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.


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