Should Filipinos actually seek “Greatness”?

One of the most fervent wishes of some Filipinos is that their country becomes a great country. Or, since the country was supposedly great years before, it should return to greatness. Of course, that’s a “great” thing isn’t it, if it happens? However, this idea of greatness for the country is very convoluted and even hyped. It’s perhaps because of the myths and misconceptions many Filipinos hold that I will attempt to demystify.


Some Filipinos reminisce the Philippines once being great. That somehow, we were once equal to the United States, or that we we were once greater than our Southeast Asian neighbors, including Singapore and Malaysia, even Japan. However, I feel that this idea of greatness is actually an illusion. I say give two reasons for this.

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1. As columnist Rigoberto Tiglao said in a commentary on Philippine history, the Philippines was always poor. To phrase it in another way: it was never a “great” country. We have may have had some opportunity to become great one time or another, but this was not yet greatness. We have yet to reach a point where we can consider our country a great one.

2. Our “greatness” during the 1950s was because of American aid. For example, some Filipinos like to boast our military equipment of yesteryears and recently, such as the F-86 Sabres, F-8 Crusaders, F-5 Freedom Fighters, M41 Bulldogs, LVT-5s, Hummvees, Huey choppers and more (not to mention the General Purpose or GP – the jeep – that inspired our jeepney). They mostly came as American aid. And even our latest acquisitions still have an aid aspect to them. This is the kind of stuff we love to boast as “greatness.” But some call it being a tool of the U.S. Others call it being beggars when we shouldn’t be. I agree it certainly isn’t “great.”

First, there’s one question to ponder on: how do we define a great nation? If one looks at many definitions of great, one thing is sure to pop up in Filipino’s minds: we should be ruling others. One may remember a fanciful map circulated on the Internet before of China supposedly being taken over by the Philippines. How ironic that we who detest other countries for trying to take over our territory also dream of taking them over in a classic demonstration of hypocrisy. So it seems Filipino conceptions of greatness are twisted, filled with misconceptions, and sorely need correction.

Most of us GRP bloggers say Filipinos really don’t know how to be great. The esteemed and brilliant owner of this website, Benign0, for example says, in effect, true greatness is achieved when Filipinos become recognized for collective solid achievements, rather than empty boasts based on the achievements of only a few individuals. For example, the United States is considered a great country because its society provides greater chances for social mobility and providing a living wage for its citizens and inhabitants. In comparison, the Philippines does is for a large part significantly mired in poverty and is plagued by high crime. Or just look at Asian neighbors like Japan and Singapore. While the standard of living (i.e. cost) is high, you get security and respect for your person no matter who you are. In the Philippines, life is cheap.

Of course, there is the case of riding on the achievements of others. Filipinos just believe they are great for just being the society where Lea Salonga, Manny Pacquiao, Arnel Pineda and Charice Pempengco came from. Never mind that everyone else tends to be lazy free riders. They are full of empty boasts that have no greatness whatsoever.

Really, there is almost nothing that provides incentive for calling Filipinos great. OFWs? What makes OFWism great, when it separates family members and makes us a nation of servants?

So we move to the question I really want to ask: Is greatness really the right goal for Filipinos? Is wanting to be a great nation really the right thing to wish for?

For me, it isn’t. We lack many of the things to really become truly great. What we need more of is decency. The kind of decency where people respect the rules, avoid making useless boasts for empty reasons, use intellectuality correctly, have respect for the public and be truly productive citizens. Because before becoming great, one first needs to be decent.

As of this point, we are not yet a decent nation. We have rampant corruption, both in the government and among the ordinary people; our culture is known to be continually backward, anti-intellectual and primitive; people habitually refuse to follow rules, whether at home or abroad; many Filipinos like to get high on pride for nothing; we have massive poverty; habitual lying and plagiarism; and there is little respect for public space. All of these and more are obstacles to true greatness that we have yet to overcome.

The defensive Filipinos will hold that most Filipinos are already decent. However that is not the basis for other societies’ evaluation of us. Erring Filipinos, even as a minority, number significantly enough to create the impression that they define the national character. They’re just too noisy and many to not notice (and the noisiest sample tends to be the stereotype).

