How Culture Helps in Corruption

I’ve written about corruption and how everyone, not just the politicians, are into it. Everyone knows there’s a strong culture of corruption in the country. But I now propose a more daring idea: our well-meaning Filipino culture is itself actually helping corruption build up. I want to share some of my thoughts on the matter:

1. Utang ng loob – You can see this operating in the recent cabinet assignments. Yellow stalwarts and allies are the ones being put into office. And even more questionable are showbiz personalities being considered for national posts, when there are many others that could be more qualified. They were all considered most likely because of utang ng loob, because they helped in the campaign.

Once you solve the puzzle of corruption, you could give it a good burn

Utang ng loob is often used to manipulate people, a part of the padrino culture. When bailed out of debt by a padrino, a lackey often has no choice but to commit a crime for the padrino in payment. Utang ng loob seems to trump charity as a value in this country. Utang ng loob can also be used by a friend who “helped” you, like someone who said, “I helped you get into this job, so you owe me!”

2. Consumerism – What have some Filipino parents admonished their children? “Get a good job, and a good salary, so you can buy all the label products you want, and you will be ‘magara’, and look like somebody.” Pinoys sent abroad send back huge balikbayan boxes filled with consumer goods, a habit that is uniquely Filipino.

Jerome Nadal, in a blog post I should have discovered long before, stated that Filipino culture “values being ‘successful’, i.e. having a lot of money and also prestige, as very important.” In other words, Filipino society most likely values material prosperity over other things. If being good brings Filipinos this prosperity, they’ll go for it. And if being corruption also brings it, or brings more, they’ll go for it too. And as a result, people would rather use corrupt means rather than legal means to be “successful” and to be “magara.” It leads to spending beyond one’s means too, which can lead to the situation taken advantage of by the padrino above.

3. Tradition – That’s the way it’s always been. So why change it? The problem is, it’s broke. So it should be fixed. But not for some Filipinos. It should not be changed because tradition is sacred. Filipinos believe in stability and changelessness in order to preserve culture and keep the order of society. But that’s all. It’s not meant to make life easier.

Corruption is often hard to remove because the practices can be considered tradition. Opposing it is considered an insult or disrespect. Tradition is a tool for propagating practices, right or wrong. Our culture believes that traditions should be unchangeable – because it’s tradition. Stability for stability’s sake. It’s the same mentality as a backward African tribe’s. Hence, our culture is so status quo-focused.

People in the country are very fond of “preserving our heritage.” Problem is, they might not know the difference between the heritage of cultural trappings and a heritage of corruption.

4. Pakikisama, damayan, groupthink, etc. – There is an insane insistence in Filipinos that they should be all the same. If someone is poor or downtrodden, they believe that others in their circle should be as downtrodden. Pakikisama is a value that sometimes is used to insist that everyone be the same, even if it is being the same in detriment.

Sometimes it leads to crab mentality. You’re in the pits, so when you see someone up high, you want to drag him down. “Di ka puedeng maiba sa amin! Walang pakisama!” you say. According to some Pinoy “values,” you all should share the same state. No one has the right to be different. Wonder why can’t they do that to the corrupt politicians?

Of course, this is the wrong use of pakikisama. I know it is meant to help people share their good condition with other. But sharing the bad condition with others is one thing that Filipino tend to do. And it leads to corruption.

5. Family – The Filipino family is very close-knit. But Jerome Nadal from his blog post cites the problem with the Filipino family; this close-knitness can be too inward and centered on itself. A Filipino family can care about itself and not care about the greater society. Even if someone else needs you more, the common value is, “Unahin mo ang pamilya mo.”

Thus, even in business or government, people will prefer family or friends. This is a large part of the corruption of our country, which is mostly run by oligarchs kept together by familial associations. Add to this what I’ve said about our family values, since the Filipino family tends to be a group of conformity imperialists. The family system has “values” that help propagate corruption.

