In 21st century Philippines, discrimination is still an inescapable way of life

discrimination-mainTall, blond, fair-skinned and sharp-nosed. This is the image a lot of Filipinos carry in their heads of the ideal physical appearance that they dream of achieving. This is in no small part due to the excessive admiration that Filipinos have for things Western, particularly American. The stuff that mass media broadcasts only propagates this stereotype. But let’s be honest with ourselves: whether it’s due to an inborn inferiority complex or the inculcation of “foreign is better” mindset into millions of Filipinos ever since time immemorial, a lot of us have secretly wished to be at least one of the traits I mentioned.

[Photo courtesy]

Why bring up such a topic? If you’ve been reading recent events in the Philippines, president Benigno Simeon Aquino III (BS Aquino) has just vetoed a bill removing the height requirements for those who want to become policemen.

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“If you need to rescue someone from a burning house … or secure detainees, then you would need certain physical attributes. That is the nature of these jobs and it is not discrimination,” she told reporters.

Mr. Aquino’s minimum height of 1.63 metres for men and 1.57 metres for women applying for these jobs, would still apply, Valte said.

Unfortunately, this is the Philippines, where credentials such as brand/family name, height, skin color, age, civil status, and accent, just to name a few, determine your chances of getting a job as much as or perhaps even more than your ability to actually do the job. In other more civilized countries, this would be called discrimination.

You can see it in job advertisements here in the Philippines: many employers still look for certain physical requirements such as gender, height, weight, and age, for example. I remember an example used in one of my former companies, an American one. In the orientation, it was mentioned that a distinct difference between a Filipino company and an American company looking for the same heavy lifter would be that the former would specify the gender, male. The American company would instead leave out any mention of gender, and indicate instead on the job advertisement “must be able to lift heavy things.”

There is nothing wrong with narrowing the potential applicants to a job down by listing specifics of what is required. What is iffy, if not downright wrong, is including certain credentials or physical characteristics in the requirements where they are not needed or not directly connected with the ability to do the job. This is something that will fly over most Filipino’s heads.

Even the inevitable and seemingly innocuous interview question “Are you married?” is already considered a discriminatory question in other parts of the world. Here, it is still asked by many interviewers even when it is glaringly clear that:

a) The civil status usually has little to no correlation with the skill set needed for the job, and
b) There are other ways and questions to ask to determine the candidate’s willingness to go the extra mile, or be relocated for work purposes.

That’s the reality of the business world, but discrimination is still a way of life in the Philippines. Going back to the stereotype ideal I mentioned at the start, Filipinos have nothing but awe for people who possess at least one of those physical traits. This is why the mestizos/as and half-breeds are virtually worshiped by Filipinos for their physical appearance alone!

Now, let’s take ourselves back to reality. The typical Filipino’s physical characteristics are: of average height, dark-haired, dark-skinned (kayumanggi), and snub-nosed (pango). If a Filipino happens to have any or a combination of these physical traits, particularly the average height and the dark-skin, chances are he has been ridiculed for it.

Bansot (shorty), dwende (dwarf), intsik (Chinese), negro (dark-skinned), and bumbay (referring to Indians) – these constitute but a small sample of the discriminatory language Filipinos are capable of. And yet their actions speak louder than those words. If you stand out physically in the Philippines you may have gotten the stare from the locals. They stare at people that stand out, and some of them even regard you with a bit of suspicion.

Unfortunately, the discrimination one can potentially face in Filipino society isn’t just limited to physical characteristics. Depending on the region of the Philippines your lineage comes from, certain stereotypes will be attached to you by other ethnic groups within the Philippines. The frugality of Ilocanos is interpreted by other Filipinos as stinginess. There are Filipinos who poke fun at the “ala’eh” of the Batangueños, P-F deficiency of the Ilocanos, and the breathy consonant sounds of the Kapampangans. When it comes to speaking Filipino, for example, many Filipinos make fun of how Visayans and Mindanaoans speak it, never mind that it is not their first language and that they are forced to learn it in school, pretty much the same way Luzon inhabitants are. On the other hand, Visayans and Mindanaoans throw a lot of scorn onto people from the place they call “Imperial Manila” whom they perceive as arrogant and high-browed.

