The Filipino Sense of Shame: Misguided and Misplaced

What I have noticed about ordinary Filipinos is that they seem heavily motivated to avoid shame in their actions. Filipinos seem more afraid of embarrassment than failure. If they are afraid of failure, such as failure of their movement or ideas becoming popular and accepted, it is because they fear the embarrassment they assume it brings more than anything else.

It leads Filipinos to lie or do other harmful things. For example, Filipinos will boast about having property, riches or all that, so that they will not look bad before a guest; but in truth, they have nothing (this pretend play has often been used in comedy movies; in real life, it isn’t that funny). Another is when a colleague or fellow employee is doing better at work that they get the reward, such as a raise; thus, the employee in question badmouths his colleague in jealousy. The guy sees shame with someone else “getting the glory.” The Filipino, ayaw magpatalo (they refuse to concede or accept defeat). They will do anything, even unethical things, to win and avoid shame.

Hiya, shame in Tagalog, is seen by some Filipino anthropologists as a core trait of Filipinos. Some consider it a value. I however do not see it as such, since it is more brought about by human emotion without thinking (read: knee-jerk reaction). And human emotion without thinking is very dangerous.

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The Filipino seems to misplace their shame. For example, if Filipinos don’t win a contest, they say they were cheated even if the winner was truly better, because Filipinos feel it is a shame to lose. If a Filipino has a simple watch, but a neighbor has an expensive watch, the Filipino tends to be ashamed. The guy with the expensive watch and other expensive stuff, even if they gained it through corruption, they will refuse to give it up when asked to live simply; they find it shameful to give up their source of pride. When the August 23, 2010 Bus Hostage Crisis happened in Manila, some Filipinos refused to accept it as shame. I myself would say, any Filipino lacking shame for that incident has no heart.

I had recently attended a support group of parents of children with autism (I am the uncle of one). They all described the difficulty of having such a child. Yes, there is initial shame of having such a child, but they get over this and learn to love their child. There is also the feeling one gets upon seeing their peers’ children getting medals and awards in school, while one’s own child is unable to gain such awards because of their disability (part of this owes to the pasikatan or rat race aspect of Philippine society). There remains some a sort of societal shame towards people with autism, and other people with disabilities. As if such people (and their families) are cursed or treated as pariah in society. I would agree that people with mental disabilities and illness continue to be discriminated in this country (I will try to tackle this in a future article).

Sometimes, the sense of shame also prevents people from doing right. For example, if a person follows rules or avoids cheating and other bad practices, other Filipinos may sneer or scoff at him, saying he is a fool for following the rules, when it is much easier to use corrupt practices. Some would say, just get away with it once. Then we shouldn’t wonder why corruption is prevalent in this country.

All in all, Filipinos are trying to avoid shame for the wrong reasons. Fear of shame actually backfires; it leads to wrong action because avoiding shame leads to failure to face the problem squarely. Thus, we can’t see to solve many of our societal problems. A solution may also require accepting one’s faults and accepting shame. Because of high pride, some Filipinos refuse to accept their faults. They prefer to be always right, always the bida (protagonist, hero). But often, they prove to be in the wrong.

This is also why Filipinos continue to resist criticism. You disagree or even point out a wrongdoing to a Filipino, they will recoil with anger, because they will feel that you are shaming them. Some people believe saying any criticism at all is a shameful act, even if needed. From before Lapu-Lapu, to a 2002 article by Clarence Henderson showing how onion-skinned Filipinos are, and even today, Filipinos cannot handle shame properly… even when they need to.

Fear of shame needs to be dispensed with (along with Pinoy Pride, since this has often become the basis for this unneeded fear of shame).

Acceptance is an important part of how to deal properly with shame. If the shame especially is your own doing, if the fault is true, then you have no choice. After all, acceptance is the first step to meaningful change, which is very much repeated in wisdom writings and psychological advice (for example, Alcoholics Anonymous). As fellow blogger Midwayhaven said, humility has long been a forgotten value of Filipinos, probably because some people mistakenly equate humility with shame.

To quote yet another brilliant fellow blogger, Gogs, Filipinos should not only have Filipino Pride; we need to have “Filipino Shame” too. I can take this as a serious idea, it’s not as bad as it seems. Having “Filipino shame” on the things that we should be shameful about proves that we have a shred of humanity remaining. Being unashamed of even one’s obvious and truly damaging faults is the mark of a brute.

