Filipino Misconceptions of Sacrifice


It’s timely that Benign0 had come out with an article that discusses the twisting of the concept of sacrifice by Filipino culture. Indeed, it is twisted when one says they have made a “sacrifice,” when it is actually anything but that.


I remember a commenter named Palebluedot once said:

“I still blame the Catholic Church for the ineffectiveness of the filipino through their propagation of the concept of sacrifice – carrying one’s cross – as a way of life. Those who carry their crosses will be rewarded in heaven, while those who just sits in front of the computer creating blueprints for solutions to ease the existing redundant systems are servants of the devil… they are lazy & their work aims to remove manual labor, thereby, decreasing available jobs for the poor. ‘we should pray for the salvation of their souls. amen!”
(Compare to part below about “discomfort”)

Sacrifice is a popular word in the Filipino vocabulary. And it goes well beyond the Catholic Church’s concept of it. The wang-wang ban earlier in President BS Aquino’s term was probably an attempt at a “sacrifice” for show, only that it proved to be more of a hindrance rather than a “sacrifice.” Some people like to flaunt some “sacrifice” they’ve made; for example, like voting for someone they didn’t like, or giving in to pressure and doing something that is against their principles. And they imply that they’ve done a special sacrifice for their country.

Is it really that great a sacrifice? Or is it sacrifice at all?

One of my theses on why our country is failing to solve its problems is because our culture adheres to the wrong values. Popular concepts of sacrifice are among these values. They are being perpetuated not just by the media, but by continued practice in Filipino culture. Let us discuss some of them.

Doing Right: A Sacrifice?

One such misconception is this: To do right is a big sacrifice. Sacrifice is usually something that is out of the ordinary realm of action. It is expected to be done rarely. If being right is considered a sacrifice, then it implies that doing wrong is something normal!

The stories about taxi drivers who returned objects left in their cars seem dime a dozen already. If they say, “it was a sacrifice I made for my profession,” it’s hogwash. Returning something lost or borrowed should be expected. It’s nothing special. Being poor is no excuse, they should never take something that isn’t theirs. But it reveals a sad fact; so few do right, because we’re in a land where doing wrong seems to be OK.

Simple wisdom that is sadly rejected by pride-seeking, attention-starved Filipinos
Simple wisdom that is sadly rejected by pride-seeking, attention-starved Filipinos

This idea of doing right as a sacrifice can help propagate acceptance of wrong actions in Filipino culture, leading to moral bankruptcy. It also keeps people from the proper steps to solving their problems. Some Filipinos claim that doing wrong should be excused (culture of impunity) because they are poor. Again, hogwash. Poverty is no excuse for wrongdoing, or for skipping “rightdoing.”

Discomfort as “Sacrifice”

Another misconception is that undergoing discomfort and inconveniencing oneself intentionally is sacrifice and thus makes one noble. That’s the myth propagated through the “wang-wang” ban. This misconception is well represented in a popular parable about smart versus hard work. Two friends used contrasting methods to bring water from a mountain spring to a village. In this tale, Bruno is the one who goes up to the village mountain spring the hard way, carrying water on his back in the crude, mountain-man fashion – a way that some will claim has more sacrifice.

Pablo comes up with the innovative idea of a water delivery machine, one that leads to better results while needing less labor and hardship. Pablo’s method has less discomfort. Thus, Bruno hits Pablo’s “laziness.” He will most likely say, “Pablo does not know how to sacrifice! My pain in carrying the water makes me better than him!” But clearly, Bruno’s way, is backward, produces poor results, and is not really a sacrifice. Pablo’s way needed work as well, but the smart kind of work. One that fulfills the concept of efficiency.

Being poor is a Sacrifice

Perhaps one of the greatest misconceptions about sacrifice is that being poor is sacrifice. Bad religion may have played a part: they’ve misread the beatitude as, “blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” So they think being poor means having moral high ground. But they should complete the verse: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” A misread verse leads to a mistaken belief.

But even if the reading is “blessed are the poor,” being blessed doesn’t mean having moral high ground or holiness. It means there should be some special consideration for them considering their disadvantaged position – though it does not necessarily mean dole-outs. This would be an abuse if “poor” meant dole-outs. That after all in the purpose of poverty porn.

The culture of sacrifice also contributes to the culture of mediocrity. Some Filipinos believe that being intellectual or rich lacks sacrifice, and thus is evil. So they say that being simple-minded is “holy” and is a better way to being happy. Of course, this has been used to demonize intellectuals and true elite. The “sacrifice” concept has also been used to encourage tastelessness. And it helps keep people poor because the things that would have really improved their lives have become demonized.

