Why the Philippines Should Walk Alone

rice worker

Here’s the deal. We outsiders are always raggin’ on the Philippines to be different than she is. We are a collective of Dan Browns and James Fallows and Joe Americas riding across the islands on high horses and pretending our view is better.

Well, I’m saying “Whoa!” to that particular horse right now, and climbing off.

Our view is crooked and y’all should simply ignore people who are out to sell a book or sell a magazine or sell a blog by holding the Philippines, and Filipinos, up for magnification. The same can be said for Taiwanese presidents who scream murder or Chinese generals who hold that the Philippines is a “running dog of the United States”. They are gross irrelevancies and ought to be consigned to the appropriate bin for disposal or recycling only if they are deemed to have some conceivable future value. Trust me, Chinese generals are of material too decayed for any conceivable future use.

The insight for this article came from Edgar Lores, our Enumerator in Chief and main man for introspection. He applied the Myers Briggs personality profile to the typical Filipino and came up with “Artisan”.

Click. Light. Bingo.

That’s different than the typical American who is “Rational”, so why are we outsiders trying so blasted hard to make Rembrandt into Einstein? Monet into pudgy Ben Franklin? Van Gogh into Bill Gates?

OF COURSE Filipinos cheer for half-Filipino Jessica Sanchez.

The lady is an artist, and the Filipino blood, the stuff of coups and cock fights and fiestas warm and rich of family and celebration, flows through her soul like magnetism through the north pole.

She rocks, because the Philippines rocks.

That’s why Manny Pacauiao is a hero. Because he channels all the potent power of dance and courage into a left hook that can put half of Mexico onto their backsides.

It’s called charisma, fans, and style.

Manny has it.

The Philippines has it.

A jeepney is not a piece of metal, a dirty diesel on wheels hauling sweaty people through the congested streets like so many sardines in a can, it is a statement of character, a silver and red and strobe-lighted expression of national style that has no equal.


Sure, artists have their critics. It is easy to criticize.

But I’ll tell you something, and it is something very very important:


Filipinos can paint. They can paint life like you won’t find it anywhere else.

They can work hard all day, up to their knees in mud jamming plants into the paddy under the hot tropical sun, or skinnying up a dozen palm trees with no safety belt and dropping coconut bombs to the ground, or hauling fishing net from sunrise to sunset with hands and feet so calloused that the glove and shoe companies go broke. Then they will stroll onto their estate, which consists of a bamboo hut with grass roof on a little patch of mud, grab the jug of tuba or one of ten kids, and find the heart to smile, and flash a joke, or tease a guy walking past, for life is good.

There is no Filipino anywhere who needs to concede to anyone else that those other people have it better, or they in some way are doing it RIGHT.

No. No. No. No. No.

Singers and boxers are right. Jeepneys are right. Cockfights are right. Hard work is right. More kids is right. Tuba is right. Fiestas are right. Loud karaoke at three a.m. on a school night is right. Senators snarling is right.

This is no Germany where soldiers goose-step their 30 inch strides in measured cadence and sterile, perfect discipline. This is the PHILIPPINES, man, where clocks don’t count and the front door is always open to guests, and soldiers amble and joke and life has DEPTH, not order.

You want to know why the Philippines is about to become the hottest tourism market on Planet Earth? Because the cover is off. The truth is out. The scruffy, corrupt, Ego-bound era of cheating and lying and failing to improve the roads and airports and tourist destinations is over. THAT is not the Philippines. It is the Philippines drunk and wobbly.

The REAL Philippines, the sober Philippines, the Philippines brought to us by the remarkable President Aquino, is honest and honorable and passionate and sincere. It can give a joke, take a joke, get a knuckle to the nose and get back up swinging or singing.

It can do beaches, it can do waves and islands, it can do mountains and waterfalls and museums and fireworks on Christmas. It can dance street dances until karabao come home, the practice renditions from the nearby college throbbing away for a month until 1 a.m. It can do traffic that is the second most dramatic dance you’ll ever experience – after the street dance. Traffic is the give and take of metal and knees and handlebars and seven to a motorcycle . . . and you better be prepared to take if you are gifted an inch.

If nothing moves to American time, who cares? If it’s not European values, who cares? At least we don’t eat snails.

Do we???

  • (Brief digression: How come there are no snails in my yard, I wonder. What a wonderful place for them, all wet and leafy. Did we eat them all already, or what?)

There is no other nation like the Philippines. None. Zero.

