Philippine national character: obedient or responsible?

The difference between obedience and responsibility? Mayor Dutete and Vice President Robredo. [Photo source UNTV via Yahoo! News]


My son is old enough now to do some healthy introspection, so we have been having a dialogue about how one becomes a healthy, happy, ‘successful’ human being. We’ve started by defining three planks of healthy development:

  1. Character
  2. Competence
  3. Knowledge

Our exercise this morning erupted in a riot of laughter. He and I share moments of . . . well . . . colorful language. He gets his from YouTube gaming videos and I got mine from the Army. His mother scowls at both of us, in the main. This morning over the breakfast table, Joe Junior did a particularly funny and timely bit of swearing that cracked me up. I shall refrain from getting into the details here. His mother scowled.

I explained to his mother, my boss, that knowing when to use swear words and when not to is character. Using them well is competence.

I fear that President Duterte has weaknesses in both character and competence.

In terms of colorful language, my son knows more than the President about character and competence.

But I digress.

Filipinos can choose what kind of nation they want to have.

  1. Character
  2. Competence
  3. Knowledge

But it is not so straightforward. Filipino history and culture is a convoluted mix of tribal heritage, dynastic rule, colonial mastery, and Western-style education taught by rote (obedient) rules. The upshot is that most Filipinos have learned to be obedient to power, but not responsible to values. And self.

I see this in the school slogans that talk about discipline and following instructions, but not about being responsible, in a self-determined way.

The difference between obedience and responsibility is basically the difference between dictatorship and democracy.

  • The obedient citizen requires someone to tell him what is right or wrong, and what to do.
  • The responsible citizen figures out for himself what is right or wrong, and does what is right.

Being responsible requires knowledge. One has to understand values, concepts like equality, fairness, justice, and truth. Being obedient requires none of that.

This shows us the Philippines in a nutshell, today. Most of the masses are not used to thinking for themselves in the way that I’ve defined as being responsible. They have followed the orders of the tribal leaders, dynastic barons, or the colonists. They understand that obedience is the best way to get their bread buttered and not be punished.

Being responsible has another component to it: trusting in others. We presume that others have the same VALUES that define what is responsible . . . and will treat people equally, with fairness and justice based on truth.

Unfortunately, in the Philippines, it is risky for people to presume . . . say, honesty . . . in others because neither local dynasties nor the current government share these values. They tend toward self-interest, expedience, and authoritarian control. They set aside notions of fairness, truth, and justice.

So the democracy advocates, the yellows, have an uphill trek to try to get votes from people who don’t even understand responsibility. And if they exercised it, might get punished. While the authoritarians are filling their heads with lies and threats and telling them the correct way to vote.

But for voters, at the private, individual level, it is a choice. Obedience or responsibility?

The easy path of obedience or the hard path of responsibility?

Perhaps the best way to frame it is to ask voters what kind of future they want for their kids.

Do they want them to be obedient servants, or self-made men and women?

I think most parents would vote for the leaders who will give their kids the richest future.


67 Responses to “Philippine national character: obedient or responsible?”
  1. Francis says:

    “We are condemned to be free,” a bit I got from class recently.

    I wonder how Filipinos would react to such a notion.

    People love Duterte. The surveys show that. Opposition is a measly minority; there is no Silent Majority. This is no America; USA should thank her lucky stars—if you were to calculate survey ratings in the US the way they do it here, Trump would be net-negative.

    Duterte is still sky-high positive.


    I place myself in the slippers of DE Filipino. I have this druggie relative or neighbor (maybe more than one in the family or neighborhood) that (at best) wasted the money I loaned or (at worst) threatened me with a knife or what-have-you in some drug-fueled crazy state.

    God, Duterte placed them all in prisons. And the worst ones—splat. Thank God. Why can’t the yellow media talk about my deadbeat asshole cousin/uncle/brother Mang X? Why can’t the yellow media talk about all the Mang X’s who now don’t mess around in the community, the streets clean of all the Mang X’s? The ones who deserve it?