Sadly, it is likely that Filipinos will prefer being “great” over being decent. This is because of the Filipino cultural appreciation of form over substance, and the need to boost one’s ego to make up for a feeling of emptiness because of the many problems besetting Filipino society. The search for greatness seems to be part of the effort of hiding with a facade of “happiness.” But as the reverse psychology dynamic goes, the more “happiness” or “greatness” one tries to project, the more their actual sadness or self-loathing is revealed. One also may recall a teenager, who in the heat of his or her hormones, declares that he or she is great, but does something foolish, showing their immaturity. Thus, Grimwald’s “grow up” slogan fits. And this also perhaps explains FallenAngel’s description of a forlorn country looking for attention from the world.

Unless we learn to be decent, collectively, and not as just “pockets of resistance” trying to be decent, we will never become a great country.

31 Replies to “Should Filipinos actually seek “Greatness”?”

  1. Well said. Right now it’s much more fitting for Filipinos to gain respect by being diligent in the shadows rather than trying to put themselves center stage where they clearly don’t belong yet, if ever.

    1. And take a look at what was shared below. Marcos himself believed that the Philippines was great before, and should re-attain this greatness. Problem is, what greatness was this? Perhaps this is one major source of the KSP attitude of Pinoy Pride that we have.

    2. If we can turn things around, what claims of greatness can you impart either by you or in whatever is it that you stand for as a filipino yourself (I just presume you are)?

      Indeed it is easier to define what is NOT great and it’s totally different to come out with one’s advocacy that you can brag about that is consider greater.

      Adverse offensive by critics to others is often used as an amateurish way of dealing by the former’s inability to come up with something better than that of the latter.

      This unfortunately has become a sort of pass time for most visitors of GRP as well as some of the bloggers themselves.

  2. 1. Look how much foreign aid we get in times of disaster. Do we reciprocate or are we just too good at being victim? 2. We export labor, how many countries see us as some sort of economic destination ? I know what kind of ” tours” the Philippines is known for and that must be a source of pride I guess. Spend some time in Greenbelt and you know what I mean .

    1. The country just really isn’t competitive for tourism. I’ve experienced it when backpacking and taking holidays around Southeast Asia – for most people, it’s one of the places they’ll visit last, if at all, when they’ve already done the more convenient mainland and the more tempting and diverse islands of Indonesia.

      By the time you get here after all that, the beaches are worse, the taxi drivers ditto, the cities stink, value for money is MUCH worse on accommodation and food (say goodbye to cheap and cheerful street eats), and there’s a noticeable lack of culture – instead of the appealing ‘exotic,’ you see cheap and nasty replicas of Spanish churches and American fast food.

      When researching and getting ideas for my trips along the way, the Philippines was hardly represented in books and websites I came across featuring the purported best sights/trips/foods of Asia / the world (a book of 1000 foods to eat before you die didn’t even mention it. Quite an achievement!) Sometimes they’d give a shout-out to Taal volcano, the Chocolate Hills or the rice terraces, but it’s mainly for variety.

      I’ve written literally thousands of web pages and articles for travel companies over the last six years, but never once have I been asked to write a single page on the Philippines. Some of those companies do offer Philippines packages, but presumably most customers know what they’re going there for and the companies are a bit too respectable to promote *that.*

      Promoting the Philippines tourism industry helps the economy, but it does also mean fooling visitors into spending their holiday somewhere they might not enjoy that much.

      1. “…fooling visitors into spending their holiday somewhere they might not enjoy…”

        An insider who can’t see things from the perspective of the outsider?

        Would you rather believe a travel writer like Dave or a real visiting foreign tourists like Russian cuties Kate and Natalie?

  3. The greatness of a country lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in its ability to repair their faults.

    On the Failippines case, well, you know the answer to the painful reality that lies beneath its very deep dark cores.

  4. Eight Social Sins according to the Gandhis:
    1. Wealth without work
    2. Pleasure without conscience
    3. Science without humanity
    4. Knowledge without character
    5. Politics without principle
    6. Commerce without morality
    7. Worship without sacrifice
    8. Rights without responsibility

    I think we should add:

    9. Greatness without decency

    by ChinoF

    To desire greatness without decency is nothing more than wanting to be a bully which I am confident the Filipinos in general don’t want to be.

    I heard Marcos a few times declared “this nation can be great AGAIN.” That raised my eyebrow and I might begin my search as to what is his basis for saying that. Back to the library for me.

      1. Thank you Van Tray for that. I will check out the books the author mentioned as his sources.

        I just want to make it clear that I am not attacking Marcos, rather I want to know how he was able to say “…great AGAIN.” He was sure that we were once (or could be more to him) great. I want to know when was that and what are the indicators.

