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.
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…