    Why does the yellow media keep talking about that one innocent guy who got caught up in it all? It’s just one guy?


    “Discipline” is a matter of control, not just of being “tough.” It is a sort of virtue in the Aristotelian sense—a mean, a moderation. To be “disciplined” is to know when to not only be “tough” but also to be “gentle.” Homeostasis.

    To be relentlessly tough must be to fuel some dark emotion which may end up consuming you over time. No control. No discipline.

    In that sense, “human rights” are a form of discipline for the mob tendencies of the public. Much like stopping a kid from consuming too much candy, as absurd that comparison may be.

    • Nice portrait of the common man’s perspective. It is one that seeks obedience for others, whilst continuing to have the privileges of freedom for oneself.

      Discipline has different definitions depending on the view of the beholder. To some (Duterte), it is a synonym for obedience. For others, it is self-control, generally along some moral line of behavior, as you explain. Human rights define the moral line along which discipline is to be applied, one person to another.

  2. karlgarcia says:

    We obey because of fear or convenience.
    We violate many rules, regulations and ordinances even if we are supposed to follow them for our own good.

    People got afraid of curfews and hanging out for a while for fear of arrest and death in prison, after the fear subsided back to glory days.
    So we are neither responsible or sincerely obedient at all.

    • I believe that is true, and true for almost all of us. We all carry a bit of hypocrisy in our backpacks.

      • karlgarcia says:

        We all swore the hypocritic oath.

      • Francis says:

        True. We are all hypocritical, to a certain extent.

        We fail to realize though (ex. the First Daughter’s statements) two things:

        1. The importance of a noble lie/fiction in keeping ourselves sane, in holding our society together, or in simply mitigating that evil that the lie is about in the first place. “All politicians lie” is “true” but to openly say and admit it is to do damage to the norm that “Politicians should not lie” and therefore ironically worsen the situation.

        2. That just because everyone indulges in hypocrisies does not mean that all hypocrisies or approaches to hypocrisy are all equally valid. Some hypocrisies are preferable compared to others.

        Just because one is dirty, doesn’t mean one should get as dirty as possible. Even in imperfect markets, companies do still seek to maximize profit—a bit of a weird analogy but: even in morally flawed and sinful societies, people still must seek to maximize virtue to the best of their capacities.

        • One of the more challenging discussions I’m having with my son is whether lying can ever be good (or moral). I think it can be.

        • Or to say it like Tulfo: human nature is inherently lazy, but we should strive to work harder than President Duterte. Though I believe the Dutard strives to make others work for him while sitting pretty on stolen money.

          Maybe that is the Filipino (or Dutards) dream? Mandurugas paradise? Live as much like Tulfos, Honeylet and Kitty as possible with all the perks?

  3. This article by Prof. Vicente Rafael is on topic:

    It essentially and eerily sees barbarian forms of rule where it is either dominate or be dominated. Lots of Foucault but OK..

  4. “Perhaps the best way to frame it is to ask voters what kind of future they want for their kids.

    Do they want them to be obedient servants, or self-made men and women?”

    The choice in the Philippines today is master or servant. But even masters like Digong or Tulfo are in turn servants of China. *Gong sounds*

  5. edgar lores says:

    1. The dichotomy of obedience and responsibility can be expressed in several ways.

    o servility vs. assertiveness
    o neediness vs. self-reliance
    o dependence vs. independence

    1.1. I like the contra of responsibility because — unlike the direct antithesis of obedience which is disobedience – the term connotes something else entirely. It connotes proper behavior rather than improper behavior. And it connotes accountability, the acceptance of being answerable for consequences. Whatever they may be.

    2. The essay touches on the history of why Filipinos are obedient. Successive waves of master/servant relationships have conditioned Filipinos to a social stratification between those with power and the powerless. As Irineo notes, even Duterte is a tuta to Xi Jinping. And internally, China reflects the master/servant paradigm as well.