Even religion isn’t safe from discrimination from Filipinos. In a country that’s overwhelmingly Catholic, a person who is neither Catholic nor Christian will surely elicit stares and premature judgments from Filipinos. And it’s a safe guess that even among the various sects of Catholicism and Christianity here, they don’t necessarily all get along well with each other. And the Filipino atheist movement? If their idea of atheist is persecuting people for having a religion, instead of helping them to see beyond religion, then why bother with another idea which Filipinos turn into utter crap?

Filipino society can be best described as clannish. As I said in one of my previous articles, it seems that the tendency of Filipinos is to refer to themselves as being first from a certain ethnic group, instead of being from the Philippines. The idea that “Filipinos are Filipinos regardless of region or ethnic group” is one that is not yet very strongly ingrained into the national psyche. Each ethnic group still insists on its own superiority above the others and doesn’t see itself as part of a collective Filipino identity.

Perhaps the most distressing discrimination that one can face in Filipino society is not due to ethnicity or physical characteristics, but due to his/her desire to go against the grain of conventional and populist thinking. People who prefer scholarly pursuits over having a good time and partying are regarded as corny, mga killjoy and walang pakisama. People who follow the rules get frowned upon and ostracized.

No one faces such ostracism more than the people who dare criticize and point out the flaws and dysfunction of Filipino culture and society, and since 2009, those who dare criticize BS Aquino for all his errors in judgment, his general incompetence, and his utter lack of qualification for the top government post.

KKK yellow bckgd[Photo courtesy]

Filipinos are notorious as an ethnic group who are too attached to their archaic traditions. They are hypersensitive about receiving feedback. Their “pwede-na-yan“ and “bahala na“ mindsets keep them from being receptive to new and different ideas. Innovation and out-of-the-box thinking take a backseat to conformism, pakikisama, and absolute deference to one’s elders. Worst of all, Filipinos are among the world’s most judgmental people. Instead of trying to understand and learn from people who do not necessarily look and think the way they do, they immediately put them in a box, and pass judgment instead of trying to listen and pick up lessons that may be useful to them.

It is this high perch that Filipinos undeservedly like to put themselves on, that keeps them from shedding their old skin.

Discrimination is not unique to the Philippines. Even in civilized countries it has not totally been eliminated, but other nations have come a long way in changing such mindsets. For example, in the United States, the attitude towards blacks has changed considerably from the time Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white. The Germans have tried hard to shed their Nazi image.

The underlying question is, why can’t we do similar reforms in our own society?

Education is one of the best weapons against discrimination. The challenge is teaching people how to think and not what to think. That way they can make up their own minds and move beyond religious belief, skin color, and even unnecessary conformist thinking.

In the Philippines, however, ignorance is bliss.

Until Filipinos learn to celebrate their diversity, and while they continue to divide themselves over it, they will continue to struggle as a nation.

48 Replies to “In 21st century Philippines, discrimination is still an inescapable way of life”

    1. A Dwarf is still a dwarf even if he stands on the highest mountain and a giant is still a giant even if he stands in the deepest well.

        1. If their strength allows them to jump in meters, outrun opponents and can grip the ball properly, why not?

          If they have one of those things I’m sure I’d get my behind handed to me.

      1. It also boils down to the values of people. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

  1. It is the way in the dang “Balut Society” Until the Penoys allow their ducks to hatch, mature, and soar high on their inspirations then change will occur, then again how long will it take for them to learn, O Talagang Bobo?

  2. now let’s talk about height. I don’t think that if this happened off cam the ending would be so different. I’m 5’1″ PNoy is definitely taller than me but I guarantee that if he spars with me, I can beat the sh*t out of him. Anyway, it’s too shallow to think that policing is all about muscle and size. If so, police won’t need guns and tasers then. Being a cop is more brains than muscle.

