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.

Subscribe to our Substack community GRP Insider to receive by email our in-depth free weekly newsletter. Opt into a paid subscription and you'll get premium insider briefs and insights from us.
Subscribe to our Substack newsletter, GRP Insider!
Learn more

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.

39 Replies to “The fallacy of Filipino composition”

    1. The challenge for the Filipinos is to unite to something much greater than any of the ethnic groups combined. Of course this requires collectivization and trust. In both of these there is a feeling of surrender, and it seems many Filipinos cannot and do not trust their own countrymen and with good reason: the Filipino has yet to control his impulse to take undue advantage of everyone else.

    2. When a Manila person actually acknowledges that there are other Filipinos who prefer not to speak Tagalog, that’s a nice start.

      1. Right on, Don. To unite us, we must acknowledge each others’ little cultural differences. And what the writer said is valid about us- that we are indeed trying to come off as if better than all other groups of people. Sure, I accept what the capital has contributed even for the little unseen good things throughout the country. But you have to also accept and recognise the significance of all other sub-cultures of our people. Take for example, the Moros.

        Instead of the government simply retaliating them as if they’re aliens, why can’t it try to negotiate them by offering them a peace of mind like providing them good education (that should benefit them- NOT imposing of our ways of what is good for them), thinking about their social welfare…just for a start. AND that’s all there is to appease and unite with them. Not one group should ever impose on their culture on another. If their ways ain’t broke, DON’T even attempt to fix on it.

    1. So am I. The discussion on cultural dysfunction can take a very long time. You would have to trace what values and mindsets our ancestors had:

      a)before they met the westerners and
      b)during the time as a colony
      c)after they left

  1. “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.

  2. 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.

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

    1. Thanks. I hope more people realize that it is because we want to self-improve that is why we point out our own faults.

  4. 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 we thought of ourselves as Filipino…

    1. It is perhaps because, by nature, we easily forgive those who wronged us and make excuses for our own inappropriate actions that we always violate rules thinking we shall receive pardon after…not only that, we have this culture of “pwede na” attitude and “tao lang po nagkakasala rin” reactions..we never accept our mistakes, instead, we justify it based on our own twisted principle…

      1. On the other extreme, people in the sticks carry family vendettas like a gene, with their rido’s, pintakasi’s, clan wars, and revenge killing extending generations to the point of actually forgetting what started the fight in the first place. And it just doesn’t happen in Mindanao.

    2. Abroad, Filipinos have no choice but to follow the law because if they don’t, they won’t be given a first look. The systems abroad are also designed to maximize and recognize the individual’s full potential. They are also open to points of view different from their own.

      Try being innovative here, and everyone will frown on you, ostracize you at worst. The system here is designed to make you obey a norm where the people are overly sensitive and don’t want to get out of their comfort zone. Filipinos already know what they want to change in their system, question is are they expecting someone else to do it for them?

      1. You’re so damn right. Here in Australia, everyone is mostly just genuinely good to each other, regardless of the clash of cultures. Sure sometimes there’s misunderstanding, but they don’t take it like it’s always a personal attack. Even in heated arguments, at the end of the day, it’s just that- you learn to deal with people different to you. Make compromises, but always remain objective.

        Now, where do I find that among our fellow people? I can’t even remember a discourse I have in the Philippines where I can just simply express what I have in mind, especially my vocal complaints against some ideas. I don’t even try to push it onto them- just merely expressing them. But other people butting in the conversation between the two of us try to tell me indirectly to shut my mouth (you know by just changing the topic and just rudely talk to the person who I have just conversed with).

        You gotta admit though that even in this blog, there are people just simply attacking someone by calling someone a troll, just because they share a different point of view. I don’t care really if someone refutes my arguments over things, be it with strong emotive language, but what is most important is to not resort to embarrassing name-calling ie. calling out a troll at someone who you are having a discourse with.

        The other gripe I have with other pinoys is the way they communicate with their fellows. I have noticed that if I don’t seem impressionable to that person, he/she would not treat me as equally nice/ good to him/her than the other person who he/she finds most impressionable/ favourable to him/her. I don’t get that same treatment among other groups of people. In fact, I’ve been consistently good to all the people I meet (pinoy or non-pinoy) to the point that some of them take an advantage over my good demeanour. And those that do that to me usually are unfortunately the pinoys. Not all pinoys, but most of them do this to other well-meaning people who haven’t even hurt them nor ever treated them with so much selfishness.

        I don’t know if it’s just that if you don’t have a bigger ego or a louder mouth or someone coming off as smarter than all others- everyone coming off as meek and humble can just be regarded as doormats? This is the bull shit mentality I don’t like with many filipinos that you so brought up really succinctly and wish to ever really reform from.

  5. 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.

    1. How I wish the Filipinos were able to copy the pragmaticism of Westerners. Instead they imitated poorly, and wrongly.

      It’s good to hear that foreigners do recognize the enormous potential that the Filipino represents. What we need is an outside influence (catalyst) to turn that potential into something kinetic.

  6. “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 . . . and so they lived it, and the promise became real.

    That emotional passion for self improvement is missing here. . . among most Filipinos . . . but maybe not among those such as the author . . .

    And therein lies the hope for change . . .

    Superb article.