6. Authoritarianism – If you’re older, you can boss it over anyone younger, even if they know better than you (because of the fallacy that if you’re older, then you automatically do know better!). If you disagree against someone older, you are considered suwail and disrespectful. Often, elder authority is considered absolute; if you are ordered by them to burrow your head into the ground like an ostrich, you should do it. It also reinforces the “bullied mentality” – sunod nalang para walang problema.

Porke angkan ka ng ganito ganyan, you have more authority than the “lesser” people. Older trapos or experienced people is a corrupt system tend to set themselves up as mentors – or bullies – to the younger people and enjoin them in the corrupt system. If not, out the younger people go. Matanda naman ako eh, I have the authority to do it. While respect for authority is important, it’s important that the authority be respectable.

7. Personalism – Tomas Andres in a booklet called Dealing with Filipino Workers: Do’s and Don’ts summed up a lot of the typical cultural habits of Filipinos. One of them is to value personal relationships over professional, or at least “spice up” the place with some personalism. It is meant to make workplace relationships more comfortable for the Filipino, and is sometimes thought to make Thus, the famous movie line, “walang personalan, trabaho lang,” is actually a deviation from the normal Filipino mode of relationships.

We already saw how personalism was a factor in the recent presidential elections. Personalism along with utang ng loob tells people to choose someone you know rather than someone who may be more qualified. You would rather do business with who you know. Recent media opinions on the cabinet appointees of the government have a lot of personalistic comments (I knew him, from how he acts, etc.). Thus, reinforced in the country is “it’s who you know, not what you know that’s important.”

In addition, Andres stated that Filipinos always want pleasant relationships. They are unwilling to accept conflict or argument. This causes heated but important discussions to be avoided and backward thinking to be propagated. Personalism can thus aid in propagating anti-intellectualism.

The Culture is in The System

More things can probably be added, but I’m sure you get the message. Some seemingly harmless tidbits of Filipino culture actually help propagate corruption, which leads to me and some writers concluding that we have a dysfunctional culture. Addressing corruption is thus very complex, because it is deeply rooted in our culture. Corruption is no longer an aberration in the Filipino system. It is part of the system. Thus, the solution can no longer be separation of the corruption from the system. You have to change the system. And changing the system means changing the culture.

But this is most likely a trouble spot. How to change corruption? Off the top of my head to do it, I made this three-step formula:

1. Say No – If it pleases you to eat kare kare without bagoong, to the horror of purists, then by all means do so. Whatever tradition it is you don’t like, you’re free to say no. Di na ko susunod sa ganung tradisyon, it’s moronic. If you don’t want to send an expensive and heavy balikbayan box, don’t. If you don’t want to blowout on your birthday, don’t. If fiestas are too expensive, then refuse to contribute. Tell ‘em there’s a better way to celebrate. Some people say Filipinos lack discipline; a big part of this discipline is knowing to the say NO when needed.

2. Learn the Alternative – Say that you will just send money when they need it, not when they want it. Luxuries come later. Instead of a feast, have a small gathering at home. You want to avoid big expenses for your wedding? There’s no law saying you have to make it grand and feed as many guests as possible. You could even have a private wedding at home.

There are so many alternatives. Filipino culture seems to have a protection system wherein it says that if you like the alternative, you are unpatriotic or a traitor. Sometimes, culture can drag you down into something like David Koresh’s cult. No choice but to fight then.

3. Fight – And so the battle begins. You have your alternative methods, but then someone comes in and accuses you of doing something wrong. Then fight back! Let’s question authority when we know the authority is wrong. Fight the bandwagon. Retort at those finger-waggers calling you a traitor or unpatriotic and tell them what’s wrong with their blind obedience to culture. Sometimes, you have to thicken your face in order to do what’s right.

On the Government Anti-Corruption Program

Now that Noynoy Aquino is president, how will be deliver on his anti-corruption stance? One purpose of this article is to show impossible it is to eradicate corruption in the country, or at least how difficult it is. This is because to eradicate the corruption, you have to “eradicate” the culture as well.

