Who are we Filipinos?


PRIOR to this piece, we discussed how we might popularize the concept of culture since Asean 2015 is meant to bond us ten member countries together. This means, we expect to have increasing social dynamics with the rest of Asean nationalities along of course with their respective cultures. Not only do we have to be aware and know that we have differing lifestyles, but to understand much better why we differ and be sensitive to what may be acceptable or not acceptable, norm-wise, to our Asean neighbors. This business of knowing other cultures could better begin with us by investing enough time and effort to better know ourselves as Filipinos.


Who are we? Such a question can be answered from different lenses. Let’s confine our conversation to the Filipino values system. What is our values system and how does it work? This may not sound new because we are characteristically known as hospitable, loyal, patient, resilient (so said also some foreign observers after Hainan in Tacloban). We rely on the goodness of God, we say bahala na. Wrongly or right, we believe in fate, in luck or suwerte at diyos na ang maglalaan etc,

In my experience, teaching a graduate course on Philippine Values System and the Filipino Personality, I found out several times over that we may not be aware of some basic dimensions of our values. For instance, my students who grew up as Cebuanos – a generic name for those who grew up in Mindanao and in the Visayas speaking the language of the Sugbuanon–were not aware that Cebuanos have specific terms for each of the two kinds of hiya. We Kapampangans, coming from Luzon, have only one term for hiya. Not that I am saying we in Luzon have less hiya than do the Cebuanos. For Cebuanos, hiya or ulaw is of two kinds. Hiya felt by a person of a lower status relative to another person of a higher status is termed in Cebuano as ka-taha. The hiya or ulaw felt by a person relative to another person but who is of equal status is termed as ka-ikog. Both terms are a refinement of the term ulaw. For an in-depth discussion on hiya please click: http://www.philippinestudies.net/ ojs/index. php/ps/article/download/2603/5225.

Let’s engage on the dynamics of our values as a system rather than dwelling on each value singly. Beforehand, let’s admit that values – the mainsprings of action — are not easily understood since they are abstract in nature. We can only “feel” values or realize what specific values we are witnessing when these are manifested in a culture. Let’s suppose the governor of our province helped my son to have a better-paying job. Pay from this job has made possible for the younger sister to enrol in piano; for otherwise she would have to stick only to her academic pursuit. Come fiesta, our family invites the governor. Naturally we want to show our gratitude. We lavish our guest and his staff with expensive wine – something too much for us to spend on.

How do we explain our action? What values are the mainsprings of our behavior? We justify our digging deep into our pockets this fiesta by the fact that our son’s new job has given a better life for our family (familia). We owe (utang na loob) this to the governor. It’s a shame (hiya) if we don’t invite him and treat him as well as we can (smooth interpersonal relations or pakikisama). This example shows that we can better explain our behavior not by referring to a single value but rather to our values system. Jesuit Filipinologist Fr. Jaime Bulatao lists four major Filipino values — familia, hiya, utang na loob and pakikisama. All the rest of the values in the values system are secondary to these four major ones.

Examples of values secondary to the four major values are hospitality and the round-about or circumlocutory manner a person asks favors from a friend who may have bailed this person out of difficulty many times over. Under such circumstances, such as too much utang na loob makes a person hesitate (mahiya) to ask for additional favor.

Since culture is dynamic, values change to certain degrees. Once in Manila to attend a conference, I noticed that the driver of the taxi I took was a young Chinese. In the more than thirty years I travel back and forth the capital, I have never had a Chinese as taxi driver.. So I asked, “Na-nang kaba?” He replied “yes.” I rejoined “ako rin” and told him my great grandfather who was Chinese later was naturalized a Filipino. I asked him why he was driving a taxi and were the oldies in Binondo not helping him have a good start (meaning lending him funds to start a business of his own). He answered that I was his first passenger that day; he having just visited the Australian Embassy to check when he and his wife and two kids could finally leave for Australia. Referring to my question about the Chinese community in Binondo on their usual caring stance to their kins, he said that he resolutely but politely refused the funds being lent to him and convinced the senior generation that he was determined to sweat out success with his family in their future life down under. This illustrates that values do change overtime. To be continued.
* * *
Teresita Tanhueco-Tumapon, Ph.D., is one of the Philippines most accomplished educators and experts on institutional management in colleges and universities. Her studies have included not only education and pedagogy but also literature. She has studied not only in the topmost universities in the Philippines but also in Germany, Britain and Japan. She is now the Vice-President for External Relations and Internationalization of the Liceo de Cagayan University (in Cagayan de Oro) after serving as its VP for Academic Affairs for six and a half years concurrent to her ten years as dean in the Graduate Studies of the same university. She holds a Lifetime Professional Achievement Award from the Commission on Higher Education.

