Defining Honor in the Philippines

So, just what is honor?

That’s right, honor. Honor is one of the more common words I hear being thrown around in this little country of ours but I often wonder if its people has any real understanding of what it means. I hear “palabra de onor” (word of honor) being said but I somehow doubt it applies to many.

Before we go on, let’s look at how honor is viewed in other cultures…

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In Japan for instance, honor is taken very seriously. People there would rather take their own lives rather than lose what they believe is “honor”. They will commit suicide in a rather disturbing fashion (from disemboweling oneself in men and slitting one’s own throat in women) just to preserve their honor. When apologizing about big issues, Japanese openly prostrate before the person they are apologizing to, to show their sincerity so as to preserve their honor without having to commit suicide. The Yakuza, in particular, are quite infamous for mutilating themselves just to prove themselves to their gang leaders.

A strong tradition of honor is at the center of ancient codes like Bushido which has been described as "Japan's soul".

A strong tradition of honor is at the center of ancient codes like Bushido which has been described as “Japan’s soul”.

In Great Britain, there is always the idea of having a “stiff upper lip” that is often associated with their idea of honor. It means living up to your word and your tasks regardless of how much it troubles you. That’s why, in many of their stories as well as that of neighboring European countries like Germany or France you’ll notice that the heroes of their pieces go on great quests to make a name for themselves. They often face all manner of opposition and will have to pass through places unknown to become the heroes that they are remembered as. This kind of mentality goes hand-in-hand with how British go about their own tasks. They often understand the difficulties of the choices they make but go through with them anyway. Examples of how they chose a more noble path is when they finally decided to grant many of their colonies independence and occasionally accept bitter criticism from other countries.

The American idea of honor ties in with their idea of honesty. Of course, not all Americans are honest but it goes to show with Abraham Lincoln’s saying that: “You can fool some of the people all the time, you can fool all of the people some of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” This means that while Americans can and have done their share of reprehensible things, they will own up when finally caught. Take for instance Richard Nixon voluntarily stepping down from office and being never heard from until his death in 1994.

With all three views we can understand one overarching message: sacrifice. Honor is about sacrifice. It is about choosing something that might be difficult over something that is easy because the difficult choice is right. This idea is often lost on many Filipinos because of their skewed look on abstract ideas like honor.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Let’s start with the word mabuti or kabutihan which mean “good” and “goodness” respectively. How do Filipinos perceive the word “good” and how do they apply it in their day-to-day lives? Well, more often than not, I see many who confuse the word good with “easy” or “cheap” in the Philippines. If something is hard, then it is automatically branded as “bad”. Of course, there’s nothing new about this as a lot of cultures tend to associate death with the negative despite the fact that death is part of the cycle of life. But then again, it becomes preposterous when a good number of Filipinos prefer to take shortcuts rather than make a whole length of a journey. I commonly hear people saying: “Bakit mo pahihirapan ang sarili mo?” (Why make it hard on yourself?) despite the fact that their supposed “easy way” is both self-defeating and potentially dangerous.

Okay, now let’s go with katapangan or “courage”. So what is courage is exactly? Well, as any educated person will telly you, courage and recklessness are not the same thing. Courage is “not the lack of fear but the mastery of it”. It means facing something difficult or scary for the greater good. You are, in your heart, afraid of what may happen but you proceed nonetheless because you know that it is right. However, in the Philippines, “courage” is often confabulated with aggression which, unfortunately, isn’t always synonymous to real courage. You can always say that a tyrant or bully is aggressive but you cannot really call them brave when their victims are all too often people who can’t fight back.

Finally, let’s tackle katapatan or “loyalty”. Well, I’m sure we all agree that we have differing ideas on the topic, but the bottom of line of loyalty is sticking to something regardless whether or not it sucks. Loyalty is similar to the concept of courage in that you know that something might be hard or dangerous but you stick to it anyway. Unfortunately, “loyalty” in the Philippines is a very subjective term and the people it applies to is very limited. Most Filipinos tend to misinterpret loyalty to only include themselves and their immediate surroundings. It’s sad to note that even after declaring our independence, many Filipinos continue to carry a divided mindset and will always favor their own group regardless of their competence over any others.

The three concepts I mentioned are the key ingredients in defining the word “honor”. Here in the Philippines, the very concept of honor is rather hazy because of how said elements are often misinterpreted. How can one work towards the common good when one’s definition of good is always about being “difficulty-free”? How can one know what it means to be brave when being brave just means you’re willing to pummel the other guy into submission? Lastly, how can one be loyal to one’s nation when one is only “loyal” to those he/she personally knows?

