Tragedy of denial in the Philippines

By JoeAm

I hope you had the opportunity to read Chemrock’s article entitled Tragedy of the Commons in the Philippines. It gets right to the heart of the personal and social malaise that infests the country leading to bad behaviors, bad decisions, and bad results. Poverty is the worst of the outputs. State-sanctioned murder is another. Gifting of Filipino rights and resources to China is a third.

The tragedy of the commons results when people choose immediate rewards that later punish the children, or choose self-benefiting rewards that eventually punish the collective . . . which can be family, tribe, or nation. Do read the article to see how this works.

I’d offer that there are two other tragedies that also contribute in a huge way to bad behaviors, bad decisions, and bad results in the Philippines. The three tragedies are:

  • Tragedy of the commons
  • Tragedy of denial
  • Tragedy of ignorance

I’d like to deal with the second of these in this article, and ignorance in a later commentary.

Denial is the action one takes to avoid accountability for the behaviors of oneself or others.

Accountability is a form of truth. It is an acceptance that results occurred, either good or bad. Accountability sets emotions aside in favor of objective analysis. When results are bad, there is a reason for that and, often, a way to avoid the same problems in the future. One ‘owns’ or accepts the results for what they are.

Accountability is hard to find in the Philippines. Denial is its substitute.

The evidence that confirms denial is rampant in the Philippines is the repetition of mistakes with no corrective action taken. For example, voters repeatedly elect poorly qualified public officials. No anti-dynasty laws or laws imposing stricter standards to qualify for office are passed. There is never a cure.

Other persistent bad results we can witness are:

  • Poor construction of buildings and transportation infrastructure
  • Failure to protect the quality of water near coastlines
  • Allowing homes to be built in unsafe areas
  • Traffic congestion
  • Dangerous driving or seafaring; deadly accidents
  • Corruption
  • Wasteful spending
  • Expensive electricity
  • Government agency inefficiency

These are the kinds of outputs that occur when people in charge of things fail to learn lessons or implement changes based on bad results. Mistakes are made and all the energy goes into, not learning from them and correcting them, but excusing and blaming them away. It truly is astounding how pronounced excusing and blaming are in the Philippines. And how rare it is for someone to say “We made a mistake, and this is what we will do to make sure it does not happen again!”

But our case is more complicated than that. What if people DO know that their behavior is wrong, and their results were bad? And what if people who know they made a mistake understand they will be severely CRITICIZED if they admit their mistake?

I’d guess that is what has happened over and over again in the Philippines for centuries. Filipinos have internalized . . . made natural . . . their effort to avoid accountability and avoid criticism. It is a social problem because the TRUTH and objective analysis is always the best way forward, but the social system in the Philippines forces denial.

Therein lies the tragedy of denial in the Philippines.

The social values here punish accountability and force denial. They force a failure to look honestly at problems, a failure to learn from mistakes, and a failure to implement programs that correct the mistakes.

What can be done about it?

  • Schools must be better at teaching social accountability. They need to teach that sacrifice and giving to the GROUP is just as important as pursuing one’s own pleasure. They need to teach about self-worth and strength of character.
  • Leaders need to show how accountability is done, not lead in the exercise of blames and excuses.
  • A public service campaign can be run to educate the people about accountability in a number of areas, trash disposal and vehicle safety among them. How much better that than spending taxpayer money on trolls or Bong Go’s election campaign.
  • Individuals who grasp the concept must talk about it and start giving CREDIT to people who hold themselves accountable and take corrective steps.

Perhaps you have other ideas. If so, the discussion section is the place to make note of them.

Failing to take any action would be a mistake. The Philippines will never emerge from its self-punishing state as long as mistakes are taken as personal failings rather than educational moments.

Leaders should take accountability for the lack of accountability that exists across the nation. It’s a disease worse than dengue. They should do something about it.


36 Responses to “Tragedy of denial in the Philippines”
  1. edgar lores says:

    1. In most instances, denial is our defense mechanism of choice. It takes the form of “I wasn’t there.” Or most commonly, “I didn’t do it.”