    3. The hierarchical stratification can be seen in all aspects of society:

    o In the family – elders vs. youngsters; amo vs. maid
    o In religion – imam/priest vs. believer
    o In politics – politician vs. voter; dynasties vs. independents
    o In government — executive vs. legislature/judiciary
    o In economics – employers vs. contractors
    o In school – rote learning vs. critical thinking

    4. Both Islam and that Roman Catholic version of Christianity foster the obedience mindset. The former is perhaps more rigid in the observance of strictures on food, dress, daily prayer ritual, social customs, and pilgrimage. The latter, as I have noted before, sets the pope as the ultimate authority and interposes the church/clergy between the believer and God.

    5. I have not read any major newspaper columnist who is a religious nonconformist.

    6. I have not seen or read a politician disavow the major religions — except until now. This politician rants about religion and religious beliefs but there is no clarity to his thinking. His confusion is now reflected in the state of the nation. What is clear is that he is a slave to power and an abuser of power.

    7. Alas, in the Filipino, there is no real independence of thought and feeling. We are trapped in historical amber.

    7.1. A beauty queen shows more gumption and a true-north moral compass than the president and the majority of Congress.

    • Wow, with such a powerful recitation of how hierarchy is built into our natural cultural and institutional fabric, I am astounded that America and the democracies she spawned have had any success at all. It is understandable that the US, Great Britain, and the Philippine democracies have eroded somewhat to become places where giant tribes are trying to master others to assume that vertical place of great power.

      Democracy is unnatural. It is high minded, compassionate, just, inspiring . . . but not natural.

      • caliphman says:

        That there are countries have cultures and traditions which is more conducive for democracy to take root and thrive is not an issue. The Philippines is not one if them even with 40 years of political tutelage and institutional transplants as an American colony. Ferdinand Marcos and Duterte are only examples of how the Philippine carabao mentality can be subservient if not willing to cheer on or collaborate with the dismantling of their democratic rights. I think the best hope for the country to avoid sinking into the morass of being another failed banana republic or prolonged autocracy is by some miracle another democratic leader like Aquino or Magsaysay emerges who can try to start steering the government away from the path of dictatorship. It anything is certain, Filipinos have other priorities other than a democratic future for their country in choosing or changing their leaders. Changing social culture and behavior will take generations if at all.

        • I agree there is a huge futility to expecting people to have a passion for freedom when they don’t really know what it feels like.

          • edgar lores says:

            I believe they believe they are free.


            The idea of slavery is of a Negro enchained or working in the fields pickin’ cotton for no pay.

            o The ordinary man in the street has no idea he is enslaved to ignorance.
            o Revilla has no idea he is enslaved to material wealth.
            o Jinggoy has no idea he is enslaved to pleasures.
            o Pacquiao has no idea he is enslaved to self-glorification.
            o Angara has no idea he is enslaved to preeminence.
            o Poe has no idea she is enslaved to ambition.
            o Arroyo has no idea she is enslaved to deviltry.
            o Duterte has no idea he is enslaved by delusions of power.

            They think they are free because each has chosen their passion… not realizing that that passion holds them in the tightest embrace of captivity.

            All are enslaved to this idea of a grand self and have no real concern or consideration for others.

            One can have a passion. One can be possessed by a passion. But the essential qualities of true freedom are (a) recognition of the equal passion of others; (b) respect for the freedom of others to choose (but not necessarily respect for their choices); and (c) humility.

            • The gap between what they believe and what they know (or don’t know) is a rather substantial place where knowledge ought to reside but doesn’t, generally for reasons of disadvantage, a no-fault contract it seems to me. We all have some of it. Yes, true freedom is attached to true compassion and sacrifice of self because freedom without honor is bondage. Good lord, I’m channeling General MacArthur or Lincoln or some other quotable notable.

          • NHerrera says:


            The comments of Caliphman and QuietPoetic [see below] are related. Paraphrasing: the past and contemporary PH experiences are such that knowledge-based democracy for the future may most probably not be achieved. This does not diminish the importance of the aspiration and suggestions for the moves toward that ideal that TSH has championed. This, of courses, does not consider a dramatic event with miraculous consequence [less than 10 percent probability?] that may rally the masses to positive action [and we hope it will last this time around].

