Four aspects of Filipino society that are unlikely to change, even in a Duterte presidency

A typical evaluation, or discussion of the Duterte administration, usually begins with this underlying premise: Rodrigo Duterte was elected because Filipinos wanted change.

For sure, Rodrigo Duterte is different in more ways than one. He is the first president who hails from Mindanao; as such, people are expecting a sort of “outsider’s perspective” from him, in the sense that he doesn’t think like recent presidents who came from landed families in Luzon. He is also expected to bring street-wise leadership and governance into the presidency, that which was gained from a long career as Davao City Mayor.

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The question that needs to be asked is: how deep can Duterte’s push for change go?

At this point, the changes being driven (federalism, pivot towards non-traditional allies, etc.) seem aimed at the political aspects of Filipino society. Will a change in political/governmental conditions, however, necessarily translate into socio-cultural change in Filipinos?

The true test of any initiative for change is whether it can induce Filipinos to move away from certain dysfunctional behaviors found in Filipino culture and society. The following have remained essentially the same, regardless of who the President is.

1) Filipinos tend to look for and put “heroes” on pedestals to do all the work for them.

No matter how good a leader is, he/she is useless without companions whom he/she can connect and work together with. Up to this point, however, Filipinos collectively haven’t really bought into the idea that a leader is someone who works with his/her people. Rather, the persisting perception is that a leader is there to do everything for them, all the while they just sit back, relax, and wait for things to come to them.

A leader serves his/her people, but many Fiipinos seem to ignore that this does not mean that he/she is an alipin (someone who is at one’s beck and call), and most especially, he/she is not a panacea for all one’s ills. Neither is he/she a hero who will always come and save the day for screw-ups you put yourself in.

I don’t expect hero worship to die with Duterte’s government; I believe, in fact, he is a very big reason it will continue. Because he has propagated an image which relies on force of personality, people can be easily misled into thinking that he is some sort of messiah.

Well, Filipinos do have a thing for messianic figures. Perhaps Filipinos deserve Duterte, but I digress…

Unfortunately, however, this hero worship that Filipinos do without much thinking leads to another dysfunctional behavior…

2) Filipinos would rather divide themselves, than find a higher common cause

In the local movie Heneral Luna, the title character recites a line (translated into English): ”It is easier to unite heaven and earth than it is to get Filipinos to agree.”

The Philippines is a “Me First” society; everyone wants to be on top. Putting anything (or anyone) else on top of their own needs essentially gives them the feeling of being taken advantage of, or cheated. Moving on from one’s loss is a no-no.

One can see this in our political scene for the longest time. Rather than getting to the mundane task of building a nation together, Filipinos would rather stew in the past. If their candidate won, they become sore winners; they just can’t stop gloating, and they assume that just because their side won, then they don’t have to win their non-allies over, that they will just bend over and obey. If their candidates lost, there is no moving on from that. They focus their energies instead, on waiting for the winner to make a mistake, so that they can pounce on it.

Unfortunately, Filipinos combine this behavior with an inability to accept valid criticism, and an inability to see past personalities, and taking sides.

At this point, one would be inclined to ask: don’t the current President and his followers propagate this kind of thinking? Aren’t they the cause of the “division”?

The answer is no. Like I said, it has been this way for a long time, especially with Duterte’s predecessor.

Uniting for a common, higher cause requires sacrifice and humility from its constituents. Unfortunately, Filipinos are not known for either. And there is no indication that after Duterte’s term, they will be.

3) Filipinos think short-term

Filipinos are seemingly not used to having long-term plans or visions; they have taken “living in the moment” to their own brand of extreme. The hardship of life in the Philippines has forced many to accept uncertainty as a way of life; they quite simply, don’t know if they’re going to die tomorrow or not.

Filipinos, to their detriment, have allowed their society and culture to be driven by consumerism and extravagance. There is a propensity to spend, to own the latest trendy stuff, and to blow their dough on fiestas, parties, and ostentatious displays of wealth – things that are essentially empty.

The quick, easy fix is also bled to death here in the Philippines. In fact, Duterte’s war on drugs, though arguably necessary due to the extent of the problem, is a short-term remedy for something that has persisted for years. Unless it is part of a bigger plan to overhaul Philippine society away from the influence of drugs, then there will be no lasting effects from it, despite the escalating body count.

4) Filipinos perpetually believe that they are “special”

This belief that Filipinos are special manifests itself in two ways: a) that they are entitled to preferential treatment, without giving anything in return, and; b) that they are always victims.

Filipinos are most observable, with regards to preferential treatment, when it comes to matters of law. They constantly regard them as rules and regulations that can be bent and broken. When they’re the ones in charge of enforcing it, they regard themselves as exempt from it. They constantly invoke the “do you know who I am/do you know who I’m related to?” card when they attempt to circumvent processes, standards, and qualifications.

The other side of the coin is that Filipinos almost always approach everything with a victim mentality. They want to use the pity card – something that works with bleeding heart liberals – in order to get something without really having to work for it. It’s actually very easy – almost second nature – for Filipinos to be guided by emotion, and put on the sob stories (however fabricated or not) in order to get what they want.

Many of us here at Get Real Philippines have long asserted that the key to mitigating a country’s ills does not lie in politics. It lies in a thorough and critical examination of its own culture, and a collective and concerted effort to get rid of dysfunctions. And this can be done regardless of who the president is.

