Unique Filipino Culture - Prof Ric Patricio

November 3, 2020

What stuff make us, Filipinos, uniquely peculiar vis-a-vis other citizens of the world?

I will dwell on standouts rather than negatives which I assure you are legions, too. But why talk anent our faults when generally the majority of us are good and great in words, hearts, souls, and deeds?

God has allowed me opportunities to travel - for academic, research, training, leisure, or cultural enrichment reason(s) - to other countries such as USA, Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, China, South Korea, Australia, Southeast Asian countries (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam) and noticed how food, clothing, shelter, character, custom, aspiration, etc., vary from one country to another.

One word sums it all: culture. As far as we can remember, since birth we Pinoys have been taught to be respectful. Po and opo, are catchwords used to end a sentence when responding to elders. We raise the back of the hand of our elders (bisa) to our foreheads to show respectfulness. We say kuya, ate, manong, manoy, nonoy, toto, neneng, manang, or Inday to our siblings. Talking back or raising voices when addressing parents, grandparents, or authorities is a taboo. In Indonesia, Bapak (Mr for elder men), Ibu (Ms for elder women), abang (brother), kaka (sister) are used. The above terms or equivalents are absent in Western cultures.

Under pandemic when face-to-face classes are not allowed, there should have been a paradigm shift in teaching primary pupils. No examinations until age 10 but mainly about GMRC or character building. Correct me if I am wrong, but that is already an ingrained practice in Japan. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul (Mark 8:36)?

A high school classmate passed away last month because of health complications (not from covid) but we had a long conversation before she flipped to the other side. Her four children, all adults now, were trained mainly by herself to greet every visitor that comes to their house. She was a firm believer of Proverbs 22:6 which reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and [or even] when he is old he will not depart from it”.

An archipelago of 7,641 islands (at low tide) based on recent discovery of 534 more from 7,107, its inhabitants may be fractious in many ways but are united by a common interest: love of country, land of birth. The last line of Lupang Hinirang emphatically asserts willingness to die (ang mamatay) - which others want revised to - ang pumatay nang dahil sa ‘yo.

Our society is an amalgam of 120+ dialects with Bisaya most spoken yet have Tagalog as national language. But our uniqueness also resonates from our ability to combine English with our spoken native dialect. So now we have Taglish, Ilongglish, etc. Let today’s millennials speak and you’ll discover that they are well-conversant in their preferred medium.

Bending like a bamboo. That is how Filipinos are. Resilient. Weather disturbances, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, fires, man-initiated disasters, pandemic, and erratic government policies, priorities, and programs. Hundreds of thousands of lost lives - 6,300+ from Super Typhoon Yolanda alone -, enormous crop, animals, and property damage. Next came the virus that claimed 7,185 Filipino lives as of 10.31.20, which brought our country to an economic standstill, nay to a negative GDP growth rate. Yet we are still here. We can still afford to smile, laugh, and wave our hands in greetings even in the midst of miseries. Is that not resilience in glorified form?

We are very family-oriented partly because of our clannish tendency. When the eldest child obtains a college degree, he(she) supports the financial needs of the siblings and parents, even those from the fourth generation. It does not stop there because intimate friends and former classmates are family, too.

Overseas Filipino Workers send home billions of dollars (33.5 billion in 2019) that keep the Philippine economy afloat. When there is a special occasion to celebrate, damn social distancing. Many will attend to show support during birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, reunions, and funerals. Bayanihan (community spirit) is vibrant and dynamic . We perform tasks together without expecting gratuity. These baffle Westerners, the majority of whom have individualistic need for gratification.

We are very religious, one of the only two predominantly Christ-following nations in Asia, East Timor being the other. Enter a typical Filipino house and you will find graven images either in wood carvings or graphics. While we have definitely grown tolerant of other beliefs, others have turned into fanatics during processions or fluvial parades, willing to risks their lives to fulfill a promise.

We love foods. We love parties. The two are never mutually exclusive. My Canadian, American, British, and Australian friends are amazed by the combination whenever invited to fellowship with Pinoys. We love festivals. We create or invent one even when it is not representative of our culture. I know you get the drift.

And how we love to sing! Karaoke was a brilliant Filipino idea that was turned into a huge commercial success by the Japanese. One amused judge of Asia Got Talent was overheard saying, if you want to win a singing contest, avoid competing with a Filipino! Truly, the open microphone format in Karaoke bars often breeds chaos (and deadly when someone sings My Way) due to inebriated customers not yielding the mike to others.

A fascinating facet in our culture is a word that camouflages as substitute to anything: kwan. One conversation, for example, went like - Na kwan mo na ato ang kwan (Have you done that thing yet)? Answer - Ay, hehehe. Wala ko pa ma kwan (I have not done it yet). Kwanon ko lang karon (I will do it soon). . Then, we have a habit of saying yes without uttering a word. And that is just by raising and lowering our eyebrows or showing a thumb up sign. We are so polite, too. We say yes even when it’s contrary to our physical or emotional state, like when asked, Nabusog ka (Are you full)? May tulogan ka na (Do you have a place to sleep)? Maayo na pamatyag mo (Do you feel well now)? Even when faced with a dire situation, we say sadya (funny). Sadya gid ni, wala ko inugplete (This is funny, I don’t have money for the fare). Sadya gid karon, wala na tilig-angon (This is funny, I don’t have rice anymore). Sadya gid ni kon mahulog ta sa pil-as (It will be funny if we fell into the cliff). Instead of saying, “Excuse me” or “I beg your pardon” when something appears incredulous, we simply resort to keeping our mouth wide open.

Pinoy farmers are wont to say “bulong” (medicine) when applying farm chemicals. Bulong sa hilamon (weeds), bulong sa sapat-sapat (insects) bulong sa golden kuhol (golden snail), bulong sa ilaga (rodents). Truth is, those are poisons (hilo’).

They say that in Thailand, it’s bad karma to point direction with your foot. Well, in Philippines, it is still common to see people pointing direction with their lips. And truly unique is when someone calls another person’s attention by shouting “hoy” or saying “pssst!”

And who else have the high propensity to say “tsk, tsk” as an expression of hopelessness or regret but only Pinoys. A superlative achievement earns a “grabe!” (terrible) or “tuod ka” (really) compliment. In USA, Canada, and UK, people prefer to talk about weather when together. Filipinos are obsessed in health status, how one has grown thinner or fatter since the last encounter. Or else they talk about their kids’ sterling careers.

Psst! Balikid anay (Look back). Hoy, indi sagi tulok sa likod (Don’t stare at my back). Mas tahom ang atubangan (I look better in front). Bahala na (Whatever)! Ambot na lang gani (Come what may)! Very authentic Ilonggo. Very Filipino!