  3. Agree with everything said here. I suddenly remember a European friend of mine who was so bewildered that we usually need to include our photos when we pass or send our CV. And even went so far as ask if we do it to get the job, I told him it’s the other way around, I think employers ask for our photos so from the start they can reject who they feel is not good looking enough for the job. A joke but feels that way sometimes since it has nothing to do with the job you are applying for, unless you want to be a model, artista, etc.

  4. Another excellent article. As a retired Aussie gov’t employee I have always found it jarring to see adverts for positions here in PH saying..female, pleasing personality etc. A lot of the employment practices here would be illegal in countries like Australia and those employers would be prosecuted. Of course perpetual high unemployment and underemployment levels provide the environment where discrimination can thrive.

    With regard to discrimination based on skin colour etc, it is a perpetual source of amazement for me to see how obsessed filipino are with skin whitening products. The disturbing thing is that there seems to be some sort of self racism about it. There does seem to be some sort of inferiority complex working in the filipino psyche that sees white foreign things (people mostly) as better and something to aim towards. At the same time there seems for many to also be an almost pathological hatred for those same people. They want to be us but hate us for being what we are. Filipino need to learn what most blacks and whites already know (not all; there are still racists everywhere): skin colour doesn’t make you a good person or more intelligent or capable.

    I know a few black americans in PH. They say that at times they can feel the racism here far more than in the US. They are looked at with contempt by some. a sort of “why should you have that….you have black skin”. As if skin colour should be the arbiter of what you get in life. unfortunately this is how it was in the US, Australia and other countries for too long in the past.

    It has been a source of continuing ire for me that too often neighbors have tried to sell/push whitening products onto my darker morena wife. They stare with disbelief when she says that I like her skin the way it is. It’s what she was born with. I have lost count of the times people have said she is negra….ironically she isn’t that dark…but to them too dark for the white man.

    I have also observed the provincialism and regionalism of PH. The stereotyping of other areas never seems to stop. When I had reason to visit Mindanao frequently I was constantly told in Manila that Mindanao is “all terrorists”. In Mindanao I was always told that manila is “many bad people”. Trying to explain to either side that they are stereotyping unfairly only drew blank looks….I must be gago…stupid. It’s like it is 2 separate countries.

    Ironically while filipino are quite happy to crap on each other from a great height, any suggestion from a whitey like me that there are somethings that really are dysfunctional, will be met with a circling of the wagons.

    It seems my white skin is to be desired; my wealth; my education. But apparently those same things mean that any criticism I might make is because I am racist, condescending, arrogant.

  5. Discrimination exists everywhere, but in the P.I. it is just blatant. is it right? IDK, but it is just there and nothing will change it. Not even someone willing to get murdered by getting up in front of his followers and proclaiming loudly that he has a dream, that “one day li’l children will be judged by the content of their character”…and so on…
    Yep, we know what happened there…and nothing changed!
    it doesn’t matter who is the president either.

    1. Things do change….the US is very different now to when King made his speech. Doesn’t mean there isn’t racism or discrimination. I would hope there is less of it. There at least appears to be.

      1. Discrimination and racism is still alive and well in the USA, that was the point of the statement I made. it just is not blatant any more. racial tensions in many ways are even worse in some places.reverse discrimination occurrs now as well.

        N e way, discrimination exists, always has, probably always will.Sexism, ageism, racism… all of it is a form of discrimination, and in the P.I. it is blatant.try getting a job if your over 30 in the P.I., forget it.

        1. I have noticed that everywhere I see mostly younger people working and asked myself “where are the older workers?” Quite amazing to see really from an Aussies eyes. Does experience and maturity count for nothing here? Is it also why so many filipino end up relying on their children?

        2. Law of supply and demand. An enormous number of young, educated, docile, subservient, highly-replaceable, and cheap workers pretty much makes the Philippine economy an employer’s wet dream.