Many people who’ve visited the site say, we need positive solutions. Dropping the fear of shame is one such solution. Trying to avoid shame is negative; thus, the positive action is acceptance. In this sense, let’s rework the Filipino’s sense of shame, remove the fear and fine-tune it so that shame is felt at the right moment and for the right reason. Instead of being motivated by fear of shame, let us instead be motivated by the urgency to do things right, and avoid doing things wrong.

63 Replies to “The Filipino Sense of Shame: Misguided and Misplaced”

  1. Shame is one of the strongest of negative emotions and helps to modify behaviour relative to perceived norms.
    The problem arises when the norms/values themselves are unclear, confused, or are negative.
    The secondary problem with shame is that people will avoid it at all costs and instead project blame elsewhere as a coping mechanism.
    The philippines suffers from both problems, and as with so many issues a key contributory factor is the lack of ‘good role models’ who clearly through their actions feel no shame or guilt and have little empathy with or understanding of pride. You must have and understand shame if you are to have any genuine pride.
    the media should play a more active part by naming and shaming, but fear and libel laws lets too many people get away with too much bad behaviour which has a ripple effect throughout society as others emulate their behaviour and/or adopt their attitudes.

  2. There we go, trying to deflect a shameful depiction of Filipino attitude instead of saying, “dammit, that sucks. Gotta start somewhere! Gotta change!”

    Example: We hate it when nothing goes our way, we blame everything: The weather, the government, the country – but not ourselves. When somebody does point out our country and/or people isn’t doing something well – we rant, we hoarsely scream at them as spittle runs down our collar… We hate being told we are wrong or living in “the gates of hell” for the shame of it. We are Filipinos, never shamed, always proud, even if our kababayans are heroes or murderers in other countries, we stand proud of them.

    And when it comes to each other, we ridicule and shame each other to death, be it family or neighbor, just to avoid being the victim of it. Ika nga nila, baka maunahan pa.

    Stop thinking that everything is about shaming you; “Not exclusively Filipino”? Your words right there are an commendable example of fearing shame.

    Time to face this shameful music and dance it! Make good the dance to make the shame go away!

    1. YES SIR, YOU ARE CORRECT. it also might help when people stop giving a shit when someone is ‘shamed’, the reaction to the ‘shame’-ing is just as bad, maybe even worse than the actual ‘shame’.
      This whole ‘loss of face’ attitude is prevalent in Asian cultures, so much so in former times, and sometimes even now, that Japanese business owners who went bankrupt would commit ‘hari-kari’/suicide for the ‘shame’ in a business failure! a more idiotic re-action to a business venture gone bad is hard to imagine (for Westerners).
      I find the whole concept idiotic/laughable.

    2. Perhaps it’s more an attitude of, “the west is to blame for every problem,” rather than, “we have our own faults.” I guess you see what I mean.

  3. There ought to be a regular wall of shame column.

    This weeks entries
    Kris aquino for her wicked witch act by trying at all costs to keep father and son apart

    Philippine coast guards for laughing whilst massacring a fishing vessel

    Francis tolentino for his endless trips abroad ( singapore this week) but no achievements – except increasing his SALN worth in 2012 by 20 million pesos. Mmm

    1. I collected this many cases of some erring Filipinos for a Hall of Shame article I wanted to do. Guess it’ll do as a comment:

      1. Andrew Cunanan, who killed five men including fashion designer Gianni Versace.

      2. The first case of espionage at the White House in modern history of the United States was committed by a Filipino-American named Leandro Aragoncillo, a former US Marine who worked for the White House and the FBI. He also worked for former Vice-Presidents Al Gore and Dick Cheney.

      3. Former Carson City Mayor, Fil-Am Pete Fajardo was sentenced to federal prison sometime in 2004 for extortion and other corruption he committed in 2000 or 2001.

      4. The scandal that rocked the world of sports in the United States in the early 90’s was committed by a baseball team from the Philippines.

      5. A famous case of human trafficking in the United States was committed by Two Filipino doctors:

      6. Top PMA graduate caught shoplifting in the USA:

      7. Former actresses Anjanette Abayari and Alma Concepcion were both detained in Guam for illegal possession of metamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu).

      8. Nora Aunor was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport for possession of shabu.

      9. Filipina Nurses were involved in multi-million Medicare fraud scheme:

      10. Filipinos sued California hospital over English-only rule (well, this does seem to be a gray area):

      11. Filipina was accused of abusing caregiver (compare to male nurse with surname Aquino case):

      12. Scammer in the US – Boiler Room King Amador Pastrana.

      Then add the maid in Singapore who wore her employer’s clothes without permission, the Filipino who cried foul just because of someone else’s name (Kiki)… and the list goes on.

