Impunity and the Filipino male

Impunity. The word is defined as one that describes “a freedom from unpleasant consequences”.

Hold whatever thoughts the above word induces in your mind while we make a quick digression…

I see a monumental struggle all over that part of the Philippine blogosphere I am most familiar with to “understand Chavit Singson“. Singson had recently been under fire for alleged domestic violence against his wife Rachel Tiongson after discovering her together with her boyfriend. The incident left her battered and bruised. From what I’ve read, so far, the arguments that divide the chattering classes over this latest of “scandals” revolve around:

– The crime of passion angle — a doctrine that justifies violence on the grounds of temporary insanity arising from distress caused by finding one’s lover in flagrante delicto with another.

– The “bleeding heart” angle which invokes the “Magna Carta of Womenlegislated in 2004 as main battle tank — a “groundbreaking” law much vaunted for its role in bringing Philippine society, in principle, out of the Stone Age as far as women’s issues are concerned.

My personal take on all this is, as usual, generalist. Men are by nature competitive and when insanely so can become violent. This is specially true when it comes to a fundamental objective we share with all other carbon-based life forms — the propagation of our genetic code.

Evolutionary forces stretching over millions of years have built mechanisms into the physiology and psyche of us unfortunate bearers of the Y-chromosome that are almost singularly geared towards ensuring that we do not invest scarce resources on offspring that do not contribute to propagating our own genetic code.

One of the measures we evolved that, at a primal level, helps us mitigate the risk of an unwitting investment in the upbringing of biologically unrelated offspring is the paternity uncertainty principle which I cited in my blog piece Paternity uncertainty and the financial “crisis”.

[…] females are certain of their maternal relationship with their offspring but males are not […]. As such, males evolved to instinctively make use of two classes of measures to reduce their risk of investing in genetically-unrelated offspring: (a) use of proxies to ascertain probability of paternity (such as physical resemblance) and (b) use of measures to enhance competitiveness of one’s ability to inseminate.

The latter (b) is the more interesting concept:

Baker and Bellis studied couples in committed, sexual relationships and reported that, consistent with sperm-competition theory, when copulating with their partner men inseminate more sperm when the risk of sperm competition is high. Specifically, controlling for the time since last ejaculation, they documented a large positive correlation between the number of sperm ejaculated and the proportion of time a couple has spent apart since their last copulation.

[my boldface]

Thus further research…

[…] documented a positive relationship between the proportion of time a couple has spent apart since their last copulation and, for example, men’s ratings of their partner’s sexual attractiveness and men’s ratings of their interest in copulating with their partner.

The probability of female infidelity is greatest over a prolonged absence of her primary partner. Therefore the male partner usually returns literally with a bang on the first night after a long absence. The evolutionary objective underpinning this inclination is (to cite the clinical term) semen displacement using an arsenal of enhanced ejaculate volumes, more vigorous intercourse, and heightened attraction in case remnant competing seeds from a possible sexual transgression on the female’s part during his absence remains in the system over the first 48 or so hours of return.

Again, I can’t help echo some sentiment I expressed at the time I wrote that piece:

Ain’t nature beautiful?

But then the architecture of life is designed around the Selfish Gene and as such, the most fundamental wiring of our psyche applies no human-concept of morality whatsoever around how it protects how faithfully our genetic code is propagated over time and space. So the underbelly of this beauty is the violent nature of some of the other measures Mother Nature also deemed essential to our ultimate objectives as carriers of genetic code.

In a sense, Singson merely applies what Mother Nature has encoded at the very fabric of his existence as an organic life form.

But here’s the thing:

Human civilisation is the story of how we as a species progressively overcame the impulses driven by our evolutionary heritage and established elaborate systems to accumulate, enshrine, systematise, and sustain the small victories that each generation’s civilising forces won over this condition. Of course civilisation as we know it traces its roots back only 10,000-odd years. Evolution on the other hand has a war chest of billions of years stacked up against what may then, from this perspective, seem to be our puny efforts against our reptilian complexes.

That bit of context provides us a good vantage point upon which we can regard what truly advanced societies have achieved, doesn’t it?


So let’s get back to the subject of impunity, shall we?

The divided views on the aspects of morality surrounding this Singson thing notwithstanding, everyone seems to agree that what happens next is really a function of how the whole thing will play out given the culture of impunity that Philippine society is renowned for. This is specially so, given the very character of Singson himself — a shining specimen representative of the flaccid machismo of the Pinoy male evident in the kind of cinema we enjoy and the sort of people we look up to for leadership.

So while the usual “experts” will have their tongues wagging about that quintessentially-Filipino story of the influential man walking away from a crime with no more than a token slap on the wrist (easy targets for the chronically self-righteous pundit), let us make like more intelligent beings for even one moment and reflect. For that matter, and considering how, for most of us, this moment of reflection is likely to occur inside our cars while stuck in Manila’s traffic, look around and observe the behaviour of the average Filipino driver. How many acts made with impunity do we see transpiring before our eyes within, say, an hour? Or even within a minute?

