Winning, heroism and the palamunin mentality in Philippine society

Keen observers of the Filipino Condition had long ago collectively agreed to put a word to the concept: palamunin. The word encapsulates many aspects of Philippine culture encompassing its renowned mendicancy, lack of foresight, heritage of smallness, victim mentality, false hope, and anti-intellectual values. Indeed, the most disturbing aspect of Philippine society is the way even its most influential people lead in the upholding, propagation and embedding of palamuninism in this profoundly-impoverished society.

pilipinas_gilas_pusoThe destructiveness of the standard populist script spouted by the Philippines’ top politicians, executives and bureaucrats can no longer be readily discerned. Filipinos can no longer see it for what it is — a cognitive poison. It is because generations of Filipinos have been beaten into resignation to the glory of mediocrity and embracing the “grace” of consistently losing. Indeed, nowadays, Filipino “achievements” trumpeted by the Establishment are really just loser sandwiches tossed to palamunins starved for the perverse forms of “inspiration” they’ve been induced into working up an appetite for. The more they feast on these loser sandwiches, the deeper the addiction gets, the bigger palamunins they become.

Take the latest pronouncement by Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose L. Cuisia, Jr.

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“The Philippine economy grew by 6.4 percent during the second quarter of 2014 also because of the millions of dollars that our kababayans, especially those in the US, have been sending home,” Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. said after the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) announced the good news.

As if Filipino overseas expats are not exasperated enough about being seen as the pambansang alkansya — literally, the national piggy bank. Thanks to Cuisia, the island natives will continue to oblige the “generosity” of their overseas kin. Their heroes.

Heroism. That’s something Filipinos can relate with. UN peacekeepers holding their position against Islamist jihadists in a Golan Heights encampment? All ears. An outclassed national basketball team slugging it out in Europe? All cheers. The Filipino “hero” narrative is alive. It is a staple fodder of media output and political campaign — because it works.

It is interesting to note that the latest tales of heroism Filipinos are exchanging high-fives over are set half a world away. To be fair, when you’ve got media heavyweights reporting the minutiae of the plight of the Filipino contingent of peacekeepers in a deadly stand-off with Islamic militants and big corporate sponsors fuelling media mileage for Team Gilas, you get the all-too-familiar hot-selling shrinkwrapped McHeroism in their most recent incarnations.

The trouble with the Pinoy-style Hero narrative is that it had all but commoditised the wrong type of achievement. The sorts of “heroic” acts that opinion-shapers are packaging for mass consumption are not the sorts that build foundations upon which sustainable long-term progress can take root. Heroism, as Filipinos see it, involves a dashing costumed crusader swooping into the midst of a disaster and saving the day. Saludo!

Pity then the guys quietly beavering away in the background on stuff — new systems, new products, new services, etc. — that prevent disaster. There you go. The trouble with hero worship is that the firefighters get all the glory. The engineers, on the other hand, get their budget cuts.

No surprise then that the Philippines remains an impoverished nation. A system where a minority of exceptionals subsidise the low-output of a vast majority of palamunins. We call that elite minority of exceptional Filipinos “heroes”. And, as if it were not enough that Filipinos do not see the bad in that situation, the quality of these nationally-styled “heroes” is also deteriorating.

Winning used to be an absolute. One wins when one gets the gold and trods upon the enemy’s bloodied carcass on the way to the bank.

You’d think fans of the popular TV show Game of Thrones would be first to relate to that.

To be fair, that standard of what it means to win was a necessity back when winning did not involve much mathematics and navel-gazing. Thank goodness for civilisation. In more civilised settings, rules that determined who won or lost had to be invented. Even then, winners are declared by unbiased third parties — such as referees and umpires and, better still, writers of history books. Filipinos, in contrast, have acquired the habit of declaring themselves the winners.

For Filipinos, because they have for much of their history lost a lot more than they won, it became imperative that victory be re-defined. Thus we re-defined heroism, we re-defined independence, and we re-defined progress to fit the new concept of Da Pinoy Winner. Most recent is the rhetoric that has emerged following the beating Team Gilas suffered in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain. Team Gilas, Filipinos say, lost “with heart” — with puso in the vernacular.

That’s nice, of course. The notion of “good” even gracious losers works well when you win some and lose some. Trouble with Filipinos is we win some and lose most. So the sting of loss has since come to be alleviated by a steady now-culturally-ingrained morphine dripfeed — self-declared victory. With heart.

