The Philippines’ “Me First” attitude results in a backward society

Ako Muna (“Me First!”) mentality. It’s one of those renowned Filipino character traits. You see it in the way Filipinos drive — how they find no issue in rudely squeezing into your lane; no thank you wave for inconvenience caused. When queuing for your turn at a McDonald’s you have to be vigilant, lest some prick cozy up into the space in front you despite knowing full well you were there first. Applying for that juicy job you feel you are qualified for? Don’t hold your breath. Pamangkins (nephews and nieces) and kababayans (town-mates) of the boss come first.

To be fair, Chinese people are renowned for that sort of behaviour as well. They will push and shove one another for a piece of the pie they feel they are entitled to and will sink in every measure to secure every advantage over the other they acquire.

So why, if both Chinese and Pinoys are in the same siba league, do Chinese people get ahead while Filipinos fall back behind the dust cloud left by the earlier?

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It’s simple, really.

The key to Chinese success is the concept of locking in small gains progressively. If there is a way to rack up even a miniscule advantage in any endeavour, Chinese people will take it. They spare no opportunity and overlook no opening. Each small advantage acquired is secured the same way a rachet mechanism only allows movement forward. Add to that, the other secret sauce in Chinese success: volume — lots of it over time. Small locked-in gains built on top of the previous add up to vast power in the long run.

We can see it today in the way the People’s Liberation Army progressively secured their South China Sea assets — one little reef at a time, one pile driven into the sea bed at a time, one square metre at a time. Filipinos were no match — no amount of legalese pitched to a toothless “international” tribunal on the other side of the planet could stop them. No amount of appeal to victimhood or getting in bed with an ex colonial master could move them. The Chinese military simply keep moving forward in small increments, securing each foothold gained.

Filipinos, on the other hand, for all their ka-sibaan do greed the wrong way. Rather than securing small gains progressively over a sustained period of time, they go for broke chasing the next business fad. Some win, many lose. The net overall result of this foolish approach to getting ahead is chronic backwardness.

Paatras ang asenso.

Translated, that’s “progress in reverse”. Many initiatives that Filipinos saw as steps towards progress were really setups for failure. A good example, is the much-ballyhooed “democracy” that Filipinos “regained” in 1986. Back then, democracy was seen to be the silver bullet that would rescue millions of Filipinos from their abject wretchedness. Several decades hence and the Filipino victim still sits under the guava tree waiting for her rescuer.

Democracy was a big step — supposedly one that would leapfrog the little patient steps other societies take to prosperity — if we are to believe the Philippines’ venerable “thought leaders”. Unfortunately, totalitarian China and authoritarian Singapore and South Korea have far overtaken “freedom-loving” Pinoys in every measure of human development. Analyse that.

The reality is that nothing was really secured by democracy in the sense of assets relevant to economic progress. It did not cure the Philippines’ single biggest character flaw — absence of discipline. Indeed, rather than improve it, it eroded it further. Filipinos saw the “freedom” that is a byproduct of democratic governance as a license to embrace bad behaviour, loutish demeanour, and, worst of all, fatal negligence.

The results are in plain sight today. The late Singapore leader Lee Kuan Yew validates his achievements simply by telling his fellow Singaporeans to “look around them”. Similarly, Filipinos only need to look around them to take stock of how they utterly failed to turn the “gift” of “freedom” into a long-term asset that delivers returns. All because we wanted to be a democracy first, wanted to look modern first, wanted to be “proud” first, and wanted to be “liked” by the international community first.

Ako muna.

Ako muna your face.

[Photo courtesy Joseph Rinoza Plazo on Facebook.]

27 Replies to “The Philippines’ “Me First” attitude results in a backward society”

  1. Perhaps Chinese and Filipinos have similar attitudes. What I think divide them are their mind set. Chinese have more collective mind set, yes they think of themselves first but their way of thinking don’t just end to themselves they also think of the community. But Filipinos are different they have more of an individualistic mind set, they only think of themselves which extends only to the borders of their families which is also to fuel their self interests.

    1. It’s the same with Japan. They tend to think more along the lines of “I’m a cog in society, but I’m an important cog because if I don’t do my job well, then this society won’t be perfect.”

      Perhaps it stems from centuries of Confucianism, something that barely made it to Philippine shores.

