Some time ago, an American blogger (Nathan Allen, the same one declared persona non grata in Sorsogon a while back, simply for exposing a problem) posted in his inital impressions about the Philippines, an observation about the sharing practice, in this case referring to food: “If you pull it out, you better be ready to share it.”
Filipinos are familiar with this. It’s supposed to be a gesture, but there are times it can cease to be a gesture and be abused. Whenever we go out buy and buy some food, when we come home and either family members or friends see it, they’ll exclaim, “O, why didn’t you buy more for everybody?” Thus, Allen’s observation that we should share stands true. But that’s not all. The people who would demand the sharing are probably people who are not even needy or hungry. They just want to be given stuff. And if they didn’t need it after all, they might end up throwing away whatever was shared, thereby making it all a waste.
Thus, the question may be raised, are Filipinos doing some unnecessary sharing? Are they being forced to do it? Perhaps not as much as I assume. But it does seem that Filipino culture has carried sharing to a point that it has become abused. Abused as in, people want others to share to them while they share nothing. Meaning, they become completely dependent as shown in our logo: Juan Tamad.
When sharing means you work and share, others don’t and feed off you
In a previous article, I lamented how Filipino “poor” tend to see the rich as obliged to provide them with hand-outs. We consider this one of the core reasons for the dysfunction of the Philippines. Perhaps one of the things that encourage this attitude is the culture of sharing that we have.
Of course, many Filipinos do hate that some people who could work actually refuse to do so, and insist that someone else works to support them. The pattern of helping others is certainly a normal part of society. For example, if someone had an accident or disease and became disabled, they might need to stop work for a while or have reduced work, while other family members provide for them. This is an emergency situation and it happens. However, the problem is when Filipinos are not disabled at all, but refuse to work while seeking support from others. This is what the responsible Filipinos hate, since it is abuse. Yet, it could be the culture of sharing that emboldens the irresponsible Filipinos to do this. “Aren’t we supposed to help each other” or “you’re Christian, you’re supposed to be kind, so support me” could be among the possible dialogues by the medicant for this abuse.
You can see many situations where this is abused. I’m sure many know cases of people who have begotten children, only to later ask their mom or siblings to take care of the child for them. And the tagasalos (catchers, of the responsibility) say, “find work and support your kid yourself,” the parent will throw a tantrum, say life is hard, say their relatives are cruel, and will likely find another person to land in bed and have another kid. If the working person says, “what if I die,” the abusive mendicant will say, “then leave a pension for me!” This is getting more common not just among poor people, but even among middle class and even richer people. Such people feel that they are entitled to dump their responsibilities onto someone else – and that nothing is wrong with it. Sometimes, when a person comes of age, the question is not, “what job will I get when I grow up?” Instead, it’s “who’s going to support me?” Sadly, this has crept its way into becoming part of our Filipino identity.
One of the most common situations of Filipinos is wherein a whole family depends on one person for everything. For example, there is a family where they have three children. The father is a construction worker, but is often drunk. The mom works part-time and likely earns more than the father. The eldest child is a daughter, who they put most of their money into. So she graduated and she works, while she is the one supporting not only the family but the studies of her two siblings. Meanwhile, the mom and dad stop working and depend on their daughter. She is in effect the sole breadwinner. Let’s say she disappears one night, and it is found that she was raped and murdered. The family may cry that they lost their only hope and all is lost. They find the idea of having to work horrifying. In families like this, clearly something is wrong.
That’s only one of the possible situations of dependence Filipinos have, but you get the picture. In cases like this, it’s as if the Filipino family is rigged to blow. The situation of the family is made delicate so when the one pillar is broken, everything goes down. But perhaps, culturally, a tradition of unnecessary sharing or abuse of sharing is one of the bombs laid in this pillar?
The Possible Origins of Laziness
One reason why Filipinos are this way could be perhaps because we had lazy landowners as our “image models.” Some writers have indicated that our oligarchs were descended from plantation-owning people who did not work. They just made the workers do all the harvesting for them, and they earn from the crop sales. This was the “elite” of our country, which the “ordinary” Filipinos seek to emulate.
When a Filipino wants to get a glass of water, he won’t want to get it himself; he orders someone to get it for him, like a servant. I remember a celebrity director describing when he had first moved to his own place. He said, “Back at home, when I cry ‘patis,’ the maid brings it to me. When I moved to my own place, I realized you buy patis at the store.” This amused and dismayed me at the same time. Some Filipinos are raised like dons and donyas, so that when they go out on their own, they are shocked that they have to do things themselves. Is that how we were raised? A work colleague once noted that the Philippines has a culture of spoiling, the “don/donya” spoiling culture.
Perhaps, owing to the context of the times, many people who lived in the 1950s and 1960s are still around. These were still the times where house helpers were commonplace (well, they still are; there are even OFWs who work as maids abroad, but have maids for their families at home). There was relatively little protection for abused maids, since protections similar to the Kasambahay Law did not exist. Another aspect was that in these “old” times, the man was expected to work, and the rest of this family depended on him. The wife was often a housewife, and did not work. If the wife worked, that was seen as a social malaise back then. I find it ironic that the wife, despite not working, held the purse strings in some cases. Some wives, being stuck in the house, lacked the financial knowhow to handle money carefully, thus leading to families actually becoming “poor” when times became hard. This might have been one of the roots of the attitude that it’s perfectly all right to take over someone else’s money; thus, perhaps becoming another manifestation of the medicant attitude of people.