This is Spanish Asia, shaded white by America, where the most common language, English, is not the one anybody really speaks. Unless they are doing business or government or school lessons.

The place is nothing like Japan, right up there to the far north.  Nothing like China, big and little, up there and there. Nothing like Viet Nam, which is French Asia. Nothing like Malaysia, except in Mindanao where Sultans pine away wondering what happened. Nothing like Indonesia or America or Spain or Argentina.

The Philippines is the Philippines, you know?

And in the Philippines, everyone wonders who we should try to be like. Should we smuggle and cheat like the Chinese, obey the rules like the Americans, go back in time to when we were fresh down from the hills and spoke only one language and had a simple and pure lifestyle? You know, historically pure before all the mental anguish and confusion brought in by our conquerors.

This nation can’t even figure out who its heroes are, Rizal or Bonifacio or Aguinaldo, or when Independence Day is, or what the Constitution should REALLY say.

Here’s an idea.

Don’t worry about it. Be proud of the palette of passions that is the Philippines.

Be who you are, because it is artistic, an absolute delight of color and panache and unexpected pleasures, and, oh my, pains. It is Ego and family, fun and anger, loosey and goosey and RICH in ways that even Filipinos can’t comprehend.

Coco knows.

Joe knows.

Artists know.

The Philippines is Eden, unburdened by the Tree of Expectation.

It marches to the beat of an undisciplined drum. Treks its own winding path. Follows the stars of the heart more than the mind.

The Philippines walks alone. Alone as in unique. The Philippines should aspire to be no different, emulate no nation, follow no rules other than the ones she makes up.

It’s all hunky dory by me. A-OK.

No one does it better.

Thanks for letting me climb aboard.



Photo from: http://filipinolifeinpictures.wordpress.com/

42 Responses to “Why the Philippines Should Walk Alone”
  1. cha says:

    My, my, my Joeam, what did you just have for breakfast? You are quite the word painter today. I can see, and hear and feel the Philippines reading from paragraph to paragraph of this piece. Such vivid, picturesque imagery of life in the islands my heart still calls home!

    The illuminating analogies, the melodic use of amplification and hyperboles, tthe cacophony of sounds, and the dead-on parallelisms and metaphors; and more; my lord ! I can go through the alphabet of literary devices paying tribute to this inspired piece of writing.

    It more than just rocks; it swings ever so gracefully and tangos with so much drama and flair. And just when we thought the heart has had enough dancing for the day, it taps gently and rhythmically like dainty feet moving in and out of two singing bamboo poles.

    Thank you Joe for getting my blood running as I start my day. When I come down from my literary high, I’ll sort out and put in writing also my thoughts on the content of the piece. In the meantime, let me see what I got in my fridge. 🙂

    • edgar lores says:

      This piece remind me of Zen master Shunryu Suzuki: “Each of you is perfect the way you are … and you can use a little improvement.” 🙂

      BTW, I don’t have to look in the fridge. I know it’s empty. The wife is away for a few weeks visiting Pasig.
      🙂 and/or 😦
      😦 but also 🙂

      • Joe America says:

        Ah, there’s a quote for the quote-register of profound statements about the Philippines. It is consistent with “O’ rise ye land of happy fools!”

      • cha says:

        Noemii Dado’s (the momblogger) blog the other day, I Will Celebrate Me, tackles the same theme of self-acceptance and love, albeit on a personal level. I do think it translates to the core of this (Joeam’s) piece as well.

        It is not so much glossing over one’s shortcomings or sweeping under the rug and not confronting what it is about oneself that needs changing, but rather acknowledging first one’s worthiness of respect and approval such that one need not depend on others as their source of self-esteem.

        The Filipino who believes in himself and in his fellow Filipino will also believe that his country can change for the better. That he and his countrymen can contribute positively and that they can work with each other instead of against each other. And that they have it in them to defeat the enemy from both within and without.

        And it wouldn’t matter what they have or don’t have in their fridges. 🙂

        • Joe America says:

          Acceptance of “who we are” is indeed important, I think, at the national level. And it is a kind of nasty undermining of this that the Get Real critics, and even JoeAm from time to time, do that needs to be counterbalanced with, not denial of the flaws, but acceptance that they are offset by so much that is good. This notion of looking at a tree and seeing it as withered, and from that deciding the forest is withered, is not very healthy.

  2. Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

    JoeAm is right. Why do we want to be what we are not and will never become? Why can’t we just be what we are what God intended us to be. I see Filipinos are already happy. I see them smiling. Always. Like mental ward patients. This is what I see from the street level.