      Instead we got American individualism, which is great! Look at the good ole USA. But the Filipino flavor is something awful, like it’s individualism taken to the extreme. Ako muna at wala nang iba.

  2. just to give benefit of the doubt, someone commented on the tgp page that the driver accidentally pressed on the gas instead of the brake because he was not used to automatic. not sure if it’s true just saying.

  3. Very good article. this is true. but sadly no amount of articles about how Filipinos should act will change the society. everything here in the philippines is fucked up. people have low morals, no discipline, tamad, young people are kept ignorant by pbb, vice ganda, dubsmash facebook, while the capitalist takes advantage of all these.
    EDSA democracy was nothing but just a propaganda and it is one of the things we dramatized and worship too much. hope china will burn this country if that what it takes to make us a FILIPINO again the real ones, not a PINOY. we have to learn.

  4. Happened to me again today….in line to drop packages at Robinson and two woman crowd past me to get ahead in line..again I said out loud “I guess I must be invisible ” and shot a look at the two Package guys…they must be oblivious , or are so uneducated to know that there is a ‘line” and a polite way to wait …. Then the 4 and 5 year old Neighborhood kids are hanging off the fence yelling “Rock and Roll” and givin’ the old Devils horn’s concert fingers…. That, sadly, is the future of the Philippines…

    1. To quote my American-raised baby bro, “Filipinos, maaaan.”

      While on vacation there this summer, I sent him to go buy food from a little street-food stall. He’s not too comfortable with his Tagalog, which is why I sent him in the first place. He comes back with a bag of cheesy fries, but he was fuming. Apparently, two kids cut him off when he was clearly next in line to be served. And of course the lady manning the stall served the kids first because they were already in her face.

      His final thought on Las Islas Filipinas? “I love the Philippines. I love Filipinos. But I hate the culture.”

      Spot on, baby bro.

  5. According to former president Fidel V Ramos in his interview on the JPE Story (1:06:27 of the video), he has seen a disciplined Filipinos in the first three years of Martial Law. I wonder why. Were they scared then of being hurt, imprisoned or killed? I wasn’t born yet at that time but I can imagine being afraid of such was one of the reasons.

    Which leads me to wish (although ultimately I really don’t) sometimes that this impending war with China would really happen. I don’t know but I have a feeling that the Filipinos will never be the same after a similar disruption especially if its war, especially the youths. I’ve seen some elders who were already alive during the World War II, very disciplined and orderly because of the hardship they experienced during that dark period in our history. But of course, for the sake of those who might lose their lives, I take back my wish.

    I believe for some extremists they wouldn’t mind a couple of casualties because to them if this is what it would take to overhaul the Philippine system, so be it. I know because I too feels that especially whenever I see these simple examples:

    – Despite the screaming “No Unloading and Loading” sign, people call PUV’s right on the spot where they are standing by and alight (insistently) exactly on the spot they want to. A couple of meters away from it is too inconvenient. Just look at the intersection of Pinaglabanan St. and N. Domingo St. beside the Diwa ng 1896 mini park among many other places in the Philippines;

    – MRT passengers who shove and push others so they can ride without regard if the people they are pushing have injuries;

    – MRT passengers, again: those who cannot get the that the slant arrows are for incoming passengers and the other two are for the outgoing. Some incoming passengers are just way too stubborn;

    – Drivers of all types of vehicles (cars, trucks, bikes, motorcycle) who stops on a red light on top of a pedestrian crossing. I frequently see this at the intersection of Julia Vargas and ADB Avenue for vehicles bound for Megamall. I saw one time a bicycle rider hit three students because he did not stop on the pedestrian line edge on a red light and instead wanted to take some space on the zebra crossing. I saw this incident in the Kalentong area one morning last June.

    – In falling in line on a public transport, if the PUV stops in front of the fourth or fifth person on the line, they will ride first, disregarding the first three people on the line. Pagsinita mo, sasagutin ka pa, “pareho lang yun!”

    – Election registrations: some Filipinos rushing on the last day. And when the gate closes, they’ll be mad, cursing and whining as if they were not informed earlier.

