The fallacy of Filipino composition

In the strictest sense of the term, the fallacy of composition is a logical fallacy where one asserts that what is valid for one part will be good for the whole. To illustrate this with an example, let’s imagine you are watching a concert while sitting down. To get a better view, you stand up. Unfortunately, everyone else stands up too. So, has your view gotten any better after that? No, you’re back to where you started.

The easiest local example for this involves Filipino drivers. Everybody drives fast here, so it is safe to assume that everyone’s travel time should be less. Question is, do we all get to our destinations faster? No, we do not. Instead, we all end up jammed in traffic, and no one is really better off.

While it would be an interesting exercise to cite as many fallacies of composition in Philippine society, it is by no means what I plan to do ad infinitum here. Instead, the title can be interpreted another way: what is in the actual composition, or make up, of the Filipino? Is the perception far from the reality? Let us start then by tracing our roots and establishing facts.

The Philippines is a nation of 7,100++ islands. If we are to believe history books, the modern Filipino is a product of many races inter-mingling with each other. There is Negrito, Malay, Chinese, Indian, Arab, Spanish, American, and probably even Japanese, and now Korean, blood running in our veins. The Philippines, being home to many ethnic groups within its bounds, is diverse. We have the Ilokanos, Pangasinenses, Ibanag, Ivatan, Aetas, Kapampangans, Tagalogs, Bicolanos, Cebuanos, Ilonggos, Waray, Hiligaynon, Ifugao, Tausug, Badjao, and dozens more others all living next to or among each other. We are the only Christian country in Southeast Asia, yet there exist several hundred churches that each have their own version of what their followers should believe.

The Filipino is a study in contradictions and ironies. He is thick-faced yet onion skinned. He presents himself as larger-than-life yet is smaller-than-squat. He has braggadocio but not confidence. He acts like a boss yet is very submissive. He expects everyone to abide by his standards yet he is incapable of following the law. He has big ambitions yet is afraid of even small challenges. He is devoted to his god yet he does not emulate his godliness. He is quick to point out everyone else’s faults but does not accept his own. He is petty yet he fails to see the bigger picture. He frequently looks towards his past but always forgets it. Worse, he rarely, if at all, remembers to look toward the future.

The term melting pot culture has been used to describe the Philippines in the past. I beg to disagree; the more appropriate term for this country is one big clusterf*ck. Even the term used by multiculturalists, salad bowl, is inapplicable to us. There is simply nothing, no such “salad dressing”, that binds us together to make us palatable as a people. What we have, instead, is a patchwork, broken glass, glued together puzzle made up of ethnic groups who do little else but tolerate each other. The Philippines, unfortunately, is an example of an entity where the whole is much less than the sum of its parts.

What keeps the Philippines from becoming an entity greater than all its components, then? I think Nick Joaquin said it best in his piece “The Heritage of Smallness”:

“The depressing fact in Philippine history is what seems to be our native aversion to the large venture, the big risk, the bold extensive enterprise. The pattern may have been set by the migration. We try to equate the odyssey of the migrating barangays with that of the Pilgrim, Father of America, but a glance of the map suffices to show the differences between the two ventures. One was a voyage across an ocean into an unknown world; the other was a going to and from among neighboring islands. One was a blind leap into space; the other seems, in comparison, a mere crossing of rivers. The nature of the one required organization, a sustained effort, special skills, special tools, the building of large ships. The nature of the other is revealed by its vehicle, the barangay, which is a small rowboat, not a seafaring vessel designed for long distances on the avenues of the ocean.”

“We, on the other hand, make a confession of character whenever we split up a town or province to avoid having of cope, admitting that, on that scale, we can’t be efficient; we are capable only of the small. The decentralization and barrio-autonomy movement expresses our craving to return to the one unit of society we feel adequate to: the barangay, with its 30 to a hundred families. Anything larger intimidates. We would deliberately limit ourselves to the small performance. This attitude, an immemorial one, explains why we’re finding it so hard to become a nation, and why our pagan forefathers could not even imagine the task.”

“The barangays that came to the Philippines were small both in scope and size. A barangay with a hundred households would already be enormous; some barangays had only 30 families, or less. These, however, could have been the seed of a great society if there had not been in that a fatal aversion to synthesis. The barangay settlements already displayed a Philippine characteristic: the tendency to petrify in isolation instead of consolidating, or to split smaller instead of growing. That within the small area of Manila Bay there should be three different kingdoms (Tondo, Manila and Pasay) may mean that the area was originally settled by three different barangays that remained distinct, never came together, never fused; or it could mean that a single original settlement; as it grew split into three smaller pieces.”

The many ethnic groups live amongst each other, even despite each other, and it seems much easier for them to say “I am of this ethnic group” rather than “I am a Filipino!” Therefore, it seems that they end their loyalty to their ethnic group, and do not see themselves as part of an all-encompassing national cause.

