Filipinos cannot progress if they cannot follow even simple guidelines

A noted blog commentator once made an assertion that the Philippines will never be a great nation unless Filipinos learn to live by the principle of the "rule of law". Indeed, some people even insist that none of the calls by certain sectors of Philippine society for a system change like a shift from a Presidential to a Parliamentary system or even constitutional amendments will work to uplift the status of the nation because Filipinos simply cannot follow the "rule of law."

It is quite certain that the success of any nation depends on the character of the head of state and the character of the people in general. A strong leader will put the interest of the nation first before anything else. A strong leader supported by strong institutions can work towards achieving social and economic stability for the people.

However, a weak leader in a country like the Philippines, which has weak institutions will tend to succumb to the world-renowned Filipino "padrino" system -- a system that trumps any other system in place. Worse, such a leader will mask his weakness or understanding of the law by acting like he is above the law.

A weak leader, whether he is leading a country or a small community tends to let praises or expressions of adoration from the public get to his head. Because he is easily impressed by such accolades, he also tends to become arrogant and will see criticism of him as a mere non-constructive annoyance. Such a leader will not work towards unity and harmony in Philippine society. Unfortunately, weak systems tend to harbor weak leaders.

What is with Filipinos and following the rule of law?

There is very little evidence that Filipinos are capable of living by the "rule of law". The society is quite extraordinary in the sense that simple rules and regulations whether on the road or in the work place are for the most part ignored. This is because each individual has this baseless sense of being more important than everybody else. It is why you see people cutting you off on highway lanes on the road or pushing their way in lines ahead of the rest in a queue. In other words, Filipinos in general tend to put their own interest first before other people.

As a blogger, I quite often come across commentators who cannot even follow simple commenting guidelines. There are some participants in the blogosphere who constantly violate the guidelines by consistently writing obscenities and foul language on forums just to give the impression that they are above the guidelines. The funny thing is, being moderated does not even stop them from misbehaving. They even cry foul for being moderated instead of conforming to the guidelines.

This brings us to another world-renowned Filipino mentality -- the "victim" mentality. Filipinos are good at playing the "victim card" because they are very sensitive and emotional people. They play the victim card in front of the public to get as much attention as possible. Filipinos always try to get around following any rules and regulations or even simple guidelines by appealing to emotion.

Filipino victim mentality was quite evident in the case of a group of nurses in the US who reportedly filed a discrimination complaint when their employer called their attention for speaking too much in their native Tagalog at work. Victim mentality was also quite evident in the way the Philippine government tried to intervene and stop the execution of three drug mules that were sentenced to death in China for violating their anti-drug rule. Likewise, victim mentality is definitely evident in the way the incumbent President, Noynoy Aquino (PNoy) cries foul whenever he is criticized for decisions that were obviously not thought through very well.

It is quite interesting to note that some Filipinos would rather act like idiots than follow the rules. They always want to find an easy way out of a situation. They want to make uncomplicated things complicated. This brings us to another world-renowned Filipino trait: "lack of discipline."

Filipinos in general are incapable of any form of discipline because they focus more on form rather than substance. In short, they want to stand out. They lack the discipline to engage in discussions in a civilized way and lack the discipline to not turn a public forum into a circus. This is why issues do not get resolved. This is a consistent observation -- from every Senate inquiry being broadcast to the Filipino public down to the most benign discussions in the blogosphere, Filipinos love honking their horns.

Worse, Filipinos in general feel a strong sense of entitlement to relax or "chill-out" even when there is still so much to do to move the country forward. Instead of discussing solutions seriously and in detail during their spare time, Filipinos would rather spend it fooling around -- never mind that societies from great nations like China, Japan and South Korea have historically shown that being more serious and devoting more of their time to solving problems yields better results in the long term.

From the top guys and gals sitting behind desks at the Presidential office down to the tricycle driver down the road, everyone just wants to have "fun" in the Philippines first before tackling the problems of the land in a more serious manner. You can be forgiven for thinking that one hit wonder Wang Chung probably wrote the song "Everybody have fun tonight" for Filipinos. It can absolutely boggle the mind to wonder why Filipinos cannot limit switching to party mode when they are at an actual party.