    Inside the home is where I see dark gritty sadness. Wife toiling from sun up to sunset into the midnight so are the sweaty smelly houseslaves. Day in, day out. They scrub and sweep the floor, cook breakfast, deliver lunch to children at school, nap if they are lucky. Pick up school children, dinner, homework. The husbands? Well, those are the smiling Filipinos at street level I see at beer gardens and karaoke joints having a ball. While their wives at home unkempt, unbathe, reeks with perspiration.

    These slavewives/sexslaves are uncomplaining. If they remain unmarried, they’d be teased to no end. If they are married, they cannot divorce. If they can divorce there is no child support. If there is child support it is not enough and intermittent. So, they just suck it up and smile as if they were happy.

    I do not treat my wife this way. She is my queen. What she earns is hers. What I earn is also hers. I am happy as long as I do not ask where the money went.

    • Joe America says:

      Ah, yes, I need to do a tribute to the Filipina mother, an amazing creature of sacrifice and dominance. I’ll do it when I figure them out. Which I figure is in a different lifetime from this one.

      Your last paragraph made me roll LMAO. It is so true. I got the scare of my life last night when my wife, looking up from her online window shopping, said, “I’m afraid I’m addicted to diamonds.”

      I was thinking about suggesting she get a credit card for ease of on-line purchases, but that is a thought that will never see the light of day.

  3. chonoon says:

    An American full of banana ! and a Pinay langaw on top of a carabao 🙂

    • Joe America says:

      Hey, chonoon. Have a good day, eh?

    • andy says:

      You are pathetic chonoon. You are the scum of the earth!

    • cha says:

      There there there, that should be bananas, not banana. One can’t possibly be expected to be filled up by just one measly banana.

      Bananas are good for the brain, mind you. You should try them sometime. It might help with expanding the vocabulary, to start with. Langaw, by the way is fly in English.

      Since I have donned on my literary critic hat today, I must just point out that a proper sentence needs a subject and predicate. So that first sentence should instead read, “JoeAm is an American full of bananas”. (That’s why he’s so brainy.)

      And one needs a verb in a sentence to really get some action going. So the second sentence could be better off as “Cha is a feisty Filipino fly perched on top of a carabao.” I just had to add that other adjective to get those three consecutive words all starting with the F sound. That’s a literary device called alliteration.

      But you wouldn’t care about literary devices, wouldn’t you. Why bother, when you can enjoy the blissful ignorance of life as one big boring and bitter banana.

      • chonoon says:

        Ya Joe America is full with one banana…I know langaw is fly in english but there are so many fly…there are some fly by night, fly of the pants:) fly Delta. Also i love idiomatic words that’s why I don’t care much for showing my grammar….BTW example of my favorite idioms ” Langaw na nakahapon sa sungay ng kalabaw akala niya mataas na siya ” ” Ang tumalikod sa sariling wika ‘ daig pa ang mabahong isda”

        • cha says:

          Ito ang tamang kasabihan:

          Ang langaw, nang makatuntong sa kalabaw, mataas pa sa kalabaw.

          Ang hindi magmahal sa kanyang salita, mahigit sa hayop at malansang isda.

      • The Mouse says:

        Someone here doesn’t like Joe Am’s “Ode to the Philippine Nation”. Hehe

        • Joe America says:

          Drat, I should have you write my headlines. That would have been better. “Who knows what darkened motives deep within the souls of mortals a gentle tribute inside out doth twist?” I thought it was a pretty good piece, myself, maybe the best I’ve done in nearly 600 blogs, for the cadences and the word play and the depth of the subject. A critic defines himself, really. Cha’s kind remarks remain, chonoon’s dissolve.in a puff of insignificance.

  4. JM says:

    I attended an IIA convention in Boracay. The topic was about Philippine vs. American culture. They said similar things. i.e. Before the conquerors came, Filipinos in general don’t really care about time. It’s still somehow practiced today, like when I set a meeting at 8:00, people come in at 8:30-9:00. They ask “Sino na andyan?”. Most are easy going and celebrate life even if they have so little. Sometimes I wish that I was an “artisan” rather than a “rational” person. They seem to not worry much, not taking into account risks, and enjoy life without constraints.

  5. JosephIvo says:

    Love is in the air… And as real women who keep trying to change their loved ones as soon as they get married, we foreigners who fall in love with the Philippines and settle here, we too start immediately giving good advice on how to change.