If we do not feel a sense of belonging to a bigger “national cause”, what then keeps us together? To answer that, let’s stretch our imagination out for a bit. The average Filipino is a fire-breathing, excrement dumping entity all unto its own. Now imagine a scene in any cartoon, anime, or book, where the cannon fodder troops of the antagonist all fuse together into one giant monster. By lumping together 80-90 million fire-breathing flunkies, we have allowed them to fuse into one giant fire-breathing monster that leaves only destruction and excrement in its path. That pretty much describes the make up of the Philippines as a whole. This monster seems unstoppable in its mindless rampage. It has a thick face and it is impossible to reason with. Any attempt to scream louder than it is ultimately futile. It, however, has one big weakness: criticism. Underneath all that bark is a lack of bite. Belittle it. Insult the heroes it looks up to. Ask it to use its brain. Scream to its face how much just hot air it actually spews, and you turn a rampaging monster into a cry-baby that can easily be cut down to size.

Before my imagination runs too wild, let me share one last thing. I came across a phrase in a book, where a character is being asked to describe her impression of an ideal American:

The tough but good-hearted innocent.

This is elaborated on further: Innocence is a clean slate. It is open and receptive to outside ideas. The toughness makes it discretionary. It only allows ideas that are enriching.. This is actually applicable to us Filipinos, as an ideal to strive for. We are already hard-working, resilient, and hospitable as a people; it will not hurt to add the above description to us.

Unfortunately, the Filipino today is far from ideal. What we have is the typical Filipino:

The egotistical, mediocre, parasitic, and gullible whiner.

Therein lies the fallacy of Filipino composition. The gap between what is real and what is ideal, and perception and reality, manifests itself in our political, social, and economic condition today.


About FallenAngel

А вы, друзья, как ни садитесь, все в музыканты не годитесь. - But you, my friends, however you sit, not all as musicians fit.

Post Author: FallenAngel

А вы, друзья, как ни садитесь, все в музыканты не годитесь. - But you, my friends, however you sit, not all as musicians fit.

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39 Comments on "The fallacy of Filipino composition"

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*coughs* Tagalog *coughs* imperial Manila imposition *coughs*

Joshua T.

I’m more after what causes them to be like that today, Fallenangel.


“Scream to its face how much just hot air it actually spews, and you turn a rampaging monster into a cry-baby that can easily be cut down to size.”

very blunt way of describing our people. Should be seen as an eye-opener instead of an insult.


I know we have good leaders around us who can unite us and get our asses to work. It’s just that they are being silenced by bad leaders who only want to further disunify us so that they can rule us easily.

Laurence del Puerto

This article is nice and hit the cherry of the many. May you prosper sir in your endeavors whatever they may be.

Whilce Portacio
I am glad someone is finally asking this question. I have been approaching this question from a different viewpoint. As a balikbayan I have noticed when Pinoys are abroad we are model citizens and respected in our fields for our dedication and inteligence, yet when we go back to Pinas we revert back to our ‘old ways’. Why do we show our true potential ‘in another persons house’ but revert to base instincts in our own? I think our history shows part of the answer…we as a people have never had our ‘Braveheart’ moment. Remember we were proclaimed ‘Filipino’ before… Read more »
Alfred Koppel

Americans are pragmatic, they are indeed tough, big hearted, good natured and generous. The Filipinos are lackadaisical, “easy go lucky” and mostly without a care in the world! Some are thick faced, some are lean faced, and some like the Bisayans, are round-faced, quick to smile, friendly, and quick to learn with their fingers, but lack the ambition to get ahead as they are contented with what they already have, islands called the “Pearl of the Orient”! Al Koppel.

Joe America
“an ideal to strive for” This is a terrific article. I have been struggling for almost 7 years now trying to figure things out and you nail it in one article. You could have saved me a lot of work if you’d have written it earlier. I’d add to the notion that what is missing is not the intellectual rendition of “an ideal to strive for”, but the EMOTIONAL CONNECTION that makes striving so important. For Americans, it was their arrival from other lands to fulfill the promise of freedom and opportunity, which they were passionate about . . .… Read more »
Hyden Toro

The Filipino is a Paradox of his own self…we contradict, of what we appear to be. This is the reason, we cannot elect good leaders…
How can a people, elect a mentally ill and mentally retarded President?
We have a President, who try to remove a Chief Justice, on the reason of “fighting corruption”. However, he protects his corrupt cronies, and protects his ill gotten land of Hacienda Luisita…


The whole point of being a nation is when after the “melting” together, some sort of collective properties emerge from the brew. These properties being emergent means they cannot be attributed to any one person or demographic within said nation — which debunks all these moronic ideas that exceptional achievers like Pacquiao or Lea Salonga can single-handedly prop up Filipinos’ sense of “pride”.

As you said:

If we do not feel a sense of belonging to a bigger “national cause”, what then keeps us together?

Perhaps, and the evidence seems to point to it, Pinoys excel more when apart than when together…

I think the “Myths and Legends of The Filipino” is a good start point, how is he portrait led by a heroic entity. I never see a Filipino alone in the wildeness braving a new world crafty and innovative; an ability to adapt, lack part of his instict for imagination thus -invent- to survive in the forest. The Filipino Man is scared alone, he never fought for his life by himself, to live he has to be with the group and thier tacits. Look at the murals and moments -they tell to the Filipinos. Look at what they did to… Read more »

The many ethnic groups live amongst each other, even despite each other, and it seems much easier for them to say “I am of ‘this ethnic group’” rather than “I am a Filipino!” Therefore, it seems that they end their loyalty to their ethnic group, and do not see themselves as part of an all-encompassing national cause.

Very true. Ethnic groupings is a divisive identification of us as a people. We look at ourselves as a representation of a part of a whole instead of belonging to it.