Does Get Real Philippines vilify Filipinos and their culture?

philippine_flagThis has remained the single most consistent question directed at the owners and contributors to and its network of affiliated sites (which we shall, for the sake of efficiency, henceforth in this article simply refer to as “GRP”). This has always been a topic embraced by GRP and we will, for the umpteenth time (this quaint “debate” goes back a long time — back to 2001 to be precise) explore this interesting query.

But first thing’s first. Whenever an assertion is made, any effort to evaluate said assertion should start with an examination of the terms employed in said assertion. One excellent body of legislation defines unlawful “racial vilification” as such:

It is unlawful for a person, by a public act, to incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the race of the person or members of the group.

The question, in light of the above, therefore is quite simple:

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Do people feel a sudden rush of hatred and serious contempt for and/or feel compelled to ridicule Filipinos and their culture every time they consume GRP content?

Hardly. There is nothing about the message of GRP that will give some half-brained hollow-head ample reason to go on a racially-motivated rampage against Filipinos while flying that iconic guava-over-gaping-mouth flag. This is because GRP is, at heart, Filipino. And to understand the full nature of the Filipino condition it really helps to be Filipino at heart or, at the very least, to have the Philippines in your heart.

GRP has always had a very simple thesis — that certain aspects of Filipino culture serve as fundamental hindrances to any effort to succeed to the standards defined by Western civilisation. The Atlantic columnist James Fallows put it quite simply: Filipinos are beset by a damaged culture. This simple realisation reverberated across the Philippines’ philosophical landscape and all but shattered the sugar-coated cocoon of Filipinos’ misguided sense of their own greatness across three main fronts:

(1) A damaged culture puts to question whether “democracy” suits Filipinos.

When that other brilliant thinker Teddy Benigno adopted this very same damaged culture thesis, he wrote about Fallows’s seminal evaluation of the Philippines in a Philippine Star column of his own back in 2002…

We Filipinos indeed have a damaged culture, more damaged even than we think. Thomas Hobbes, the philosopher of stern social discipline, of crowding humankind into a disciplined cage, was certainly describing the Philippines, among others, when he said without order, life was “nasty, brutish and short.” Ferdinand Marcos had a sense of smell better than most when he said the Philippines was “sitting on top of a social volcano” and that was more than 30 years ago. Historian O.D. Corpuz (Roots of the Filipino Nation) wrote in 1989 that civil war, revolution or a coup could break out in a matter of years. Any day now?

Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino Jr. in 1983 sought a “rendezvous with history” — meaning a heart-to-heart talk with President Marcos — because as he confided to me in Boston, “along the way, the Philippines can explode into bloody revolution and that will take us back 20 years.” At one time, the great nationalist Claro Recto intimated that Philippine democracy was a bad case “of the blind leading the blind.” That was long ago. Of course, another foreigner, Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, predicted our “exuberant democracy” of fiestas and good time would come to no good end.

Even the eminent Teddy Benigno deferred to the timeless words of Fallows who minced no words in observing: “Individual Filipinos are at least as brave, kind and noble-spirited as individual Japanese, but their culture draws the boundaries of decent treatment much more narrowly. Because these boundaries are limited to the family or tribe, they exclude at any given moment 99 percent of the other people in the country. Because of this fragmentation, this lack of useful nationalism, people treat each other worse in the Philippines than in any other Asian country I have seen … The tradition of political corruption and cronyism, the extremes of wealth and poverty, the tribal fragmentation, the local elite’s willingness to make a separate profitable peace with colonial powers — all reflect a feeble sense of national interest. Practically everything that is public in the Philippines seems neglected or abused.”

Without the benefit of a naturally broad civic mind and a sense of national solidarity, Filipinos will continue an ironic struggle to make their not-so-new-found “freedom” to choose their leaders and representatives work for the greater good of the society. So far, the results have been, shall we say, mixed (to put it mildly).

(2) A damaged culture makes it difficult to ensure money poured into presumptive initiatives to create opportunities for Filipinos is well-spent.

One of the key pillars of GRP’s thesis is how a an atrophied capacity for imagination is at the heart of Filipinos’ long-consistent inability to capitalise on an abundance of resources and opportunity. Ambeth Ocampo described how a lack of an ability to imagine and dream is readily evident in Philippine industry in an Inquirer article he wrote in September 2005 after a visit to the marble-producing Philippine island of Romblon.

