The Concept of Heroism is Twisted in the Filipino Context

With National Heroes Day (Pambansang Araw ng mga Bayani) having just passed us, I thought it was time to finish this post before it became untimely. It’s something thought up after finding that gem of a slideshow that may have a good explanation of Filipino Society’s nastiness, as I wrote about earlier. The slideshow was based mostly on the work of Tomas Q.D. Andres, who often writes on the topic of Filipino worker values, and I happened upon it while looking for a picture of one of Andres’ works. Some people might tell me Andres’ works are inaccurate and invalid, he’s an old coot or something, but I don’t think so, since his work was apparently done in a scholarly manner. I echo the “wow” of commenter Marius when he highlighted one of the last slides:

Slide 17: Pagkabayani


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The slideshow uses Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with a Filipino version constructed alongside Maslow’s original. Physiological and security needs are equated to Filipino familism and reciprocity, Self-Esteem needs according to the Filipino are met by Social Mobility (no wonder!), and Self-Actualization is met by the concept of Pagkabayani or Heroism. Interesting.


I was going to make a commentary about the whole slideshow, but just focusing on one slide, the bottom-line slide about Pagkabayani already earns a long enough post of its own. That the ultimate Filipino goal is to be a “bayani” or hero makes sense. But here’s where my contrarian tendency comes in: the bayani that Filipinos have in mind is likely to not be the good kind.

Some of us know heroes as people who sacrifice for others. But heroes in the Filipino context, in practice, are quite different. It seems to me that Filipinos see heroes as what warlords are – people who are respected, pampered, praised, flattered, served, etc., simply because they are. Going back to another opinion I gave, Filipinos want to be treated like kings without doing anything to merit it. In Tagalog, I’d call it tuka na walang kayod (or peck without work, taken from the saying, isang kayod, isang tuka, or one unit of work, one peck to feed onself); simply put, reward without work. Indeed, we have always said the moocher mentality of Filipinos is one of the serious obstacles to improvement of our society. But in addition to this, our concept of heroes is also twisted, because moochers cling to people who are “heroes” to them, while they themselves, vainly, feel like heroes by sticking to such “heroes.” Perhaps the real national hero of the Philippines, if we base it on this observation, is Juan Tamad.

This idea may be odious to some, but among those who would self-actualize according to the Filipino concept would be drug lords. They fit the description of being revered. Skeptical? Just recall the pictures spread around a while back of the funeral of the slain drug lord nicknamed Jaguar.

Criminals being revered in the Philippines? It seems to show in the movies we loved before, like Nardong Putik, Boy Negro and Asiong Salonga. Movies about police officers and soldiers seem to pale in comparison. Filipinos actually like lawbreakers. This might be why some “social media influencers” are crying foul when a suspected drug dealer is killed, but seemingly not when a police officer is killed in trying to catch the drug dealer. Thus, it is not farfetched that people we may revere as “heroes” may actually behind killings in society.

Ah yes, “social media influencers” who attack people with sensible ideas instead of come up with sensible ideas of their own. And that picture above of people in the streets holding placards and shouting at the top of their lungs decrying someone. Some people feel that this is valid heroism. I don’t.

But what if you’re not a hero or someone revered? Then the likely comment from others is, “Nakakahiya ka (You’re shameful)!” As I said, Fililpinos are into shaming others since they have a compulsion to assert class dominance over the other (social mobility as the way to meet self-esteem needs). And, as our esteemed webmaster Benign0 always says, it is a cultural hobble. It hobbles us from realizing what we have to change and instead we keep the causes of our problems. As a result, we are fried in our own oil. But it may also serve to keep the society servile, since if one sane mind may refuse to worship a “hero,” the sycophants around may be used to vilify him. Ah yes, what “social media influencers” may actually be doing.

Let me add another slide to talk about. So when Filipinos are heroes, what do they want?

Slide 18: Managers guide their subordinates both in their business and their personal lives.

In the western orientation, work is work and personal life is personal life: never mix the two. As the action movie line goes, “trabaho lang, walang personalan.” When you’re a leader at work in such places, that doesn’t mean you’re a leader in life. Because those two areas are separate and unrelated according to a more practical, equality-based culture.

But in Filipino culture, authority in one field is expected to carry over to another. A manager is expected to mess with employee’s personal lives. The archaic tradition seems to prevail today – if one is a leader in an organization, he is thought to also be a leader in life, outside of the organization. With the truth about how people are today, that is likely to lead to disaster. A manager can tell their subordinate to forget their problems at home by going to a beerhouse and drinking the night away or making out with the pokpoks there. Sometimes the subordinate is unable to refuse, especially if the manager is the type who can’t take no for an answer. Perhaps the manager is seen as a “hero” or “lord” in this context. Still a recipe for disaster.

This is also likely what Filipinos really want as heroes – control of others. If one goes through the whole Pinoy Management slideshow again, they might catch the hint that the Filipino is all about trying to outdo and dominate others. That still makes up the underlying concept of the Filipino view of “heroism.”