    – Failing to become “strict applicant interviewers” for election candidates. They failed to see that this candidates are submitting themselves to become their servants and yet they wouldn’t even want to know what these candidates are really made of. “Oh as long as they know how to sing and dance during campaigns and are good looking their good enough!” But when these candidates won and failed to meet their demands and needs, they’ll ask for his head. But let time pass and these candidates will once again win the elections. –> short-term memory.

    – Filipinos who still campaign and defend their favorite politicians despite the obvious crimes they’ve committed;

    – Houses, businesses, stores, etc. who occupies the sidewalks as if they bought it and made part of their property;

    – PUV drivers, especially jeepneys, who cuts trips for the reason that this would increase their profit;

    – Pedestrians who crosses the street despite that there is a nagging foot bridge and overpass right on top of them;

    – And my favorite – lawmakers failing to pass the “Anti-Epal” and “Anti-Dynasty” laws especially the last one because this is required by the constitution. In failing to do so, I believe they failed a constitutional requirement.

    I’m sorry but sometimes entertain the idea that a little destruction is necessary to make a big change. Remember the movie “The Day After Tomorrow”? I think the climate improved at the end of the story.

  6. “Just look at the intersection of Pinaglabanan St. and N. Domingo St. beside the Diwa ng 1896” – in San Juan City, I forgot to mention.

  7. Interestingly, the “me first” attitude is significantly toned down when Filipinos enter territory that is not theirs. Such as Clark Airfield where the Jeepney drivers actually learn how to behave when they step forth. Why? Because they know they’ll get busted if they break the rules. Same reason why Duterte’s Davao is peaceful because he has no problems in unloading Justice at the end of a gun barrel.

    Sad to say, this doesn’t seem like a problem that can be solved by educating them. Habits are hard to break. So, next best solution is unfortunately, has to be something heavy handed that forces them to change.

    1. Precisely accurate. Nothing taught me to respect my mother more than my father slapping me down to the ground. It only took one slap and I never disrespected my mother again.

  8. Of course, “me first” is one of the components of the lack of respect for public space that Filipinos are notorious for, as hinted to by Spanish writer Jorge Mojarro, which I quoted in an earlier article. There’s a reason why religious scholars consider selfishness (as in, the bad kind) as the root of evil.

  9. You cannot remove that, “Ako Muna” mentality of Filipinos. This is the reason, we have Family Political Dynasties. Father, wife /(wives), sons , daughters, relatives, etc…are all elected in government position. “Kami Muna” must be their
    political mantra.

    It is a cultural dysfunction of Filipinos. It is in their mindsets. And, it may take centuries to remove it.

    1. Of course it might take years to remove the individulistic mentality that the westerners had given us.

      The theme of Pope Francis’ visit is mercy and compassion. The question is, do we even know what the latter is? If not, then the “ako muna” mentality will remain

  10. There is no solidarity and goodwill among Filipinos because Filipinos have an identity crisis and an inferiority complex. The Chinese have a common history and culture that dates back 5000 years. I live around many Chinese and Japanese here. One thing they have that Filipinos don’t is their sense of community and solidarity. Meanwhile, the Filipinos are always judging, coveting, and competing against each other like crabs in a barrel.

    The Philippines will always have that problem. It’s rooted in its core. The Philippines as we know it today is only what, 70 years old? The islands forged a nation only because it was a colonial entity for almost 400 years. And even prior to colonization, it was just a collection of tribal islanders of many different ethnic groups and kingdoms, along with rajahnates and sultanates. The “identity” of the Philippines as we know it is an indigenous extension of Spanish culture and American republicanism. Filipinos have been very ‘loud’ about themselves ever since, as if to think they have a deserving place among other nations, but to no effective result. It just doesn’t possess the kind of history and culture that would ever put it on the same trajectory as other nations.

    1. Not to mention that the Spanish administrators themselves employed your good ole divide and conquer strategy to keep the indios in check. Hell, even the first Christianized datu sent Magellan over to the next island to take care of Lapu Lapu–they don’t teach that in history class, do they? Forward to colonial times, the Spanish friars and administrators didn’t want their subjects to learn Spanish, creating an environment where people from neighboring towns speaking different languages. Divided and conquered indeed.

      1. While these issues may be very rooted, to dwell on them with this prevalent blame game attitude won’t lead to solutions. Filipinos, inherently, have a cultural lack of unity and code. Rather than recognizing this, the country as a populace is too occupied wanting things they don’t understand (as the article enlists, things like modernity and international standing). Jumping the gun much? These things are hard-earned, not merely handed to you. This pathetic sob story mentality and blaming game has outlasted its welcome.

