They are not our friends



Real friends do not demand payments for debts of gratitude. These are owed but not openly collected.

Yet this is exactly what the UK Ambassador did when he pointed out that his country was the top contributor to the humanitarian aid during Yolanda.

And that was exactly the same message when the US Embassy enumerated in a video all the help the Americans gave us.

And this is supposed to be that moment when we are expected to apologize for being bold in demanding our fair share in the so-called friendship, and beg for forgiveness, lest we go hungry if they pull out their aid and investments from our country.

This trick may have worked in the past, but not anymore, not now under the presidency of Rodrigo Roa Duterte.

But then again, the President was also unwittingly complicit in the reproduction of this culture of mendicancy and subservience.

Agot Isidro was right in some ways. She was just operating under the discursive logic that the President himself has laid out. Defiant as he may have been, the President nevertheless operated under the assumption that his boldness risks retribution, the consequence of which is hunger that he is willing to be the first one to suffer it.

This is our tragedy, that even in our defiance we are all trapped in this nonsense that the whole existence of our national being is dependent on the permission, and assistance, of others who are stronger, bigger, richer and more powerful.

And equally tragic is that so many people still believe that the US and UK, and all others investing in our country and giving aid, loans and grants are actually our real friends.

If for anything else, the benefit of the confrontational stance of our President is that it became that thunderbolt that was unleashed to jar us from this stupor, as it destabilized the usual and convenient narrative that there are real friends in international relations.

President Duterte is being accused of lacking in diplomatic niceties. Indeed, he lacks such skills.

But these diplomatic niceties are exactly the same ground where the weaker is subdued by the stronger. We have been so nice to a point that the US has taken us for granted, and that we keep on thanking the Americans from the bottom of our unlimited hearts for being so kind in giving us weapons that are second-hand, in making us believe that they will save us from perdition even without the assurance that they will come to the rescue should China invade us.

Friends come to the rescue when you are in trouble, and Yolanda was one of those moments in our history when we were in serious trouble.

In the Filipino worldview, debt of gratitude is owed, and one who has no “utang na loob” deserves collective reproach from society. However, if there is one whose behavior can elicit stronger rebuke, if would be someone who would collect payments for such debt, and call someone “walang utang na loob,” more so on things that were given freely, and supposedly from the heart.

This is the mistake of the UK and the US, when they appeared to have, albeit subtly, reminded us of the debt of gratitude we owed them on things which we thought were freely given to us as friends during our time of need.

As it is, and taking from Representative Joey Salceda, one can even argue that the assistance we received during climate-related disasters from the developed and industrialized countries are in fact payments for their heavy carbon emissions that messed up global climate and whipped killer storms like Yolanda. Hence, such funds are, in fact, restitutive and compensatory forms of environmental justice, kin to environmental blood money.

In the realm of realist international relations, countries do not behave according to friendships but according to interests. Yet, the Philippines, for decades that we have been an independent nation, continued to believe that there are countries to whom we have special friendships that we forgot about our real interests.

His critics lambast the President for his lack of diplomatic skills. On the contrary, I would like to believe that this is exactly the President’s style of diplomacy. He has served notice that those days of being taken for a ride are over, that we are no longer the suckers for this narrative that we have real friendships in the international community of nations.

There are no friends in international relations. Even China and Russia are not friends. They come to us only with their interests.

Our supposed friends have threatened to pull out of a deal with us. It is about time we turned the tables on them. After all, our country is not just a passive recipient of their aid. We are a productive and strategic asset to their interests.

It is about time we told them they had better treat us well, or we could pull away from them.



  1. As it is, and taking from Representative Joey Salceda, one can even argue that the assistance we received during climate-related disasters from the developed and industrialized countries are in fact payments for their heavy carbon emissions that messed up global climate and whipped killer storms like Yolanda. Hence, such funds are, in fact, restitutive and compensatory forms of environmental justice, kin to environmental blood money.

    Very well said. They should not aired those what they think they gave to helped us. If not for their Carbon emission mess, our environment s much better.

  2. Let me disagree. This is what my heart and mind feels. We misconstrue the idea of strength and courage as being ungrateful to be independent. We are now deviating from our old better self to an opinionated and egotistical one. If u r making money for law, writing, and politics, I am able to survive and improve because of the training, the skills and the earning I got from them. I am a Filipino, a friendly and always grateful one.