Of this island’s craftsmen, he wrote:

What did the people in this sleepy town do with their marble? They made them into tombstones, mortar and pestle. As a tourist, I asked myself: How many “lapida” [tomb markers] and “dikdikan” [pestle] do I want? How many lapida and dikdikan do I need? Come to think of it, how many lapida and dikdikan do they sell in a year? Here is a region that has skilled manpower and an almost inexhaustible natural resource, but their products are unimaginative. If culture comes in to introduce new designs and new uses of Romblon marble, that would go a long way in developing the industry and the province.

Indeed, one can draw similar analogies in the Filipino entrepreneur’s penchant for following a “me too” approach to getting into business. There is an almost lemminglike behaviour in the way Filipino entrepreneurs get on a business model bandwagon. This behaviour accounts for the lechon manok (roast chicken) and shawarma (Mediterranean wrap) booms in the 80’s and 90’s. The proliferation of jeepneys and tricycles also illustrates how such safe but low-returning (and, in the long run, unsustainable) ventures are among the favourites of individuals with a bit of capital to apply.

Compounding this is an “aversion to the large venture”, something that noted Filipino author Nick Joaquin expounded upon in his seminal piece A 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.

Suffice to say, the Philippines today is so backward and so far far behind what were once its peers in the region that huge leaps rather than little baby steps are required for it just to keep apace, much less catch up. Thinking small simply will not cut it.

And last, but not least;

(3) A damaged culture hinders approaching development of solutions with a healthy regard for what is real as its foundation.

A big part of having a healthy regard for reality is an ability to deal maturely with criticism. The late Philippine-based consultant Clarence Henderson had much to say about Filipinos aversion to facing critical evaluation courtesy of their renowned onion-skinnedness

Basic books on Filipino culture (and a number of Pearl columns) emphasize just how sensitive Filipinos are and how important it is to avoid open criticism. I would refer you to such sources as Alfredo and Grace Roces’ Culture Shock! Philippines, Theodore Gochenour’s Considering Filipinos, or any of F. Lando Jocano’s excellent intercultural books (in particular Filipino Worldview: Ethnography of Local Knowledge and Working with Filipinos: A Cross-Cultural Encounter.)

While I am always conscious of this issue in interpersonal relationships in the Philippines, I hadn’t really thought that much about how it plays out in the broader context of intercultural debate. Now, however, the bruises incurred in the battles described in “1. The Facts” have made me acutely aware of how much Filipinos hate being criticized and (especially) how much they hate foreigners (or other Pinoys for that matter) being critical of the Philippines.

And this is where GRP steps up for its turn to run with the baton of bringing to light the Philippines’ challenges as far as its national collective character is concerned — a fortunate position for us to be in today when we respectfully consider the groundwork laid and the foundations built by great Filipino and American minds that had come before us (and in some cases, briefly worked with us).

Coming back to that excellent body of legislation I referred to at the start of this piece, a part of it that is singularly relevant in answering the question Does GRP vilify Filipinos and their culture? is where it clearly stipulates what is NOT rendered unlawful in any act under its tenets to uphold universal respect for people of any race, culture, or creed. Included in what it deems NOT unlawful is…

(c) a public act, done reasonably and in good faith, for academic, artistic, scientific or research purposes or for other purposes in the public interest, including discussion or debate about and expositions of any act or matter.

GRP has always stood for open and sound debate around the hard questions Filipinos need to face if they are really serious about building any substance into their “hope” of seeing a better and prosperous Philippines in the future.

20 Replies to “Does Get Real Philippines vilify Filipinos and their culture?”

  1. It isn’t excessively negative or unpatriotic or “anti-Filipino” to voice an observation that there is something wrong in our country. Keeping quiet gives our public officials a license to continue being inefficient, incompetent and corrupt.

    1. As well as for the rest of us Filipinos to act as if there is nothing wrong with the status quo, or that it’s not in our best interests to do something about it.