Yet another theory I have. This is in relation to people believing that our tribal past is better than our modern colonial society; that people are better off in the time of the “bahags” rather than with modern technology. In those times, it would seem that the modern concept of family was absent. This concept is that the nuclear family is sacred, with the principle of fidelity in place, so neither father or mother go and have sex with other people, and that they should be responsible for caring for and training their own children (and not others’ children, and other parents are not responsible for their children). In the “old days,” there seemed to be no concept of fidelity and people just fly from partner to partner and have sex. When they have children, it’s the village responsibility and even the biological parent may not be taking care of the children. And in those days, with less health care and other modern advances, more children died; out of 18 borne by one man, 12 of them die for example (and ‘modern’ people get mad at abortion and even contraception, saying these kill children). Thus, I imply that the concept of responsibility comes more from the west these days.
It’s even possible indeed that there were people who didn’t work, and that there are people in the village who did. Because of the social structure, those not working were perceived as “lazy” by the western eye. It was seen as, some work, some don’t. So the argument is that Filipinos are not lazy and that what is seen as laziness is argued to be the culture of pre-colonial times.
But we are no longer under pre-colonial times and we have accepted the culture of the western nuclear family. We should also accept the concept of responsibility and accountability for our own action. It is ironic that Filipinos, being mostly Christian (but even non-Christians will appreciate this), seem to avoid the Bible verse saying, “he who does not work should not eat.” Because of primitive culture, Filipinos likely do not believe in the dignity of work. They would rather believe that there is no dignity in work! But this is wrong and unethical.
An Issue of Responsibility and Accountability
The teaching often attributed to the religious sector is that you must not spend for only yourself, but you must spend for others. Even if others don’t need anything from you, you should still give to them, or else you are damnable. This may also exist in Philippine tradition, not just religion. But wherever it came from, it may be one teaching meant to economically weaken middle class people so they are less able to fend for themselves.
We still have that problem that people leave their responsibilities. And our culture of sharing’s insistence that you should share and can never refuse to do so, comes with the belief that people have the right to demand sharing from others. If you refuse to share – even if what you share will be used from wrong (such as giving money to someone who will only use it to buy illegal drugs) – you are evil. This belief should be challenged.
The modern society, as influenced by the modern west, propagated DIY (Do It Yourself – that’s why there are sitcoms like Home Improvement). It’s not like the old days wherein, when you buy a TV, you still have a TV installer man to do it for you (akin to having a servant do it for you). These days, when you buy a TV, you install it yourself. It’s easy, really.
But there are still people who still believe they have the “right” to have others do things for them. To have servants and the like. To be lazy. To not work. To be shared to and not to share. Mendicant culture still makes sites like Get Real Philippines relevant today.
One may say, it’s not only in the Philippines. Even in America, there are people who abuse welfare and dole-outs. I have been told that most people who receive welfare are whites. Perhaps some are children who had the pensions of their parents transferred to them (perhaps pensions should be made non-transferrable to children), and thus they don’t know the dignity of work. But saying Filipinos can imitate this and not be wrong is a terrible mistake.
It reminds me of the recent proposal to have the law force children to support their parents in case the parents choose it. One of Get Real Philippines’ webmaster Benign0’s well-known sayings is, you cannot legislate good manners. Yet here is a proposal to legislate “good manners.” Despite the good intention of this law, it has great potential for abuse. Abusive parents who abandoned their children can game the system to force these children to provide for their abusive habits. Even if the abusive parent uses the money to get drunk all night, the children can’t refuse to give, because the law will force them to. This may be seen as more abuse of the Filipino sharing tradition.
Breaking the system of dependence would require everyone to desire to individually work and pitch in. Filipino culture should be inserted with the appreciation of working for one’s own keep, and not being proud of what someone else gave them (hmm, perhaps that’s one cause of Pinoy Pride). It also has a relationship with Filipino views of responsibility and accountability (although we know what the Filipino tendency really is – to avoid these).
Of course, this is a more complex issue than it seems at first. In the case of a person who willingly abandons their children, relatives have adopted the kids or else no one will take care of the kid. They irony is that this may embolden the irresponsible person to have more children, since someone will catch the responsibility. It’s something that legislation cannot solve, since laws are not enforced anyway. Treating laws as suggestions is part of the culture too.
Thus, abuse of sharing and mendicancy continue remain among the perennial problems of the country, and Filipinos are divided over the issue. We may advise Filipinos that there’s no need to share with those who don’t work and there’s no right to demand being shared to. But without a moral compass to adhere to, and unless the culture more accepts the DIY mentality of more responsible societies (among other things, of course, like economic development), Filipinos will just stick to the same old bad habits.