      1. Sorry if some links are dead, this was three or so years ago, and I hadn’t had time to check if they work. Please Google on the topic in case that happens. Thanks.

        1. Thank you. I guess August 23, 2010 need only a brief mention, since one would be living under a rock to not know about it.

        2. jcc

          So Filipino crimes are smaller… really because if you murder one or a thousand you are still a murderer the number is not relevant. You continue to use others bad behavior to justify Filipino bad behavior when it is still bad behavior, the size is not relevant. You are using a strawman defense or just waving your hands. I can go on and ob about other “small” bad behavior around the world but how does that justify bad behavior in the Philippines? It doesn’t it only allows for excuses to continue sticking you head in the sand.

      2. Andrew Cunanan has a Filipino father but he grew up in the U.S. His culture of violence was Western acquired.

        Agoncillo is a patriot from viewpoint of those who abhors corruption in the Philippines. His giving away classified documents to depose GMA was a patriotic act, not “purely spionage” from the other side.

        It is not only Filipino nurses who are involved in medicare fraud. Owners of home health care facilities are diverse: Indians, Pinoys, Middle Eastern descents and White Americans. They too were sentenced for medical frauds. Pinoys do not hold exclusive title to fraudulent conduct. Greed pierces culture barriers.

        Dewey Dee, Marcos crony who defrauded Philippine banks in the twilight of Marcos years was a Chinese. Taxpayers who are defrauding the country right now are Chinese businessmen (Lucio Tan, et. al.) They are not Filipinos. They simply don Filipino citizenship for convenience.

        Maddox, the notorious investment scammer is an American.

        Enron was an American company who defrauded thousand of its employees of their retirement savings.

        Why pick on the Filipinos when you have greed painted on the faces of people across the globe?

        1. Because the crosshairs of this blog is set on the Filipino. Our purpose, in effect, is to “pick on” the Filipino. It would defeat the purpose of this to set the crosshairs on other nationalities. We are here to challenge the assertion that the Filipino is better or is less evil that other nationalities – and thus, we say the Filipino has faults to fix.

        2. So you admit that you selectively put Pinoys on crosshairs, though their faults can be miniscule compared with other nationalities?

        3. So you admit you’re quibbling again, JCC, or did you just forget to leave your point at home once again?

          Think American Express: “Don’t leave home without it.”

        4. JCC

          Do not justify bad behavior by citing other bad behavior. the bad behavior needs to stand on its own.

        5. I disagree that Filipino faults are “miniscule” compared to those of other countries. Filipino faults, in my view, are more massive, because their effects show this.

        6. It depends on your perception. Pinoys have never conquered any territory and enslaved other races. They would rather enslaved themselves in order to live.

          They have not engaged in mass slaughter to promote their imperial designs because they only think “small.”

          Big empires have disintegrated and they have brought miseries on their people, Roman Empire, Russia and now the West is collapsing. China in order to grow, have to kill each other in mass purges during the early forties and up to 1960s.

          We only have killed each other by the dozens.

          Sometimes when your needs are small, your sins are small.

        7. If the perception of someone is, “I have less sins than the rest of the world because I am Filipino,” that someone’s got to have delusionary issues.

        8. Not at all ChinoF. I only take you up on your putting the Pinoys at crosshairs as if the Pinoys are the most damned race on earth. We have our flaws just like others, our flaws are “smaller” because we think small, but I am not asking that we should excuse our “smaller” flaws. We should address them just the same. What teeds me off was your links about Pinoys being involved in various crimes abroad to hihglight Pinoys character flaws when all others were as mendacious if not worst than Pinoys.

          Then you reposted that you pick on Pinoys because this blog put Pinoy on crosshairs as a matter of “policy” preferences?

        9. Not “policy” preferences. It’s more like the theme of this blog – expose Filipino errors.

        10. I also posted that list as a semi-response to Libertas’ comment. It was originally intended for Antipinoy – which I may posit, is “worse” than this blog site.

  4. Pnoy is sterotypical

    Always blaming others
    Only wants to hear good news
    Reacts badly to criticism
    Missing when problems arise
    Morally dishonest/deceitful
    Lack of empathy
    Excuses/accepts wrong behaviour in others
    Two faced

    No standards, no shame

    “Lead the people with administrative injunctions and put them in their place with penal law, and they will avoid punishments but will be without a sense of shame. Lead them with excellence and put them in their place through roles and ritual practices, and in addition to developing a sense of shame, they will order themselves harmoniously”

    1. There is also this idea that if you admit your mistakes and accept your shame, you are a weak person. I very much disagree. But the idea, is it more Asian in origin? If so, it proves that western ideas can be better at times. 😉

