

Now, the details:

1. Implore the aid of Almighty God. Yes! We are world champion in reciting prayers and rosaries, in going to church every Sunday, in showing reverence to the priests, in forwarding chain letters. We are famous for imitatio christi, as some of us get  flagellated and nailed on the cross every year. A new President taking oath saying “…so help me God.”  Well, God knows…

2. A just and humane society.  Well, what kind of society have we chosen to build? Can we call it just when some stand above the law and humane when countless live below existence minimum??

3. A Government embodying our ideals, aspirations, promoting common good. What kind of Government do we have now and in the past?  Promote common good? What kind of ideals and aspirations do our political dynasties represent and embody?

4. Democracy under the rule of law. Rule of law or of some powerful few? Pardoning the plunderer Erap was not an instance of rule of law but rather of the logic of greed and self-preservation of the incumbent president.

5. A regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality and peace. Nice things, but where are they? A regime of scams and crises, moral efluvia, substerfuge, extra-judicial killings. The list is long.

Now we ask ourselves- did we exercise good choices? If we had, we would have had a good government, a better  economy and a humane society by now. In short, Progress.

Many other countries also had a bitter childhood but they have chosen to overcome it, dusted themselves up and chose to work together. We Filipinos seemed to have chosen the other way: a bitter childhood, self-pity and chose not to work together. Do you expect a nation to progress this way and export rice to other nations? No way. The Philippines import rice from Vietnam, from her former agriculture student. Vietnam was ravaged by war and “no stone was left unturned in my country during this war” as a Vietnamese friend once told me. But the Vietnamese dusted themselves up after years of being in the pit. The Filipinos remained in the pit.

We do have a lot of things at our disposal- from our rich  natural resources to our “fully-furnished” Constitution, that, though not perfect, is almost complete and could serve already as a solid  framework for nation building. God has indeed  given us everything. Basically, the second thing lacking in us seems to be sincerity. That’s the reason why we are light years away from the goals we have set in our constitution- and so from progress. But what is sincerity? For me sincerity is not only learning what you ought to learn but doing what you ought to do, as simple as that. For our legislators, they ought to do what the constitutions requires them to do. Or between you and me, when  we agreed to meet at nine o’ clock tomorrow, don’t come at twelve or rather tell me straight if you will not come at all! But it seems that we Filipinos have the fondness of making things complicated; we corrupt a simple thought or action habitually and we are now trapped within this system we created ourselves. Yes, it’s true, we have trapped the whole nation. A habitual liar always ends up lying even if  in some occasions he really does not have any reason to tell a lie. His habit has trapped him into lying automatically. Our personal interaction is reflected in our national politics. For after all, the individual trees define the quality  of the forest. This is the  reason why we are having these political problems in our country- its because of you and me. We have bad choices and are not sincere enough. Yes, the truth hurts.

Now, how do we get ourselves out of this trap? How shall we free ourselves from this bondage? “Know thy Self” was the answer of Socrates. Again, to know the forest, we must examine the trees. Or shall we put the whole nation on a couch for a freudian psychoanalysis? Better not. We don’t have to know all our traumas and complexes.

But to remind ourselves about those common Filipino traits and habits that we knew  as pupils still help explain where we are today. Here they are again:

Our Major 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 still overshadowing us. This is not strength but rather a weakness for it is built upon our belief that we were chickens (and not as eagles) as the successive colonizers had forced us to believe. We over-subjugated ourselves in order to survive. We did survive,  but heavily damaged from within. This utang na loob made us believe we are of lesser-value than  others, prevented from developing that strong consciousness necessary to get out of our  miserable situation. The revolutions freed us from the oppressors physically, but the oppressed in us has remained even to date. Applied into our politics, this trait is the nucleus of corruption for this prevents our mind from siding to the ideals of  common good  but rather reduces it to side with things or with people whom we are indebted to in one way or another. This is partly behind vote buying/selling, or behind the failure of the five pillars of criminal justice, etc.

2. Crab-Mentality. This is what divides us as one people and therefore prevents us from joining hands together in order to build a progressive nation. For instead, we pull each other down out of envy or just plain egoism. Even among bloggers who claim to hate our system, this mentality exists. For each of us choose rather to solo his fight and ends ultimately to nothing. In politics nothing great is accomplished by a lone fighter. This is why our nation doesn’t move forward but rather backwards- like a crab. And a crab with Utang Na Loob  is a perfect disaster!

3. Ningas-Cogon. This reinforces the crab in us for this means total retreat after taking a few steps to the front. 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 we 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 shall ever be accomplished or finished to the end.

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.

Our Greatest 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. Filipinos abroad normally still 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 duty or public service. This trait shows our thankfulness- or 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). 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.

