The Grey Chronicles


The Positive Side of Filipino Values

When we were young students, we often heard or read about the so-called Filipino Traits such as bahala na, pakikisama, ningas cogon, hiya, mañana habit, etc. Maybe our very own elementary teachers then pointed it to us that these traits were the culprits, the scapegoat of the Filipino failures, or basically the weak characteristics of being Filipinos.

When I was in secondary, although there were no Values Education taught as a subject, our Homeroom Adviser would inculcate the values of hard work and teamwork. I remember, however, distinctly in a Social Studies class that these same Filipino traits—bahala na, ningas cogon, hiya, etc.—were made the explanation for lagging behind more successful Asian neighbors.

My own martinet father instilled in me the value of discipline, palabra de honor [word of honor], attention to details, persistence, and hard work; while my mother gave me the sense of cleanliness is next to godliness. Meanwhile, while attending a military academy, the values of courage, loyalty and integrity were part of the academy creed.

Quito (1994) notes:

“It is very Filipino to stress our minus points, to find fault in our behavior, to compare us unfavorably with Westerners by using Western standards. . . It seems that we take pleasure in underscoring our weaknesses, faults, defects, etc. Our standards are smallness, averageness, mediocrity; grandeur or grandness is not in the Filipino vocabulary. . . There is something strange in the very way we look upon success. A person is not supposed to exert effort at the expense of sanity. . . Success to the Filipino, must come naturally; it should not be induced or artificially contrived. One should not be successful at an early age because that would mean exertion and hard work. Success must come very late in life, if it is to come at all.”

In Quito’s paper, she presented an exposition of the Filipino traits as an ambivalence of positive and negative aspects. I quote here only the positive aspects:

Hiya (shame): it contributes to peace of mind and lack of stress by not even trying to achieve.”

Ningas-cogon (procrastination): in a way, it makes a person non-chalant, detached, indifferent, nonplussed should anything go wrong, and hence conducive to peace and tranquillity.”

Pakikisama (group loyalty): one lives for others; peace or lack of dissension is a constant goal.”

Annotation: What is greater than peace? Peace of mind, peace with oneself, and peace with others. Peace is what most people pray or crave for.

Patigasan (test of strength): it is assign that we know our rights and are not easily cowed into submission. It is Occidental in spirit, hence in keeping with Nietzsche’s "will to power."”

Bahala na (resignation): one relies on a superior power rather than on one’s own. It is conducive to humility, modesty, and lack of arrogance.”

Mañana or Bukas na (procrastination): one is without stress and tension; one learns to take what comes naturally. Like the Chinese wu-wei, this trait makes one live naturally and without undue artificiality.”

Annotation: Strength that comes from within ourselves, or from a belief that something is more superior than us? It makes us more human and humane.

Kasi (because, i. e., scapegoat): one can see both sides of the picture and know exactly where a project failed. One will never suffer from guilt or self-recrimination.”

Saving Face: one’s psyche is saved from undue embarrassment, sleepless nights, remorse of conscience. It saves one from accountability or responsibility. This trait enables one to make a graceful exit from guilt instead of facing the music and owning responsibility for an offense.”

Annotation: Why delve into a guilt-trip? Guilt is unhealthy if it becomes our only passion. With hiya, at least we truly know our own faults and failings. That should be enough!

Sakop (inclusion): one cares for the family and clan; one stands or falls with them. This trait makes a person show concern for the family to which he belongs. ”

Utang na loob (indebtedness): it is a recognition of one’s indebtedness. This trait portrays the spirit behind the Filipino saying, "He who does not know how to look to the past will never reach his destination."”

Kanya-kanya (self-centeredness): one takes care of oneself and one’s family: "Blood is thicker than water."”

Annotation: Families make communities, without which nations cannot exist. As Dancel (2005) notes: “the Filipino is nothing if he is not grateful. . . The Filipino sense of gratitude is uniquely Filipino, just as we are uniquely Filipino because of our sense of gratitude.”

In conclusion, Quito asks:

“If for the Filipino smallness, meekness, and humility are ideals, could it not be that he is not this-worldly? Could he not perhaps be aiming, consciously or otherwise, at the life in the hereafter where the last will be the first, the weak will be strong, and the small will be great?”

Annotation: Should we be ashamed, that’s hiya again, of our Filipino behaviors, or as some researchers label them as Filipino values? All these, without exception to the color of our skin, makes us unique. Without them, are we still Filipinos? Or the question should be: Are we Filipinos because of or despite of these?


Edit: Please refer to this Reprise posted on 11 August 2009 for more details.

Dancel, Francis. (2005). Utang na Loob: A Philosophical Analysis, Filipino Cultural Traits: Claro R. Ceniza Lectures. Rolando M. Gripaldo, (ed.) Washington, D.C.: Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 2005. 205p. back to text

Quito, Emerita S. (1994). The Ambivalence of Filipino Traits and Values, Values in Philippine Culture and Education, Philippine Philosophical Studies I. Manuel B. Dy, Jr., (ed.) Washington, D.C.: Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 1994. 205p. back to text

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