An attempt at understanding the Filipino attitude towards competition

At first glance, competition seems like a dirty word if you’re a Filipino. But what formal definition/s exists/exist of the word “competition”?

1. The act of competing; rivalry for supremacy, a prize, etc.;
2. A contest for some prize, honor, or advantage;
3. The rivalry offered by a competitor;
4. A competitor or competitors, and;
5. In sociology, rivalry between two or more persons or groups for an object desired in common, usually resulting in a victor and a loser but not necessarily involving the destruction of the latter.

competitorsWhy is it a dirty word, you may ask?

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Because, on a macro level, Filipinos don’t seem to like competition. You can see it in how some people insist during discussions – both online and offline – on “complementing each other’s ideas instead of competing.” The 1987 constitution seems to be yet another example of aversion to competition – with its provisions that spell out restrictions on foreign ownership in businesses. The allegations of price fixing and collusion, and the existence of an oil cartel, for example, seem to persist.

Zoom in to a more micro level though, and one can find that Filipino society is basically one big survival of the fittest jungle. Individual Filipinos will step on each other to get that shiny new gadget first. Or they may step on each other to catch the train or bus commute home. They might even conduct pissing contests on who can break rules and regulations to the greatest extent – without getting caught, of course.

Is there something that needs to be clarified about this seeming contradiction? Well, do remember that the Filipino IS a study in contradictions and ironies.

There are some basic traits of Filipinos, however, that shine through no matter what:

Filipinos are hypersensitive to criticism, opposition, and dissent.
Filipinos take opposition and dissent as an attack on their person.
Filipinos have a pwede-na-yan and bahala na mindset which stifles their ability to learn from their mistakes and from external factors.
Filipinos subscribe to a theory that popularity is a reliable indicator of an idea’s/event’s/person’s validity.
Filipinos have a baseless sense of being more important than anybody else – and each other.
Filipinos don’t like situations which aren’t gamed to their advantage.
Yet Filipinos romanticize about the underdog and “the comeback”.
Filipinos never fail to brandish their “victim mentality”.

The key word, of course, to making competition work to your advantage is healthy. Yet let us remind ourselves: is the Filipino known to take opposition, dissent, and criticism in stride, as an opportunity for improvement?

Competition enables one to learn new techniques and approaches he/she never thought possible. It enables a healthy “marketplace” where ideas and other commodities can be made better, faster, and even cheaper. Competition encourages innovation, critical analysis, and the exploration of other points of view that may be alien to one’s own.

And all that renders competition anathema to the Filipino, because they have a comfort zone of mediocrity and resistance to change which, if “intruded upon”, causes them to lose their sense of self-worth and instills an imaginary “loss of face” within them if they fail to respond or adapt to it. They forget the key word to always keep in mind: healthy.

Taking it personally, acting like a victim, rejecting any idea that is different prematurely – such are the traits of a society that does not know how to embrace competition. And will consistently lose as they get further left behind by the rest of the world.

Kawawa naman mga Pinoy.

[Photo courtesy:]

12 Replies to “An attempt at understanding the Filipino attitude towards competition”

  1. I see it that Filipinos don’t agree on win-win. They believe, if one must win, someone must lose. If they see a win-win situation, they seem to find it funny, so they’ll try to sabotage the situation to break the win-win and make someone lose. It’s as if Filipinos, Whether they do well or not, cannot bear to see someone else doing well. Someone must be down at the bottom. It’s perhaps an attitude that was prevalent in the middle ages and in the backward villages of today, and perhaps it shows that Filipinos have the mentality of medieval Europe or the uncivilized African tribes.

  2. What I know is: Filipinos are afraid of competitions…so they become OFW slaves.Competition in politics is what they want. Much money are made when they hold public office…thru plundering, graft, corruption, juicy position in the govenment, and raw political power…besides being licked in the ass by ” mga sip-sip” na retarded political followers…

    1. I disagree, HT, being an OFW exposes one to more competition, at least, that is coming from my own experience. If at all, when I had some “dry months” I tried applying locally only to be exposed to non-competition. Applying for a job as a mall manager after being an OFW for 10+ years, exposed me to competition who are relatively inexperienced as compared to moi, but they got the job. I still wonder why they would hire one with 5 years local experience in mid level than a former OFW with 10+ years in various levels and environments.