      2. Read a bit of this blog post. Interesting. However, whatever Marcos’ good intentions were in this book, in practice, what came true were the bad ones. The country still experienced great falls during his time. Also, that question, he wanting the Philippines to be “great AGAIN” is exactly what I’m referring to in my article. What exactly was great about the Philippines in those times? Pre-colonial Philippines was great? But there was no Philippines then. So I’m still believing Marcos was having a delusion of sorts, and that spurred our Pinoy Pride mentality. But let’s see, I might try to find and read this book, too.

        1. “Pre-colonial Philippines was great? But there was no Philippines then.”

          correct. in pre-colonial times, we dont have the concept of philippines. the country is merely an archipelago. anyone can go in and out from the “kingdom of maynilad” ruled by Haring Matanda, the last Tagalog King. if spaniards never came, we would have a separate state from the rest of the archipelago. unitary or parliament, i think either system will work in a homogeneous society.

          so for example, if Ilocos region is a state on its own with FM as it’s PM or President, it can be a great nation in the north.

      3. I can’t wait to read Lee Kuan Yew’s book: From 3rd world to 1st. he had a time with marcos. you will see how LKY views marcos in that book.

  5. if Filipino’s collectively want to achieve a goal, why not be the best at whatever it is the seek to do? This essay’s title, bordering on a ridiculous question, would be much worse if it said something like,UH, IDK….

    ‘Should Filipino’s strive to attain mediocrity?’. Everyone knows that they, as an individual, are insignificant in the grand scheme of the entire world……so as a group and/or collective unit Filipino’s would be far better serving to themselves and those interested enough to watch to strive to be the best at whatever it is they try to achieve.

    No one cares who came in second in a race, or was the ‘also-ran’ in anything. Competition or not to settle for such? It is nonsensical.

    AND REMEMBER: IF IF IF You are going to make a mistake,yes?
    Make a really fuckin big one. At least, people will remember that, and,at best, maybe even learn from it.

    1. “The Philippines: Striving to Attain Mediocrity”.

      Awesome mission statement, right there.

      And why not? When they’ve attained mediocrity, it’ll be a step up from where they are now. And they can proceed from there.

      You can’t go from “irredeemable” to “great” in less than a lifetime. Yet another example of Pinoys wanting to achieve something without wanting to work for it, or even recognising that work is required.

    2. About your last paragraph, I’m reminded of what Catherine Aird said: If you can’t be a good example, then you have to be a horrible warning.

      Oh, and don’t forget the example of the space race and scientific discoveries. These were collective achievements, not simply being the best at what one’s do. Because aside from trying to do something great, they wanted to do these things for the benefit of humanity.

  6. I’m not a Cynic…I know “Greatness” can be attained by any nation. Rome was great, because it established, the rule of law and the form of governments. Romans also were great builders and innovators in Technology.

    Ancient Greece was great; because of its innovation of how man can perceive its own universe. It’s Philosophers; its Scientists; it’s democratic government; and its innovations in technology.

    Britain was great; because it spread its form of government: the parliamentary system; also its innovations in Science and Technology. The language that I am now using: English, came from Great Britain.

    America is great…because of its achievements in Science, Technology ,and advancement in the form of government. America sacrificed its sons to defeat: slavery; dictatorship ; the Axis;totalitarianism; the communists. It allowed people to worship and think freely…People around the world contributed to its greatness, and advancement in Science and Technology…and, in all fields of thinking, also.

    The Philippines can become Great? Why not?
    If we drive away the corrupt politicians; jail the crooks; improve our system of government; elect good leaders; reward people who can contribute to the good of all; remove patronage politics; educate the young to be good citizens; not use the educational system to promote politicians’ political agendas;remove the squatters; not to pollute the environment;take care of our natural resources;remove the culture of corruption, etc…
    We can be Great…it needs a change of mindset; a change of the way, we think…

    1. But is being “great” really that great? Note, even the “great” nations are opposed and criticized for being power-hungry empires. Perhaps being great is not all that it’s hyped to be?

    2. Very rarely do I read someone speak of something like this here in this GREAT GRP site! What I read from a commenter is more liberating than writer’s article itself!

  7. Yes, I forgot…enact the Land Reform Program. Give yhe Hacienda Luisita of Aquino to the farmers/serfs…Take out our country, from Feudalism. Destroy the Feudal Oligarchy form of government. And, establish a fully Democratic Secular government…

    1. YES YES YES, now your thinking. LOOK ,it would be EZ.

      This could be done quite easily and no one could stop it. The Army is a joke, the cops wouldn’t act against the people either, coz they don’t get paid enough.

