‘Sipag at Tiyaga’ is crap. Success is about surnames


Across societies that are free, there is this belief that one’s station in life is not shaped by genetic determinism. Plus the belief that opportunities are limitless for those with drive and talent—with some lucky breaks. After all, free societies with universal education and the safety nets are supposed to thrive with “up-from-the-bootstrap” narratives.

In these societies, the mantra is that for those determined to scale the ladder of upward mobility, for those who aim to rise in the world, it is not the surname, the one passed on to you by your forefathers, that counts. Rather, it is the talent, the drive and the determination to succeed. Very much like the “Sipag at Tiyaga” spiel of former presidential candidate Manny Villar.

Gregory Clark, an economic historian at UC Davis, has written a book, “The Son also Rises—Surnames and the History of Social Mobility” that dispels upward mobility as either junk or is very slow across generations. Clark’s book says that it takes ten to 15 generations for wealth to dissipate, or some 300 to 450 years, and not much can be done to break that chain. The accepted longevity by most social scientists is three generations.

The poor? Well, they stay poor because of that condition of slow mobility. It takes that long period, 300 to 450 years, to get out of poverty. The books just falls short of admitting that, well, if you have lost in the lottery of inherited status and wealth, you will be condemned to that status forever.

Clark did not just base his book on mobility in America. He studied mobility in modern Sweden and feudal England and the Qing Dynasty. Using surnames of people, he made some interesting conclusions such as:

Despite Mao’s purge of the elite during the Cultural Revolution, the surnames with relatively high social status before the purge are the same families with relatively high social status today. Even one of the bloodiest and the cruelest cleansing of the elite in recent history did nothing to change the status of families in China.

English surnames listed in the Domesday book of 1016 (Sinclair, Percy and Beauchamp), names associated with the Norman conqueror, are blessed with a present generation that has a 25 percent higher chance of matriculating at Cambridge or Oxford.

If you are a present-day adult American that descended from an Ivy league graduate between 1650 to 1850, it is twice likely that you are included in the Directory of Physicians that is compiled by the American Medical Association.

Even Sweden ‘s original aristocrats, the original members of its “House of Nobility” are still the same families with high social and economic status in Sweden. Sweden, take note, has a reputation of a country with inspired and sustained social mobility.

Birth predicts the income and status of individuals by more than 50 percent

The issue of slow mobility resonates in the Philippine context and it is the driving force behind the efforts to rein in political dynasties. Some political families have been in control over specific political territories for over a century. Which means a political control that even preceded the proclamation of the republic in 1946

The critics of the Ortegas of La Union say that the family has been in control of La Union politics for over a century. The critics of the Fuentebella family in the tough-luck part of Camarines Sur also claim that the family has been in power of the Partido section of CamSur since time immemorial.

At the Senate, at least from Clark’s reckoning of longevity, there is one surnamed Recto and another surnamed Osmeña.

President Aquino’s great grandfather was a revolutionary general. His grandfather was a senator and cabinet member. His father was a senator and would-be-president. In the next 300 to 450 years, we will have a leader surnamed Aquino. In fact, right now one is a senator who might one day run for president.

At the other end, which means below, here is a three generation narrative of my family: Grandfather was a herdsman and occasional sharecropper, Father was a sharecropper, the present generation (myself) remains a farmer. This is a typical story of a peasant family. Will the peasant Ronquillos rise up in this world and break away from the peasant/OFW bondage? Maybe in 300 years.

Of the 10 Filipino dollar billionaires recently listed by Forbes magazine as among the wealthiest in the world, just one or two would be classified as “self-made” but this would mean stretching the meaning of “self-made” very far.

Mr. Villar, who would be in a list of top 100 wealthiest Filipinos indeed expended a lot of “Sipag at Tiyaga” to get to where he is now, but his life story can’t be told without stating two things: he married into a wealthy and politically-connected family and he was trained in money matters at the best university in the country.

You can’t take away the attributes of “smart and driven” from the Filipino wealthiest. But it would be a stretch to say that they truly represent true and genuine narratives of amazing and spectacular upward rise in life.

Better, in a society that swoons at the lives of the rich, at what Pope Francis calls “the deification of money,” there is neither anger nor envy from the general public on their great wealth. Ours is one of the few countries in the world that are blissfully oblivious to the great chasm that divides the wealthy and the poor.