Is there anything that Filipinos and Duterte plan to do differently this time, such that it will result in some semblance of change? Or if not change, some sort of direction?

As with a lot of things in the Philippines, one can never really be certain enough.

7 Replies to “Four aspects of Filipino society that are unlikely to change, even in a Duterte presidency”

  1. The failure of Failipino culture lies not in its principle of individualism, not in the idea that moral virtue is the same as the pursuit of self-interest, but in the deterioration of the meaning of self-interest; not in the fact that Failipinos are too much concerned with their self-interest, but that they are not concerned enough with the interest of their real self; not in the fact that they are too selfish, but that they do not love themselves.

  2. “The more things change, the more they stay the same”…a saying goes…

    Filipinos have their weaknesses; as well as their strengths; as any other people on this Planet Earth. Three hundred years of foreign colonialism had made the consciousness of Filipinos dysfunctional. No President, no matter, how good his intention is; will change this mental and cultural dysfunctions in a short time.

    This is the reason, we have discussions here at GRP. To look deeply into ourselves; what are stagnating us; what needs to be removed; what needs to be improved…And, I am encouraging everybody to give their share of opinion…

    Somebody may criticize you. However, I assure that , nobody will sue you in the Court of Law, for speaking with your mind …
    Leni The Bobo” Robredo, declared “War on Trolls”…I have not seen any Troll casualty. I have not seen a Troll being dragged to Jail…

    We, alone can make these changes, in ourselves and in our country. Not foreign interventions. Not “Band Aid” solutions; Not looking for panacea or Utopia…or anything !

    We are like a sick person…it is only, by accepting our illnesses, that the healing begins in all of us !

  3. I love this page! I may not be smart as yours and my English may sound bad but I really find your articles genuine and accurate! Ano kaya ang dapat gawin para matanggal under the spell of tremendous kabobohan ang Philippines? Dapat siguro Cultural Revolution!

  4. The common Filipino of any level has many problems to contend with. From our innermost demons that plague our intellect and aspirations to our external inability to build and progress like the rest of mankind, We, the Filipino people are a problematic people who think that smiles alone (like ducktape) can fix problems or forge empires just like a snap. But in my opinion, as a citizen of this s*******e of a nation as observed in real life and printed facts, one of the problems that we seldom notice is our “Savior mentality”.
    We as a people are always waiting for someone to save us. This is seen in the way we glorify our politicians despite how many times they have stolen from us. This is seen in any Filipino or anyone who has Filipino blood who ascended into prominence in which we glorify ourselves through them even though we have done nothing for them or with them directly. Finally, this is seen in the way we glorify our failures instead of learning and improving from them.
    In life, we as Human beings are entitled to nothing except these two things: A choice or the will to follow up on that choice. We Filipinos as a people currently choose to make our motherland to kneel as a slave as those who we call as “Friends” or our own selves choose to fuck her like a cheap .05 centavo whore when she can be so much more if we put time, effort, and intelligence to raise her up into an equally and long equitably powerful and progressive nation she deserves to be. But , no, this is the fate that we as a majority as a people have chosen.
    To the Filipino, it has often been said that it is better for a bamboo to bend against the wind. But unlike the Bamboo, the Filipino, despite his/her downtrodden present state, is entitled to what is called a “Choice”. Will we choose to bend down like a Bamboo forever like our fallen ancestors or choose to rise against the wind by our own efforts not only for ourselves but also for our tomorrow and those who will come after us. Regardless, it is our decision to make because in the end; We have to learn to save ourselves, before we want to be saved.

    1. Philippines has been a melting pot of culture and ideologies so diverse that we had been confused on what really is ‘us.’

      Think why there is always a theme in high school projects: ‘Unity in Diversity’. Even right now I am using English as a mode of communication. Although normal to us, it somehow sets the standards or levels of the our cultural segmentation as well as societal differentiation. We have been living our lives not the way we are, WE GET INCLINED TO PRETEND.

      The fact that no matter how we try to unite, our country is separated as islands. Maybe compartmentalization is the way we can handle to improve as what countries do to support their resources. I think the federalization might help. I still worry since we are venturing to an uncharted (as far as my knowledge goes) territory. A country of ‘legal state’ modeled under USA, an archipelagian geography, indo-european and american-latin culture, and whatnot.

  5. 100% agree with your article. I’m not into horoscopes but there is some truth when it comes to zodiac personality and I can equate Filipinos with the Aries personality: egotistical, childish/immature, idealistic/lives in fantasy, stubborn, sensitive, me-centered, impulsive, extravagant and “living in the moment”mindset (incidentally, Pres. Duterte is an Aries too which isn’t surprising at all given his forceful but immature attitude). “Change starts from within” and as cliche as this may sound but it is very true. That’s what I’ve been saying not only on online comments but also offline to the people I know. No matter how perfect our government is, if the 100+ millions of its constituents don’t do their own share then it won’t matter. All we do is complain, playing victim to our corrupt government society but then we keep on voting these same people to government posts so whose fault it really is? We complain being poor and yet we keep doing the same things: spend money like there’s no tomorrow, gossip here and there, sitting idly waiting for a monthly “ration” from one OFW family member or relative. Unless we learn to open-up our minds to knowledge, face reality, accept things as it is, our nation will never prosper.

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