12 Replies to “Winning, heroism and the palamunin mentality in Philippine society”

  1. Godwin’s Law aside, it all boils down to being a latter-day case of Nazi propaganda proclaiming false superiority among others, using various excuses to cover up their utter losses.

  2. Pinoys don’t experience winning because at their core they do not value work, development, attention to detail and preparation. What they do value is gaya gaya, epal, corruption, chaos and flaunting the rules. Without naming names look at who won in the 2010 and 2013 elections and how that is so far working out for them.

    In the context of basketball don’t give me this excuse about height. How tall are Allen Iverson and Chris Paul?? People look at my titles and assume I know nothing about sports because I don’t chest beat because of Smart Gilas. Yet no one shoots down my basic argument. Nobody in the world has more tunnel vision when it comes to basketball than us and yet we do not excel in the region. So it can’t be about height. It is about excuse making.


  3. The ambassador needs a bit of a lesson in economics, IMO. His heroic kababayans are doing nothing for the Philippine economy. Their hard work benefits their American employers, and they are paid is US dollars, which must (eventually) be sent back to the US to pay for US goods, thus benefiting US manufacturers. The Philippines is nothing more than a middleman in the process.

  4. Aaahh! The qualities Filipino developed in face of adversities: Filipino ingenuity after unresolved graft and corruption and poverty situation; Filipino resiliency after strings of destructive calamities and disasters; Filipino heart after series of losses.

  5. I am one of those remitting money to my relatives…the more you remit money; the more they want more…it is like you are being used as their Bank…or some kind of Santa Claus.

    To compensate for the fact that we lost almost all in our game competitions. We have to invent that our “adversaries” are much “stronger” or “formidable” than us…it is some sor of delusion, if you see it. However, Aquino, himself is caught up with the mental illness of Delusion of Grandeur…

  6. What a screwed up country. A failed state masquerading as anything but a failed state. With all the problems facing the country there can be no trumpetting of achievements, or wait? There can be? Such idiotic thinking is what got the country in the mess it is in and it will take decades to correct if the country started now, but it will not. So down the drain you go Filipino’s….enjoy the slide !

  7. OFWs as heroes my ass. I have heard countless testimonials from OFWs who have been thoroughly harassed, abused and inconvenienced whenever they’re back home in the Philippines. Call them heroes while treating them like crap.

    What’s worse, OFWs have little to no political clout in their home country. They should have at least some say in the way things are being run in their home country, because after all they’re the biggest sponsors of the palamunins back home, while the phrase “OFWs are heroes” are constantly being used in every propaganda piece.

    There’s an extraordinary amount of self-delusion and hypocrisy going on in the Philippines, moreso than in any other country, more than I daresay Republican America or Putin’s Russia. At least they have something real and concrete to brag about, to be proud of. In this country the word pride and achievement is as hollow as the next popular fad craze that they happen to see and mimic on social media or as hollow as a politician’s promises.

    If George Orwell’s 1984 accurately describes contemporary North Korea, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World describes the Philippines with precision.

    Filipinos as a whole are people desperate for achievement and self-affirmation. And how low their threshold for achievement has become. They will cling to any sort of tiny triumph, that when examined and looked at against the bigger picture, will seem small and inconsequential to most, but to these desperate people it will look like a giant leap, like an enormous accomplishment, and they will describe it as such.

    Think “World’s Most Mentos and Coke Fountains”, “Most Breastfeeding Simultaneously”, “Largest Flaming Image”, “Most People Walking on a Catwalk”, “Longest Basketball Game”, and the list goes on. Reported all over the national news. Small, trivial and pathetic to most, but to Filipinos these may as well seem like the first walk on the moon.

    Think Gilas who lost all their games and won none (despite already having non-native Filipino imports); yet they are still being celebrated. Hell I remember when the “Fall of Bataan” was being celebrated, a wartime defeat being celebrated for some inscrutable reason only Filipinos and their loser mentality are privy to.

    1. No joke, Philippines called it an achievement when it reached 1 billion people. Not a good thing because most of them will end up jobless.

  8. Its amazing how the elite have managed to seize control of the people by controlling the media they consume as well as turning them into pavlov’s dogs as Phil media was the only thing they saw growing up.

    And the biggest thing that hinders the pursuit of knowledge is laziness itself.

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