When Leaders Run into Each Other

colliding01Now this blog is not just another foreigner whining. If you will bear with me, you will see it is quite the opposite. It is just that I start where others leave off. So get through the early part and we’ll be fine.

You will hear many foreigners complain about how inconsiderate Filipinos are. Maybe even JoeAm mentions it now and then. Foreigners complain that drivers don’t yield to pedestrians and drive rudely, they cut into line at Jollibees or the various airport lines, shop keepers and government servants don’t smile, people throw trash across their entire nation, and parents let their kids and dogs run wild in the streets.

I was reflecting on this supposedly inconsiderate behavior during my drive across the mountains the other day. It is a two-lane road with a good amount of traffic. It’s hard to pass another vehicle. At the low end of the speed scale we have slow-moving trucks hauling sand. At the high end we have blazing-fast vans in which drivers are demonstrating their Indy 500 skills to the customers, most of whom are paralyzed with fear but pretending otherwise. Then the rest of us, motorcycles, motor cabs, tricycles, multi-cabs, cars, jeepneys, and assorted trucks clutter up the middle of the speed meter.

I drive fairly fast, but not as fast as the van speed-freaks. When one of those guys approaches me from behind, I always slow at a straightaway to allow him to pass. But . . . But . . . But when I’m behind another car going slow, he invariably speeds up when we come to a straightaway. Holding his place in front.

This simple scene reflects the whole of Philippine society, I sometimes think. Me first, lots of grabbing for things like pork and under-the-table payments, a need to win every argument, or plagiarizing like Sotto. The Golden Rule, to treat others as we would want to be treated, is a wee small little rule that only a handful of good people honor. Even priests here get and give favors.

Here’s another real-life snippet to help set the scene.


My son is young and strong willed. He has the Filipino center of the universe mentality. Well, most kids do, I know, but I can assure you this young man’s attitude is not simply being a kid. He is dominant over peers in school, his older cousins, the maid, the neighbors, and even the priest.

Actually, not the priest. That was a bit of humor.

When he is older, I’m sure the kid will seem rude to foreigners.

And maybe a lot of Filipinos.

Of course, as a doting dad, I am inclined to say “he’s a natural-born leader!” And, indeed, he does take the lead in a lot of school projects and in play activities. Even if older kids are in the crowd.

So I now ask myself, if what I see in my son is GOOD, how can a nation of dominant personalities be BAD?

Light bulb moment. Could it be that the Philippines is a nation of natural LEADERS?

Well, boy howdy, that question created a major brain grunt.

Filipinos project authority from behind the wheel, behind the sales desk, behind the government counter, and in front of the ATM. There is no lack of motivation to subjugate other people.

Why, then, is the Philippines such a contentious, murderous, crime-ridden, rude, dysfunctional place?

The whining foreigner might say “well, your son has high esteem but Filipinos in general have low esteem”.

But I don’t buy that. Filipinos are generally happy, confident, and open-hearted. They are shy at the right times and outgoing at the right times. I personally don’t think most Filipinos have low self-esteem. Some do. Sure. So do a LOT of Americans who are forced to compete against everyone for everything.

Maybe the Philippine atmosphere of having nothing to compete FOR has a surprising POSITIVE twist. Overbearing confidence. Haha, overweening confidence. I love that Edgarism, the term “overweening”.


The problem seems to be that Filipinos don’t know how to fit their separate strengths into any kind of unity. No one has taught them sacrifice, only being subservient or being authoritative.

Subservient is different than sacrifice.

So I’ll venture a guess that, if we could develop any kind of comparative scale, we’d find that Filipinos have an under-developed sense of sacrifice. Sacrifice is an element of the Golden Rule, actually, the ability to subsume one’s own desires to the good of the group. Because that is what we would want others to do.

So I propose that:

The Philippines is a nation of natural leaders.

But they have nothing to lead.

So they run around smashing into each other.

So, by my thinking, the Philippines would be a lot more productive place if:

  • The schools taught, not subservience, but sacrifice.

Then the greatest of all the natural leaders would rise harmoniously to the top and this place would really be humming.

29 Responses to “When Leaders Run into Each Other”
  1. andrew lim says:

    Your three propositions at the end is a spin. It implies that Filipinos have not progressed beyond their tribal and self-preservation instincts. That concepts like country, patriotism, sacrifice, democracy, nationhood, etc are too complex to grasp and comprehend.

    That they cannot think of things larger than themselves.

    Which is accurate for a sizable part of the population. 🙂

    PS Is there a country which has not progressed economically that much and yet exhibit very high appreciation of these concepts?