4. Endurance. 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.

 This journey to our center was  indeed a difficult journey for we have seen that the ills of our society are to be found actually within each of us, thus corruption in our everyday life is just the tip of the iceberg. Now we have ( re-) identified some of our enemies, and since we are determined to fight for progress, this knowledge shall guide us and, hopefully, helps develop in us that needed consciousness, thus making our fight for progress and against poverty more effective. Keep it as you go on your journey to a better society.

Again, to borrow my own favorite phrase, “Bulan deserves a bright future!”.

 jun asuncion

Bulan Observer

PrLet’s look at ourlWe, the sovereigllln Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God, in order to build a just and humane society and establish a Government that shall embody our ideals and aspirations, promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace, do ordain and promulgate this Constitution.
We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God, in order to build a just and humane society and establish a Government that shall embody our ideals and aspirations, promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace, do ordain and promulgate this Constitution.






We, We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God, in order to build a just and humane society and establish a Government that shall embody our ideals and aspirations, promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace, do ordain and promulgate this ConstitutiontPreamble 
We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God, in order to build a just and humane society and establish a Government that shall embody our ideals and aspirations, promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace, do ordain and promulgate this Constitution.






he sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God, in order to build a just and humane society and establish a Government that shall embody our ideals and aspirations, promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace, do ordain and promulgate this Constitution.







5 thoughts on “Strengths And Weaknesses – The Filipino Character

  1. to jun a.

    with all due respect, please excuse me but we don’t need this very lengthy commentary, justification or rationalization why our nation still remained in the pit – not only inside of the pit but at the bottom of the pit! most of us Filipinos knows why. it is very simple, we only need two things :

    1st : a limited democracy – the Philippines is the most unruly and wildest democracy in the world. what we need is a disciplined democracy, we are not ready – not at this time, for a full pledged democracy similar to the western world. we don’t need child welfare law patterned after 1st world laws – look at the American students trigger happy shooting their teachers and classmates. we don’t need the Lina law that only appease and soothes the illegal settlers’ businesses, worsening the squatting problem – only in the Philippines a land owner has to pay for the relocation expenses of the squatters if he wants them to vacate his land (por dios y por santo perdon de mayo!), etc… what we need is a strong MMDA or a reliable death penalty, it should not have been abolished but should have been implemented consistently – prioritization should be : corrupt first, drug pushers second, rapist third, etc., the country needed it so badly. we don’t need Congress – both upper and lower houses, they are the heavy cross that the nation carry, dragging the country’s development. much better if we are a rubber stamp democracy – simple and swift. lastly, don’t let the church dip their fingers in the politics, let them focus on the spiritual needs but not on the political needs of the people – maybe they thought we are still in the Spanish colonization era (Jesus Maria y Josep daghanon an mga Padre Damaso niyan!).

    2nd : a leader who can implement and accomplish all of the above and beyond.

    weird? but i think this is what we need… regards and God Bless….

  2. to rudyb

    This is a short essay trying to analyze our society from my own point of view. It’s not a rationalization or justification of our failure but my own analysis of the possible causes of our political failure with the individual as the point of departure, thereby touching several subjects superficially along the way in an effort to share my thoughts to others. When I write I always think I’m talking to these children whose photo appears above. I think you know this habit of mine already. My writing is also determined by the objectives of Bulan Observer, whose method is peaceful reforms thru education, hopefully effecting a social change, at least in Bulan. I advocate the basic concepts of democracy but also believe that democracy is an experiment being done by each country until each country finds the best form that suits them. And so it is with the Philippines. It is not said that American democracy is the model for the Philippines. America and the Philippines are two different nations.That is their democracy. Our democracy is still in the making. But I am for the the concepts of rule of law, freedom of expression, individual rights, defined relationship between economy and state, etc. Yes, all those basic ingredients of a “standard” democracy.

    With these children in mind, you may understand that I cannot talk to them- keeping true to my method – about death penalty, strict child law, abolishment of congress or about the effectiveness of rubber stamp democracy as in Burma where people are brutally treated by handful military leaders. No, I don’t want our Bulan children to be attracted to tyranny, totalitarianism or dictatorship. Nor do I wish them to lead a life of hiding and fighting in the mountains, but would rather see them fighting for their town’s progress the civilized way. Some of the things you suggested above already happened in our country under our colonizers- Spain, America and Japan and, not too long ago, under the martial rule of the dictator Marcos. We know that he failed, so as the ruthless Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Ceausescu, Honegger, Mao, Pol Pot, Duvalier and, maybe soon, Mugabe.