  2. “‘Individual Filipinos are at least as brave, kind and noble-spirited as individual Japanese, but their culture draws the boundaries of decent treatment much more narrowly. Because these boundaries are limited to the family or tribe, they exclude at any given moment 99 percent of the other people in the country. Because of this fragmentation, this lack of useful nationalism, people treat each other worse in the Philippines than in any other Asian country I have seen…The tradition of political corruption and cronyism, the extremes of wealth and poverty, the tribal fragmentation, the local elite’s willingness to make a separate profitable peace with colonial powers — all reflect a feeble sense of national interest. Practically everything that is public in the Philippines seems neglected or abused.'”

    Filipinos have a misconception that the term “bayanihan” refers to “communal work” — an expression of our culture where the community gathers together to accomplish a task, usually manual labor. On the face of it that is a good thing; it should mean that we are united as a people. But that is arguably not the case. What most of us don’t realize is that while “bayanihan” refers to a spirit of communal unity or effort to achieve a particular objective, the common tradition limits it to the members of the LOCAL COMMUNITY. It doesn’t apply to others OUTSIDE the community (baranggay, town or province). We like to pretend that “bayanihan” translates to a civil effort to tackle national issues but the truth is that our insular, particularistic interests prevent us from extending community spirit beyond our neighborhood.

  3. very well expressed. whoever thought that GRP is in the “vilification of Filipinos” business is surely missing some (probably a lot of) brain cells.

    More power.

  4. Those who say we vilify Filipino culture are likely those who cannot accept criticism or want their own way imposed on everyone (because they feel they have a monopoly of ideas). They are like the person who is told, “you have a pimple on your face,” but they feel insulted and throw a tantrum, when in fact, they do have a pimple. Or… they just prefer changelessness, as per Juan Tamad mentality.

    1. From Q in the PEX thread shown above: “Unfortunately, one of the worst Filipino traits is an inability to take criticism.”

  5. I fully agree. We have been flattering ourselves for too long a time that anybody who says otherwise is vanished immediately.

  6. The first supposition, that because of the ‘damaged culture’ it is questionable whether ‘democracy’ suits the Filipino.
    This is not necessarily so. It is first necessary to HAVE a true democracy. The Philippines does not have one. It has a political ‘theatre’ that masquerades as a ‘democracy’ but in observation of the facts it simply does not have a ‘democracy’. A self-serving “Klepto-cracy’ is what the Philippines has and until that is straightened out it is doubtful that any good will come out of all the well-meaning social programs that may be implemented(supposition 2).
    If one looks at the Reproductive health bill that sparked national ‘indignation’ (in some corners)/debate. What is it really about? it is yet another way to put public funds into the wrong hands and it will be peso’s pilfered under the guise of ‘societal benefit’, yet only a few will benefit.

    The assertion that Hobbs was right when he spoke that life would be ‘nasty, short and brutish’ was a narrow-minded diatribe that came from a presumption that all peoples were like the ones Hobbs knew to exist. Hobbs did not really take a good look(maybe he could not) at the real “American Indians’ that prospered in North America for centuries will living as ‘one’ with Mother Earth. They only took what was needed and did not seek to exploit the land but rather survived on what the land could naturally offer.That form/type of living no longer exists.
    Supposition 3? with all the ‘superstition’ in the Philippines it is doubtful that what is ‘real’ can even be conceived by all of the people.(did Satan really do it?)
    Time for a truly secular society to take hold over the ‘ancient’ out-dated ‘superstitious’ thinking that seems to prevail in the country.
    the suppositions above take into account conditions that do not necessarily exist and until the corrupt gov’t. is given the boot, the debates about what will improve the lot of the masses is a moot subject. Pointless really.

  7. Fragmentation is a practical term to use, but also consider the construct of the nation and the national identity.

    They are both externally imposed. How many really did sign up for nationhood at the onset? When did the Mindanao inhabitants truly identified with a geographic appellation after some Spanish king?

    I don’t really know and I suspect that the initial diversity was never really unified and this is what makes “us” so fragmented now.

  8. National characteristics and culture can provide explanations and insights to the development of a country, and the reasons for success, or conversely the barriers to change.

    National sterotypes abound worldwide, and although often exaggerated, clearly arose from an element of truth and/or perception, which in itself is a ‘truth’

    With regard to the philippines the psyche, which is the product of many factors including colonialism, national disasters, geographic fragmentation and isilation, religion, political rule/system, tends to paint a picture which makes ‘national pride’ seem nothing more than an empty government propaganda slogan, rather than an individual inner belief built upon achievement and respect

    Denial, compliance, avoidance, low self-esteem. The four headline characteristics of co-dependents and clearly relevant to the philippines national psyche

    The philippines does have a largely negative image, and in sterotypical fashion, prefers to ignore criticism, or disbelieve it rather than learn from it.