        What do Filipinos value in life? (Other than wanting a Western paycheck so they can buy a BMW or Mercedes. Why always THOSE two brands specifically?) Or, to be more upfront, who exactly are the Filipinos? Try getting a straight answer; you won’t find any. Personally I only see two viable solutions: break up the country into multiple autonomous constituents, or force the country into unified submission through authoritarian reform.

  11. Also, to those people who think American ‘freedom’ and democracy was good for the Philippines: Filipinos will never ‘get’ it. They just can’t understand and apply this part of the American way, and aptly so. The rugged individualism that is part of American culture is deeply rooted in its history. The American republic was created by settling into a new world and taming a wild continent from east to west. America has always been a frontier society where the price of this new freedom was paid for with daring risk and sacrifice.

    Now compare that with the Philippines, whose history is that of a long-time colonial subject and is still a fumbling rookie at the republican game. Not the same, not even close. Filipinos never truly achieved anything on their own, and have the gall to get upset when criticized. How can you begin to understand ‘freedom’ without the actions involved to make it work? And some Filipinos here have the audacity to spout Philippine greatness. You need some humble pie.

  12. Ako Muna – Me First

    Mañana Habit – Do tomorrow what should be done today

    Bahala Na – Whatever happens happens

    Funny thing about all these horrible traits of the Filipino is it happens mostly AT HOME in the Philippines!

    You take a Filipino out of the country, put him or her in a country that doesn’t put up with any of that $hit and guess what? They become productive as hell!!! Why?

    Simple: they are kept in line! Follow the rules or else face whatever consequence whether it’s work related or society related. They are FORCED to abide, which is more than you can say about what happens in-country!

    I like to remind people that there is NO LAW in the Philippines! There might be the APPEARANCE of law but not the ENFORCEMENT of it! What this does is it makes people in the society use anarchy as their means of navigating society. “Me first” works because nobody complains when someone cuts someone off in line so unless a fight breaks out or someone disciplines the perps, nothing changes. “Bahala na” works because they will fall back on something provided by someone else whether lawfully or not. Mañana habit is simple – why bother?

    Here’s how I see it: The Filipinos don’t know how to be an independent society. For about 500 years, the Philippines was occupied by foreign powers who DICTATED to the locals who did what, when and where. You take that mindset, etched in the identity of the people then, without any kind of grace period, let them loose and run wild and free and you have what is happening today. People INSIDE the country who have no idea how to act as civilized people! It’s just my theory and I really have no data to back it up but in my mind it makes sense because how else can you explain totally selfish, rude and uncouth the people can be? It’s a mind bender and unless something drastic happens, the society will continue to march into chaos and disarray.

    Unless you leave.

    1. What you’ve said is all true. Filipinos have never really done anything on their own. Take away the appearance of republicanism and capitalism and what would you get? A collection of islands of people with tribal mentality who bask in the sun. I’ve always said this: if a foreign country was able to colonize another country for a long time, and that country continued to be in a sorry state AFTER colonization, then it says a lot about the inhabitants of that country more than the occupying one!

  13. Absence of discipline indeed.
    Democracy is designed for people who knows how to move forward. And to move forward, it requires discipline. If we want to be a doctor, then we need to study everyday. Discipline. If we want to be a better athlete, then practice the sport you are in to. Discipline. di uso yang “ay mahirap pala, ayaw ko na.” “nakakasawa na, pahinga muna.”
    Discipline is following a set of rules to be obeyed religiously. sadly most of us doesn’t understand this. hence, we violate the rule of democracy.

    democracy for most pinoys are:
    “eh gusto lang tumambay eh.”
    “tinatamad ako”
    “wala namang nanghuhuli sige lang.”

    how can an average juan enjoy democracy if he doesn’t know how to use it. we really need to focus on education and discipline (starting from home).

  14. Im sure happy kau imo beauty na anak, ing ana jud ato ttoairidn dghan anak hehe..ang mga cousins pud sa akong anak dghan napud haha.I usually send them money so they can buy what they want hehe, pero padala pud ko balikbayan box next month wa pa gani napuno hehe..

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