    Our fundamental difference is in our concept of the nature of man, I guess.
    I think you believe that man needs to be permanently under control of something higher and stronger in order for him to bring out his best. I believe that man needs the basic education and training and an atmosphere of trust and freedom in order for him bring out his best. We know that each method has its justification. The question is which is sustainable among the two. Again, history and personal experience are there to offer us the answer. I for one can function best when I have my freedom and with the feeling that people around me trust me. Although I grew up under Martial law, I cannot claim that, as a young man, I benefited from that autocratic rule. But it was from that form of democratic “government” at home with my parents and siblings upon which I now base all my concepts of man, of discipline, of government and politics, of education and freedom. My father never hit us with the rod to discipline us and no one among us ever hit or hurt our parents- and each one of us has given out his/her best.

    All in all, it is a question of balance and compromise and I think democracy in the Philippines has not yet arrived at this stage of “perfect ” balance, that’s why the tensions. It needs more time, that’s why the impatience.

    Thanks again for your comments and for sharing your ideas and, at times, emotions of impatience towards our politics and corruption. This only shows that you love your country, you love Bulan, as we all do.

    Till next time.

    jun asuncion

  3. The topic is interesting so I decided to participate in the debate. 🙂

    First, I agree with the thesis. Corruption, whatever is its form, is just a manifestation of a deeper problem which, in my opinion, is rooted in the pursuit of individual interests. Though by itself this pursuit of interests is not wrong, when it already affects others, there enters the problem. Just like religion. When a religion is already attacking other religions (like the unholy “Holy Crusade”, or the jihad, or Dating Daan versus INK), then something is wrong. Religion is belief and belief should be a personal thing. The same way with personal salvation and faith.

    Another example is political dynasty. I don’t believe that political dynasty is wrong per se as everybody, even the children or the grand children or the great, great grand children of a particular politician has a right to elect and be elected. But if their presence obstructs the rights of others to get elected (i.e., they resort to ways that runs counter to election laws just to maintain their hold of power), or hinders the rights of the greater portion of the community to progress and development (that is, the dynasty cannot anymore deliver good governance, or that the dynasty has inbred that it cannot anymore think of good programs), then political dynasty becomes wrong.

    Second, in response to RudyB, I don’t agree that we are in a democracy the way the Athenians define it. Etymologically, democracy comes from the Greek words “demos” meaning “people” and “kratia” meaning rule. But where is the “rule of the people” if the latter’s votes are not even respected? If, everytime they say negative against the government, they are branded as communists or, worse, killed? Consider: the Philippines is second most dangerous country in the world for journalists. We rank next to Iraq for the most number of journalists killed.

    I don’t even agree with the term “wildest democracy” for we not a democratic country in the first place.

    So what do we have? Ours is an oligarchic government. Only a few rules — the elites, those who have money, those who can afford to buy the election. And I say “buy the election” and not the “vote” because cheating is done as a wholesale. And we do not talk here of ballots but election returns and Statements of Votes — documents which contain hundreds and even thousands of votes.

    One may ask: We have elections so why are we not a democracy? For those who do not know, the Chinese Communist Party also conducts election. So with the former USSR. And if they do, being totalitarian regimes, why can’t we? In the very first place, elections are a legitimizing tool to give a government some “semblance” that democracy is present.

    But why is this happening? And in the Philippines which is supposed to be one of the two Catholic countries in Asia (sorry, we now have East Timor)? The answer goes back to my first premise: Because of interests. Vested interests. Sad to note, even the supposedly watchdogs of morality of the community — the Church — also has interests to pursue. Tikboy, in Snippets, could perhaps be a good read for this.

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  5. to jacarizo

    I observed that the word Democracy – as the Athenians understood it – has been corrupted already in the course of time. Yet according to Aristotle’s political theory, democracy is actually a deviant of Polity which is a government of many able rulers, democracy being a rule by the needy people for the needy people. By this definition, this should actually fit the Philippines! And take note: Aristotle placed Oligarchy-or Aristorcacy- the second best form of government, with Monarchy being the best. His reasoning: Government must be in the hands of a few wealthy and propertied people and therefore people who have enough time for this task. Being wealthy, they are then driven by higher ideals of government and not anymore by greed and by interest to steal the public funds. Oligarchy as,we know it today, is therefore also a corruption of Aristotle’s ideals. For today the Oligarchs are the ones stealing the public funds and the constitutional rights of the rest of the people. You see how corrupt many of these people are- they even corrupted their originally noble and aristocratic status. Is it right to say then that we have an Oligarchic Democracy in the Phlippines- the “needy” oligarchs ruling the needy people!?
    We call the ideal way of dealing with one another in political or even personal level as “democratic”. This is the modern usage and understanding of the term. But taken seriously, you’re right, democratic politics (rule of people) does not exist in our nation, we are just lulled to believe it exist by the use of election, which is a sham.
    Now Federalism is the talk of the town, and this could be the saving government structure for the Philippines in the future due to decentralization of power. If this would dissolve the existing political dynasties in our country, I doubt.
    This is a complex subject matter by itself. We might perhaps deal with this extensively next time.

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