Some people say, we have to teach what the good heroes really are, so people may try to emulate and be like them, and thus establish the true meaning of heroism. But for me, the exalting of heroes is a flawed concept. Aside from what I’ve explained about, readers of history would know how “heroes” like Aguinaldo, Del Pilar and Luna actually squabbled and screwed up in the end. And some would argue these figures had ulterior motives behind their heroism. Perhaps there are acts that these people did right, and thus it’s better to exalt the acts and not the people. Well, I did also say that exaltation of heroes could also be a form of inequality perpetuation.

So all these, desire to be heroes, the compulsion to shame others, the desire to become above others, the compulsion to “win,” we better drop. Being a decent, contributing person to society is better. Heroes are something better confined to comic books. We should see being a hero as a want, not a need. Of course, we should still honor a firefighter who gave his life while saving people from a burning building, or someone who shielded people from an amok gunman. But really, heroism is something done when the situation calls for it, not because we want it. Also, let us honor even the businessperson who provides jobs for people. They also are contributing to society, as our webmaster Benign0 wrote.

Being an 80’s music fan, I’ll conclude with famous words from a Tina Turner classic: “We don’t need another hero!”

28 Replies to “The Concept of Heroism is Twisted in the Filipino Context”

  1. The concept of heroism only becomes twisted if one so chooses it to become twisted.

    There are simple acts of ordinary filipino heroism that are better not confined in comic books, such as, saving a drowning child, returning a lost wallet or helping an elderly cross the street…

    Heroism is a matter of one’s perception and the people’s collective recognition!

  2. i am the punishment of God. if you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.

    Genghis Khan

    pilipinos of today doesn’t mind what they read or hear. they’re all locked for a change. whatever president duterte say is true. they’ll not abandon him till the last drop of their blood. they want to see prosecution.

  3. With all these shams and scams going on, I still believe that this land is a cradle of Noble Heroes because we have countrymen who continue to fight for freedom against all kinds of abuse.

    What disturb me the most is the pretentious hero who has the mindset of being “segurista” (e.g. isang putok, tatlong ibon). The kind that is driven by blind ambition, international fame and perpetuation of legacy in history. You may get a glimpse of who they are by reading our history of the past.

    I do hope that the concept of the ideal heroism will be about those who continue to struggle for equality in the midst of strifes and deceptions because they have an unswerving sacred goal to fulfill for their selves, their loved-ones, fellowmen and nation without fanfare or pretension.

  4. There is no such thing as heroes. A hero is just a personification we create in our minds to give our lives meaning and purpose, and to give someone credit for doing something we cannot imagine doing ourselves—unless someone, or something, we deeply care about is at stake. Then we will risk everything to save what we hold dear to our hearts, even at the risk of losing our own life. Having said that, I suppose any of us can be called a hero, if placed in the right circumstances to do what we have to do.

  5. You, yourself is a Hero…do not look for another person , as Hero. Surviving life in the Philippines itself is Heroic. With lack of good paying jobs. You are forced to become an OFW (economic refugee). With your paid taxes, stolen by politicians. High prices of food, clothing and other basic necessities.

    With Shabu drug proliferation in your neighborhood. Drug Lords killing people; Shabu addicts killing people; vigilantes killing people…etc…with high government officials protecting Drug Lords; like De Lima.

    Metro Manila is Hell. Dan Brown wrote: “The Gates of Hell.” We are all living in Hell! Is that not Heroic?

    1. I thought the bar for heroism was already set about as low as it could get, but you’ve taken it down to the level of just existing.

      1. That’s fine. Being born, existing for a little, and eventually dying is what we’re here on earth to do anyway. Anything more than that only makes life more complicated.

  6. True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.

  7. These so-called heroes served their deep-seated desire and fear first.

    Mother Theresa helping the poor will someday earn her extra points in Heaven (at least in her mind) and not a ticket to Hell; Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino being gunned down on an airport tarmac would someday earn him martyrdom, instead of just an unfortunate victim of an assassin’s bullets; and a soldier throwing himself on top of a grenade to save his comrades, instead of spending a lifetime of guilt for not saving his friends when he had the chance.

    Everything we do in this world we ultimately do for ourselves.

        1. Why not? If guilt will save lives and reduce the suffering in this world, let the heroism begin.

          I just wish our corrupt politicians and greedy businessmen would put “guilt” on top of their list, too, because they’re sure as hell all guilty of raping the country and its people, and have cause a lots of suffering.

          I also wish our people would be less arrogant and selfish in trying to live aristocratically like our politicians and businessmen, and who are inadvertently destroying the natural beauty of our country with their desire to lead a cosmopolitan lifestyle of condominiums, shopping malls, and brand-name automobiles.

          Sadly, none of these wishes will come true….

  8. Let me just share why I believe the “hero” is an obsolete concept. I’ve read that the first heroes may have been hunters or warriors who defended their communities and tribes against wild animals and invaders. Then one of these “heroes” thought of organizing the community behind a wall for easier defense. They then became the first kings or political leaders. They then become abusive and do all the hooliganism they want because they’re in charge. That for me is a logical story in our civlization’s evolution.