  8. @Chino F:

    Greatness of a nation is usually measured on its contribution to the improvement and advancement of our Human Race.

    The way we govern ourselves; the way we think in perceiving our universe; the advancement of our way of life; the advancement of our way of thinking;advancement of knowledge; etc…

    So, greatness can be achieved by any nation…

    1. But note, these nations never sought greatness deliberately. Perhaps individual inventors and prime movers should greatness in SOME cases. But it is doubtful that true greatness was a deliberate motive. It was more likely a side effect. Just like pride should not be the goal of any endeavor, but it is rather the side effect of en endeavor done right.

  9. Thanks, Sino F…we teach each other here at GRP…No one has the monopoly of knowledge. You can contribute , also, to your best way…only be true to your readers…

  10. @ChinoF

    1.) “Read a bit of this blog post. Interesting.”

    Reading a bit and then questioning will only further and strengthen your sense of doubt and denial! Liberate and open up ChinoF!

    2.) “…whatever Marcos’ good intentions were in this book, in practice, what came true were the bad ones.”

    – This is how former Philippine Ambassador to Greece Rigoberto Tiglao describes the Global conditions during marcos time (his personal bias taken out):

    “The economic factor for the first storm of the 1970s was a global event, the oil shock of the 1970s.”

    “The economy actually did well under martial law until 1976.”

    “The economy actually was already in trouble because of the global financial crisis, triggered by the unprecedented foreign-debt default by the biggest Latin American countries in late 1982.”

    – Tony Lopez of The Standard, on the other hand, has this say:

    “As president, Marcos achieved rice sufficiency, built more infrastructure than all previous presidents before him, enforced an honest to goodness agrarian reform, solved the most serious energy crisis and the most serious foreign currency crisis, prevented the communists and Muslim separatists from dismembering the republic, and gave his countrymen a sense of purpose, vision, and their place in the family of nations.”

    “Marcos recognized China and the USSR far ahead of the United States. He reduced the 99-year lease on the US bases to 25 (then from 25 years to just 5!) and made the Americans pay up to $2.5 billion per year for their use. This bases deal plus the end of the Laurel-Langley parity agreement that gave Americans the status of Filipinos, ultimately prompted the US to help plot his removal.”

    – Mike Billington of Executive Intelligence Review gives his insight on Marcos from an outsider’s perspective:

    3.) “What exactly was great about the Philippines in those times?”

    Marcos gives a hint:

    The last sentence after it was cut:

    “These varied inflows of not only cultures but also influences established the basis for much of what the Philippines is doing now.”

    Marcos rallied the country then with the slogan “Isang Bansa, Isang Diwa” even before BenignO came up with the concept of the collective!


    1. If rice self-sufficiency is the topic, it seems like a minimum requirement, so to describe it as a “great” achievement is a stretch. And all that other stuff strikes me as Marcos propaganda at the time. I also read that theory about “Schulz’ Hit Men,” but I consider it a tin foil hat urban legend along the lines of Illuminati, Chem Trails, HAARP and other things proven to be hoaxes. Perhaps there was some CIA involvement, but the Schulz Hit Men story gives them too much credit.

  11. Seems the dots are connecting, regarding the “coup d’ etat” of Ramos , Enrile, the Roman Catholic Church, etc..

    If Uncle Sam does not want to pay for rent. He will surely “remove” the landlord…

    The Aquinos are known collaborators. From Benigno Aquino, Sr. to Benigno Aquino III. Uncle Sam must be worried, because this Aquino is collaborating and financing the MILF/Al Queda/ISIS; the mortal enemies of the U.S. Soon terrorists from the Philippines, will be doing, suicide bombing in New York, and other key cities in the U.S. Filipino TNT terrorists…

  12. Maybe instead of going straight to being great, we should think that the country is really still in the state of recovery. Like the country after war or great disaster and all that we’re left using is what survived in those events that’s why at present we’re still in the sorry state and people still has low morale (I imagined this while I was looking at the LRT platform and riding the old train). I would like to think that we haven’t just recovered yet because instead of standing on our own we became dependent on the assistance the foreign countries gave us that goes on until now, so we really didn’t use our own resources by challenging ourselves to make something out of nothing, we weren’t able to rule ourselves that’s why we’re stuck in mediocrity.

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