  3. Great article. Would also like to add that aid is not as simple as the foreign donor giving money to us. For instance, aid can come in the form of an agreement that a construction firm from the country giving aid will do the work of building structures funded by that country (so in a way, they are giving work to their own people). And before, not sure if it is still the case now, part of the aid agreement we have with the that we have to import a certain percentage of rice from them.

  4. utang na loob is a nice heavenly way that was enforced to the poor farmer tenant by their landed haciendero to maintain their current status forever.maybe a christian way of life.. a remainder after the mao revolution,china was completely isolated politically and financially by the so called super power nations causing a severe hungry country.. china was forrced to add more water to cook their rice[lugaw] so they can feed their billion people instead to bended on knees.. look at china to day the 2nd biggest economy of the world a miracle happened to them.

  5. The point of the actions of the UK and US officials was not to ask for platitudes or thanks. Rather, it was to remind the citizens of your country that Mister Duterte’s newly coveted friends of China and Russia contributed less than 1 percent of the aid expended to aid Yolanda’s victims. Democracies are always generous to others (friend or foe) during times of calamities. We give copious amounts to all countries, even to sworn enemies like Iran after devastating earthquakes and North Korea after devastating floods. Autocracies like China and Russia do nothing for anyone if it doesn’t benefit their motives and agendas.

    As an American taxpayer, I would be happy to see fewer of my hard-earned tax dollars be sent to countries that don’t appreciate where it comes from.

    The Philippines can hitch its wagon to any horse it chooses. But just remember that there are very good reasons why China and Russia have very few friends in the international community. Good luck, Philippines. You’re going to need it.

  6. Thanks for your astute observation. Alas, Duterte has to bear the brunt of criticisms as a result of the neglect and excesses of the previous administration.

  7. Unbelievable, but very typical. As an American who has lived in the Philippines, I must comment on this editorial, if you will. You comment about a diplomat from the U.K. stating the amount of funds given for the relief of your countrymen who were most impacted by Yolanda. It wasn’t asked to be repaid. It was only brought up by the diplomat due to a typically rude and crude comment from you president. Maybe your president could have used his 200 million in hidden funds, which were as he said given to him by his friends, to help relieve the suffering of the countrymen he holds so dear. Oh, he didn’t ? How strange, and uncaring for such a benevolent man as the Honorable Mr. Duterte. How about yourself, fine sir? What exactly did you do? And as for what has my country done? Maybe you can ask the over 16,000 souls who perished helping to rid your wonderful country of the Japanese menace during WWII. How come we never here any complaints about the Spanish, who held your people in bondage and servitude for more than 300 years? You know, the ones we helped you to remove? Before you were even a country, but I guess you forget about the good things we have done. If you think Americans and British are bad, wait until you live under the thumb of your new occupiers, the Chinese. You know, the ones who invaded your country, and set up military facilities on your islands? You are too ignorant apparently to see that you have been invaded, & the only ones who have stuck up for you, & have your back is us, your hated Americans. You are welcome.

    • Just state this is your opinion. That’s how you look at things. Thank you Amer/Brit friend.

    • Yes, you came to the Philippines. But your war against the Spanish also had other motives. For example, land has been stolen from native Filipinos and given to USA farming corporations such as Dole.

      Then there is the influence of the environmental standards of your country which are appalling. You say you ‘liberate’ countries to free them from oppression. Yet when left-wing rebels fight to free their countries from USA-backed right-wing tyrants, you get upset.

      The USA does not have a benevolent attitude. To you the world is a chess board and you only show up when there is some socio-political / strategic gain to be made. And if you are so concerned about the Chinese invading the Philippines, why don’t you go and help liberate Tibet first?

      The American is full of self-serving criminals who even abuse the rights of their own people, and let’s not forget, also stole the land from native Americans and treated them like dirt. And you think you are so bloody righteous, when in fact you are so hypocritically self-righteous and condescending.

      I say this to ‘Uncle Sam’: Go look for your whores somewhere else. Under Duterte, the Philippines is finding it’s self-respect again. It does not have to prostitute it’s values just to please some corrupt and sleazy administration in Washington, DC., nor the desires of those large corporations who buy and pay for, and manipulate, your Presidents.

      The buck stops in the USA, where it belongs. It is not welcome in the Philippines when it is tainted with sleazy motives.