As the late sage Michael Jackson once say:

I’m starting with the man in the mirror.

While we reserve our harshest judgments for high-profile targets (who get away with their crimes anyway), the Average Pinoy Schmoe behind the wheels of their “Kings of the Road” go scot free with the banal disregard for human life and limb, basic courtesies, and sense of community in road use that characterises their typical day.

I harp upon jeepneys and their drivers because they are MY easy targets (there are many many others) in this corner of the Pinoy blogosphere. But regardless of what our personal targets are, impunity is our common denominator. And I put it forth as a third item in that slow-to-grow list of things that the Filipino stands for:

Bahala na (come what may).

Pwede na yan (that’ll do).

Impunity (e ganun talaga sa Pinas).

NB (added 09 Sep 2009):

In a comment on a related article in, my response to a thoughtful suggestion from a commentor led me down a path that might have a productive outcome in our on-going efforts to crystallise coherent structures describing the Filipino Condition:

I did consider ningas cogon (NG) as another element in our What-“the-Filipino”-stands-for framework. However, it can be argued that NG is really an outcome of bahala na (BN) and pwede na yan (PNY) in the sense that there are many undertakings in the Philippines that are conceived and then initiated with nothing more than BN fuelling them. And then when a certain level of (often mediocre) results are achieved, the PNY attitude then takes hold. Overall result then of those said initiatives then come within the scope of the NG domain. So NG is more a function of PNY and BN, thus:


Perhaps the three elements BN, PNY and Impunity could be thought of as pillars that hold up compound concepts such as NG that are composite results of, in this case, BN and PNY. I’m tempted put NG at the top of the framework which then becomes shaped like a pyramid (and therefore transformed from a 2-D to a 3-D framework) with BN, PNY, and Impunity at its base propping it up. However I still have to think about how exactly Impunity would be a factor in NG.

I think Impunity comes into the picture when we see how our renowned culture of impunity just about saps any effort on the part of people who actually think to implement any of their well-thought-out ideas.

I believe we’ve got something going here! A 3-D pyramidical framework of Pinoy dysfunction (NG accounts for our no-results trackrecord and therefore probably does belong at the top of the pyramid) that brilliantly answers the question What does “the Filipino” stand for? in the works. Watch our space…

Are you an AntiPinoy?


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20 Responses to Impunity and the Filipino male

  1. BenK says:

    At the risk of being tagged as a misogynist, I suspect that if the parties involved were ordinary people (without access to the media to shamelessly and tearfully air their very private dirty laundry), most of the population – men and women alike – would be thinking, if not actually saying, “She kind of deserved it, for sleeping around.” Or if they’re slightly more objective, “What he’d get so upset about? I’m sure he’s got a girlfriend, too.” The impunity with which Filipinos pursue and regard infidelity is more damaging to the culture than most people want to admit, and I think we can thank the Medieval Church for most of that.

  2. Interesting analysis of Pinoy driving behavior and the general “culture of impunity.” They both stem from a lack of effective external controls. Drivers here learn to drive like lunatics because there’s no sufficiently numerous traffic police. Compare that to when my previously ‘pasaway’ uncle migrated to the US and had to change his behavior QUICKLY or else risk tickets from the more mobile and (seemingly at least) numerous traffic cops. It inevitably boils down to a chicken or egg question–is it the culture or is it external factors that help produce a certain behavior.

    As for the political culture of impunity, that arises from the fact that the Philippines has never been a unified sociopolitical/cultural state. It is a mishmash of differing fiefdoms and spheres of influence all spliced together and apportioned based on colonial prerogatives. We are living with the cultural holdover of that political reality–atomized centers of political power jockeying for control or preservation of control. In such a fragmented and atomized situation (and bolstered by feudalistic dynasties), its no surprise that the culture of impunity reigns supreme in the Philippines. Chavit is just one warlord among many. His latest run-in with the law is just another tiny reminder of and tiny peek into this underlying reality.

  3. Pinoy Buzz says:

    this is unlikely, but what if it was Chavit that got beaten up?

  4. Impunity is not exclusive to us.. It is present anywhere where one can get away with it or when one doesn’t realize he can’t get away with it.

    Pinoys when driving in Subic for example follow rules and regulation, even when no one is watching (up to now? I am not sure). I saw similar discipline in Marikina.

    I was driving some time ago with an American with me going to Nueva Ecija and we are stuck on line for the light, when cars overtook us left and right and stopped in front of us.. He asked: “how can those drivers get away with it? Dont you have guns?”