With this in mind, it completely flies over my head while we put such ridiculous titles to our politicians when they are the exact opposite of what honor stands for. Titles such as “excellency”, “esteemed” or “honorable” are often found in the title of many of our leaders when they probably couldn’t even tell you what their titles mean.

While it may be a long time yet before we, as a country, get our act together, I think it’s high time to put an end to the silliness of applying the word “honor” or “honorable” to people not clearly deserving it.

Honor is about sacrifice, of putting aside one’s personal issues to tackle things that are more essential and beneficial to the whole. Only when we Filipinos understand what it truly means to be “honorable” can we truly make changes in making ourselves a better nation.

33 Replies to “Defining Honor in the Philippines”

  1. Thoughtful article…. My understanding of the term honorable is that it can be conferred on anyone elected to public office; from barangay capitain to president. With the large amount of vote buying going on, it seems a rather ironic title to give. I suggest replacing “honorable” with the term “rapacious.”

  2. I see the same failings of these concepts in impoverished South American and African nations. Of course, following the principle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, these fall secondary when you’re hungry, cold and desperate. All familiar to the average Filipino who go through this plight.

    1. What pisses me off beyond belief is that even the people who are supposed to have the means to understand the concept never even consider it. A lot of them say the same thing: “Why would you give yourself a hard time?”

  3. The German Philosopher: Fredrich Nietzche stated: “Evil you will be my Good…” Filipino politicians are mostly Amoral. They don’t understand: honor, courage and loyalty…Just look at those Thieves , stealing from the : DAP, PDAP, Pork Barrels, etc…Courage?…I doubt it, if they have any courage. Loyalty…look at when Aquino will be out of office. His “Asungots” will surely ally themselves, to whoever will be in power.
    Loyalty is to their “stomachs”…

    So much so, with “honor”, “courage”, “loyalty”. They are foreign words to them, and they do not exist in their mindsets…

  4. Honor, in the U.K./E.U./USA can mean different things but are generally similar. As I understand the concept it is about ‘Saying you are going to do something, and then doing it.’, in other words: Keeping ones word.There is no quicker way, in the West, to lose credibility than to NOT keep your word. If YOU say your going to do something, YOU better fuckin do it.

    From what I have seen, this concept means little in the Philippines.

  5. Let me share my 2-cents on the subject.

    I think the central concept of “honor” in Filipinos is what we call “Hiya or Kahihiyan or Nakakahiya” (shame, embarrassing). The preservation of one’s dignity or reputation against shameful act or avoidance of action that will bring shame or humiliation (to a person’s or family’s dignity or reputation) is the central guide of Filipinos in understanding what honor is.

    Part of the ‘Hiya’ concept is the desire to be or do good (Mabuting asal/ugali). To have a sense of what is right and proper and to be conscious of how to conduct one’s self in terms of interacting with the environment. You build up your reputation by doing good deeds and people react by acknowledging the contribution you made which will redound positively in your person.

    Another factor that rivals ‘Hiya’ in epitomizing honor is ‘Budhi, Konsiyensa’ (Conscience, moral). One’s conscience more often, if not always, dictate what or which act is honorable or not. The conscience, for the most part, is influenced or govern by religious doctrine to which one is affiliated with.

    The “Bakit mo pahihirapan ang sarili mo” is a term meant not exactly to escape a hard situation or opting the easy way out but a way to even up things in the face of imagined or real ill-treatment. It is usually common in situation where one feels being exploited or being taken for granted. It’s either he is being taken advantage of (not being paid well, short changed, etc.) or his sacrifice is not being acknowledged. It implies that one is none the wiser if he/she continues to allow the injustice or misconduct inflicted.
    I agree with the writer on the concept of honor being hazy in our country. However, I don’t see misinterpretation as the culprit. Given the factors above, hiya and kunsiyensia, it is very clear that people know what honor is and what is demanded of them to abide by it.

    The problem lies in our leaders/elders/ betters. Those people, particularly in the position of power and influence, those who should inculcate and promote the sense of honor for being models are the ones who blatantly violates the essence of what honor is and distorts our people’s view about it.
    We’ll not run out of examples, from local to national scene, of people who clearly are guilty of wrongdoings but still swagger and parades before us with complete confidence about their untarnished honor. The gall.

    Let me just cite some incidents that has something to do with the issue of this article.

