What are Filipinos Like?

What are Filipinos Like By Leon Maria Guerrero

I would like to share the essay written by Leon Maria Guerrero, a Filipino diplomat and novelist one of the foremost Filipino nationalists of his era.

What are Filipinos Like by Leon Maria Guerrero

Nothing is so difficult as self- appraisal, and to answer the question in the title of this article, I thought it best to start by asking it. With no particular pattern in mind, I asked a number of foreign friends to give me their impression of the Filipino.

I was told that we were friendly, good-natured, loyal, idealistic, sentimental, socially gracious ("even the lower classes"), unwilling to accept responsibility, lacking in self-reliance, less hardworking than the Chinese, more intelligent than the Malays, imitative but less so than the Japanese, religious but no so mystical as the Indians, and, in general, the most adaptable of all the races in the Orient.

A Spaniard thought we were very like the Spanish; an American thought we were not American enough. A Frenchman remarked we were the only people in Asia with a sense of humor, at least the only ones who could laugh at themselves, which, when one thinks of it, was probably the prettiest compliment of all.

By way of contrast, our fellow Asians had a uniform tendency to laugh at us. A Siamese said we were pretentious. An Indonesian, in much the same vein, deplored our tendency to accept western standards at their face value. A Chinese thought we were improvident. An Indian was shocked by the cheapness in which human life was held by a people that could kill for a few centavos, a political argument, or a girl's ruffled feelings.

The history of the Philippines might well be read in these national characteristics. There is, to start with, a relatively simple explanation for our notorious lack of self-confidence, which means to be the main burden of compliment against us these days. For more than four centuries of colonial rule, we were not allowed to rely on ourselves. Colonialism also suggests the reason for a certain unwillingness to accept responsibility; for too long in our history, it was not accompanied by any real authority.

During the four centuries of colonial rule in the Philippines, the government was "foreign," the exclusive prerogative of a superior class, the special privilege of an alien race. Obviously, the Filipinos could not consider such a government as their own; they could not identify themselves with it; it was a thing apart, and more than that, a thing to be regarded with suspicion, hostility, even hatred.

The "government" did everything; it was responsible for everything; but it was not responsible to th people. On the contrary, the people were responsible to it, for taxes, forced labor, conscription, and all the varied catalogue of colonial duties, with no right to expect anything in return. The hard lessons drawn from the experience of many generations must be unlearned, if the Filipinos are to develop civic consciousness, a sense of participation in the government, and a sense of responsibility for the welfare of the country.

The establishment of an independent Filipino government was the fundamental prerequisite for the growth of true self-reliance. Nationalism had to be the mother of democracy.

Ironically enough, the Filipinos discovered that they could survive on their own resources only during the extremity of the Japanese occupation and the consequent American blockade. We then become self-reliant because we hat to, and it is possible that the only way we shall finally achieve economic independence is to be driven to it by stark necessity.

There is, however, another aspect of self-reliance which has nothing to do with colonialism and its remnants. When some Americans say that we lack it, they are thinking of our family system. They cannot understand why grown-up sons and daughters keep living with their parents even after they have married and begotten children of their own, or why they should feel under obligation to feed and house even the most distant "cousins" who find themselves in want.

This trait in not exclusive Filipino; it is common to most of Asia; and it is, I daresay, common to all rudimentary societies. Modern man looks to his government for security, but where the government, whether native or foreign, is still regarded as an alien, selfish force, the individual prefers to trust his bloodkin for what are in effect old age pensions or unemployment insurance. The family is an indispensable institution in these circumstances, and one cannot be too sure that people are happier where it has been supplanted by the state as the center of society.

Our adaptability or imitativeness is, like our family system, largely self-protective. Colonial peoples quickly learn to adapt themselves to foreign ways. The penalty is, at the very least, a kick in the behind. The reward, on the other hand, is a little more rice on the plate. So in the colonial Philippines, the man who could speak Spanish or English, who knew enough not to eat with is hands, or who could afford a foreign-cut jacket, had a reasonably better chance to get a job or a promotion.

That the Filipinos showed a precocious ability to imitate, and imitate to perfection, is perhaps indicated by our national male costume, which is nothing else than a shirt worn with its tails out. This seems to have been decreed by the Spaniards to make it possible to tell at first glance who was a Spaniard with the right to wear his shirttails properly tucked in, and who was the inferior "indio," with the obligation of flaunting them even when he was in full formals, complete to cane and top hat. It is an odd turnabout, not without a certain irony, that this badge of inferiority has been transformed into a cherished national institution, and that the white man in the tropics has actually followed suit by wearing his tails cut too in the fashionable sport shirt.

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