        3. IDK what the thinking behind the non-hiring of people over 28 yrs. of age is, but it appears to be a national policy.
          N e one who wants a future must leave the Philippines, and never return…if they are smart.
          The workers are abused everywhere there is employment. an employee in a savemore supermarket breaks a p25 bottle of soda and they must pay for it. a 6 month ‘temporary’ employment is all they can get as the cheap fucks do not want to pay p400/month for health benefits for their employee’s. The condo tower in CDO was built with free labor(workers told they would be evaluated on the first month they worked for free, and hired for the rest of the project if the work they did was good enough…no one, NO ONE got hired permanently!)and even worse the units are 5X’s the price of condo’s in Europe and built with the crappiest materials. Just despicable what is going on, and nurses, wowo!
          I am sure you get the picture, it is VERY ugly.

  6. What can you see in the job ads:

    – Only females can apply (makes me believe women are NOT a marginalized sector)
    – Only those age 18-35 are accepted (I was once turned down for being too old)
    – Graduate of UP, Ateneo, La Salle or other prestigious school
    – Fresh graduates are welcome (probably means, pababaan ng sweldo)

    1. Discrimination (agism, sexism) elitism (only certain universities), inefficiency and inequity. It is an inefficient way to run a business or organization. You don’t get the best people for the job!

      It might also partly explain why (my own personal observation so not quantifiable)filipino seem to have less hope than filipina…?? Well developed employment policies also consider personal traits like emotional maturity etc. Education is not everything. Common in western countries for some time now. In PH?

      A dick from the best university and great grades can be useless as tits on a bull.

  7. Even in the 21st century..I do agree with that..nothing has changed..if Discrimination was a crime, then a lot of people would have been put to jail..even worse they’d be dead by now.

    These stereotypes that have been going on for years never really seems to stop. It has been ingrained to the psyche of the people that live here and there. Which is a really scary thought because this really makes me feel that this isn’t a united country at all..well..maybe we’re united only through paper(currency) and in ‘paper’.

    I also don’t get as to why they need to do that in terms of employment. Why do they need people with “pleasing personality”? Is there a course in college that is named “Pleasing Personality 101”? If there’s one, I’d try that just for kicks. Is that something that can be learned? Are they looking for models? Is it a job that requires me to interact with people other than the company I might work for? Or, maybe they have employees there who are not “pleasing” at all..maybe because they weren’t qualified in the first place thanks to a friendly padrino in the house. lol

    Anyway, there’s really so much to go with this discrimination thing..and it really is still prevailing even in modern times.

  8. benignO. Law of supply and demand doesn’t really explain it. Sure there are plenty of young educated workers available. It doesn’t explain though why employers prefer those people over older educated experienced workers who are also available….unless PH really is so obsessed with youth and looks as to ignore what could in fact be better employees.

    1. I know of a certain company that only hires fresh graduates because their company has a relatively unique structure (in Filipino standards) where rank and seniority are ignored to promote skill, dedication, productivity.
      Unfortunately, they’ve noticed that people who have been used to having the hierarchical structure can’t work without flaunting their rank and age to bully the younger, less experienced employees, forcing them to come up with the rule.

        1. Exactly the kind of culture they want to promote in the company and something some experienced folks find hard to adapt to after working for an average Filipino-managed company for years.

          They just got unlucky with those they’ve hired and decided it’s easier to hire and train fresh grads to acquire skills than hope experienced employees can adapt to the culture and (lack of) hierarchy.

    2. Nope, they hire younger since they come a dime a dozen. Old professionals like me are discriminated even though they know for a fact that experience in certain fields are crucial in some designation. No employment for me there.

  9. Iranian ( !!!!) students in the Philippines are routinely called “Amerikano” and “Joe”. Iran is an enemy nation of the USA and Iranians have hard time getting the visa. They get sent to the Philippines to study instead.

    One Iranian was in a village and witnessed a whole bunch of kids jumping up and down and shouting- Amerikaaaano! Amerikaaaano! Hi, Joe! He started shouting back- We hate Americans! We shoot Americans!”


    To an average Filipino the words foreigner, American, Caucasian, White and Superhuman hero are synonymous.

  10. The Philippines is an excellent place for poor East Europeans or any poor white folks who are absolute trash back home to come and taste the ” American Dream”. As soon as they step off the plane, a poor Russian, a Bulgarian, even a Lebanese Arab instantly become…Americans!!!
    Who could ask for anything more? It is the only place on earth where one can pull this off and have people smile at you everywhere you go grateful for what ‘your army’ did for the country in WWII.