    Now as for heroes, while we want to flaunt the idea of a hero to get people to do what’s right, I still believe it’s flawed. As the above story would imply, a hero is thought to be naturally different from other. You get it? There’s an idea that there are certain people who are special, and they deserve to be served by others. So these people tend to gain power… and become abusive. And we have these concepts that being a hero is in the blood, so we have that silly “cradle of heroes” concept. But as I said in my earlier article about fixation on blood, the only thing in the blood are physical tendencies such as looks and disease, and things like heroism and personality are based on decision, to which blood can be irrevelant.

    So the key for a good society is to keep people doing the good things repeatedly, as a regular habit, instead of just a one-off thing for one’s glory.

    But here’s a more real-life example to demonstrate the flawedness of heroes. If you’re really familiar with Black Hawk Down, you’re sure to know that in the movie, Grimes was a character created to take the place of John Stebbins in the book. Why? Stebbins was considered a “hero” of the Mogadishu raid. I believe he was the one hit by an RPG that exploded on his helmet and was injured, but he continued fighting to save his comrades. He got the Silver Star for that. Later in 2000, he was convicted of raping his daughter.

    Would that be a case of neglected veterans? Perhaps. But still, think about that example. When one is a hero, does he behave like a hero forever? That’s why we should be more careful and reserved when rewarding heroes. Or better yet, stop treating heroes as if they’re heroes forever. Our fascination with putting people on pedestals as celebrities is one reason our society stays backward.

    1. Heroism can never be obsolete for the simple reason that every human is inherently born with it. (Though, every human, too, can be potentially evil as well.)

      This heroism (everyday common heroism to protect and provide) concept starts early within the family that is why it’s not uncommon to hear a child points to a father, a mother and/or an elder sibling, when asked “who does he/she considers a hero?”. (An elder sibling takes care of the younger child, the mother takes care of the house while the father provides for their needs.)

      Heroism is all about making the difference. Those who who were able to effect the greatest difference for the greater good of the many get the greater recognition that they deserved.

      BTW, given your american example, would that measure to the twisted concept of heroism…in the american context?

      1. You know what they say though, better to die a hero etc.

        It’s like how the guy who played Captain Nascimento went on to play Pablo Escobar.

      2. One other point to make is, can’t we be good people without needing to be a hero? Is there this need to make someone doing good a hero, and if one is not a hero, that it’s all right for then to do what’s wrong? For example, a taxi driver who returns stuff a passenger left in his car is hailed as a hero. Do we need to exceedingly praise people for doing stuff that they should be doing anyway?

        Oh, and “hero” as you explain it is better named “example.” Hero is overglorified. Yes, in American culture as well. But for me, no one is born a hero or evil. We are all blank slates until someone teaches us or shows us their nature, then we learn.

        1. That’s just it. If we put more emphasis on just being thankful for being alive, less emphasis on personal achievements, and consistently make the effort to alleviate the sufferings in this world (including ours), then we won’t have to assign the “hero” tag on anyone because we’ll all be one.

          Unfortunately for most of us, we emulate who we think as “hero” based on what everyone else thinks is one, without realizing that perception could be for all the wrong reasons: beneficial to one side, detrimental to the other, or both.

  9. The concept of Hero worship stems from toddler stage when kids don’t seem to see ideal people to emulate because lack of role model either they tend to grow up with over inflated ego or people will find it hard to show empathy or compassion because working with people in real life requires hard work and cooperation.

  10. I guess it also has to do with how acts of kindness and bravery are measured. What to expect from Pinoy sense- things are either exaggerated, leveled out, and most times inappropriate.
    Keen appreciation is rare among us Filipinos, and it’s sadly how the culture has been molded.
    With Marcos’ case, I sense there’s this deep intention among the family to give him the dignity that was viciously denied of him. Was he a hero? Not every hero tells what he has done. The burial ceremony in that particular venue would have a symbolic value. Both to the family and to the people. After all, high societies perform ceremonies and rituals to this day for a reason.

    1. [Revised]

      Bury Marcos in the “Libingan ng Bayani” because of his distinguished service in the military during World War 2. What he did after as a president should not come into play on why he should be buried there.

      The Aquino family is just taking things on the personal level because their father (Benigno Sr.) was denied a chance to rule the country during his lifetime. That’s all it was and that’s all it’ll ever be: selfish motives.

    2. That’s a given, aeta. Heck, even Aquino’s dog was buried there.
      Paronomasia, aeta. Nothing’s gonna make sense if we judge everything on the surface.

  11. Making the hero concept obsolete will be a gargantuan task. It is daring enough to remove the fervor burning and spiritual idea from our national anthem itself when singing ‘Lupang hinirang, duyan ka ng magiting”(Land dear and holy, cradle of noble heroes).

    To stress further, it will also challenge the time-honored core values of the Philippine Marines which are “Karangalan, Katungkulan and Kabayanihan”(Honor, Responsibility and Heroism).

    I hope we will not be misled if this valued concept will be treated with disdain and considered outmoded by the future generation.

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