This “eradication” takes the form of cultural change. It can involve removal of certain parts. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off, says Jesus in the Bible. So if a part of Filipino culture causes corruption, then cut it off. Anyway, culture is a concoction of people, not something “natural.” It’s not sacred, it’s not holy, it’s not something special nor is it priceless. We should be able to change it the way we change shoes each day (or at least be that willing).

But of course, corruption isn’t the only problem that needs to be fixed. My suggestions above are more like stopgap measures. In the end, systemic change should be done in formal systems aside from culture. Charter change can help reduce corruption in the country because it removes some of the systemic sources of corruption (like pork barrel) and can influence cultural change along with a change in the system. But this is a topic for another article…


About ChinoFern

Just another nobody on the Internet who believes even nobodies should have a voice... because the Internet provides that.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to How Culture Helps in Corruption

  1. Joe America says:

    It rather seems to me that corruption is based on the “trade of favors” that probably emerged out of the barter economic system before there was a common currency, only it has become a big ugly animal drooling with greed and absent a kindness toward the common good. Indeed, culture it is . . . The corrective measures have to put straight-dealing back into the culture, and an exchange of economic values that are keyed to building more wealth for the nation. Not the office-holder . . .

    • ChinoF says:

      Funny, I forgot to mention your idea of “trade of favors” in my article. I might have put it under the “utang ng loob” part. Certainly, that’s one idea of how corruption works in this country.

    • Hyden Toro says:

      Hey Joe America:

      Corruption and graft are not caused by Economics. It’s just a human flaw. Some people just follow the Law of Least Resistance: Get Rich Quick. Same as those C.E.O. thieves in America; that had caused the nation’s U.S. $12 trillion defecit.

      • Joe America says:


        I think the trade of favors that underlies corruption, where you scratch my back if I scratch yours, is an economic fundamental in the Philippines. It is how you get service at the LTO when otherwise you would get none, or how you swap expressway locations for big bucks. The problem is, it takes attention away from creating real value, real time, where the value accrues to the nation as a whole.

        The US deficit was not caused by corporate greed, but by government mismanagement, accounting for the cost of the Iraq war by keeping it “off the books” until Obama’s administration rolled everything together properly when they were handed that big pile of sh** upon taking over.

      • Hyden Toro says:

        To Joe America:

        The huge U.S. deficit were caused mailnly by:

        (1) Failure of the Real Estate Market – companies made housing loans to people, who cannot pay these houses. Resulting in their foreclosures. The companies with their investors invested on these Real Estate investing companies. And, the abandoned foreclosed houses are now deteriorating.

        (2) Corporate Greed began with the ENRON debacle – followed by other companies, like Bern Stern, etc… these companies have C.E.O.s earning multi million dollars as salaries, with multi million bonuses. Where did their pay came from? From the investors. So, the U.S. Federal government has to bail out these companies. Other Auto manufacturing companies like: General Motors Corp.; and Chrysler Corporation were bailed out . This was done to prevent them from going bankrupt. Their C.E.O.s have multi million salaries and bonuses. Inspite of their companies being on the verge of bankrupcies. Can you rationalize the pay of a C.E.O. to the tune of U.S. $700 million, per year? Is he a Superhuman to deserve this pay?

  2. NotMasochisticFilipino says:

    Like I said. Philippines will die if corruption is destroyed.

  3. t0da says:

    The characteristics mentioned here are quite similar to China’s case of corruption. I cannot remember the article, but giving gifts to secure deals in China from officials (better known as “bribes”) is good practice. It has something to do with their culture of gift-giving:


    “In a business situation, gifts can be seen as bribery. How can people avoid that?