As discussed in my previous article, Filipinos are proud of being a happy-go-lucky society and make it a point to show the rest of the world that they are coping with smiling faces despite the dire circumstances they face. This mentality shows that Filipinos are satisfied with mediocrity and find striving for excellence too daunting. A few remaining Filipinos who want to engage in a more serious discussions are even labeled "kill-joy" or "librarians." Aside from their penchant for bullying when others don't engage in "pakikisama," Filipinos indeed, have a tendency to discriminate against more sober ways of tackling solutions.

Unfortunately, a 90 year old study by psychologist Dr Leslie Martin and his colleagues in California suggested that "too much of a sense that everything will be fine can be dangerous because it can lead one to be careless about things that are important to long life." Likewise, the study also showed that those who are always optimistic take more gambles with their health. They were more likely to drink, smoke and eat badly, which is a typical characteristic of a Filipino. While prudent and persistent individuals are more cautious with their health and overall wellbeing – characteristics that are less likely to be found in Filipinos.

Filipinos have so much to learn from the Japanese. Despite the devastation that the people of Japan experienced due to the magnitude 8.9 earthquake that hit country and the killer tsunami that followed immediately after, people around the world admired the stoicism and orderly reaction of the Japanese. People in most societies would have found themselves wailing in misery and chaos after such destruction.

Maia Szalavitz in an article she wrote for TIME magazine aptly described how it works for the Japanese – they follow the belief that "others are at least on par with the self, if not more important." Here's an excerpt:
"In restaurants, you never pour your own sake, you have to notice whose glass is empty and you serve them. It's these little rituals [that have prepared them for this crisis] so that even if you have one bowl of rice, you share it with a stranger.

The wonderful thing about the Japanese is that they are presenting an example of the pro-social power of the group. The group as a whole is saying explicitly or implicitly, this is what we do: no looting, no horn honking even if you're in a 12 mile traffic jam, no complaining. [CNN's] Anderson Cooper said he'd never seen such calm in the face of such adversity."

Not that Filipinos need copy what the Japanese do to a tee, but the most interesting thing to note about societies like Japan is that nobody has the desire to grandstand. Individuals do not want to show that they are more important than everybody else. This is in stark contrast to people in societies like the Philippines where people in general want to be the "star." And this is the reason why some Filipinos think that they are above the "law" or above even just simple "guidelines."

Discipline should be inculcated at an early age. If people are not taught how to follow rules and regulations when they are still young, they will be shocked to realize once they enter the "adult" world that they will have a hard time coping with life if they keep deviating from the rules that put order in society. Which is what is happening to most Filipinos now.


  1. Correct, Benign0. I'd like to emphasize the attitude of some commenting readers of blogs or participants to forums who cannot refrain from omitting the curses on their statements. It is not because I hate curses.

    I wonder why is there a need for them to write such expressions which are mostly done verbally. Is it because of the necessity to accentuate the meaning of their statements?

    I think that there are better ways to put substance into a statement without having to use foul languages.

    In addition, when these commenting people cannot support their claim or linger in the argument, there is the inclination to direct the argument against the person.

    They want to make it personal in an attempt to discredit the integrity of the person, and thus, the person's argument.

    Indeed, we all need to inculcate self-discipline. And parents today do well to instill discipline to their youngsters.

    PS. Discipline is very hard to implement to many because it encompasses not just actions and mentality. Discipline is involved in exercising everyone's rights.

  2. Erratum:

    Correct, Benign0. I'd like to emphasize the attitude of some commenting readers of blogs or participants to forums who cannot refrain from INCLUDING curses on their statements. It is not because I hate curses.

  3. Sorry. I failed to see the name of the author. :)

    Very nice article. :)

  4. About the last part: "Discipline should be inculcated at an early age." It is being done in some schools (at least, in my childhood experience it was).

    But then as I entered the "adult" world, I was shocked to find that my very same classmates whom I learned discipline together with act as if we weren't taught anything about it at all.

    FYI, I'm a Filipino citizen: both parents are Filipinos. I was only out of the country once in my life - when I was a baby.

  5. Anonymous, maybe because self-discipline needs to be fed, like love. We should always inculcate this in ourselves as long as we live, otherwise, we might fall into traps by others who lack the discipline.