    1. Manila Film Center Accident and cover up.
    2. Bataan Nuclear Power Plant bribery and graft case.
    3. Imelda Marcos’ shoe collection
    4. Textbook Scam & Nepotism – Pres. Estrada appoints relatives to government positions, and intervenes in their behalf.
    5. BW Resources scandal – Pres. Estrada and associates profit from an alleged stock manipulation scheme.
    6. Estrada Midnight Cabinet – Chief of Staff Aprodicio Laquian jests in a press conference that he is the only one sober during the President’s “Midnight Cabinet,” drinking and gambling sessions in Malacañan Palace.
    7. Juetengate, 2000 – Chavit Singson exposé on Pres. Joseph Estrada receiving jueteng payoffs and bribes. This led to the impeachment of Estrada and eventual downfall.
    8. Hello Garci scandal, 2004 – scandal involving Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on committing electoral fraud during the 2004 National Elections.
    9. Fertilizer Fund scam, 2004 – controversy involving accusations that Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante diverted PhP 728 million in fertilizer funds to the 2004 election campaign of President Arroyo.
    10. Pork barrel scam, 2013 – involving businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles and several other linked politicians.

    Those are just some of the many cases of misdeeds that casted doubts on the honors and integrity of those personalities involved in them. The sad part was, no one, if my memory serves me right, has face the nation and owed any wrongoing or asks for forgiveness like we see in other countries.

    That’s what our people see or don’t see. Very sad indeed. 🙁

      1. About Aquino, feel free to enumerate them. Just don’t forget to add your own view about the issue. 🙂

        Anyway, one thing I missed in my post was about the ‘titles’ accorded to leaders. I think there’s nothing wrong with it because it is not really meant to infer about the person’s honor per se but a formal label to acknowledge the presense or participation of the person labeled.

        1. @Jameboy

          Are you allergic to Aquino’s misdeeds?
          Or, you are his “ass kisser” apologist?

          You are afraid to touch his corruption /misdeeds issue with even a 10 foot pole…

      2. Hyde_Toro

        “What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully?” – Don Corleone

        You don’t agree with what I said, fine, but don’t accuse like you know me. You have a beef against Aquino, good, lay it on the table. I may or may not agree with you. But don’t turn on me and call me names.

        You want to hear something against Aquino from me? You wait. In the meantime, there are a lot of parrots here that you can turn to and listen to the song you enjoy the most. Don’t use me like a radio. I have my own mind and I know what I should contribute to this blog to make it more representative of various ideas and opinions.

        I want to be friends with you but you’re so focus on your personal agenda you make enemies instead. 🙂

        I know you just want to justify your ‘Toro’ avatar so you bully. It won’t work. Puppies can’t bully. Never.

        Lastly, there’s no honor in bullies. : I

        1. @Jameboy:

          Wow… I hit the balls of a YellowTard…he does not want to talk about his corrupt Patron. He “shouted” “Aray!!!”, when I requested him to talk about Aquino’s misdeeds and corruptions. How about his Hacienda Luisita?

          Requesting something you can do is not disrespectful, or bullyingl…I was respectful, I even used the words: “Kindly”…

        2. I remember saying this to you.

          “About Aquino, feel free to enumerate them (misdeeds).”

          But you did not do that. Instead you tried to dictate to me what you want to hear/read. You’re bullying me and challenging me by calling me an “ass kisser and apologist” simply because you want to hear you favorite song from me.

          You “requested” from me? Really? You called me names and accuse me and that is a request? You are respectful because you used the word ‘kindly’? Lol!

          I said, ‘feel free to enumerate Aquino’s misdeeds’ because you are the one who said “he is also without honor and without conscience”? That means, since you alleged something, why not complete it by enumerating what it is you are alleging? Why will you drag me on an idea you formulated?

          And you have the gall to call your self respectful after calling me names and accusing me? Hello?

          Toro, don’t be a bully. It’s not in your nature. Stick to the issue and engage me in a mature manner. Don’t pretend that you are something when you are not.

          Pardon me, I’m going to the store to buy dog food for my puppy. Ciao. : )

    1. You made mention of “kahihiyan”, Filipinos have this paimportante or paVIP trait. They will make people wait, they won’t mind causing delay, they want attention, they want to be served, they love ordering people around or passing the work to other people when truth is they have nothing to show for their VIP stature. Panay “feelingero” at “feelingera” lang. They measure “honorable” with the allowances to their defect or special treatment given them. What’s more irritating is that the aggrieved party will just say, “Okay lang.”

      The film 47 RONIN came to mind upon mention of Japanese honor. 😀

    2. Other than the mis-definition of of “kabutihan” as “ease”, “katapangan” as “aggression”, “katapatan” as “pakikisama”, modern Filipino culture has redefined “hiya” and “budhi” as well.

      “Hiya” no longer means the “desire to be or do good” but the fear of being caught doing something disapproved by the majority, even if it is the right thing. Thus, many Filipinos are actually ashamed of doing the right thing for fear of being ridiculed by the majority.