  5. I would be happy, if we can find shame on our
    Filipino politicians. All of them are: “makakapal ng mukha”. They steal; they cheat elections; they make all their relatives, family, kabits, etc…run for public offices, creating political family dynasties.
    I don’t think shame is in Filipino characteristic already. It is man for himself, now…

  6. I know this is an old article but I think that Filipinos DOESN’T know how to deal with shame properly. They can’t cope with shame. It makes them feel small and bad about themselves. It makes sense why they can’t accept defeat and that’s because it makes them feel worse. They don’t know that shame exists for a reason. Shame is there to remind us of our mistakes and to learn from it. Japan was able to deal with shame after WW2 but look at them. They recovered rather quickly and the country is now one of the richest country in Asia. Germany was the same but then they progressed afterwards.

    1. Well, guess what happened when Germany was “shamed” after losing WW1? Some guy who wasn’t accepted into an art school took advantage of that to drive the people of Fatherland in committing one of the worst atrocities to humankind.

      1. Yes, it’s an old issue, but as usual, Filipinos (as many other people), refuse to learn the lesson, and thus repeat their mistakes. Thanks for the comments.

        1. Sorry for reviving this thread. I just had to put my two cents in. Anyways, Filipinos also think that “shame” and “defeat” is the end of their world. They think failure in life is bad even though everyone has failed at one point in their life and is able to get their shit back together.

      2. Yes Hitler did all of those stuff but you know what? He was using the Jews as an scapegoat and had this ideal society in hi mind. Germany is embarrassed after what Hitler did but they got over it. Now, it’s illegal to have Nazi stuff unless for educational purpose.

        I believe that there’s a worst dictator than Adolf Hitler.

  7. Can filipinos feel shame.
    Clearly politicians, role-models can’t/don’t, hence a nation behaving badly in all respects, but trying to divert the issue/attention by using the word pride at every opportunity irrespective of how mundane/irrelevant the achievement/topic.
    Proud pinoys are proud that charice who they are so proud of anyway, has declared herself as a proud pinoy lesbian. A proud day.

  8. If you can’t admit you were wrong, you can never learn and grow. That’s why nothing much changes in PH.

  9. “Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it….”
    ― George Bernard Shaw

  10. It seems deep rooted this Pinoy problem of facing shame and became a common situation and perceived nothing is wrong about it since it is rampant and mostly others do the same! Just like corrupt politicians, it became a standard for a politician to be corrupt rather than straight! How can we change, or I mean they can change? I may be wrong, but I think we acquired such behavior after Spanish colonization! Most countries who were colonized by the Spaniards years ago are mostly poor countries now and run by corrupt politicians, such as Philippines, Mexico and other third world countries all over the world! To change is almost impossible task. It should start from home, schools and we must have strong political leaders with dignity from the President all the way to the lowest level to instill pride and justice and most important is love spiritually to mankind! Impossible as it may sound, but can be done slowly but surely if wanted to change!

    1. Well, what you are implying my friend is something NOT short of a revolution.But if it is what it entails to have a new identity and a new mindset, so be it then!

  11. We all born and live in different places. We, Filipinos have are own cultures that may others misunderstood but in our motherland Philippines it is just normal.

  12. Sir ChinoF, You have a great skills in reasoning for your article but sorry, Your point of view for us Filipinos are literally not acceptable, we are not raised to misplace our shame its just that its our way to motivate our selves more and to fight back or to never give up on anything. We never forget our shames, most of us are just fighters who are striving for a goal, and in terms of contests yes, we always say the word “they just cheated” when we fail but its a motivation for us to fight back and win the next time.

    Genny B. Alviar

  13. I know it’s been more than a year since this was written but well, I stumbled upon this just now. Yes the Filipino’s sense of shame and concept of face has done him/her in in many disastrous ways than one. When I think about how we’ve gotten into this mess, I think there’s the people to blame, there’s the government and past administrations going back even before the Marcos years to blame. Not one entity but everyone who’s been in it. The mismanagement and neglect that administrations past and present have tormented the us with for decades have instilled in the majority the mentality that nothing is going to get better, that they’ll be too powerless to deal with their leaders’ lack of genuine concern for them and for the country. They see the leaders and government cheating them so why not do the same? Tit for tat. And it’s made irrational people of many of us. It will be basically an almost-impossible uphill climb to attain a semblance of integrity and honesty for us.

  14. If more pinoy were concerned with timelyness and work ethics instead of “Shame” the Philippines would be as wealthy as the rest of Asia.
    But then again! how can one instill modern ideas and ideals into a race that gave up head hunting and island to island fighting only 300 years ago?