Getting hurt or debilitated as Pogi Points

The Filipino obsession with sacrifice seems to be done for the purpose of making oneself look good; mere “pogi-points.” In fact, many Filipinos may not mind being poor, debilitated or stupid, as long as they are “pogi” in the eyes (or even just the lips) of others. Sometimes, people do the wrong kind of “sacrifice.” For example, spend all their monthly salary on an iPhone, in order to look good. Di baling nagugutom, basta magandang damit/may borloloy, as they say. Filipinos seem to love hurting or burdening themselves because it makes them look more industrious, and thus more saintly. Instead of sacrifice as a means to a better life, sacrificing is done for showing off… and thus it is no longer sacrifice.

Also, I do not believe that getting rid of something you do not need is a sacrifice. You got rid of luxurious clothes you don’t really use; you disposed of your expensive smartphone for a plain and functional phone; or you sold your Mercedes and got a sub-compact car that saves more gas. These are good, but are not sacrifices. This is merely getting rid of unnecessary things and being more practical. It’s best not to confuse sacrifice with practicality – which more Filipinos ought to have.

Side Effects of Sacrifice Misconceptions

One side effect of the popular misconceptions of sacrifice is that Filipinos can be offended by someone who is comfortable or at least in better condition than themselves. Filipinos might be saying about others suffering less: “If you’re not suffering the way we do, you’re lazy.” As seen in the parable of the two friends, “Brunos” will demonize “Pablos” in our society. A Pablo may have only two children, while Bruno has eight, and yet they will get mad at the “Pablo.” And yet these Brunos may engage in jueteng in their local squatter community or subdivision where shabu is cooked. They may use their eight children as an excuse to ask for alms (likely from the Pablos), but nothing goes to the children.

This misconception may also come from a false sense of egalitarianism. It is the insane insistence that everyone should be the same: “If I’m poor, everyone else should be poor!” Thus, instead of everyone becoming rich or well-off, they believe it is better for everyone to become poor! And it leads to a more dysfunctional society, and it will lead to such people becoming easy victims for manipulative parties (like oligarchs).

The misconceptions of sacrifice have led to the deadly anti-intellectualism of our culture. Finger-pointing happens and misconceptions are propagated. Indeed, the problem with Philippine society is that through its parochial mentality, people believe the other person is always an enemy or competitor, and that for one to be happy in life, the other must be sad or down. Thus, there is loss of respect for public space and for other people, and we thus have a “me-first” society.

There you have the biggest issue with “sacrifice” in the Philippines: some people insist that the other must sacrifice for them. It is something I have touched on in my earlier “culture of sharing” article.

Fixing the Misconceptions

One way to describe the Filipino misconceptions of sacrifice is like my cartoon here: that some they are fond of shooting themselves in the foot, and then boasting to the world that they can still walk in spite of it. For example, Filipinos may insult sports competitors from other countries, claiming to be “nationalistic” or “Filipinistic;” but in the end, it makes them look like thugs.

There are the politicians who love saying, “I made this sacrifice for this nation.” The moment you flaunt or boast this sacrifice, it’s no longer a sacrifice; it’s an asset. Something like banning wang-wang was never a sacrifice; it was a publicity stunt. Also, a commenter at around that time said, “it’s not sacrifice. It’s laziness,” about voting without thinking (or voting on basis of popularity instead of someone with brains).

Since the church was mentioned above, let’s go back to a basic teaching in the Bible that seems to fly over people’s heads: “What I want is mercy, not sacrifice.”

Wrong conceptions of sacrifice have been among the flaws in commonly practiced Filipino values that keep the country backward. It is perhaps time that we put away notions that sacrifice is a “necessary thing” that’s only for show, and instead be more like “Pablos:” working smartly to improve our situations and have better lives for ourselves. That includes having the right goals and aspirations, and having the right views of contentment and happiness.

So following the enumeration I followed, Filipinos should:

1. Stop seeing doing right as something special, and instead do it because they accept that it should be normal;
2. Be more intellectual and practical, like the Pablo in the parable above, and not be like the emo Bruno;
3. Stop associating being “poor or rich” with being “good or evil;” although being rich is certainly more desirable, it can never be made a measure of personal character;
4. Stop being pretentious by “shooting oneself in the foot” and claiming it is a sacrifice;
5. Stop pursuing “pogi points” in life, since no one is really greater than others and we all end up equally rotting in graves;
6. Have more respect of public space and people outside of one’s social circle, and try to cut down the culture of parochialism.

As Benign0 coined for Get Real Philippines’, it’s simple, really™.


About ChinoF

I stick with this blog because I believe, as my cohorts here do, that many things Filipinos embrace as part of their culture, the "Filipino Way," are pulling them down. And I blog freely to show that in a truly decent society, with true freedom of speech, even nobodies have a voice.