In order for Filipinos to change, they need to feel disgust for their shameful ways

I have often asserted that Filipinos are a people who are primarily driven by hiya (shame). Unmoved by any calls to higher purpose or noble pursuit, Filipinos continue to do the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. As such I remain convinced that any political solution pitched as a “cure” to the malaise that grips the Philippines at the very threads that weave the very fabric of its society (whether it be the latest “messiah” running for office or the current top-down change initiative in vogue) delivers incremental improvements at best.

The reality we need to face is quite stark, however. The Philippines needs to change by leaps and bounds and nothing short of a tectonic shift in the thinking routinely applied by Filipinos in their day-to-day lives will be required for us to even just catch up with the rest of our major regional peers. The motivation needs to be primal — one that comes from deep within the underbelly of the collective psyche of the Filipino.

Atrophied capacity for disgust:A Manila storm canal clogged with garbage
Atrophied capacity for disgust:
A Manila storm canal clogged with garbage

A brilliant illustration of how this might possibly happen in the Philippines comes in the form of an account of how a poor village in Bangladesh named Mosmoil overcame a deeply entrenched tradition across Bangladesh of people depositing human waste in open public areas. The practice, called open defecation is the subject of a major section of the book The Big Necessity (Adventures in the World of Human Waste) by journalist Rose George who spent years documenting toilet habits across cultures all over the world. Poor rural villages across Bangladesh have for so long frustrated government efforts to eradicate the practice of open defecation which is the single biggest cause of disease and death among Bangladeshis.

George tells of how she comes across Indian agricultural scientist Kamal Kar who was hired as a consultant by WaterAid to find out why, despite huge sums spent by the government on building public latrines (toilets) in poor Bangladeshi communities, the prevalence of illnesses and disease associated with excrement has not diminished.

Apparently, people continue defecating in the open even in communities where public latrines had been built. In the course of his investigation, Kar discovered that WaterAid had been “asking the wrong question”. He went on to formulate a groundbreaking approach to getting project communities to change their behaviours sustainably.

Here is an excerpt from The Big Necessity where this approach is described by author Rose George.

As Kar explained in a how-to guide to the method, ‘It is important to stop in the areas of open defecation and spend quite a bit of time there asking questions and making other calculations while inhaling the unpleasant smell and taking in the unpleasant sight of large-scale open defecation. If people try to move you on, insist on staying there despite their embarrassment. Experiencing the disgusting sight and smell in this new way, accompanied by a visitor to the community, is a key factor which triggers mobilization.’

The calculations involved villagers doing their sums. They were asked to reckon how much excrement was being left in the open. ‘The accumulated volume of faeces,’ Kar wrote, ‘is reckoned in units that can immediately be visualized by the community — cart-loads, truck-loads, boat-loads. There is much amusement as people reckon up which family contributed the most shit to the pile that morning. But as the exercise goes on, the amusement turns to anxiety. People are horrified by the sheer quantity of excerement left in their village: “120,000 tons of shit is being dumped here every year? Where the hell does it all go?”‘

The answer, as the villagers of Mosmoil figured out for themselves, is ‘into their bathing ponds and rivers; and from there onto their clothes, their plates and cups, their hands and mouths. Onto the udders of their cows and into their milk. Onto the feet and hooves of their livestock, dogs, and chickens, and onto the flies that carry it straight to their food.’ Eventually, the villagers of Mosmoil calculated that they were eating ten grams of each others’ faecal matter a day. At this point, the brilliant core of Kar’s method is revealed. The brilliant core is disgust.

Nothing like disgust for one’s own distasteful practices and state of affairs galvanises one to act. And this is demonstrated in what happens next in Kar’s account…

[…] after the faecal calculation, people started vomiting from the shock. Then Kar did something more shocking still. He left them to it, or threatened to. ‘I said, “Carry on what you’re doing. Your forefathers did it; you can do it. Good-bye.”‘ The story as Kar tells it is suspiciously dramatic, but enough reports have been written on the Bangladesh programme that I believe him. Immediately, he says, the villagers were fired up with shame and disgust and determination. Children ran off to start digging latrine pits on the spot. The villagers swore that within two months ‘not a single fellow would still be shitting in the open’. All this took place without a penny of subsidy being dispensed. No latrines had been supplied, no technical advice. In the how-to guide, Kar says that once disgust has been triggered, villagers may say that they can’t afford a pit latrine. At that point, the facilitator can suggest a simple, low-cost design, emphasizing that it was created by poor people. Kar wanted to shift focus away from hardware. It didn’t matter, he believed, if latrines were temporary. People would upgrade if they needed to. Once they’d seen the light of disgust they would do whatever was necessary.

Word of this approach spread fast, and as the author attests to, the programme racked up noted successes.

Perhaps the best approach to embedding permanent change in Philippine society is to build a sense of ownership over and accountability for both the solution and its benefits among Filipinos. It starts with a clear recognition by our own reckoning of the systems of cause-and-effect of the way we behave and take the journey of coming to a strong sense of shame and disgust with our own practices, our own character, our very selves.

Filipinos need to come to terms with their own version of Bangladesh’s practice of open defecation and find in themselves the courage to feel disgust for themselves.

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23 Comments on “In order for Filipinos to change, they need to feel disgust for their shameful ways”

  1. As someone asked in Washington DC, “who’s that guy, wearing a suit, urinating in the street?”

    “Oh”, the answer was, “that’s the Philippine Ambassador.”

    1. This is true if God exists. So by this mentally, you can do whatever the fuck you want and you need to do is confess to a priest and “Almighty God” and everything is OK.

      It’s more stupid in the Philippines.