    I also believe in an old maxim that says: "bad associations spoil useful habits."

    Useful habits are lost not because we tend to forget them. But because we waver in our discipline we become lenient and vulnerable.

    Good day.

  6. in the philippines, laws and rules are just suggestions. sadly, filipinos don't take suggestions too well. :(

    also in the philippines, everyone is a "siga."

  7. That's it. A nation of "siga" people and siba people. Fatal combination! :-D

  8. I just hate the Filipino people’s penchant for grandstanding and crying foul in general. It’s just another way of deflecting the blame to people other than themselves.


    I'm still not used to commenting here. I didn't realise there were comments already. :-)

  9. Philippines is a nation of mediocrity, lack of excellence, and short cuts. Not to undermine their intelligence. But these are the reasons that most Filipinos end up doing domestic jobs abroad - its their lack of "wanting good performance" that lands them in jobs that tolerates mediocrity.

  10. I love your racism.

  11. Which part of the article is racist? Please be specific. :-)

  12. "What is with Filipinos and following the rule of law?"

    I can cite thousands of examples but I think the most common to all is the behavior of Pinoys in public transportation.

    "bakit ka pa mag-ooverpass, wala namang bantay sa baba?"
    "kung ayaw niyo masaraduhan ng tren, wag kayo sa loob pumwesto."
    "kanina pa kami andito, bakit ka sumisingit sa pila?"

    And what does all that lead to?
    -longer lines
    -traffic jams
    -more cramped spaces
    -more public fund allocated for signs and barricades

    People keep bitching about the government using the taxpayer's money for their own funding but they keep forgetting that whenever the funds are used for their own good, they don't use (even misuse) it. Some of the things that the money goes to are not even necessary if the people just act civilized.

  13. This article is extraordinarily pithy and rings very harmoniously within my cranial containment field. I offer some fly-by comments regarding said piths.
    “It is quite certain that the success of any nation depends on the character of the head of state and the character of the people in general.”

    If the system of checks and balances is strong, as it is in the US, even a weak president can be tolerated and damage is not critical. The problem in the Philippines is a weak president within a system that is inherently packed with self-interest and forces that are not in the public interest. So a weak president bows to the church, loud voices, sisters, convention, and everything but crisp vision, priorities and execution. And you get continuing muddle, an inefficient economy and an enduring power elite.
    “This is because each individual has this baseless sense of being more important than everybody else.”

    I call it Ego, with a capital E, for it is specific to the Philippines. The amount of self-engagement hereabouts is astounding. It is the key driver of interpersonal relationships. Compassion and consideration are considered weakness.
    “There are some participants in the blogosphere who constantly violate the guidelines by consistently writing obscenities and foul language on forums just to give the impression that they are above the guidelines. The funny thing is, being moderated does not even stop them from misbehaving. They even cry foul for being moderated instead of conforming to the guidelines.”

    You are starting to sound like that Joe America asshole who was hounded out of another community blog site for defending a blogger’s right to edit. What a prick, that dude.
    “Filipinos are good at playing the "victim card" because they are very sensitive and emotional people.”

    The “excuse card” is usually played right alongside the “victim card”. Somewhere in this is a sense of “loss of face” that is unknown to us crude westerners who like to call a spade a spade, and where ownership applies not only to property, but to the results of one’s actions . . . good or bad.
    “This mentality shows that Filipinos are satisfied with mediocrity and find striving for excellence too daunting. A few remaining Filipinos who want to engage in a more serious discussions are even labeled "kill-joy" or "librarians."”

    That “librarian” comment says it all. It is considered non-macho to read. Case closed. Stupidity and some warped vision of manhood (a tuba drunk with a fighting cock under his arm) is prized over literacy.
    “ . . . the most interesting thing to note about societies like Japan is that nobody has the desire to grandstand. Individuals do not want to show that they are more important than everybody else.”

    Japanese modesty is sometimes phony. No where are interpersonal games played so robustly as in Japan. I would not hold Japanese culture up as any kind of ideal, unless you know how to play by their strange rules. Transparency is a swear word in Japan.
    “Discipline should be inculcated at an early age.”

    Indeed. And so should the notion that reading is cool.