Email: ttumapon@gmail.com


Please follow our commenting guidelines.


  1. Teresita Tanhueco-Tumapon on

    Dear taxj,

    The Bangsamoro people will remain as Filipinos if the region/s involved remain as they are now, part of Philippine territory. If you mean something like Crimea being or havng been recently annexed to Russia, that will be something else. . .. . . . let’s have a thorough study of the proposed law, let’s have the best minds go over it, let’s pray, hope and act in accordance with .the proper intent of the proposed Bangsamoro law. Thanks for the remarks, it cautions us to think more deeply of implications, consequences, review possible scenarios taking into consideration world events, etc, Salamat po. TTT . .

  2. Teresita Tanhueco-Tumapon on

    Sir Hector,
    Your piece has a number of very interesting insights on the Filipino character. Values could work for the better or for the worse. That’s why experts call these values ambuvalent. I take note in particular to our being a hierarchical society. Sociologists term this orientation as high power distance. This refers to a society that believes that there are the “high” and the “low” as opposed to low power distance which refers to the belief that “all men are created equal” (Abe Lincoln?). The values attendant to a society for examplr, respect, depends on how a society is inclined to manifest the value — it depends on how a value shapes the behavior of a people. Let’s take the example of a young academic department chair in a Philippine university.. This school official will likely assign easy or light courses to his/her former teacher who is in the same academic department as the chair. Assigned schedule for this elder academic would be during prime time hours (not during early or late hours) and to a subject that does not need too mich updating through research or to several sections, of the same course, instead of to three different courses, etc. In a Japanese university, “oldies” who likely would be with the rank of professor (associate or full professor) are not given “easy” courses to teach,. Why? because that would be an insult to them. That a course entails laboratory teaching, say in upper Chemistry, and which would usually require going up several floors,is no reason for the young department head not to assign the said course to a qualified academic nearly twice the department chair’s age. Higher Chemistry courses are usually volatile and it is a practice (if not a law) that chemistry laboratories are usually located on top floors. Let’s not forget that Japanese universities will surely have elevators besides ramps — ramps that are built according to Japan’s Disability Act. My point is, a people may have similar values — as in our example, the value of respect — but the manifestation may be different in another culture. This difference is due to several factors — the frequent lack of facilities required for mobility in Philippine buildings, may be one factor. Much more can be said in this regard. Be this as it may, thank you indeed for your very discerning comments. They bring out important points that should br seriously taken in rearing our young so that they do not merely wait for, but create opportunities; be proactive instead of being reactive. Let’s hope families since they are the central rearing environment for our young, as well as our schools, become the instruments for changing perspectives/paradigms that will impact on our young for more creativity, initiative, a passion for excellence, for fairness, integrity, etc that will translate to our nation as a highly respectable, highly regarded nation across the globe. Maraming salamat po. TTT

  3. Globalisation, digitisation, and changing demographic patterns are having profound effects upon the nature of work, and the need to operate, and compete, across geographic borders utilising a wide range of skills/people, often in flexible/virtual teams.

    International organisations are building upon a culture of diversity and inclusion, collaboration and empowerment, flexibility and creativity, and this has a ripple effect in many areas, and many countries.

    Millenials are also exerting their influence by way of changing attitudes, perspectives, and needs. Societies are having to adapt and adopt new thinking, and be less fearful of the future, and less shackled to the past.