    Girls flirt with a drunk Russian slob secretly hoping that he could marry her and they would go and live in “the States”.

    This is a deceptive time warp and as long as one is of Caucasian appearance, one will enjoy Donald Trump status and be treated as a millionaire super God even if he is from a small Ukrainian village somewhere.

    Thank you, Philippines for instant naturalization of so many people as… “Americans”.

    1. you fail to realize it’s a two way scam…I think you also underestimate the ill feeling many filipino have to americans or most foreigners. They may want to be us or have what we want…doesn’t mean they all like us.

      I will grant you the point that many of the foreigners that come to PH are trash in their own countries….I’ve actually used those same words myself. I don’t necessarily mean trash only in the sense they are usually poor. Many filipinos don’t get it.

      Of course there would be no trash Iranians here I am sure!

  11. I remember the old “Hong Kong flight attendants” story of old on how they treat filipino passengers back in those days…

    But then again, just look at the Philippines, where most people are worse than your typical half-blind european racist..(Ika nga eh, “Nagsalita ang santo; Ang santong Kabayo!”

  12. For what it’s worth, Britain has a height requirement for policemen – the reason is that policemen – who also have to be physically fit – need to be able to restrain people without resorting to a weapon.

    1. in philippines the policy is ‘ shoot first – cover it up afterwards’.
      the only thing lower than a cops height is his i.q.

  13. What I heard from my nephew is that in call centers, older people are the ones assigned to irate customers. That sure is some application of experience, but really stressful.

    1. That is experience….but its also emotional maturity. Western employers are aware that EQ can be as important as IQ. I have a 27 year old filipino neighbour that has worked in call centres for about 7 years. Everytime he gets a new girlfriend he quits his job…His english is good…but really do you want employees like that?

  14. One of the few things that will move us forward from this discrimination is to penalize it through laws. Since we’re electing people for Congress, can the voters put as one of their rep’s priorities making it illegal for all companies, including government itself, to discriminate and refuse employment on the basis alone of gender, civil status, religion, skin color, ethnicity and the like?

  15. This post speaks the truth & the comments are so refreshingly honest! As a black kid (nigerian) growing up in the Philippines with a pinay mom everything about racism I have experienced. It is the oddest feeling being revered because you are tall , speak english fluently, and have pointy nose but then hated cause you are black. Those people are messed up and sad thing my older sister is one of them. She even bleached her skin like Jinky Oda. I’m glad to have experienced that messed up culture so I can appreciate whatever I have now. Im glad to be out of that hole for sure!

  16. hi i’m Rachel i would to comment about a Filipino being discriminate with your physical appearance is totally a discrimination. it is harmful since it affects the economic outcomes of equally productive workers directly and indirectly through feedback effects.

    Rachel Quistol

  17. People from the Philippines especially the full-blooded Filipinas/Filipinos worship the white people like no other ethic groups in Asia. Look at their media in the Philippines and you will understand why. They worship white men through and through to an extent it’s quite frightening. Because of their poverty, this gives them another reason why so many of them spend the majority of their time thinking how to marry foreign men of higher social class a.k.a. white men. They are all over the Internet dating sites, restaurants, bars, clubs … seizing every opportunity thinking how to get the attention of white men and then cast their special “magic/recipe” on them … in order to get want they wanted i.e. get married with a white man, have kids, show off in front of everyone in HK, SG …, have a “higher social class” everywhere around the world, to brag about in front of their cousins and friends, move abroad… I recall Manila is the mail order bride capital of the world and that speaks volume of the mentality of the people there. Speaking of racism, I remember I read the news articles detailing how the Filipinos/Filipinas mistreat the people of colours especially the offspring of the black US Navy men and Filipinas and also other non-white people being treated rudely and unfairly e.g. the Indians.

    Filipinos/Filipinas are pathetic with severe inferiority complex issue …

    Surprising Philippines is a Catholic majority country where discrimination is so rampant. Jesus must be punishing you guys … that’s why Philippines is a 3rd world country forever.

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