            The population and population density — although the rates of increase has abated — archipelagic geography with associated many dialects and mini-cultures, among others, make the move towards even 70 percent of the ideal a hard thing to achieve — what with the time-constraining disaster from Global Warning.

            In this regard, I have scanned and started to read at a slower pace the 800-page 2017 book Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert Sapolsky — a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University.

            Sapolsky, in my opinion, scientifically supports the view I expressed above. As a measure of the value of the book, here is one reviewer’s comment:

            “A masterly cross-disciplinary scientific study of human behavior: What in our glands, our genes, our childhoods explains our species’ capacity for both altruism and brutality? This comprehensive and friendly survey of a ‘big sprawling mess of a subject’ is leavened by an impressive data-to-silly joke ratio. It has my vote for science book of the year.” — Parul Sehgal, New York Times

            • Yes, nice encapsulation of the situation. “Aspiration” derived from democracy is known to those who have received some share of its riches. Freedom and opportunity are FEELINGS the masses simply cannot relate to. They have to see BENEFITS AHEAD, and there is little future for the poor, just another day like today. The wealth of the nation probably defines its political character, and the Philippines is still too much the money grubbing nation where everyone is trying to improve their lot no matter who gets stepped on. Maybe as a richer nation, more people will realize the importance of future rewards as a motivation for current election choices.

              Thanks for introducing us to Sapolsky. Stanford is a very reputable place, academically.

  6. QuietPoetic says:

    Here’s a thought experiment:

    The Philippines has an average IQ of 86. Malaysia is 92; Singapore is 108; Indonesia is 87; Libya is 83. It is debatable that when Gaddafi died, Libya went into shambles. Though he was a dictator, it was better of when he was their ruler than Libya’s current situation.

    Maybe (just maybe) the Filipino people are not cut out for a total democracy.

    • karlgarcia says:

      What’s in a name?
      Even USA is not a pure democracy.
      We can see memes saying if US is a democracy then……

      Variery is a spice of life.
      No to authoriansm, no to dictatorship.
      Yes to accountability and responsibility of leaders and the people.

      • OT. I googled ‘MMT is nonsense’ and the criticisms of the theory are downright hostile. One said it has no traction to economists because it is like biologists believing in creationism. Here’s one that is not quite that hostile:

        • karlgarcia says:

          Thanks for the OT

        • karlgarcia says:

          The rich may migrate to Portugal if Brazil s economy tanks.

        • NHerrera says:

          Not quite so hostile, but the three charts that starts the article entitled Demographic Pincer says:

          [I eye-balled the numbers from the charts.]

          – As Brazil’s economy developed over the decades, life expectancy has risen [from 53 in 1960 to 75 in 2015]

          – while fertility rates have declined [from an average of 6 to 1.8 births per woman over the same period]

          – leading to fewer workers to support the elderly [from about 15 to about 8 people aged 20-64 supporting every person 65 years of age or older for the same period 1960-2015 — projected to be about 2+ in 2050: a gaping social-security deficit.

          The above and this paragraph from the link — if the statistics are correct — spells big trouble ahead for Brazil:

          Nationally, more than half of sewage goes untreated. The average adult has just eight years of formal schooling. Retirement outlays already eat up 43% of Brazil’s national budget, and health care about 7%, while two expenditures that are critical to economic development—education and infrastructure—claim only about 3% each.

          • edgar lores says:

            43%? Wow, That seems inordinately high.

            In terms of GDP, Brazil’s retirement spend is 9.1% vs. Australia’s 4.0%. (2015 data)

            Greece is 16.2%.

