CHAPTER V


THE AMBIVALENCE OF FILIPINO

TRAITS AND VALUES

EMERITA S. QUITO


Much has been said about so-called negative Filipino traits. They have been blamed for the weak character of the Filipino; they are the culprits, the scapegoat of our failures, or at least, the explanation for lagging behind more successful Asian neighbors.

I propose to take a second look at these so-called negatives in the Filipino psyche to determine whether there might be a positive aspect, a saving face, a silver lining behind the dark clouds. In attempting to see an ambivalence in our traits, I will use oriental yardsticks to measure success or failure for it would be unfair to use Western standards to evaluate our Filipino traits. For example, is a materially comfortable life with physiological ailments more successful than a materially deprived life without physical ailments? Is the image of Juan Tamad waiting for a guava to fall such a reprehensible, if not scandalous, picture? Is the similar image of Sir Isaac Newton, also resting under a tree, more refreshing?

It is very Filipino to stress our minus points, to find fault in our behavior, to compare us unfavorably with Westerners by using Western standards. It is common to hear such names as Bertong Bukol, or Ipeng Pilay or Huseng Ngongo. It seems that we take pleasure in underscoring our weaknesses, faults, defects, etc. Our standards are smallness, averageness, mediocrity; grandeur or grandness is not in the Filipino vocabulary. The West, in contrast, evokes: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Der Führer, Il Duce, El Caudillo, Elizabeth Regina. We seem to enjoy being humble and meek, or what Friedrich Nietzsche called "the morality of slaves."

There is something strange in the very way we look upon success. A person is not supposed to exert effort at the expense of sanity. We ridicule a person who teaches himself how to think and label him Tasio, the philosopher. We warn persons not to learn too much lest they be like Jose Rizal who was executed at the Luneta in 1896. Assertiveness is frowned upon because it smacks of pride and ruthlessness. Success to the Filipino, must come naturally; it should not be induced or artificially contrived. One should not be successful at an early age because that would mean exertion and hard work. Success must come very late in life, if it is to come at all.

Filipino traits must be understood in the above context. Hence, they are considered negative only according to other yardsticks.

The following Filipino traits show an ambivalence of positive and negative aspects.

Hiya (shame)

Negative, because it arrests or inhibits one's action. This trait reduces one to smallness or to what Nietzsche calls the "morality of slaves", thus congealing the soul of the Filipino and emasculating him, making him timid, meek and weak.

Positive, because, it contributes to peace of mind and lack of stress by not even trying to achieve.

Ningas-cogon (procrastination)

Negative, by all standards, because it begins ardently and dies down as soon as it begins. This trait renders one inactive and unable to initiate things or to persevere.

Positive, in a way, because it makes a person non-chalant, detached, indifferent, nonplussed should anything go wrong, and hence conducive to peace and tranquillity.

Pakikisama (group loyalty)

Negative, because one closes one's eyes to evils like graft and corruption in order to conserve peace and harmony in a group at the expense of one's comfort.

Positive, because one lives for others; peace or lack of dissension is a constant goal.

Patigasan (test of strength)

Negative, because it is stubborn and resists all efforts at reconciliation. The trait makes us childish, vindictive, irresponsible, irrational. Actions resulting from this trait are leaving the phone off the hook to get even with one's party line; stopping the engine of the car to prove that one has the right of way; standing one's ground until the opposite party loses its patience.

Positive, because it is assign that we know our rights and are not easily cowed into submission. It is occidental in spirit, hence in keeping with Nietzsche's "will to power."

Bahala na (resignation)

Negative, because one leaves everything to chance under the pretext of trusting in Divine providence. This trait is really laziness disguised in religious garb.

Positive, because one relies on a superior power rather than on one's own. It is conducive to humility, modesty, and lack of arrogance.



Kasi (because, i. e., scapegoat)

Negative, because one disowns responsibility and makes a scapegoat out of someone or something. One is never to blame; one remains lily white and has a ready alibi for failure.

Positive, because one can see both sides of the picture and know exactly where a project failed. One will never suffer from guilt or self-recrimination.

Saving Face

Negative, because, being closely related to hiya and kasi, it enables a person to shirk responsibility. One is never accountable for anything.

Positive, because one's psyche is saved from undue embarrassment, sleepless nights, remorse of conscience. It saves one from accountability or responsibility. This trait enables one to make a graceful exit from guilt instead of facing the music and owning responsibility for an offense.

Sakop (inclusion)

Negative, because one never learns to be on one's own but relies on one's family and relatives. This trait stunts growth and prevents a person from growing on one's own. Generating a life of parasitism, this trait is very non-existential. Blaring music, loud tones are a result of this mentality. We wrongly think that all people like the music we play or the stories we tell. This mentality also makes us consider the world as one vast comfort room.

Positive, because one cares for the family and clan; one stands or falls with them. This trait makes a person show concern for the family to which he belongs.

Mañana or "Bukas na" (procrastination)

Negative, because one constantly postpones action and accomplishes nothing. This aggravates a situation, a problem grows beyond correction, a leak or a small break becomes a gaping hole. This arises from an indolent mentality that a problem will go away by itself.

Positive, because one is without stress and tension; one learns to take what comes naturally. Like the Chinese wu-wei, this trait makes one live naturally and without undue artificiality.

Utang na loob (indebtedness)

Negative, because one overlooks moral principles when one is indebted to a person. One who is beholden to another person will do anything to please him, thinking that by doing so he is able to repay a debt. One condones what the other person does and will never censure him for wrongdoing.

Positive, because it is a recognition of one's indebtedness. This trait portrays the spirit behind the Filipino saying, "He who does not know how to look to the past will never reach his destination."

Kanya-kanya (self-centeredness)

Negative, because self-centered; one has no regard for others. So long as my family and I are not in need, I do not care about he world. Positive, because one takes care of oneself and one's family: "Blood is thicker than water."

At the end of our exposé of the positive and negative aspects of the Filipino psyche, one asks the question: What after all, is its ideal of personality, activity and achievement?

Regarding personality, if the ideal is a personality without stress and tension, then Filipino traits contribute to this. The contention is that success necessarily means hypertension, ulcers and sleepless nights. Could there exist a state of success without these physical aberrations?

Regarding activity, if the idea is that one should engage in a whirlpool of activity or if the work ethic is workaholism, then the Filipino indeed is in very poor estate. But is this not more of the Occidental or Western concept of activity? In contrast, the Oriental emphasizes conformity with nature; hence, one should never exaggerate or overact.

Regarding achievement, if the ideal is that one must achieve an earthly goal, then the Filipino, as a race, will occupy a low rank. But again, is this ideal not more Occidental or Western, according to which one must always set a goal and accomplish it? Setting a goal is not wrong in any culture, but the manner of achieving it which can be questionable. Does one have to expend one's total energy in the pursuit of an ideal which, after all, is a personal, earthly goal?

If for the Filipino smallness, meekness, and humility are ideals, could it not be that he is not this-worldly? Could he not perhaps be aiming, consciously or otherwise, at the life in the hereafter where the last will be the first, the weak will be strong, and the small will be great?

De La Salle University

Manila