    • i know of how you americans sabotaged our independence movement at the turn of the 20th century, of how you decimated our heroes and citizens killing them mercilessly. Of how you embarked to conquer practically the ‘free world’ of your military and economic clout, mostly Asian and South American countries. Please do not try lecturing on British, American benevolence because only the ignorant, uneducated Filipinos will gullibly bow at your arrogance and aggrandizing character even your own citizens deplore. Remember your relatively recent crimes: faked 9/11, faked WMD in Iraq, invasion of Afghanistan and Libya. I can cite a myriad of your hypocritical, amoral world leaderrship crimes that you imposed upon sovereign peoples. So please, stop being the superior white savior that you want portrayed.

  8. i agree with your take on this matter prof. lagi na lang tayong inuuto at pinalalabas na may utang na loob sa mga kano at iba pang mga puti. eh sa totoo lang ay pambala lang tayo sa kanyon ng mga iyan. america will not go to war for us unless (per treaty with them), the country is directly attacked by an invader. kung baga pinasok na tayo ng kalaban pero hindi kaagad agad sila aayuda at maghihintay pa ng approval ng kanilang senado. pero ang treaty nila sa japan ay agad agad silang aayuda pag pinasok ang japan.

  9. It’s been a long time since I read a column with such prose and content, like reading a rebuttal from a debate. I do agree with many of your thoughts, as you and I perhaps witnessed the same political times, and able to discern what true nationalists are or what our nation’s real interests lie.

    Pres. Duterte may spark a shift of geo-politics in the SE Asia. In the beginning, I thought his skills were limited to small town management – anti-smoking, anti-drugs, peace and order in barangay, bad mouthing his enemies – perceived or real, left and right. I truly fear he will fall and fail when the more complex issues of the country confronts him. Although a lawyer by training, he obviously lacks diplomatic skills and economic understanding on the global scale. But his orthodox style, crude as it may to parlay with international finesse, has brought the nail home, so to speak.

    If we employ an economics expert who graduated from Wharton to run our economy, he will be using the same models he learned from Adam Smith to Keynes. Worst, he will be just a fellow who cannot say no when argued by his professors from the same institution. My point is, we cannot beat them from their own game. So we have to reset the button, we need a fresh change, we need somebody who does not belong to the old school.

    And Pres. Duterte may be just the leader we need at this point in our history. We are no American buddies, nor a British stooge. Our culture adores them, the whites specially, their accent everyone emulates, their beautiful ladies. They teach us about freedom and rights but we are never free. That’s what they do all over the world, just look. They have to be there, establish their bases, they are friendly. We need their protection. It is for us to decide.

  10. Crisostomo Ibarra on

    I don’t think they were asking for payment for the help they did in the past.

    They were just merely stating “matter of fact” humanitarian actions that were performed in the past. I don’t know about Mr. Contreras, I was raised as a Filipino and “Utang na Loob” is a big deal.

    Like what my lolo use to say;”Animal lang ang hindi marunong tumanaw ng utang na loob.

    I agree that we don’t need to pay back the expenses that have been incurred when they helped us i the past but we should at least show some appreciation.

  11. Andrew Prevost on

    This piece is clearly written with cultural misunderstanding. Perhaps the posts by the US and UK embassies were made in cultural misunderstanding as well. I’m an American living here in the Philippines for sometime, so let me try to explain.

    The US is not asking for any payment for kindness. We all know that the US Navy was the first to arrive after Yolanda, bringing aid and clearing roads so local aid could get through. The US asked for nothing in return and never does when assisting countries in natural disasters.

    The point of the post was to remind filipinos that we are your friends and always there when you need us. Why did we feel to need to remind. Because the new President has taken every opportunity to insult and castigate us, even to the point of playing China and Russia against us as new and potentially better friends. We had done nothing to provoke this castigation and were perplexed and maybe even a little bit hurt and insulted.

    The posts and statementd were merely meant to remind Filipinos who there real friends truly are. Where was China and Russia during Yolanda and other disasters? Now to be fair, it should be said that China does provide valuable aid to the Philippines as does the US and UK, but Russia? That is clearly a slap in the face.

    The President is right to pursue independent foreign policy, and he is right to pursue better relations with China and even Russia for that matter, but he is wrong to try and sabotage through his words relationships with proven allies that have been developed and nutured by many adminstrations on both sides over more than a century. He clearly has some personal or political distrust and even dislike toward the West and the US in particular, but his attitude is uninformed. He cherry picks history to prove his points while forgetting many other historical examples that bely what he’s asserting.