            Brazil and Greece have low retirement ages.

            o “Brazilian men typically retire at age 54 and women at 52, earlier than in even the most socialist of European countries, which have the money Brazil dreams it had. On average, Brazil pays its public employees 90% of their final salary indexed to inflation for life.”

            o “Greece once had a generous pension system – too generous to be sustainable, especially with an aging population. Retirement was possible from as early as the age of 55 after 30 years of work. Many had extra perks: public sector employees could retire as early as 52. Some women with young children could retire with a reduced pension at 50.”

        • caliphman says:

          MMT as our resident advocate Micha might clarify is more a potential policy option for the US whose currency the dollar is established internationally as a medium of transaction and central bank reserve asset. Neither Brazil or Japan have the flexibility to just print money without regard to the extent of deficits and debt it may be accumulating. If they do, their currencies become worthless and shunned overseas as supply greatly exceeds demand. The other main problem with MMT which even the US faces is that at some point inflation will rear its ugly head as domestically the supply of money generated become so much greater than the country’s annual production of goods and services. Then the threat of galloping inflation becomes a concern as even domestically prices reflect the oversupply of monetary and financial assets relative to the limits of what the economy can produce locally or import ocerseas.

          Those articles also focus more on budgetary issues related to servicing the debt piled up from accumulated deficit spending so that other national necessities are squeezed out. It neither supports nor debunks MMT as the latters thesis is that money is just printed and budget balancing is not a proper concern. They fail to address the consequences and concerns of accomodating increased debt service and also spending for national priorities by continued deficits.

          • caliphman says:

            Same comment on the shrinking working vis a vis retirement population and how a budgetary crisis accelerates as pension layouts cannot be supported contributions from wage earners.

        • Micha says:

          Joe America,

          If you are interested in understanding the whole picture and not just the spin and mischaracterizations of impaired orthodoxy, read this explanation from William Black:

          And this from Randall Wray:

        • Micha says:


          The author of your linked article is, to be generous, an economic simpleton. Did he not realize that as of the first quarter of 2019, Brazil has total external debt of $663 billion? Those are loans denominated and payable NOT in Brazilian Real but in foreign currencies.

          By accumulating foreign denominated debts, Brazil is not practicing MMT.

          And yet the author headlines his article as Brazil, a showcase of MMT failure. What a dunce.

        • chemrock says:

          MMT is Micha’s advocacy but she has never properly explained what it’s all about despite the many requests.

          I will venture a short and crisp explanation of what MMT is. In a nutshell MMT is about a different way of managing macroeconomics. It is about using direct injection of money into the economy by govt expenditure instead of through monetarypolicies of the central bank routed through the financial institutions.

          With political populism on the rise, MMT is gaining traction again. So we have Bernie Sanders and AOC as the new expertise. I like to a country to be first on the block and watch how its currency fair on the international foreign exchange market.

      • Quiet Poetic says:

        What’s in a name as well in terms of dictatorship?

        My point is we can’t force democracy/freedom to people who clearly don’t want or understand it.

  7. I find this a relevant article:

    Help your family
    Help your group
    Return favors
    Be brave
    Defer to superiors
    Divide resources fairly
    Respect others’ property

    • edgar lores says:

      This is interesting.

      1. The rules are descriptive rather than prescriptive. They describe how people behave rather than how they should behave.

      2. Right from the start, the rules lean towards utilitarianism (or consequentialism) rather than towards deontology or virtue. Morality is defined as that which “promotes cooperation.” Thus, the main concern is the good of society rather than (a) the inherent rightness or wrongness of actions or (b) the virtues of the moral character of the individual.

      3. Taken individually, the rules are subject to gross misinterpretation.

      3.1. ”Help your family.” What if your family is engaged in a criminal enterprise? Like our political dynasties.

      3.2. ”Defer to superiors.” What if the most superior individual sponsors state terrorism and state summary executions? Like Duterte.

      4. Taken as a whole, the rules can be seen as a spectrum wherein the “needle,” the norm, is not established.

      4.1. If we were to view the rules from the perspective of Filipino society, one would adjudge our society to be positioned on the far, far right of the spectrum for all of the rules.

