Enacting the Whine

The other day I wrote about ambition and unity as elements of a vibrant Philippines. Today I’ll address one of the barriers to unity. It is called authoritarianism.

Unity requires a joining of hearts and effort. Authoritarianism hardens hearts and diminishes effort.

From the outside looking in, one of the interesting facets of Philippine culture is the authority Filipinos grant within three hierarchies of respect that exist in civil society. Authority is allocated: (1) along the family “chain of respect” from the oldest down to the youngest, and (2) along the community chain of respect for those with any power whatsoever (mayor, barangay captain, policeman, civil registrar or LTO or other agent, banker, priest, doctor or, if you have a flat tire, the vulcanizing guy). Everything else (3) is “in play”, competitive, one person or unit (family, clan, city) vying with another for supremacy based on this engagement or that. The winner has the power.

So in a very generalized way, the structure of Philippine respect follows authoritarian lines from top down:


  • Family authority, age-based respect, which is extended to include cousins, classmates and companions.
  •  Community authority, granted to people in important jobs who have the ability to either help or hurt others. This often follows class lines, from the ruling national elite down.
  • Peer competition for advantage, where such competition involves tearing opponents down, or building allies up. The competition can be seen in negotiating sales, posturing for popularity, or angling to get a job or contract.



In American society, the same general lines of authority exist, but they are weaker because individuals are expected to act for themselves rather than simply “do what I am told”. In America, authority is built from the bottom up, or earned. Rather than demanded.


  • So in the American family, age warrants polite respect, but not mandated obedience. This weaker bind to the family helps promote the independence of self that Americans develop that impels them to leave the family at around age eighteen.
  • American laws promote a kind of “consumer power” that government agencies and professionals must respect. In the Philippines, consumers have no recourse, no where to go with a complaint. In America there are consumer groups and lawyers all over the place willing to advocate or sue on behalf of citizens who are cheated or abused. People are perceived as having worth or “equality” with those in power. As such, respect is conveyed upward when the individual wants to grant it (to a boss), not when it is demanded.
  • Peer competition in American has less room (less acceptance) for cheating or connivance and tends to be less acrimonious. It is like the difference between “fixed price” shopping and negotiations. One’s standing in the Philippines is negotiated with each inter-personal interaction. In America, everyone walks around fixed-price. Equal, as a citizen.



Well, as in all gross generalities, there are a lot of exceptions on both sides of the Pacific. But we are striving for the general tendencies because it helps with the point I want to make.
The Philippine hierarchies of respect and power are deeply emotional. One steps outside the lines of authority at considerable risk. Try giving Lola some lip, or the priest some objection, or the doctor a question as to his diagnosis. There’s hell to pay, hell to pay. Because the offended party takes the complaint or objection or rebellion personally.
In America, although rebellious dissent is recognized, it is generally not taken as a personal insult. The offending party may be considered thoughtless or brash, but not necessarily unkind or disrespectful, and the person with authority remains strong and warranting of respect. Only in the most severe of circumstances is respect lost. In the Philippines, authority and respect seem to ride on a whim, so must be protected at all cost.
In America, authority is a cat on the prowl. In the Philippines, authority is a cornered cat in a dead-end alley. American authority pushes out to embrace the underlings. Philippine authority defends itself from the underlings.
And the laws of the land reflect that.
Philippine constitutional mandates defend. They defend against foreign ownership, against the security threat of dual citizenship, and against threats to the family and established authority.
So libel laws are strict, defending the “honor” of those in power. And people in church are protected against the “Celdran Offenses”. Where, in the US, the tendency is to rule in favor of freedoms for the individual, in the Philippines, the tendency is to rule in favor of the empowered.
The filing of a legal case in the Philippines has the effect of declaring someone guilty. The idea of innocent until proven guilty is not rooted in the Philippines. And an underling challenges a power-person at grave risk. The superior in the chain of respect and authority has a commanding presence. Just ask Senator Enrile, who dares the entire world to take him on.
And no one does.

Well, no one does, and gains by it. And Enrile is still in his Presidential chair.

So what does that promote, this legislation of protections for the empowered?
It legislates a shift in accountability for wrongs away from the empowered and to those of little power.
It is the legislation of authoritarianism.
And, indeed, it is the legislation of the whine. It is the casting off of responsibility for wrongdoing to the whistle blowers or the innocent or the weak. Just ask Senator Sotto what he thinks about whistle-blowers who don’t like plagiarism.
The projection, to those of us who are outsiders, is that the power people in the Philippines are rather insecure.
Needing protection.
And with the protection comes “the great hiding”, the sacrifice of candor and open expression and challenge. Even President Aquino is afraid to let the Public’s eyes look at government information. Getting passage of FOI is like doing a root canal without anesthesia. The patient doth object.