      1. that is so spot on ! that’s the very reason I choose to believe in no GOD. The very reason you can just confess despite all your sins and who know if you are an ex convict or rapist, etc. – is a major loop hole in the whole Religion world. But I gotta hand it to the Filipinos, despite all the calamities they face, their faith in GOD is so powerful. That often times, they believe it’s part of GOD’s plan to send Thypoon Yolanda their way because not enough people believe in him/her. The kind of GOD is that ? Why not just start over from scratch and make Adam and Eve without the stupid apple.

        1. Either way, the first dude to comment isn’t actually right tho. God may forgive but it is man’s responsibility to make amends for his wrong doings.

          And for all those who think like @jkham please reconsider what you say. Know the religion, its backgrounds, beliefs and laws before you talk like you know everything.

  2. How about showing the thieving politicians; including the President. How many poor people will have better life, if they would not steal from their Pork Barrel Funds and their DAP Funds.

    How many poor peasant/tenants of Hacienda Luisita will be uplifted out of poverty; if Aquino will land reform his Hacienda Luisita. That Feudalism will be gone, if Agrresive Agrarian Reforn will be implemented. And the poor farmers, will be more productive, if they own the lands they till…

    However, these political leaders have lost their “moral compases” already. They have lost also their conscience…

    1. I believe that the answer lies in using hiya and basic facts about the amount of excrement that has been dumped on the average Filipino, rather than relying on those who crap on them to clean up their act.

      As for land reform, economies of scale show that turning over land to small and inefficient practice will ensure that a country with such fertile environs will never be able to feed the masa.

    2. Poor farmers already own millions of acres of land. Most of them sit on their ass and watch the weeds grow because they don’t have the brains to know what to do with it, or the initiative to go and find out. I’ve seen huge vistas of Land Reform grants sitting idle because the farmers won’t even co-operate on rights-of-way across neighbouring plots.

      Giving more land to poor Filipinos is a recipe for disaster. Far better to give it to people who can prove they’ll get an economic return from it.

  3. lived in Australia for many years a long time ago. the government spent a lot of money trying to discourage people littering with ads like these;

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yp_XbXiaaQ

    funny how they stuck and worked. Maybe you need a real middle class society before this avenue works. A long way from a middle class society in this country

  4. It is well known fact that Philippine media is owned by rich oligarchs and since the lifeblood of these self-serving oligarch’s are the poor people of the Philippines which make-up 70% of the total population of 100 million people – the newspapers, television and radio networks will do their best to keep 70 million Filipinos remain uneducated and will feed them all the wrong information as well as biased reporting to misinform the general public because they know that the majority of the poor Filipinos sustain society due to their large number and ignorance. Unless the Philippine media improves Philippines will forever be stuck to poverty and ignorance.

  5. If the disgust from that revelation left the Bangladeshi to vomit and act upon an issue that has been plaguing them, then we already have an analogy to that in the Philippines.

    It came in the form of floods that killed many.

    Well we forgot all about those minor inconveniences, the floods have subsided, the houses cleaned, we forgot the death toll, the damages, we started anew. Bahala na. Uy nakita ko sa TV na bagay yung short hair kay Kris!

    We have already tasted shit, we have already vomited, we have already realized, but we don’t care to act.

    1. Unfortunately, you’re right.

      I’ve read the book benign0 mentions. The Bangladeshis reacted in a normal, human way. A Filipino would not. Upon being made to feel disgust, he would simply fly into a rage, accuse all and sundry of looking down on Filipinos, then go outside and piss on a wall. Shame itself has been corrupted in the Philippines.

  6. thank you for a very informative article benign0! the country would be so much better off if they read this.

    i agree that indeed, it would take tremendous courage for “pinoys” to take ownership and accountability for the dismal state our country is in now. with a society that takes its cue from a government which made “sisi” or the blame game encouraged and institutionalized, i don’t know how much manure it would take for people to finally feel disgust and alarm at the stink and disease we will be bequeathing the future generations. with the media and kris aquino making what is obviously shameful the new hip attitude (to quote a mega noytard i know: “i like her. totoo siya.”), chances are, people would rather be like that guy chan, whose article ilda quoted in her recent excellent blog, and would look at that mountain of excrement served up by the government in their faces and say: “wow! new man-made wonder of the world! iba talaga ang pinoy! one more term!” (with matching selfie amidst the swarming flies in the foreground)

    ugh! i want to make like judd nelson and air punch anthony michael hall’s dad in the face in the breakfast club those pinoys…including selfie-king bam aquino.

  7. Everything starts with the family, at home. The community must sustain it, and of course the schools. It is said that it takes a village (community) to raise a child. It starts with the family, at home, the the barangays sustain it. So far many of us, many communities do not yet learn this truth. We still have a long way to go to make the country a better place to live in. Let’s do better.

  8. You fucking people make me ;laugh and cry at the same damn time…..
    Every fucking thin g that goes wrong in this ASS BACKWARDS COUNTRY is either the fault of the ORIEMGERS or the FUCKIN G GOVERNMENT….
    Try shutting the fuck up for once and before you ask stupid questions and make retarded comments , LOOK IN A FUCKING MIRROR at who is making the problems….Do you know what you’ll see ????
    AN UN EDUCATED and UNCARING PERSON LOOKING BACK AT YOU,,,,WHY ? Because your race prefers to go online and BITC then get off your ass and do anything to improve the situations your surrounded by and that laziness you show is the REASON the SITUATIONS and POOR CONDITIONS CONSUME THIS COUNTRY !!!!

  9. I think every problem can be traced back to no sense of national pride. The “me first” attitude, the “corruption is ok” attitude, the public pissing is ok attitude, the screw thy neighbor (or family) before they screw you. All because they have no pride in themselves, or as Filipinos. Right up to the top man (or woman).

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