  15. As I ve moved into the PH, I was willing to support and help Filipinos, because I ve thought simply that these people need just a help and a chance. Later on ive learned my lesson..Filipinos do not need any help, because if u give them a small finger they will take later on ur complete arm and after that ur torso. No empathy does exist, no real shame only the ME does exist in the Philippines. A typical 3rd world poor standard thinking. Since many years I ve turned here while im living in the PH into a Filipino. Means simply I care only for myself, I am unfriendly and rude , I know what to expect from these people when they are friendly to me ( means they want money). Pinay: are one of the most beautiful women on this planet, but are also the most dangerous , with their never ending lies, their love for making anger and spreading gossip.

  16. To illustrate how powerful hiya is let me share my experience.
    Recently I’ve lost tons of weight because I have switched to a healthy diet, as a result I feel a lot more energetic now in my 50’s than in my 20’s.
    Many Filipino friends of my wife’s are gossiping and spreading around the idea that I have some kind of disease when, in fact I’ve never felt healthier in my life.
    The bottom line is that now my Pinoy wife is telling me to gain weight (thereby sacrificing my health and vitality) “dahil nakakahiya na masyadong payat ako”.
    So, in my Filipino wife’s mind the opinion of others matter more than my health.
    That’s how powerful saving face can be….

    1. @Eduardo Maresca:

      It is one of the negative characteristics of Filipinos…intrigue and gossips. It is more of Envy, because your life is better than the gossipers. We sometimes call this: “crab mentality”…we are all confined in a small place, and imagine, we are crabs. So, we bite and pinch, each other to go to the top,

      I myself, don’t go to the usual gatherings of Filipinos here in the U.S. What I see, is :”payabangan” or showing your high cost jewelries or clothes, to put the other guests down.

      Maybe, because, most of us are working as, low level employees, that we intend to show others, we are successful and important.

      Other Filipinos are really successful in the U.S. They are medical doctors, nurses,professors, engineers…and others are working in the U.S. government. Some are in the research field in Technology. There was even a Filipino American Major General General named Taguba, who rose from the rank…

      So, kindly bear some of our negative traits, we bloggers are helping our countrymen to improve their mindsets…

    2. Unfortunately that’s more of a social status, maybe cause being skinny is only seen on poor people, so if you gain weight it means you have greater wealth, cause that’s the only reason you are able to afford food.
      I get that allot especially my aunt calling me a “goat” cause I prefer to eat vegetables than adobo and lechon. Hearing that from a family member really hurts your cause Filipinos are very family-centric and being ostracized by your family is the end of the world. My mother introduce it as a good virtue especially with the rise in heart ailments and sickness so I have always seen my diet as more of a “pride” than “shame”. Though it relates more to my own mother’s experiences cause she distances herself from her family, so she is not fully influenced with what her relatives see as “shame”.
      I see more of the problem is what is considered to be accepted, like the invisible lists of rules that needs to be followed, but some are not virtuous and just plain wrong, so if the individual person accepts stealing and taking advantage of other people cause that’s what their parents told them is the “right” thing.
      Again I’ll bring in my experience with my mom, I saw a child playing on the second floor of a mall and by accident she ends up hanging on the railing about to fall, and right away my mother told me to watch her bag instead to trying to save the child when it’s right in front of me. I end up very conflicted cause saving a life is important but obeying my mother is more important to me and I don’t want to be a “shame” to my mother, cause the of the rule is “Honour your parents” and if won’t follow it I will be send to Hell. Thank God the child was saved but the guy who did it had to run from the entrance when the people right near the child did not move and just gasp, waiting for a “Savior” to come.
      I was both disgusted and guilty with myself cause some one could have died but I refuse to do anything cause it will bring “shame” to my family. It scares me with the fact that if my mother told me to commit murder, I would probably do it.

    3. Being afraid of what others assume reflects a dependence on others for validation, leading to greater insecurity. Your wife still has that crude attitude that submitting to others’ opinion for validation is essential. Letting go of that attitude will lead to a much happier life. I expect though that will not be the end of your troubles with your wife, since she seems so trapped by the search for validation (I wrote about that in another article).

  17. I am noticing, in fact, that there is a growing number of bloggers who are working hard to help Filipinos shift their mindset, as you said. I appreciate that a lot because the Philippines has an incredible potential

  18. Dear ChinoF, I really like your blog! Can I please have your complete name so I can properly quote you in my school paper? Much obliged! Thanks!

  19. Thank you very much for your quick response Sir ChinoF! I enjoy your articles very much and your comments are really sensible and insightful!

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