Information is not seen as freeing the Philippines to produce, to work honestly and honorably. It is seen as a threat.

Authoritarianism hardens the heart and diminishes effort.

But something different is happening right now. It is dramatic. It gives us a chance to observe a profound sociological shift. Tectonic plates are on the move.

Social media are empowering the broad population to look, listen and speak.

Authoritarianism’s underbelly is now upturned. The old sense of respect is being eroded.
The Catholic Church feels punished. Senator Sotto feels punished. Senator Enrile lashes out at everyone, defending his honor. President Aquino lashes out at the media for their relentless criticisms.
The Philippines is teetering.
The old authoritarian ways are no longer having the same clout. A thousand chickens have escaped from the henhouse and they are pecking at the fox’s behind.
The people are relishing the ability to push for change.
People tell me to accept that Philippine culture is what it is, and not to overlay Western values onto it.
It is not me who is overlaying the values. It is Filipinos with the ability to communicate. I am simply depicting what I see. The Philippine model of authoritarian rule is under attack.
My own observation, looking at history around the planet, is that authoritarian forms of government don’t perform well. Because they limit ideas. They stifle innovation and risk-taking. They hold back the power of the people in the belief that the ruling class is better at figuring things out.
I think the Philippines will progress because the cat is unleashed here, it is on the prowl. Or chickens are unleashed. I’ve lost track of my animals.President Aquino will see that an FOI Bill is passed, or he will go down in history as just another failed authoritarian president in an era that values individual accomplishment. Because the individuals of Philippine society can no longer be silenced.

Authority is shifting to the people. We bear witness.
Nay, we help out.
And, yes, in the natural flow of things, the family rules of order will also start to weaken. New rules will come into play, nurturing ambition rather than undermining it.
That is not good or bad, I suspect. It is both. It simply is the evolution of freedom in an era where “the great hiding” is no longer possible.
12 Responses to “Enacting the Whine”
  1. Anonymous says:

    In the natural flow of things (President Aquino is just biding time) Enrile will be booted out as Senate President because of the combined forces of social media and a popular president! The mighty pen and an 'authoritarian president' at play together to kick out an arrogant authoritarian pretender. -Tony from Seattle

  2. Ahhh, nice characterization of two powerful people. I tell you, the Philippines does do "personality" well. The opening weeks of the new Congress will indeed be interesting to watch. I tell my wife to forget the teledramas, the Senate is much more dramatic.

  3. Edgar Lores says:

    1. Tectonic shift indeed.2. The authoritarian character of the Filipino is rooted in history.2.1 The pre-Hispanic culture was a caste system comprised of datu, freemen, commoners and slaves. This is in parallel with your concept of “community authority”. Leadership was hereditary. And this is in parallel with your concept of “family authority”.2.2 The Spanish captivity reinforced authoritarianism, with the Spanish governing elite ruling side by side with the domineering friars. These oligarchies continue to persist in native form.2.3 The servile passivity of the Filipino, conditioned by centuries of bondage, saw its peak – hopefully – in the easy imposition of Martial Law.3. The liberation of the Filipino is occurring now, as you note, largely due to the advances and tools of technology – the computer and social media.3.1 The Tube, with its capability of providing a window unto the world, could have been a liberating tool but I think it was more a tool of perpetuating the bondage. The so-called “idiot box” was purely passive, not interactive, and it entertained the masses and preserved them in their idiocy.4. Also as noted, we are teetering but we are not there yet. There are still large swathes of the population held in sway. This is clearly evidenced by the Nancy phenomenon. She is the true gauge, the seismometer, of the tectonic shift.5. It will be decades – maybe centuries – before the majority of Filipinos wake up to the process of individuation – in your American and in the Jungian sense.5.1 I have heard and read approbation of Pinker’s book “The Better Angels of Our Nature” in which he argues and proves that mankind has made great psychological leaps from a nature of violence to some kind of civilized peace.5.2 Would it not be heartening to read in the very near future a study of the evolution of the Filipino voter from ignorant to intelligent, and the Filipino politician from corrupt to clean, from perfidious to principled, and from honourable to honest?5.3 Oh, and the Filipino bishop from proud to polite?