    • Joe America says:

      Ah, eggs and chickens. It takes an economy to develop appreciation, and appreciation to develop an economy. It is interesting to me that the “sizable part of the population” you mention is actually well educated. Yet . . . yet . . . what needs to be reached seems somehow a little outside the grasp.

      I’m thinking that as the middle class develops, there will develop a more robust sense of community hereabouts, to protect what people have. People will make the sacrifices necessary to protect their standing. Like, they’ll vote smart.

      My job here is to push in that direction . . .

  2. jcc says:

    Just read Nassem Taleb’s Black Swan. He said that there is no such thing as cultural identity, national culture and temperament.. People are more identified with their own group peers. A homeless in the U.S. would have the same cultural awakening with that homeless in RP. U.S. doctors, lawyers and other professionals would have the same behavior as Philippine doctors, lawyers etc… variance in outlook and thinking would differ slightly only. It is a must read for liberals and conservatives.. LP, UNA, Akbayan, Nationalista Party, even KBL.

  3. Joe: “I know, but I can assure you this young man’s attitude is not simply being a kid. He is dominant over peers in school, his older cousins, the maid, the neighbors, and even the priest.”

    “Of course, as a doting dad, I am inclined to say ‘he’s a natural-born leader.’ And, indeed, he does take the lead in a lot of school projects and in play activities. Even if older kids are in the crowd.”

    – I’m so disappointed with you Joe. You raised your son like a trapo kid. What’s next? A mestizo kid thinking he is a demi-god in this country. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    “No one has taught them sacrifice, only being subservient or being authoritative.”

    -Yes, I think this system of authoritarian ways are deeply ingrained in the Filipino psyche. If you’re a subordinate you have to follow blindly until your time comes to be the tyrant.

    You want scholarly evidence? Here’s Geert Hofstede work on how values in the workplace are influenced by culture.

    As the icing on the cake, I posted a link to Philippine’s score: (Hint: the Power Distance score tells a lot). You can also compare the country’s score to countries like Sweden, Norway and even US.


    • Joe America says:

      David, I regret to inform you that he is well on the way to demi-god, being so drop-dead handsome that women stop in the middle of the street to goo goo at him and otherwise build his ego up to a size I work mighty hard to deflate as constructively as possible. The women are winning, I fear. They know not what they do . . .

      That link is about the most fascinating read I’ve had in my entire time in the Philippines. Rather a Myers Briggs personality profile for nations. I do believe it will become the subject of a blog here. You can write it, or I will.

      • Joe America says:

        I ran comparisons against the United States and against Taiwan. Absolutely fascinating, truly. That’s a very instructive instrument. It puts into pictures what I spend blog after blog writing about.

      • I guess it would be better if you do so. I don’t have the luxury of time because of work. Anyway, you have your past blogs to build on; however, I think the formula was done in the 70s. It’d be better if you can communicate with Hofstede himself.

        On your kid: Ahhhhhh the perks of being “tisoy” in this country.

    • Joseph-Ivo says:

      Geert Hofstede and the other expert is Fons Trompenaars both Dutch, one was working for IBM, the other for Shell. The origins of their thinking come from the American sociologist Talcott Parsons. But careful with country averages, both were working for international companies assisting managers to adapt abroad. Especially in the Philippines I have the feeling that the top managers score much closer to American managers than the “masses” are.

      But both are good reading to understand how an American looks at people in a foreign country. Joeam, although not an average American, his articles are based on perceptions grounded on facts and coloured by his past experiences and American culture.

      But looking at Talcott’s 7 cultural dimensions in detail would require more than a full blog.

      • Joe America says:

        I appreciate the background, and I will indeed consider the indicators as thought provoking and speculative rather than any kind of certain truth. I did find the Philippine scoring consistent with my general layman’s observations. I think some of the qualities clearly apply to the masses, too, for instance the tendencies to recognize hierarchies. Like who is powerful and who is not. I appreciate the reference to Talcott’s 7 dimensions, too, as a reminder that I might try picking other people’s brains not just careen around inside my own. 🙂

  4. cha says:

    I’m in Singapore at the moment, have been for the last couple of days. Everywhere we eat, there’s always at least one Filipino employed to serve our food. A friend who lives here says there’s about 20,000 Filipinos now residing in Singapore ; working in the food service industry, in tourism and entertainment, some in professional/ technical positions and others as domestic helpers. They endure the sense of isolation , some the insecurity of being sent back home anytime they displease their employers and for most that void that can only be filled by setting foot in the home country once again.