    And the future is multi-generational, multi-cultural, and multi-national with a need to achieve unity within diversity, and inclusion of the minority. To gain strength from differences. To gain respect from self-fulfillment.

    It is against this backdrop which the Philippines must forge a competitive path and establish an environment which encourages innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as attract inward foreign investment. They must also understand and apply the appropriate tools, and techniques, and transform cultures, if they are to be preferred partners and effective suppliers at an international level, and if they are to develop home-grown businesses and create new jobs.

    The Hofstede Model for country cultural analysis is a good starting point in understanding the deep drivers of a country’s psyche.

    “The Philippines is a hierarchical society. This means that people accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and which needs no further justification. Hierarchy in an
    organization is seen as reflecting inherent inequalities, centralization is popular, subordinates expect to be told what to do and the ideal boss is a benevolent autocrat”
    Geert Hofstede

    Additionally the Philippines is considered to be collectivist, isolationist, traditionalist, subservient, and co-dependent.

    It consequently suffers from a lack of innovation and dynamism, with little ‘bottom up’ entrepreneurship, a ‘copy cat’ mentality to business development, and protectionist state policies.

    The historical advantages of language skills and a large low cost labour pool are being eroded, firstly by competing countries, but more importantly by customer/company requirements for improved quality, creativity, flexibility, and technical skills, above simple cost advantage

    “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”
    Peter Drucker

    Ultimately, whether at a corporate or national level, it is invariably the culture which separates winners from losers, leaders from followers, and prevents the Philippines from real progress and greater prosperity. Culture is not just something to study, but a tool to be used to achieve goals.

    “Ideas makes money – money does not make ideas”
    Walt Disney

    Innovation drives wealth creation, and is the currency of the future, but without the vision, the strategy, the leadership, and the intellect, then ‘top down’ control will stifle ‘bottom up’ growth, exascerbate a growing inequality, and only cement an existing two tier nation.

    In essence, meritocracy must replace mediocrity, performance must be valued above patronage, and innovation must drive development. ‘Top down’ policies must be implemented through regional structures, local expertise, and ‘bottom up’ support.

    The need to also focus upon small/sole entrepreneurs is paramount given the distribution of business size. Aspects such as micro-finance and market access play a key role in this sector. The sector clearly needs more co-ordinated support.

    The reliance upon foreign countries to solve national problems, be it through aid, or the provision of jobs for OFW’s, has made the country complacent, and devoid of long term strategies, or creative solutions.

    As ASEAN ‘opens its doors’ for business, then so must the Philippines open its mind to change, or risk becoming a servant nation to its neighbours.

    ASEAN integration will be a major economic challenge and will require innovation and creativity, or the Philippines will risk ending up in tier 2.

    Strategies and decisions now will determine whether those born today have a good job ‘tomorrow’, or follow in the blood sweat and tears of current OFW’s.

    And many of those strategies and decisions should have been taken ‘yesterday’. The culture of short term thinking is already ‘sabotaging’ the future.

  4. Cres Malifier on

    In my Sugbuanon family scattered in Zamboanga, the two Misamis provinces and Lanao, ka-taha involves the fear of presuming too much toward a superior. Ka-ikog involves the fear of losing face and being rejected like an animal by an equal. (“Ikog” is Sugbuanon for “tail.”.)
    These days, though, “Walay ka-taha” (No fear of stepping up presumptiously) and “Walay ka-ikog” (No fear of losing face) are no longer said of people, who generally don’t have any manners at all.

    • Teresita T. Tumapon on

      Dear Cres, Your remarks are enlightening. As one from Luzon, I tried to understand the nuances of this value as manifested by homegrown Mindanaoans and Visayans. Sorry that some of our countrymen have less or none of this value which could also be the case in other climes.
      Among us in Luzon, both conditions you cited refer to the same term “hiya” in Tagalog and “marine” in Kapangpangan. You may have heard a Tagalog say “walang hiya,” or “makapal ang mukha,” which may be translated as “baga ang naong” (thick- faced), Very likely the term “hiya” for us refer to both cases you mentioned. Salamat! TTTumapon