      “Konsiyensia” no longer means “religious qualms” but the willingness to do something wrong for a “good reason[?]”. Thus, a person who cheats at an exam is “matapang” because “kaya ng konsiyansiya niya” to cheat. To be the only one who does not cheat when the whole class is cheating is not only “nakakahiya” but also “walang pakikisama”, i.e., without “loyalty” to the dominant group and “makasarili/selfish”.

      And so, the word “dangal/honor” in modern Filipino–or rather, Manila culture–means being “loyal” to those who do wrong, because one must not bring “hiya” to the corrupt, dominant group. To expose wrongdoing is “makasarili” because whatever corruption being done is done because it is done for some very good reason, and “kaya ng konsiyensiya nila na” to do those corrupt acts for the “common good”.

  6. The leaders of most countries are POS, and should have nothing to do with a Man’s character.

    The Philippines seem to expect much from their political leaders and always get nothing, wtf do they even care about them for?

  7. Stiff upper lip means courage in the face of war and hardship or the suppression of boiling emotions.
    A sign of weakness is when the upper lip trembles
    During the Napoleonic Wars the Duke of Wellington told the troops to keep their emotions in check by having a stiff upper lip and not show their emotions on the battle field.

    1. But Filipinos are FULL of emotions, aren’t they? Unlike the British, who define courage as a control over fear, Pinoys associate courage with utter recklessness.

  8. congrats, you are now one of a few GRP writer that manage to make me actually enjoy/immersed in reading the article instead of skipping it to the comments section.
    very balanced article.
    I do agree with some comments, that most Filipin@s have too much pride and not enough of honour.
    there are two type of them on internet.
    one, pinoy pridist that always calim philippines as the ‘Greatest’ race/country/etc in the world to the level of obvious denial/rejecting reality, and full on hating other countries (china/hong kong, taiwan, malaysia, singapore,etc)
    and the one that extremely negative (not in constructive/grp style) and refuse to do anything because it’s all hopeless/no use to them.
    very rarely I found those who see things realistically, acknowledging the flaws AND trying to do something about it.
    *sigh* unless those pridist start to ‘honor’their own words by actually doing something. all those ‘pride’ will bring PH nowhere…

  9. @Jameboy:

    My blog is just two blogs above you…do you know how to read? Do you see the word “Kindly”?
    Or you are just one of the Jack Asses, who refuse to see…you are really a true YellowTard, like your Patron…who has the “Jaundice View of Reality…they have eyes, but they refuse to see…

    1. So everyone who thinks Noynoy did something (anything) right — he’s an asskisser agad-agad?

      Ano ‘to, black-and-white?

      1. @Pallacertus:

        Enumerate to me the “Good” that Aquino has done; also the “Wrongs/Evils” he had done…

        Otherwise, you are also his Ass Kisser and Ass Licker…

  10. Hyde_Toro_7yh says:
    How about Aquino’s misdeeds?
    Kindly enumerate them also…he is also without honor and without conscience…
    Okay, fine, agree he has no honor and no conscience. Now, show your basis for it.

    Kindly tell us why you said that.

  11. @YellowTard Jameboy:

    The Feudal state of the Philippine. His Hacienda Luisita…he and his cahoots are living in too much wealth, while 90% of the Filipinos are living below poverty..he stopped Land Reform Program, to protect his Hacienda Luisita…

  12. To be the only one who does not cheat when the whole class is cheating is not only “nakakahiya” but also “walang pakikisama”, i.e., without “loyalty” to the dominant group and “makasarili/selfish”.

  13. Read this.

    Peoples and countries fall under 3 cultures:
    1. Dignity (aka ‘dangal’) here each person has his/her own individual rights regardless of his social status, religion, or sexual orientation. Countries included: Northern Europe (UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Scandinavia, France), Northern USA, Canada
    2. Face (aka ‘hiya’) here harmony of the group and humility is the ideal, regardless of social status. Countries included: Eastern and Northern Asia (China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia)
    3. Honor (aka ‘yabang’) social prestige, material, wealth, religiosity, sexual double standard, male virility, familism, nepotism, and tribalism preferred over individual human right and humility. Countries included: Latin Europe (Italy, Spain, Portugal), Balkans (Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, etc..), Latin America, Middle East and North Africa, Southern USA.

    The Philippines has both face and honor cultures. The face or hiya is more common among the commonfolk while honor or yabang is more common among the powerful, which woesens Philippine society as a whole.

  14. Honor doesn’t truly exist in the Philippine society, that’s why someone like Duterte is needed to bring it into the masses. And to some certain jameboy, you must be living in a fantasy world.

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