    So I don’t know that the Filipinos can be said to have an underdeveloped sense of sacrifice. In fact, I am even inclined to think that the Filipino has a great capacity to endure hardship for the sake of the people they care about.

    But only for the people they care about. The community and country, alas, does not usually inspire as much commitment from the Filipino as his close inner circle of family and friends.

    So maybe therein lies the problem. Or should we say opportunity? For if you can get more Filipinos to care about their communities, their environment and their country (as many, undoubtedly already do), just imagine how much more progress can be achieved and how much easier and faster it will be.

    • Joe America says:

      Very sharp clarification, Cha. I’ll agree that Filipinos can sacrifice for themselves and their families, and that the missing “sacrifice” I observe is for the greater community of others, or the nation. I’m guessing that as the Philippines progresses economically and the middle class grows (partly a function of OFW sacrifices), the deeper pride to appreciate what we have and respect for the nation and others will grow. Rather a positive spiral.

      Respect for others. That is rather the missing shading perhaps. Too many anti’s about.

      • Joe America says:

        ps, enjoy Singapore. Remember not to throw your gum on the sidewalk.

        • cha says:

          Lol, I leave my half pocket of chewing gum (bought in Sydney) in the hotel when I’m out and about. Too afraid to get arrested simply by chewing gum in public. Although almost a week here and have yet to see a policeman or any other uniformed person trying to enforce rulles and instill discipline. My friend says the police only ever come out when something actually happens, like an accident or something. And yet it all seems so peaceful and orderly.

          If banning chewing gum can lead to this, maybe the Philippines ought to do the same noh? 🙂

          • Joe America says:

            Singapore reminds me of a home that is so neat and orderly that one cannot comfortably sit down without a twinge of guilt, for having rumpled the upholstery. The Philippines only needs more trash bins and disposal operators, not rules. The rumpled look suits the place. I can sit down fine here.

          • cha says:

            Then I take it you will not feel comfortable in my ‘neat and orderly’ home. 🙂

          • andrew lim says:


            I made that same observation when we were in Singapore the last time. I opined to my wife that Singapore’s laws are being obeyed by its citizens not because there are cctvs and officers ready to pounce on you when you commit an infraction. Laws are obeyed and things are orderly because they have succeeded in creating a culture that honors it, and an economy that supports it (Lee made sure that govt bureaucrats would be paid well and would attract some of its best and brightest.) . And it is just passed to each succeeding generation.

            There may have been a time in the past when people had to be shepherded with sticks but that is long gone.

            It had attained what seems impossible to others: a citizenry that is mature enough to do the right thing not because authorities will punish if you do not; but rather because it simply is the right thing.

            What’s amazing to me is that they were able to do all this, and they are not even religious! 🙂

          • Joe America says:

            @cha, I was speaking metaphorically. My level of comfort depends on the graciousness of the host, and maybe can be influenced by the level of the wine. I rather suspect I’d be totally comfortable at your home.

          • Joe America says:

            @andrew, I don’t wish to argue with a loyal reader, but my Singaporean first wife kept punishing me if I did the wrong thing.

  5. andrew lim says:


    Precisely! Many Singaporeans take it upon themselves to act as deputized enforcers of the law. Unless your ex was a police officer, in which case you’re the one who should be asked why you chose someone who could handcuff you in more ways than one. 🙂

    • Joe America says:

      ahahaha, she was not a police officer, but did have a doctoral degree in Criticism. She preferred knives over handcuffs . . . fortunately, she was one of those non-religious types you mention who also believed in divorce. Our marriage cost us about $18.50 (blood tests) and the divorce about $35 (filing fee; uncontested). This was back when I was either cheap or broke or both. She didn’t really like either of those qualities . . . now that you mention it.

  6. Christy A. says:

    You are a keen observer, JoeAm. It is sadly true that most of my kababayan are like this. I used to live in Cebu. My parents, are, however, not the typical filipinos. From my mum’s side there are honest and generous people. Even one of them is serving the church (not as a priest) and has helped more with kids who can’t get education and food. My mum’s are the only rare ones left there. My dad’s family (but not my dad) are what you do describe here. They’re what you call “hangol” or greedy. A lot of them are “kuripot” or stingy. So even when my parents were really in dire straits (because even being a teacher there gets you paid like a factory labourer), even asking to borrow off money (and my parents do give them back what they owe) gets them scorned or receive some form of mistrust from them as if they’re thieves. My parents don’t like begging, but in an unstable economy over there, who can’t resist it?

    Then we left in 2005 for Australia, and my parents here even still help struggling filipinos over here and over back home for any financial problems. And they never even ask from them anything in return. There are still people like that out there, it is just that we aren’t as loud or aren’t as influential to them.