      4.1. ”Help your family.” We suffer from amoral familism.
      4.2. ”Help your group.” What is our group? Clan? Tribe? Nation? In any case, we suffer from amoral clannism/regionalism.
      4.3. ”Return favors.” We suffer from excessive horse-trading and utang-na-loob.
      4.4. ”Be brave.” We are millions of cowards and a handful of SOBs.
      4.5. ”Defer to superiors.” An atavist presides over the handful of SOBs.
      4.6. ”Divide resources fairly.” The rich have justice, the poor have nothing.
      4.7. ”Respect others’ property.” Marcos, Arroyo, Enrile, Revilla, Estrada, etc. Need one say more?

      5. The common moral code shared by Filipinos is NOT cooperation, NOT the promotion of the common good. The moral code is: “All for me/us, and none for you.”

      6. The study is based on 60 societies. The Philippines may have been one of them, although I tend not to think so. To that extent, rules 1, 3, and 5 are fully observed, and rule 2 is partially observed. But rules 4, 6, and 7 are not.

      • Micha says:

        “All for me/us, and none for you” is the vile maxim that Adam Smith detested as he saw it being practiced by the feudal lords of his time not knowing that the same toxic irredeemable greed also reside in the unyielding hearts of our present day CEO’s, parasitic bankers and despicable oligarchs.

        • edgar lores says:

          Ah, fancy that. Adam Smith quoting Edgar Lores. 🙂

          The full quote seems to be: “All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.”

  8. Andres 2018 says:


    If the citizens are generally responsible, the government’s participations in the citizen’s domestic affairs are expected to be at its least. A nonresponsible citizen should expect a meddling government, or an authoritarian one at most. If to rate 1 to 10, how responsible are we? The government’s tone should be based on that. Interestingly, if we are obedient to the goverment we are treated as a responsible citizen, e.g. follow laws and rules > obedient > responsible citizen.

  9. caliphman says:

    I am sorry but that requires an extended out of topic discussion. Rather than trying to figure out the flaws of an untested niche theory, perhaps its better to focus on what are the arguments and evidence which would justify considering MMT as a potential mainstream macroeconomic theory. The primary reason neoliberal politicians with questionable economic credentials like Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez bring it up is it allows them to dodge the issue of how the US can afford the enormous deficits their Medicare for all, green deal, and other populist programs would generate. Perhaps at another more appropriate time when MMT, Reagan’s trickle down economics, and other unproven theories are worth examining.

    • Micha says:

      Hahaha, the blog owner himself started this OT discussion so it stands to reason he wouldn’t probably mind further discussion on the matter although I wouldn’t expect it will be that fruitful owing to the fact that you still couldn’t seem to make up your mind on what it is you disagree with MMT despite the several resources I have already provided.

      I would take that stance merely as a shallow attempt to brush aside something that you couldn’t fully endorse because of its apparent unorthodoxy and not necessarily because you have some fundamental disagreement. As you yourself said, it is already happening anyway.

      “The primary reason neoliberal politicians with questionable economic credentials like Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez…”

      Now that statement is so out of sync. Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez are NOT neoliberal politicians. They are in fact fierce opponents of neoliberalism.

      Their social democratic proposals like GND and Medicare For All can be funded by authority of congressional fiat using the tools and insights that MMT provides.

      • karlgarcia says:

        I tried to understand, I even attempted to discuss it with TSOH twice, the first one I left the floor to you.

        Still for clarification, you want everyone to just borrow domestically and in using one’s own currency and get rid of external debt?
        And just print money instead of borrowing and congress can invoke their power of the purse and deficits are good because they won’t exist because everything will be balanced.

        What about ODA? .
        What about trade?
        What about multilatetal and bilateral relations?

        Am I asking the right questions?

      • We need a new label, I guess, because they are new and liberal but not neo (new) liberal. So they are neo-liberal anti-neo-liberals. They are terrorizing the calcified conservatives who resort to complaining about AOC’s college dance moves, a sure sign of panic.

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