    That’s tough. I have some friends who run or manage businesses here, and there’s a lot of gift-giving and it’s just sort of a part of the business culture. Even I think this is typical around the world though. It’s something as simple as, for example, taking somebody out to dinner. If it’s a gift or a bribe, I don’t know. That’s just sort of the way it works. Often here for some reason it ends up revolving around karaoke places and paying for that and also paying for young girls that will join you and sort of sit there and giggle and laugh at all you’re saying. That tends to happen a lot. Giving bottles of liquor something like I think is fairly typical. In terms of turning that into something that would be large enough to be considered a bribe – I don’t know. There is of course actual cash bribery that happens. There have been some pretty well publicized cases of that in China recently, so that happens. My dad runs a small business in the US and people used to give him stuff all the time and he mostly ignored it and so I don’t think that’s unusual in any business culture, to sort of try to build a certain sort of working relationship and give people give stuff. And that happens here as well, certainly. But I don’t know exactly how expensive does a thing have to be before it turns into an actual bribe.”

    There is also a great deal of emphasis in the family. Once you achieve a high stature, it is your responsibility to help your family. i think that’s why previous corruption scandals in China were for cases where government officials enrich themselves and their families.

    I think this gives credence to a “culture of corruption”, one that is also applicable in other states.

    • ChinoF says:

      Yes, this has been mentioned by someone. China has its culture of corruption, which this “corruption street” row of restaurants where such exchanges happen… but still, it is able to ascend economically. I believe the government is trying to address this corruption form right now, but it most likely does not use the line of “eradicate” corruption. Controlling it is more realistic.

    • Hyden Toro says:

      Some Filipino officials demand bribes, to expidite your papers; or to settle things you are caught up to.
      You just cannot prevent it. It is part of the mindset of Filipino government officials. No matter, who the President is. Just begin with those Police, who issue traffic tickets. They have to be corrupt, to support their many wives and families.

      They will just lay low now. When things will settle down: back to business, as usual.

  4. innagadda54 says:

    There is corruption even the barangay level. What more the municipal, provincial and national?

    Chicago politics does not have the best reputation. But hello, that spawned Barrack Obama the great liberal hope. Who had ties with Rod Blagojevich yet we are supposed to believe Obama is all good and pure.

    Noynoy’s plan was to eradicate corruption. Yet when under the employ of his constituents (Congress and Senate) the only thing he seemed to eradicate was accountability and work ethic. Yet we are supposed to believe that he will be different given more responsibility. The press and their “Hail Noynoy!”. What did he do the last few years when he was on the public dime? There is a cliche that there are no small roles only small actors. What did he do with a role that was smaller than what he has now yet significant?

    As a politician in a corrupt culture he was either part of it or saw a lot of it. To think otherwise is mind boggling. He who does nothing about corruption is for it. You connect the dots and see if it makes sense. Noynoy will eradicate corruption now but previously he did nothing.

    • ChinoF says:

      Thing is, to “eradicate” corruption is the same as pulling down the moon. No one’s ever done it. Most likely, no one ever will.

      Again, if supporters say, “if he pulls it off, won’t it be another proof of the greatness of Pinoys,” it reveals the emptiness of the purpose. It seems that eliminating corruption would only be for the purpose of pride. This search for pride will always be the undoing of the Filipino

    • Hyden Toro says:

      Those in Congress and in the Senate are corrupt themselves, by misappropraiting their Pork Barrels.
      You mean to say: you eradicate them? Some of them are your supporters…

      Noynoy Aquino has no detailed accountability, himself, of how he had allocated his Pork Barrel, during his terms. He will eradicate himself?

      • innagadda54 says:

        Hyden Toro Reply: “Those in Congress and in the Senate are corrupt themselves, by misappropraiting their Pork Barrels.
        You mean to say: you eradicate them? Some of them are your supporters…

        Noynoy Aquino has no detailed accountability, himself, of how he had allocated his Pork Barrel, during his terms. He will eradicate himself?”

        My point exactly. He is part of the problem .