    There used to be a lot of them years back. But gradually because of the rape of trust time and time again from trapos, they have no choice but to search elsewhere for greener pastures. It’s really disheartening that a lot of us have a lot of potential, but are being hijacked from the mentality that’s been ingrained in us since the Spanish colonial times. I truly believe they’re the real culprits to what we’ve become.

    • Joe America says:

      Ahh, “the rape of trust”, such a damaging thing. When everyone is out for themselves at the exclusion of the well-being of others, then trust is hard to generate. When I was a bank executive, we had a weekend retreat that was essentially a trust-building event. We’d do these exercises like being led through obstacle courses blindfolded, or falling backward off of platforms into the arms of others, to develop a stronger sense of reliance on others. One often wonders in the Philippines, if one fell off the platform, would anyone bother to catch . . . Family, yes, they’d be there. Outside family??? Hmmmmm . . .

  7. David Murphy says:

    The Hofstede-Trompenaars descriptions reminded me of those personality descriptions tied to something like color preference. They work because they’re so general that most everyone can see themselves in them. Add to that one of the principles that I’ve evolved during my time here: “For everything you can say about the Filipino, the opposite is also true.” The Filipino is not that easy to define. Yes, most Filipinos have much stronger family ties than most Americans but I’ve encountered numerous anecdotes about siblings who have cheated sibs out of inheritances or in business. Yes, Filipinos are hospitable but there’s often a sense that under the surface there’s a calculation about possible advantages to be seized. I’ve experienced what I perceived to be more genuine generosity from the poor than from the wealthy. But I’ve also seen them exhibit that same calculating attitude, but perhaps more obvious because they were less sophisticated.
    I haven’t lived in the US for a long time and things may have changed but my experience was that about 80% of people there were honest, for example, they would not steal even if no one would know. My impression is that the percentage here is about 40-50%. The difference is seen in the practices of government and businesses. Paperwork, documentation, original copies, signatures, verifications are required here because it is assumed that the person involved will cheat if given the opportunity. Few people will send a check through the Philippine Postal Service. Think about it for a moment. Everything in the US is based on the assumption that you are honest. A few days after I went back to the US I was able to walk into a Wells Fargo Bank in California and withdraw $100 without being able to present any valid ID, although my home bank was in Denver. That’s an extreme example but consider how credit cards are sent through the mails, auto registrations are done by mail. Here the vehicle identification number has to be stenciled from the engine and the photo of the tech who does the emissions test is attached to the report. If anything, the view in the US is overly optimistic, as the number of identity thefts suggest but that just reinforces the point. Things can work more efficiently in the US because integrity is assumed. Living here has been an enlightening experience in that I’ve become aware of the value of personal integrity and I treasure the friendship of those who possess it.
    My hope is that as official dishonesty is exposed and punished the percentage of honest people, of people with integrity, will begin to climb until it becomes socially unacceptable to steal, cheat, bribe or be bribed or to tolerate those who do. Once that critical point is reached, there will be a fundamental change in Philippine society. A wider view of one’s moral and ethical responsibilities will expand one’s view beyond the extended family to include the nation and the world.
    Well, I can dream, can’t I?
    PS I have a 13 year old son who sounds very much like yours. He won’t be happy until he has my job. I’ve said that he may be the president of the country or the leader of a kidnap for ransom gang but whatever he does, he’s going to be the leader. If you know of The Enneagram, he is a Type 2, known as “The Boss”, and he has been since he was two years old. You have my sympathy.

    • David Murphy says:

      Sorry, he’s a Type 8, The Boss. My wife is a Type 2, the Martyr.

    • Joe America says:

      Couldn’t have typed it better myself. Very well put observations that I agree with. The only shading I would put on it is that here, dishonest is not considered dishonest in many instances. It is considered a practical way to get forward when the system is so ridiculous and everyone else is dishonest, too, and getting ahead. That’s why half the motorcycle drivers in town have no license. They can’t afford the fees, hate the LTO, and simply dodge around the occasional road block inspection. So until there is reason to the way government works, and enforcement that is legitimate, then dishonesty is just the way things work. Not a negative. And it is a win/lose culture, a battle of powers, so being calculating is simply the best way forward.

      I share your hope, that there will be a cultural shape-shifting toward more considerate social values.

      Ahahahahaha,another Type 8, eh? Master crook or master politician, but not a wishy-washy follower. You have my sympathy, too. But it looks like he’s got you shaped up okay, so I won’t worry about it too much.

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