    The true unspoiled Filipino, a Flemish friar on Magellan’s ship “admired” already their lechon roasting and partying skills while writing his diary. The “Gold of Ancestors” exhibition in Ayala museum shows the unspoiled Philippine artisan at its best.

    I believe that God answered their wisdom prayer “Let’s improve all we can, accept all we can’t and please give us the wisdom to know the difference”. We in the West are so arrogant that we think we can improve everything. But no gain without pain, so indeed let’s learn to accept the 2 am karaoke.

    But how to hold back the pessimist in me? 40 years ago I was impressed how Africans could survive and be happy with only a dream and how this culture of enjoying virtual reality was being replaced with happiness only to be created by Coca Cola and a white Mercedes. Now I see that the marketeers still have no problem in convincing even the poorest Filipino that a cell phone is not enough, you need an Apple I-phone or at least another smart phone, a Mc Donalds meal or at least a Jolibee one.

    How to strengthen the optimist in me? How to help the president and his team to reduce the extraction economy, a few deciding and living well from the hard work of many, back into an inclusive economy, all sharing in decision making and wealth?

    • Joe America says:

      I noted with some amusement the other day that New York City is all excited about its “bike share” program, where you pick up a bike on your ATM-like card, ride it to work, and drop it off at the rack for the next rider.

      Then I go to a Philippine village, and they, too, have a bike share program.

      • JosephIvo says:

        Big smile, our good friends the Provo’s started with their “white bicycle plan” in Amsterdam in 1965, the first bike share program in the world, (we tried to copy at our university but failed miserably) They dissolved in 1967, if they had been successful with all their white plans, the world would have been an other place, more like the Philippines I guess.

  6. Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

    Philippines is walking alone. The Philippine government will lynch sailors that shot a Taiwanese fisherman to pacifify the Taiwanese. Two sailors hanged is better than thousands of OFWs deported.

    • edgar lores says:

      Mariano, penetrating observation… whether true or false.

      • Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

        It was in the news. Todays news: http://globalnation.inquirer.net/76231/ph-coast-guards-laughed-while-firing
        Philippine sailors will be charged laughing-while-firing. True they are charged. As to Laughing-While-Firing? I do not believe. There is something in me that they were not laughing. They are just scapegoat to pacify the Taiwanese.

        • Joe America says:

          Ah, I don’t think so. As to the laughing, that is hearsay, denied by others who have seen the video. I think the determination will be strict, by the laws of engagement that control indiscriminate deadly fire. I think if the coast guard troops are found guilty, then higher-ups in the Coast Guard, responsible for training and discipline, also should bear punishment. Loosey goosey as a cultural tradition ought not be the case where two nations meet, which is the province of the Coast Guard. Let’s see what the language of the final finding says. My guess is it will recite Philippine laws. That’s good. Living by laws is good.

  7. So you see harmony in Philippine chaos, eh? 🙂

    • Joe America says:

      Yes, that’s it exactly. Like traffic is a dance, dipping and twirling, flowing gracefully amongst the lightly tripping jeepneys and carabaos. hahaha It just takes tilting the head a little sideways and squinting funny to see it.

    • Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

      Weird. I missed organized chaos in the Philippines.

  8. Counterflow says:

    We do eat snails. They’re very good in coconut milk!

  9. andrew lim says:


    Perhaps because it’s a Sunday, and this thought struck me: Why do Americans “pursue” happiness and never seem to get it? On the other hand, Pinoys are clueless or inept on how to get things done to improve their lot, yet revels in what little joy they can find in their lives.

    The trick is to get it somewhere between those two, I think. Strive to find meaning in the struggle to improve our lives, and find happiness in that.

    Maybe as a follow-up to this piece, you can discuss this in an essay.

    • Joe America says:

      Good suggestion. It is funny, isn’t it, the American drive for more, ever unfulfilled, and the Filipino drive for nothing, with great satisfaction. How much of the latter is “concession” or even “giving up”? How much of the former is greed?

      Oh oh. You have me thinking now . . . dangerous ground . . .

  10. Lillilyr says:

    Joe you know the Philippines never spoke one language, right? ;p

  11. Rein Luna says:

    I know I’m late to the party but this article is a breath of fresh air. It truly is fulfilling when you’re living with passion.

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  1. […] I believe. The naïve belief that the Philippines can be made like America is something even Joe doesn’t agree with. The late Edgar Lores has analyzed the Filipino and found out he/she is typically an Artisan. The […]

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