  4. 3.1 Television is indeed a passive medium. I fear it is still the mass medium for the broad swath of Filipinos, two channels only. Now cell phones offer some measure of persuasion, but I think the masses don't tweet. And each one peso text is precious. The best hope is to create ripples that start at the keyboard and roll out in uncountable ways . . . except, I suppose, as you say, in the vote for Nancy Binay. I see the surveys and conclude the ripples are not going very far. There are too many other stones being thrown into the pond closer to the voter, by popular local people promoting their friends, and I'd say Old Man Binay has lots of friends. And the people are suckers for ladies in pretty dresses who have the ambience of upper class.Here is the presidential election in 2022: Kris Aquino vs. Nancy Binay.I think Pinker is a man before our time. I look at Chinese plotting and don't see civilized peace.I think Filipinos bishops will become polite or the Church will grow increasingly irrelevant. Pope Benedict was rule-bound, as is the CBCP. Other voices are already starting to emerge, recognizing that the Pope did not follow through on the liberalization of the Church. That liberalization is needed for the Church to thrive.

  5. Seriously? Kris Aquino is running for elected office? I do not know her capabalities and credentials I sure would vote for her. Not because she is pretty. Her lineage. Pedegriee. I DO THINK THAT SHE IS HONEST. I am very goot at judging looks to their character. Kris will be a winner and a goot administrator assuming she doesn't kowtow to her oligarch family's wishes or surround herself with Lolongs.

  6. I suppose I am serious to the extent that name and image continue to be the important qualification in the minds of the broad impoverished masses. I actually think it will be Roxas in 2016 and Abaya in 2022 and Angara in 2028. I plan on being dead by then but you younger whippersnappers will be in good hands because that will mean 24 years of fundamentally honest presidency.

  7. JosephIvo says:

    Some additional observations:1. In the Philippines authority is based on position, in the US more on achievements2. In Catholicism there is a chain to respect: you, the priest, bishops, cardinals, pope, Saints, Maria, God, so you have to accept the authority of all these middlemen knowing better and having easier access to the higher level. In Protestantism it is simple: you, God no middlemen with authority to be taken in account.3. Historical facts well explained by Edgar Lores.In our May ’68 many factors came together: easy access to youth music, contraception creating more sexual freedom, aggiornamento and the 2e Vatican Council, an unjust war in Vietnam, economical progress and increased financial security…. For us this combination broke up everything that had to do with authority. An accumulation of similar situations is acting now in the Philippines, RH and an out of touch church, corruption no more unspeakable see the impeachment of Corona, 10 million OFW’s with no Filipino bosses, direct communication via social media, economical growth…. but I’m still sceptical on how deep all this is permeating society.

  8. I think Edgar is our medical professor, where the patient is the social/political Philippine body, and you are the surgeon. I swab the patient, mostly.Very powerful rendition of what happened in the U.S. that shattered WWII notions of authority. Free love is what it is, and I love San Francisco. I share your skepticism, actually, every time I look at Nancy's poll numbers. Sometimes we swabbers just go about making up realities that read good. But othere have to make them happen. Something is going on though . . . maybe slower than what I describe in the latter part of the article.

  9. Edgar Lores says:

    On item 4:4.1 From the Nancy phenomenon we deduce that the tectonic shift is occurring largely in the urban area. I wonder how true that is. In Manila, Erap has survived moves to disqualify him and his supporters claim he is leading in surveys (I have seen no evidence of this). At least one feng shui specialist has claimed that in this Year of the Snake the gods are likely to smile on candidates like Erap who were born in the Year of the Ox. We have yet to hear from the readers of tea-leaves and the diviners of chicken-entrails.4.2 If the feng shui specialist is on the mark, the degree of penetration of social media is over estimated.4.3 What a country! Instead of the statistical analysis of a pollster like Nate Silver we are dependent, in some areas, on the readings of superstitious shaman.4.4 There is another factor causing the Philippine earth to tremble, and that is the influence of OFWs. The contribution of OFWs to the economy is acknowledged and is considered to be staggering. Is their contribution to the political domain of similar degree? A good portion of commenters in Raissa’s blog are OFWs who have seen the progress made in other countries as a result of good or better governance. They are intelligent, vocal and presumably able to influence voting members of their families back home. And yet we have seen no clear evidence of this influence. I suspect that the financially dependent relatives of OFWs are politically independent minded and resent any effort to influence their voting preferences – in the subconscious hope that the status quo will obtain and that their overseas kin will continue to support their hardships.

  10. Yes, the gap between what we read in blog comments and what people are saying at the polls seems far apart. My first wife was genuinely psychic. Maybe I should give her a call.NOT!

  11. Anonymous says:

    Nancy Binay's entry was calculated risk to prove that VP Jojo Binay has a fighting chance in 2016. But with Chiz Escudero officially aligning with Pinoy and VP Binay's open support of Gwen Garcia defiance of Sandigan court, Binay's chances will fall severely. This time, Pinoy's endorsement of Roxas will be crucial and an advantage.jojie

  12. Interesting picture you draw. It makes sense to me. The thing that puzzles me is Nancy Binay's high standing in the polls. And the downward shift in President Aquino's popularity also puzzles me. I go the other direction. More impressed rather than less.

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