    1. Thanks Joe. I guess we all learn as we go along.

      What Filipinos need is a catalyst, but external influences can only do so much. They have to not only want, but to do the change too. And this requires changing the way of thinking from short-term to long-term. This is a paradigm shift that they will have to face now.

    2. “That emotional passion for self improvement is missing here”

      Couple that with the native tendency to take every conflict as a personal issue, and you’d find the root of crab mentality.

  7. 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…

  8. 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…

    1. The Filipino’s idea of collective is latching on to someone else’s success, how vacuous can they get?

      Filipinos seem to come together in showing indignation when their idol is put in a bad light. Hence the fire-breathing monster. But they prefer the firestorm approach: a deluge of balat-sibuyas reactions one after another. I’ve yet to see a reaction from Filipinos that amounts to a consolidated “letter of concern”. And for the right reasons, too, not just because their false sense of “Pinoy pride” was hurt.

      It’s like comparing being hit by bursts from a water gun, to getting hit by one giant wave.

      You’ve given me a good idea for a follow-up to this write-up, though I fear you may already done something in the past 🙂

      1. Well, pretty much everything I write is anchored to just three to five fundamental “get real” concepts. So you could say the essence of most of what I write had been articulated before — many times before, in fact. But that does not stop us from applying the same principle or concept to whatever may happen to be relevant or resonant today. So I wouldn’t worry about what’s been written in the past since (as the cliche goes) there will always be many ways to skin a cat. 😉

    2. Lol! “least common denominator of idiocy” pretty much captures the essence of what it means to be Pinoy at the moment. Given that, it should’ve been easy to progress. But it seems we continue to be stuck under that bar we’ve set for ourselves.

      1. Here are a few common English words and their Filipino equivalents, which reflect a lot on that idiocy denominator:

        Thrift = kuripot
        assertive = Mayabang
        sloth = mabait
        quality-oriented = mapagmata
        polyglot = nosebleed

        1. not only are those words a reflection of the idiocy denominator, they are also an indication of the negative and insecure attitude Filipinos have towards others efforts to self-improve

          I must also add:
          critical thiking – pamimintas

  9. 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 one of their “National Emblem -The Tamaraw ‘a lean, slick, free-roaming animal and gentle when still’ the picture emerges -Lamborghini would be.” Because the Filipinos thinks inside the box dahil nakikisama nga naman, the product-end result is the box utility -ginawang Kalabaw! “Pwede Na Yan”

    1. I think Indonesians and Malaysians are quite like us in terms of our culture. Our culture is bound up by community. And through and through we live for our community. That whole cult-of-the individual mentality is a modern ideal- brought about when England started its industries, run by liberal crafts people who wanted to break away from the tradition of a patriarchical society headed by monarchs and the nobility. Now, if you think these self-serving bloody individuals are what should constitute as a filipino hero then I know we haven’t truly embraced genuine egalitarianism. Learning to treat everyone equally regardless of what cultural baggage they got is by jove, an already a great achievement as a nation. Unfortunately, we only took in the selfishness from the pragmatism of the West and then forget to treat the rest of the people good. Being innovative should benefit everyone and not just to bring in the profits. I hope I’m clear on this. Cheers.

      1. “I think Indonesians and Malaysians are quite like us in terms of our culture…”
        Not only in terms of culture but also some aspects of the langauage:

        Mabait = Baik = kind
        Takot = Takut = afraid
        Tulong = Tolong = Help
        Anak = Anak = child/Son/Daughter
        Bangsa = Bangsa = Race(for Malay) but I think Country for Tagalog.

        I think Malaysia finally wean itself off from the British colonial mentality when Dr Mathatir decided to implement the “Look East” policy. Actually I honestly think it was when I myself realised that asians are if not more capable than the West when it comes to industrialisation.I say this because of the time it took Japan to be a first world country.

        Despite the current geopolitical situation, we have to admit that China surpassed most people expectation regarding their economic rise. The main hurdle actually is within ourselves. Change is “pain” hence most people will resist change even it’s for their own good and for a short while. As the saying goes…”Suffer first than enjoy later”. South Korea also took the same path toward their rise from the ashes of the Korean War.

        “Unfortunately, we only took in the selfishness from the pragmatism of the West and then forget to treat the rest of the people good.” <——- This is true only if you decided to discard totally your asian heritage. Despite spending half my life overseas and educated under the British Educational system, I never forgot my "Adat Perpatih" (Traditional rules which governed our community. There is a malay adat which stated:

        “Biar mati anak, jangan mati adat” which when loosely translated means “Let the child die but do not let the customs be vanquished”. and also what my own father once asked of my mother…"Tell me what do you want? For Country or for Family?"?

        1. I forgot to add “For country or family” is actually a chinese philosophical ideal.

          I think Jaime Zobel de Ayala once lamented that many filipinos nowadays forgotten that they are Asian because they totally embraced the America way of life…Good and Bad…The total package. Take the good from the West but hold on to your roots if you can identify it (Pre-colonialism).

        2. “Aku cinta negaraku.”

          Sorry for the awful attempt at Malay, but I wonder when Filipinos will be able to say something like that whole-heartedly, and for the right reasons. Although I think they should also use love for country as a motive to improve it, the problem is they depend too much on government to do things for them.

  10. 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.