  14. This is a very well presented reality about the Filipinos which hinders our progress.

  15. Join Mandato ng Pilipinas at FB if you want CHANGE!

  16. @The Society of Honor - indeed, Filipinos need to work on their ego. It's because they are incapable of self-reflection. They always think that people from other societies are just being highly critical

  17. It’s hard to talk about national characteristics without generalising to some extent, so apologies in advance.

    Here’s something that puzzles me: Filipinos have an enormous sense of family but a low sense of community. It allows on the one hand the sharing of what little food some families have and on the other hand to have no qualms about tossing a banana skin over the fence. The boundary between family and community does not seem to cause any personal anguish or even questioning. It’s even more puzzling in the context of apparently strong religious beliefs.

    Has this always been the case? When I look at photos of Manila before the Second World War I see a pristine, orderly city that must have been the envy of South-East Asia. What happened? Did the destruction of Manila at the end of the war also destroy national self-belief?

    Here’s another question: what can turn it around? It’s easy to point to nations that are doing better, but are there examples of nations that have moved from where the Philippines is now to a position of having strong community values and a belief that law and order is in the best interests of the family and community? Is there a model that the Philippines could emulate?

    I know I have lots of questions. I doubt there are easy answers. Like most problems, if there were easy answers they would have been fixed long ago.

  18. Greg,
    Generalizations are useful. My personal observation is that (most) Filipinos have an over-abundant sense of self that blocks, to some extent, consideration of others. Whoever has the power rules. The strong family ties you mention are actually a demonstration of this, with the mother and father dominating the family with respect being demanded, not earned, and children obeying. Schools are set up to enforce obedience, too, not free thinking; order is demanded rather than volunteered based on personal responsibility.

    Power is everything here . . . whether it be the clerk behind the desk who has the power to make you fill out paperwork, the grandmother who rules the family (terrorizing the grandkids), the person who is at the ATM ignoring others waiting in line, the snarling government official demanding a spiff for fast service, whoever is boldest on the highway, or the leader of this clan or that.

    Manila pre-war was a robust center of trade, the gateway to Asia, and strongly influenced by western values. The war demolished the city and international guests either fled or were pushed out during the autocratic Marcos years. The US did not invest to rebuild the city, nor did the economy foster aggressive rebuilding, as occurred in Japan. Shipping became less important as everyone took to the air and flew right past Manila. Much of the wealth that could have underpinned economic growth was siphoned off into private pockets. Self-engaged politicians were not able to sustain any kind of organized improvement.

  19. Another disturbing Filipino trait is "gullibleness".

    Recently, I've encountered this item in the web:

    "Harvard study finds that Filipinos are the world’s most gullible people"


    * “Sandugo” or the blood compacts betweer Miguel Lopez de Legaspi and Datu Sikatuna, and Ferdinand Magellan and Raja Humabon — ploys which led to the brutal Spanish colonization of the Philippines, but are still celebrated by Filipinos as a sign of friendship (there was a time when we were also celebrating the Fall of Bataaan);

    * The continuing belief that circumcision is common practice in Christianity;

    * The Mock Battle of Manila Bay;

    * Popular belief that Agapito Flores invented the fluorescent bulb;

    * Popular belief that Eduardo San Juan invented the moon buggy;

    * Popular belief that an ophidian humanoid resides in a Manila shopping mall.

    There was once a survey in the Philippines that around 40% of the Filipino adults believe Cupid is a real person.

    He he he, if there is a survey of Penoy's popularity with Filipinos at 75% index, probably majority of those who were surveyed also believed that Cupid is a real person.

    Unfortunately, these people can legitimately vote.

    1. Everything else spot on, except for circumicision. Coptic Egyptian Christians, Orthodox Eritrean & Ethiopians practiced circumcision.

      Too bad they still can't figure out that it's all make believe

  20. Oh, I forgot to mention that these people can also legitimately run for an elective position of their choice.

  21. @Greg

    Filipinos are clannish. This is actually evident in some families who build compounds to keep everyone, even extended members of the family together. Unfortunately, the drawback is that it does not build as you mentioned, a strong community because they tend to keep outsiders out.

    Regarding the pristine and orderly photos you saw of Manila in the olden days, it was like that because the country was still run by our colonial masters as opposed to Filipinos who run the country like hell after our independence in 1946.