    1.1. Denial is also the first stage of grief. It takes the form of “This isn’t happening.” Or “It didn’t happen.”

    2. The opposite of the first form of denial is confirmation. “I did do it.”

    2.1. And the opposite of the second form is acceptance. “It happened.”

    3. If there is tragedy in denial, is there also tragedy in confirmation and in acceptance?

    4. I am hard put to come up with an example of a tragedy in confirmation insofar as establishing that an event, tragic or otherwise, has taken place. Conversely, I can think of several tragedies in confirmation insofar as administrative procedures go.

    4.1. Take, for example, the case of the confirmation of presidential appointments by the Commission on Appointments. Depending on personal biases, you will agree that some confirmations – and some non-confirmations – have been disasters. I will name the appointment of the present ombudsman as one such. And the successive appointments of DFA secretaries as another. A trilogy of disasters.

    4.2. The non-appointment of Justice Carpio as Chief Justice is a tragedy of denial. It took the form of “I will not do it.” on the part of the President.

    5. To confirm a mistake, tragic or otherwise, has happened is the first step in taking responsibility. To accept (or own) responsibility is the second step. And to put in remedial measures is the third step.

    6. But there is also tragedy in acceptance. We, as a people, accept a lot that should not be acceptable. Among other things:

    o We accept mediocrity.
    o We accept corruption as the norm.
    o We accept EJKs.
    o We accept unpresidential behavior.
    o We accept authoritarian rule.
    o We accept injustice.

    7. In sum, at times we deny what we should accept… and at other times we accept what we should deny.

    • NHerrera says:

      edgar, as has happened so many times, your comment and the blog topic go neatly together. Thanks to you and to Joe for the blog on the “Tragedy of Denial.” Good examples to illustrate the ideas.

    • True that. Those three steps in point 5: analysis and recognition, acceptance/owning, action. So simple. So impossible for so many.

  2. karlgarcia says:

    Deny even if caught in the act, even with mountains of evidence.

    Marcos, Arroyo, Duterte and Estrada made this denial time and again.

    • NHerrera says:

      And if I may go overseas: in two years, Trump may have easily managed to get past the denial score of any of those you have cited for the same period of two years.

  3. Owning up to a mistake, even if you correct it, is I think punished worse in the Philippines than acting shamelessly blameless.

    A few SALNs not submitted or late is far worse than “skillfully” saying you didn’t know who put money on your account – and then keeping it.

    Telling the world you are Singapore is better than saying some work and we’ll be like Kuala Lumpur in six years, you get howling anger.

    Have Filipinos given up on themselves, like suicidal types or drug addicts?

    Believe you can fly and jump off the overpass?

    • NHerrera says:

      ! ! !

    • NHerrera says:

      On the guy who said [I] didn’t know who put money on [my] account – and then keeping it: there’s more — the Just-tiis has to make a peanut concession to the Gallery by convicting that guy’s Chief of Staff, the pipeline to the money from the plunder and manipulator queen, already convicted and convicted again with the COS.

    • The venom spewed at President Aquino was representative of the kind of anger that awaits the person acknowledging a mistake. My son has already observed at his young age that most people apologize with anger in their voices, as if the person they are apologizing to did the wrong. It’s all related.

  4. chemrock says:

    I was thinking of Shaggy’s “It was’nt me” whilst reading the article.

    Denial in the active proposition of not letting a party having something is neutral. Denial of due process to drug offenders is wrong. Denial to China to West Philippines islands would have been right. Denial is often a good military strategy — deny the enemy aerial superiority by destroying their air assets, etc.

    Denial in the passive proposition is perfectly fine if it is against a LIE – as De Lima refutes Duterte’s wild claims of her drug dealings. If it is against TRUTH, it is dead wrong – such as Cayetano’s dismissal of violating Kuwaiti law in the fiasco that was the DFA-Mocha engineered ‘rescue” of OFWs.

    The article is about the denial of TRUTH and thus non-acceptance of accountability, leading to a litany of excuses and blame throwing.

    That this denial for accountability is so widespread it is no doubt an issue of culture. Why are certain countries doing well, why some are mired in difficulties. The difference is in their cultures. The question asked of this blog is how to overcome this denial of accountability, and the answer really lies in a cultural change. NOw that is an Aegean stable, because culture cannot be artificially (per Pablo) massaged. It comes about from a people’s shared ways of living, ideals, shared experiences over the ages.