The public would rather punch at the excesses of their preferred villains—politicians and corrupt public officials—leaving the “ malefactors of great wealth” free from public wrath and criticisms.


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  1. Siony Camacho Bana on

    Your article mentioned of former Presidential candidate and former Sen. Manny Villar – a typical resemblance of a Filipino with ” Sipag and Tyaga: which hopefully many Filipinos would admire and recognize his accomplishments (also applies to other candidates) instead of many of ours who based their votes on their movie screen idol without assessing first the qualification and achievements of a candidate running for public (meaning to serve , not self-enrichment)) office if he really can deliver and create jobs for his countrymen .

  2. Siony Camacho Bana on

    it is unconscionable, that many of our own elected politicians who benefitted from their surnames cannot be a model of good example for our young generation especially for the less fortunate who exceptionally worked hard to be a Salutatorian , demonstrated himself well with a determination to serve his country while spending rigorous training for four years in the Philippines Military Academy, just to be mercilessly expelled without due process. How can we inspire those youth to aspire for a better future(while many become drug pushers and addicts, lost their self-worth -tambay carnappers ,snatchers etc.) if the institution itself doesn’t recognize human rights and dignity for their very own by being divisive and promote rivalry instead of unity for a beneficial goal,and by doing so what can we expect , but a demise for a brighter tomorrow for those kids whose aim is to serve his country and help support his family.

  3. mauricio palao on

    Mr. Ronquillo..the Mexican peasants would say; “a quien nace afurtonado, le ponen huevos los gallos; y, a quien nace para ruina, ni las gallinas”…a very apt observation. “To those born into fortune, even roosters lay eggs; and, to those who were born into poverty, not even the hens do”. It’s really a hard grind for most Filipinos..unless you have the ‘intestinal fortitude’ of, say, a Napoles.

  4. Voice from the Wilderness on

    Yes indeed, this is the sad story of the country’s socio-economic and political landscape. It does not matter if one is an inutile and autistic individual as long as one will inherit the required or necessary surname. one will one day end as the inconsequential president of this country. It is not only sad but horrible!

  5. arthur keefe on

    Another factor which was an important engine of social mobility in the West (and elsewhere) was the rapid growth of professional and middle class jobs, and the contraction of the working class. It meant there were many “vacancies” for people to move up the income ladder, without the need to push a similar number down. The persistence of the very rich families was not much effected by this, as the article demonstrates, but it did create a lot of upward mobility in the wider population.

  6. True. But that’s why there is the country called United States of America. A great experiment in upward mobilty. We do not have to envy the super rich families. They are what they are. They just had a headstart in stealing public money by 200 years. We should concern ourselves with what we can do now. On how we can move millions of our countryman to the level of middle class. I hope in this century we can do something about that.

  7. Eddie de Leon on

    Ang lungkot naman ng balitang ito, Mr. Marlen Ronquillo. Most people who have not been formed by good parents, priests and pastors, or some revolutionary group like the sincere Maoist Communist parties, will then just live by the Que sera sera philosophy of life. Bahala na. Why should anyone bother to uplift his/her family if it takes centuries to somewhat inch up a little. So the Filipinos, and our Bahala na attitude, have been right all along!
    And the Maoists in China and earlier the Bolshies of Russia who killed as many of the elite as they could were right, pala.
    This points to the necessity for human society to believe what the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Church teaches–that without the goal of pleasing God and going to heaven human beings will normally not bother to acquire virtues and live virtuously and make sacrifices for the sake of their own families and friends.

  8. While “Sipag at Tiaga” is a mantra that works for many people in lands of opportunities like Canada and the US, that same saying is nothing but crap in the Philippines. I had seen many Filipinos who came to the US and Canada with hardly any penny in their pockets, but now through “sipag at tiaga” are well-off.

    Not so in the Philippines. Due to the slave rate of pay for ordinary Filipinos, one could work day and night and still end up impoverished when he gets to retirement age. In the Philippines, what counts is your last name. If you are a relative of the rich Cojuangco, Sy, Tan, Ang, Lopez, Ayala, Romualdez, Napoles, Roxas, Abad, Aquino, Enrile, Estrada, Revilla, Marcos, Binay, etc. – then even if you don’t work, you are made!

  9. Jose R. Bonifacio on

    You are right! Just look at me I didn’t do anything extra ordinary and I got it made… Uhmmmmm!