    It is not impossible to turn things around. Up until the 1990s, South Korea was riddled with corruption and nepotism similar to what the Philippines is experiencing now. I discussed this in my previous article South Korea: the country that the Philippines could have been

    Here's an excerpt:

    The Philippines’ political history has a lot in common with Korea’s. For one, both countries have a Presidential system; two, similar to Korea, the Philippines was under a dictatorship for decades. From 1972 the Philippines was under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s regime until he was toppled and exiled in 1986 while Korea was under Military dictatorship since the 1950s until they switched to more democratic governance in the 1980s. Third, Korea’s political system even after switching to democracy always got bad international press as late as the 1990s because it was riddled with corruption and nepotism which is something that the Philippines is unfortunately still experiencing until now.

    The situation with the Koreans in the 1990s was so similar to what is happening to Filipinos now that if you read the following excerpt from the book Asian Values, Western Dreams by Greg Sheridan, you will not be able to ignore the striking resemblance of the Korean political setting to our current political setting, to wit:

    “In an earlier conversation in 1996 Kim Dae Jung had gone so far as to call into question South Korea’s basic democratic credentials. “I don’t believe Korea is a democracy,” he said at that time. “President Kim Young-Sam has failed to implement democracy. During the election in 1995 the ruling party committed every type of election fraud, spending money everywhere and exploiting the activities of North Korea in the Demilitarized Zone. Television is totally under the control of the State.”

  22. @Trosp

    I believe that the source of your information is the satire blogsite Mosquito press. I wouldn't take them too seriously. But you are right, they are not too far- fetched. :-)

  23. Where their Leaders go...the people will don't bother, if our politics will not change...along with the same political families and dynasties...nothing will change.
    This was proven by the Fake EDSA political family gone....another political family took over...
    Filipinos still in the same stagnant condition...Anyway...this is Hyden Toro,I prefer to blog anonymous here...what I write, is more important than me...

  24. ilda,
    Reading your earlier posting on "South Korea: the country that the Philippines could have been" I found the posting and the 184 comments thoroughly absorbing. I was up all night reading them.

    In terms of using South Korea as a model, is that still valid or has the Philippines missed the window of opportunity? You mentioned the “strong sense of nationalism” in Korea. I can’t say I’ve seen that in the Philippines. Rather there is a quite pervasive envy of things foreign, particularly the US. The ambition to leave the country seems to be stronger than the will to fix it.

    When Filipinos talk now about the times of Marcos, the conversation is likely to be about the things that were better then.

    The Philippines has such an amazing history. Its children need a future where they can be proud of more than just a boxer. I was excited to find this site, but I am still despondent about positive change happing in the next couple of generations. In the absence of a vision articulated by the leaders and a population that is willing to believe in the vision it won’t happen.

  25. This comment has been removed by the author.

  26. @Greg - it's never too late to introduce reforms to stop the Philippines from spiraling down to an even lower point. Sadly, a lot of the public servants actually prefer the status quo because it ensures that they stay in power for a long time. They can't have an educated electorate because they won't get voted into office.

    I’m glad you enjoyed reading my article on South Korea and the Philippines.

    FYI, I now publish articles to a new site Get Real Post. Here’s the link:

    Dear President Noynoy, being average is NOT being resilient

  27. I am a new immigrant to Canada. I was observing a 4 way intersection without traffic lights and no traffic police. Every driver was taking turns on when to proceed. It is second nature to them. No traffic jam. It was a sight to behold.

    When other drivers see other drivers having difficulty entering the flow of traffic in a busy highway, they give courtesy.

    Sa pilipinas pag sira ang traffic lights, chaos. Singitan, unahan, murahan. Putangina talaga.

  28. So, what do you propose we do? Filipinos have been criticized, generalized, scrutinized and blasted as no-good-stupid-egoistic-undiscplined-party-loving animals but no one among you has stood up to punctuate that with what's to BE SPECIFICALLY DONE. Filipinos NEED to be led by example, to be REMINDED and be held with IRON HANDs. But ALL you bloggers do is whine, and gripe about it yet do nothing.

  29. Why aim to emulate South Korea, when you can be better? You maybe a few shades better than most of your lot. But mediocrity still abounds in here...tsk tsk tsk


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