    Some of the negative characteristics which people repeatedly raise/encounter are

    Not inquiring/no desire to learn
    Lazy/easy option
    Subservience – followers not leaders or innovators
    Victim/begging bowl mentality
    Sensitivity and onion skinned
    Inferiority complex
    Copy cat culture
    Lack of identity
    Collectivism rather than individualism
    US envy
    Selfish/survival attitude
    No respect for people/life is cheap
    No respect for heritage/environment
    Lack of planning/foresight
    Lie,cheat,steal – no sense of shame or indignation
    Dreamers not doers
    Disregard of law
    Low intelligence

    Much of the negativity arises from the conduct and actions of politicians/’role-models’ who predominantly generate the international image and who set the tone domestically.

    It may well not acknowledge the caring nature, family loyalty, simplicity, and friendly disposition of so many, but to only focus on that would be exactly what a filipino would do rather than address the issues and face reality.

    Change is a journey rather than a destination and the first step on the road is an open and honest discussion. Another trait not so common in the philippines.

    Time to stop applying band-aids and get reconstructive surgery, or it will not become a nation of winners, but regarded as whingers and whiners with small wieners.

  9. ‘Indeed, one can draw similar analogies in the Filipino entrepreneur’s penchant for following a “me too” approach to getting into business.’

    Pearl shakes, milktea, froyo. I wonder what’s next…

  10. To answer the question asked in the title of the essay, SO WHAT if it does? The country could use a li’l bit of a butt-kickin to maybe spur some on to a greater action rather than sticking with the status- quo.
    A blindman can see how that has been workin’ out.

  11. “Bayanihan” is what most Filipinos are always leaning on.

    For example most high officials of almost all government agencies are so stingy in spending for computers, new office furniture, equipment and other amenities to modernize their facilities because they rely on their employees and non government organizations to fill up some if not all of the provisions that they refuse to provide.

    Public school teachers are made to provide for their classrooms’ consumables, amenities and beautification, other government employees are given low salaries and expect them to “use their initiative” to fill up the shortages, which obviously encourage most of them to resort to extortion and corruption.

    Not only the government leadership is squeezing the disbursement of their cash allocations not for the lack of it (as their common pathetic excuse) but because they mostly conserve it for themselves.

    If talking out loud in the streets or in other form of media against the culture of corruption in the government which can be heard even from children and experienced first hand is unpatriotic and anti Filipino, the question is – what then are most Filipinos doing to correct their cultural moral dis-alignment?

  12. The topic is certainly one which GRPC’s critics should consider before they themselves vilify GRPC, hindi ba?

  13. True,the people of the nation need to overcome such nonsense like fatalism and fundamentalism. The people of the nation need to overcome the cultural hindrances and misconceptions of values and the lack of integrity. Filipinos are better than we think. Their mentality is what destroys their potential. They have creativity but not will. I hope the people of the nation will realize and change for the better before it is too late.

  14. The name GRP name itself already says something, that is to “Get Real” because majority of Filipinos is always in a state of escapism and denial, to project happiness and pretend it, rather than accept the truth and learn from mistakes.
    GRP is simply, I think, introduces a different approach, because it is proved that Filipinos cannot change through pampering and simply thinking positive. In addition, we developed this “bahala na” and “pwede na yan” mentality because we simple take things too lightly.
    The “Pinoypride” is of course intended to be nationalistic, many doesn’t realize that it is often misplaced and most of achievements that we claim is simply not ours, because they “individual accomplishments”.
    We are alienated to the concept of “teamwork” and don’t know that the greatness of a nation does not rely on an individual, but rather the sum of our collective achievements.
    What Rizal dubbed as “Social Cancer” is still existence today that is why his books “Noli” and “Fili” seemed to be like just written yesterday. My professor once said that if Rizal is living today, he should be undoubtedly a blogger.
    The Philippines should “get real” and should not be afraid to tell the truth.
    “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis”.

  15. Get Real Philippines may glorify, admire, worship, divinize and venerate the late Ferdinand E. Marcos in a certain situation like this.

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