    Perhaps Chavit can do all those things and tell the story simply because he can get away with it. The reckless car drivers? Well, they simply don’t know that there will come a time that they can’t get away with it.

    • BongV says:

      However, the practice is more widespread in the Philippines. Where other cultures have kept on reducing the opportunities for impunity, the Philippines condones the culture of impunity. If Chavit did what he did in the US, he’ll be in jail.

    • benign0 says:

      Filipinos driving in Subic behave because of the American-ness of the system they are complying to. That is actually an observation about Pinoys all over the world. We are great assimilators and quite easily blend into the woodwork. But together and among ourselves we descend into petty bickering and one upmanship.

      It seems we are at our worst when working together and at our best working for foreign authorities.

      • BenK says:

        And as much as driving habits and smacking women around are examples, you might as well consider all the little impunities and complete lack of a sense of boundaries people here have – peeing in any convenient spot, dropping trash wherever, stepping in front of three or four people at the corner store, crossing the street when and where they please, blaring karaoke at 3 in the morning, etc. etc. The impunity is so ingrained, and from a such an early age, that it is actually pretty remarkable that people are able to assimilate as well as they do.

      • benign0 says:

        Exactly. That was what I really wanted to convey here — that from the highest profile government official to the average schmoe on the street, whether it involves big things or the petty, there is an ingrained ethic of acting with impunity and a lack of consideration or courtesy for others. Which kinda highlights the hypocrisy of all this indignation being levied against a thug like Singson. It begs the question of why such a thug is in a position of influence in government to begin with, more so one that involves a sensitive field as national security. Again the thing of how one’s government merely reflects its constituents, or echoing Huseng Batute’s more blunt take: we “deserve each other”.

      • GabbyD says:

        oh cmon guys, its that way in many many places.

        in NYC, people cheat on the subway, graffitti all over the place, leave their trash in the wrong places, dogs pooh and owners dont collect them, etc.

        in NYC tho, they spend millions to clean up. they can afford it.

    • Miasma says:

      GabbyD: Just because something bad also happens somewhere else doesn’t make it anymore OK here… Seriously if we keep on making excuses for bad habits and practices here with “well it happens in (insert name of another place here) we will become (or rather will keep on being) a reflection of the worst things about other people’s cultures and practices, especially American ones. Have you tried riding the LRT in the Phil. before? You should try it, it will give you an idea of how violent, rude, self-important and vindictive the average “innocent” Filipinos are…

      Masyado na nga tayong mga gaya-gaya, ang gagayahin pa ba natin ay yun mga masasamang gawain ng mga ibang kultura?

  5. benign0 says:

    @ Filipino Culture:

    Interesting analysis of Pinoy driving behavior and the general “culture of impunity.” They both stem from a lack of effective external controls. Drivers here learn to drive like lunatics because there’s no sufficiently numerous traffic police. Compare that to when my previously ‘pasaway’ uncle migrated to the US and had to change his behavior QUICKLY or else risk tickets from the more mobile and (seemingly at least) numerous traffic cops. It inevitably boils down to a chicken or egg question–is it the culture or is it external factors that help produce a certain behavior.

    I might beg to differ a bit as far as what I’ve so far observed here regarding police presence. In Australia, you could go about your routine (commuting to an from work, etc.) for days without spotting a single police officer. The Philippines by comparison is a police state.

    And yet, the difference between the way Australians comply to The Law and how it is in the Philippines is stark.

    The key, I believe, lies in the way the system is designed. If it is designed, operated, and constantly refined to work for its users, then its users see a clear stake in working with said system as well. But if there is a pwede-na-yan and bahala-na approach inherent to how a system was designed and rolled out, it will constantly fail to achieve productive engagement with its users.

    When a system is designed to work well and its users sufficiently engaged, enforcement comes in at just 20% of the effort involved in keeping the thing working. In the Philippines the rule seems to be the reverse: A system’s working is accounted for by 80% effort spent on enforcement and 20% on the nature of its systemic design.

    • I believe so too… Implementation of the law depends on the system designed to implement it. So our problem is not more of the people not wanting to follow rules, but the leaders not properly implementing them.

  6. katcha says:

    i may not always agree with what u think, but i just like how you put ur thoughts together =) it makes sense..

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  9. Sasha says:

    ya know…. Hate to bring this up but this goes both ways. Filipino males get away with it because the women well, allow it. The culture teaches men to get away with it and brainwashes the women to just accept it or be tolerant. How many beated wives do you see come back to the men who hit them a few hours earlier?
    It’s stupid and so dumb. He promises and she, in her ignorance, agrees!
    I guess you can say that’s the Christlike attitude… to turn the other cheek for a second black eye…

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  11. Andrew says:

    In Subic, the Police actually do stop motorists who break the rules. I believe this explains much of the difference – it is simply a matter of “expecting to get away with it”.

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