    Social behaviour, however, can be influenced. And after a long period of time, that social behaviour may become part of the culture of the people. It now begs the question, what or who can be such social behaviour influencers that has dented the Filipinos to the level of being denialists for accountability. The top of the heap, the number one personality, that influences a nation like no other, is the president.

    Duterte certainly is not the one cause, since Filipinos denial for accountability long preceded him. It is the political leadership that moves a nation. Where do you think Duterte’s profanities, wanton sexual innuendoes, public kissing of married women, false announcements and careless as to its veracity, shoot and ask later mentality, total disregard for protocols international foreign meetings, constant trampling on the divine, etc, etc, and in the context of this blog, a persistent disregard for short-comings, absolving those that committed errors and wrong doings, blame blame blame on drug addicts, NPA, Liberal Party, USA, Rappler, unseen destabilisers, etc, — where will all these lead to? To normalisation of more colourful Filipinos.

    The buck stops right at the top. To change a nation, change the top man.

    • Nice summary. I could have included that as one of the four proposals to make change as a sub-heading of having leaders start accepting accountability, but I’ll leave the ‘how’ to citizens.

    • edgar lores says:

      I agree the top man has a lot to answer for. He should be the role model. He should lead.

      But the onus is equally on the two other branches of government. And the various levels of governments. So many ifs.

      o If the Cabinet did not seek to corner juicy contracts…
      o If the judges and justices dispensed justice…
      o If the reps did not feed at the trough…
      o If the senators did not plunder…
      o If the mayors and governors did not kill rivals for public office…

      The checks and balances are there in theory:

      o The voters should check and replace erring officials at election time.
      o Congress should check and balance the Executive.
      o The Judiciary should check and balance the Executive and the Legislature.
      o The Executive and the Legislature should check the Judiciary through the appointment process.

      But the “small decisions” of the electorate re-elect the corrupt. And the “big decisions” of the Executive and Legislature are self-serving. And the “impartial decisions” of the Judiciary are anything but.

      Culture is key?

      o Filipino culture, as Chemrock says, is the problem.
      o American cultural values, as Joe Am says, will survive Trump.

      We shall find out in 4 months’ time whether Filipino culture can make a right turn into the high road… and whether the Filipino is worth dying for.

      My minimum in the coming senatorial elections is kwatro diretso. If the minimum is not met, there will be effectively no check and balance. And the next 3 years will be something like we haven’t seen before.

      It will be the second Reign of Greed. Far worse than the first because there is no moderating inhibition, no patina of civility.

      • chemrock says:

        Ditto everything. Everything triggers down from the top.

        Philippines cut and paste American 3 pillars of democracy but refuses to apply the very purpose it is intended for – checks and balance.


    This FB posting might be a clue about why there is so much denial in the Philippines:

    these are the most important points I see – and maybe many parents do the opposite:

    – never expect too much from children so they don’t fabricate stories just to please parents

    – try not to scold them all the time when they fail, so they will develop honesty

    – allow children to make mistakes, so they will learn a lesson from it

  6. karlgarcia says:

    The justice system must be overhauled.

    More judges,more courts, more prosecutors,etc.
    Sandingan Bayan must be improved.

    The Judicial Bar council must be improved.

    Before any charter change we must pass all those all longed folegislation like anti-dynasty, FOI,NALUA

    E-Governance must be given a try.

  7. Re denial: seems that since the trolls and fake news accounts are being reduced, the leaders are doing the trolling and faking themselves, more each day. Dream on, Sotto.

  8. chemrock says:

    Henry Sy passed away and practically all the press went to town with detailed description of his business success. Hardly anyone mentioned his good works in philanthropy. It is a casual glimpse of Filipino culture to gloss over a person’s soft side and glamourise the macho successes. Yet it is Sy’s giving nature, his generosity, that are attributes so lacking in Philippines.

  9. karlgarcia says:

    Whistleblowers have a bad history so they gave up. Sandra Cam, she just became bad through out history.

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