    No the US is not asking to be “paid” for our kindness. It’s showing that it is hurt to be treated this way by a friend, one that the government and American citizens support and feel positively toward. What the US is asking for is the respect that friends show to friends.

    Of course there will be issues between us at times, but friends and allies deal with those in constructive ways, and that doesn’t start by hurling insults, and doing it at every turn. Luckily many more Filipinos understand this and the relationship we share than do not. Former President Ramos and many others have spoken out recently and Americans take that to heart. You didn’t see President Obama responding to President Duterte in a like manner. He several times now has reiterated our strong ties and bonds, and emphasized that we continue to work together. The worst he said of Duterte was that he was a colorful guy that uses colorful language.

    As an American I will apologize for any cultural misunderstanding and ask simply that you understand our side. We are your friends and will continue to be. For me personally, I love the Philippines and my life here, but I’m also a proud American. Please understand how we could be hurt and perplexed by your President’s comments and attitude. We will never ask anything from the Philippines that we aren’t willing to give ourselves and even more so.

  12. The ambassador said this after Duterte told the them they were useless. It is a friendly reminder that your friend is a true friend.

  13. “Yet, the Philippines, for decades that we have been an independent nation, continued to believe that there are countries to whom we have special friendships that we forgot about our real interests.”

    What exactly are you referring to when you say “the Philippines…continued to believe..”?
    The archipelago that is called by that name?
    Do you actually believe that a group of islands can “believe”?
    Only people can “believe”.
    Maybe you are referring to all the Filipino citizens.
    But again that would be wrong, because there are non-naive Filipinos who don’t see internal relations as “friendships” in the usual sense.
    Siguro isa ka dun sa mga sinasabi mo na “continued to believe…and forgot real interests.”
    Pero huwag kang mag-jump sa conclusion na lahat na ng member ng Filipino nation ganyan din ang paningin.
    Don’t carelessly say “we”, lalo pa’t hindi mo naman kayang patunayang totoo.

  14. Rufino C. Tangonan on

    You should be the one giving presentations like this to college and university students to enlighten them about issues that really matter to our dignity as an independent country and NOT that lady who is poisoning their minds.

  15. Yes, you are correct. We finally have a leader as a President. He knows the PH should be independent for its best interests to be served. He is making us independent. We are watching a People’s Power Revolution make this country better. The revolution started at the polls and now DU30 is implementing it.

  16. Exactly. And IMHO, the fact many of us (leaders and followers) subscribe to the antithesis here, ironically-and-sadly reflects the true intent of why we give help.

  17. These aids are not meant to help the needy. They’re for the elite and rich first then last, the needy, if there’s still any. Look whose taking care of the big bulk, its the ROXAS family. Only a dot of it is allocated to poor farmer Mang Kadyo and sidewalk vendor Aling Elena.

  18. very sad state of affairs.. the people of the phillipines will always have a place in my heart. ive been there a few times in the late 1980s and early 1990s . but with your new leader demonizing the USA and cancelling or taking back deals that were already made in good faith from that government. I am informing any US company that I do business with here in the states that also have offices in your country that I can no longer pay for their services, until all American businesses are closed in the phillipines….very sad day!!

    • Jose Filda Montana on

      Be our guest… tell them they can go perhaps to India where its more expensive and with lesser cultural ties not to mention, accent, to America.

      I hope they’d trust their bottom-line to your well-intended suggestion.

      Good luck sir.

    • it appears that you are totally bankrupt. business is different from charity or aid without interest and string attached. you invest for profit and you need people to operate your business, and you pay them. it is true in any part of the world, like coke when they invested in afghanistan, with the talibans are just around the corner.
      it seems your view was that more than two and a half decades ago with your few times in ph…. time has changed bigtime….being a fanatic of the corporate media, with its half truth and half lies reporting isn’t good for health at your age….

  19. Well said and well explained, and may i add if these donations in million dollars are real because until this very moment we did not feel that such donation came in, we are still living in poverty without a decent dwelling to consider.( Yolanda victims) Keep on writing Mr Contreras.

    • The Yolanda donations are real alright, just a matter of asking the right persons to account for it. May I suggest that you ask the former DILG head Mar Roxas and DSWD head Dinky Doo Soliman to account for it.

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