      I became an OFW not because of fear of competition but rather because the Philippines does not really offer me much room to grow.

  3. Sad to say, this is part of our Filipino-being. Consider the way our people communicate. It’s basically high-level. We don’t just try to understand the ideas and sentiments of the other side of the competition straight on, but actually try to solve an intricate puzzle of words, gestures and couple of eye flinches to know that a Filipino agrees, much more disagrees to an idea presented. Our way of communicating has rendered us a tag of not being able to complain and accepting almost anything, thus coined resisting competition, all because our way of expressing is different from the rest of the world. Probably Filipinos have rejected ideas, disagreed, and superimposed a couple presented on the table, but we did it all with a smile. Thus misconstrued.

    1. The point I am trying to make is that, basically, when competition is characterized by a strict adherence to a system of rules it brings out the best in each player.

      However, in a situation where the only rule is to win at all costs and become the ruler, all hell breaks lose.

      And so, here we are!

    2. Spot on analysis, Paul!

      Indeed, when the only rule is to win at all costs and become the ruler, as you say, not only does all hell break loose, sometimes even the winner loses more than he/she actually wins.

      1. Thanks man, I appreciate the compliment.

        And I agree, that the winner actually loses more when they knowingly or unknowingly propagate a competition culture that is self-defeating and unsustainable.

        If all competition in the Philippines merely amounts to offing the Sherif like in The Quick and The Dead through whatever means, we will more sooner than later realize that there is no limit to the depth that we can sink to.

  4. I don’t know bro.. but over competition and cutthroat culture is prevalent in many places. I work with white people and I notice that the poor, insecure or people with a lot of baggage are the ones who are very hyper competitive. People who are well off and content are more fun work with and are willing to share their teachings. I guess a lot of Filipinos have a lot of hung ups, regrets and just plain bad luck for being born in a third world country. Being poor is very hard because a lot of options are not available to them. I believe being very competitive is a part of their survival instinct. Not saying that I’m rich or anything but I wish a lot of people would be more content in their lives.

  5. Filipinos see competition as dirty or unhealthy because we never see it as a fair fight. We have this need to define who is the protagonist and who is the antagonist. It is older than dirt, but the theme of the underdog hero and the villain who never plays fair has been a persistent image in our popular movies, tv shows and literature. Our heroes are so perfect as they are, they don’t need any character development and any bad word about them are considered blasphemy. Villains always resort to some kind of cheating or some scheme to 1-up the protag. In other words, competition is never ingrained in us as a battle of wits of like-minded/skilled people. If anything, competition in our minds compare to a biblical fight of good and evil. Competition here is not about people with equal skill meeting face-to-face. It is an underdog facing an enemy armed to the teeth. We are only shown how kawawa the bida is and how the peanut gallery of allies would be the one to stand up and defend the wounded protag. In all honesty, I think Filipinos are not the protagonists, we are the peanut gallery. That is why we are so known for our social media usage. The sad thing is that in the Filipino battle between reason and sentimentality, the latter wins, no contest.

    So, going back to your statement about our willful resistance of letting foreigners come in and set up business without the 60-40 rule. Other than a constitutional amendment, this has very little chance of happening. Filipinos are not shown this as a chance to improve industry standards and be offered better products and services (you know… choices!). We see them as big, bad, and exploitative with money that has to be multiplied many times over who will come to destroy our cottage industry of monopolies and oligarchies. Because OMG, what will happen to our number one export (people!) if the jobs are the ones that come here? Do you have any idea how expensive it will be to invest in meeting ISO or giving competitive pay or improving life in general? -___-”’ We might end up being a true capitalistic society. LOL, how eff-ed up would that be?

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