        If you recall the tag line from Rowan Atkinson’s Johnny English

        He knows no Danger
        He knows no Fear
        He knows nothing

        Noynoy did no corrupt deeds
        Noynoy did no stealing
        Noynoy did nothing

  5. J.B. says:

    It’s fairly hard to remedy Authoritarianism since the people look at it as “normal” act. And those in power who wields influence on govt finances find it its their earned “right”.

    Likewise, son of oligarchs who studied overseas and could have been enlightened ended up perpetuation the same once they arrive home and run for office or their business.

  6. Markad says:

    Hmm… I have always believed that our notion of our culture is not in the right direction but not necessarily wrong.

    • ChinoF says:

      My point as well. That is why I said we can eradicate parts of our culture, not the whole culture. Because, that is impossible and impractical after all. Certainly, redirecting our culture is a solution.

    • Jay says:

      It supports the wrong values but seems to shun or abhor the right ones.

    • Markad says:

      Well, we are a young nation anyway with somewhere around 60 to 70 years of “independence” (I counted from the end of World War II). X_X
      IMO… Our culture will not shift its direction if our educational system would still be under the influence of the church. We will be forever be stagnant and restrained in this dysfunctional culture.

      • ChinoF says:

        Being a young nation though isn’t an excuse. Singapore is a younger nation (only 30-40 years), and yet they have early on chosen the right solutions and overtaken us! But as you say, perhaps lack of interference (and dictation) is one thing that helped SIngapore. And it certainly will help us.

      • ChinoF says:

        Whuhoops… lack of interference (and dictation from the church… yeah.

      • Jay says:

        Agreed with ChinoF there. The whole philippines is a young nation is GARBAGE when you consider AP’s 2 strongest deterrents to that example; South Korea and Singapore.

        Yes many say S. Korea got support from the United States but didn’t the Philippines as well? They were as dirt poor as us now in the 60’s and with hard work, real national pride and strong foresight they managed to rise to the top. Singapore’s conceptual backbone in a sense was instilled by LKY and look what he was able to do in a short time besides the beautification to set up for tourism. The same LKY that got real with the Philippines and FDR in ’92 and they scoffed at him. Its easy to see whose the loser then.

        Hell I’ll throw in Japan for good measure. Ravaged in WW2 and would have kept fighting if the bomb didn’t drop. Came back with manufacturing and close to the turn of the century, became an electronics powerhouse as well.

        Their people promoted the right values that benefited society in the long run. While theirs continue to evolve and deal with their own small problems, the Philippine Society continues to degrade and starts to care more about what they feel than anything.

  7. Hyden Toro says:

    I believe, that graft and corruption previal in all countries on Earth, because of :

    (1) Greed, opportunism, and easy money – It happened in the U.S., like the C.E.O.s silently emptying the investments of their clients (Wall Street fiasco). They give themselves: high salaries, exhorbitant bonuses, etc…amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars. Which led to the nearly collaspe of the economy.

    (2) Some people are really evil – there are people who are inclined to become: thieves, scammers and swindlers. We still cannot understand, why there is evil in this world. Like Priest Child molesters; politicians who delude voters to be elected. I don’t believe in the Devil; or the Devil made me do it.

    (3) “Pasikat” mentality of Filipinos – This is what I experienced on Filipinos living in the U.S. Some of the well off have:(1) big houses, then they invite you in to see their big houses. (2) wears sparkling diamond jewelries during parties and occassions. (3) talk about their big income during parties. It is some sort of showing off , who they are. And, are better off than you. If they are living better than you. They feel great. Some sort of superiority? or inferiority complex?

    Just look at some of those Balikbayans who come back home. They flash wads of foreign currencies, to make sure you notice they have more money than you. They move like they are the richest, because they are abroad. Same as government officials. If there are chances to make money; they become corrupt just to make themselves important.

    It is a dysfunctional mindset; we have. If another Filipino has seen it that way. They attach themselves also to winning Politicians. Then, when the Politician wins: it is an opportunity to make money. “What are we in power for!”; is the mantra.

    In observing the Japanese culture. Though it is not perfect, because there are some scandals also However, I see their culture as:

    (1) Japanese values : decency, honor and self sacrifice for the good of the whole. This is the reason we have Japanese “Kamikaze” pilots, during World War II. They sacrificed their lives for the good of the whole: the defense of the Motherland, symbolized by the Japanese Emperor, their living God.

    (2) Japanese people are afraid to lose Face. Your Face and Words mean a lot to them. Losing face, is the worse thing a Japanese can do. No one will believe you; if you lose face.

    We Filipinos do not care about losing face. Politicians: lie; steal; break every promises they make. We still vote for them. Look at the case of Erap Estrada, the convicted plunderer, nearly winning the election. Same as Noynoy Aquino: he is begining to tell us to lower our expectations; meaning, he will not be able to fulfill some of the promises he made during the election.

    We need a thorough soul searching of ourselves. “They only way you can change a person, is to make him have the awareness of himself”, stated the great Psychologist Abraham Maslow. We are a sick country. Corruption and graft are only one of the symptoms.

    • ChinoF says:

      I’d agree with the gist of your comment. It leads to the thought though; why are we as a country one of the most corrupt? A big part is in the culture, which helps corruption to propagate. Of course, improving the economic system will help a great deal, but we certainly should work on the culture too.

      BenK has a good framework on how cultural change can be achieved.

    • Emzay says:

      Haha oh yea, appearing in Wowowee/Eat Bulaga for 5 seconds would make you famous

  8. Emzay says:

    2. Consumerism – What have some Filipino parents admonished their children? “Get a good job, and a good salary, so you can buy all the label products you want, and you will be ‘magara’, and LOOK LIKE SOMEBODY.”

    I couldn’t agree even more. I was in the Philippines a month ago and one night I went to a comedy bar. Apparently, some balikbayan from the USA kept handing the comedians on stage wads of dollars. Sure it looked like alot of money but it was only US$12! I don’t know why some people from abroad find the need to show off their wealth (come on, we see it in Wowowee too). It’s almost like trying to buy (cheap) respect. Are filipinos THAT insecure?

    Of course, it isn’t all their fault. There are also the losers who would rather “humanga” than be inspired.

    • ChinoF says:

      If it’s only $12, it wasn’t even wealth, but a semblance of wealth. Filipinos are so desperate that they value semblance over the actual thing. Hence, fake “branded” goods sell like hotcakes here. Thanks for the comment.

  9. mel says:

    Saying No, learning and fighting for alternatives can be tedious and can bring a lot of discomforts here in the Philippines. Having lived for many years in Germany, I have an assertive attitude and this tags me as “mayabang at walang pakikisama”. I do not attend Christmas Party because I am a Buddhist, and I dislike loud Karaoke sessions, nor children parties of unknown neighbors . I complain when the neighbors are disturbing my sleep and when they block my driveway.

    I do not give donation to Basketball Teams during Fiesta Celebration. I told them that in Germany, the members of sports team pay for their monthly dues and they raise funds by selling food and things to the community. Saying it nicely will not bring advantage. “Twenty Pesos lang naman, ayaw pa magbigay, kuripot”, was the comment.

    It pays to be different and consistent. People around will become aware of the other way and hopefully, will develop an acceptance that can eventually lead to a change in Filipino culture.

    • ChinoF says:

      Thanks for sharing your experiences in doing your version of the three-step suggestion above (which is just another way of being assertive). True, it can be a hard fight, but in the end, you really need to fight.

  10. sutoi says:

    start with having a good moral foundation… people from northern europe and the north america have the protestant work ethics, japan has its industrious bushido culture as equivalent.. filipinos needs to adopt those. we need something that works.

  11. Paolo says:

    No, the best thing for them is a lead-tipped projectile entering their flawed cranium at supersonic speed. Reduces the unneeded mouths to feed, too!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s