Values Dear To Filipino People

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					MANILA BULLETIN
Business & Society
October 10, 2011


                             Values Dear To Filipino People

           It is only a slight exaggeration to refer to Filipinos, especially the ten million of them

who are spread out all over the world as overseas workers, as the Chosen People (as former

Secretary of Finance Roberto de Ocampo did in a column he wrote for The Inquirer). In more

than one hundred countries in both the developed and developing world, Filipino workers and

professionals are making an important impact on homes, offices, factories, schools, hospitals,

ocean going vessels, hotels and restaurants, business establishments, and Churches. Overseas

Filipino Workers (OFWs) are usually a cut above most other foreign workers in terms of quality

of service and work attitudes. In 2009, the worst year of the Great Recession that hit the global

economy, the foreign exchange remittances from OFWs to their home country continued to

increase. These OFWs were usually the first to be hired and the last to be fired in all the

economic sectors in which they were employed.

     As a longtime student of the phenomenon of OFWs, I have maintained that Filipinos are

among the most desirable of workers from the developing world to fill the gap in the labor forces

of countries suffering from demographic winter, especially in Europe and Northeast Asia,

because of their unique culture that is a product of the last five hundred years of its close

encounters with cultures from the West (Spain and the United States) and its neighboring

countries in North and Southeast Asia. What are the characteristics that endear the Filipinos to

the host countries in which they work? In more than a dozen countries where I have personally

observed the OFWs in Europe, Northeast and Southeast Asia and North America, the first quality
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that stands out is the perennial cheerfulness and optimism of the typical Filipino. It is easy for

him to smile. In fact, this propensity to smile can get him into trouble from time to time when he

smiles at the wrong time. All in all, though, this characteristic is a distinct asset in such service-

oriented occupations and professions as medicine, nursing and other health services; restaurant,

hotel, and other hospitality industries; entertainment; caregiving; retailing and customer services,

including the Business Process Outsourcing sector, etc. This cultural which he imbibes from his

upbringing can be attributed to a happy combination of being Malay (which he shares with the

equally cheerful Indonesians) and Christian (which can partly account for his being as happy-go-

lucky as the Italians).

      The innate cheerfulness of the Filipino can explain why in most comparative studies of the

"happiest peoples in the world", the Philippines is usually among the first four or five. It has a

high Happiness Index. This index is highly correlated with other data like low rates of suicide,

of marriage breakups, of psychologically disturbed adolescents, etc.           What is baffling to

outsiders is that smiling faces can be found even in the most economically depressed

communities. Only Christian hope can explain joy in the midst of physical deprivation and

suffering. In contrast, there are very developed countries that also rank high in the Happiness

Index, such as Norway and other Scandinavian countries. What is puzzling is the high rate of

suicides in these womb-to-tomb countries. As the whole world watched in horror, a country

whose per capita income exceeds $40,000 per annum saw more than 90 persons killed in cold

blood by a religious fundamentalist. It is clear that neither material wealth nor religion alone can

prevent extreme errant behaviour if other cultural elements are absent.

      Another cultural advantage of the Filipino in moving from one country to another is the

ease with which he can adapt to different cultures. Unlike many ethnic groups working overseas,
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the Filipino does not need to be surrounded by other Filipinos to be comfortable in any city of

the world. They stand out because they do not generally live in ghettos or enclaves as many

other immigrant groups do.         They rarely have their own restaurants, laundries, groceries, etc.

Filipinos are among the most multiculturally enabled people in the world, thanks to centuries of

close interactions with Spaniards, Americans, Chinese, Indians, Japanese, South Koreans,

Mexicans, and others. As one of the most brilliant Filipino writers of the last century, Nick

Joaquin, wrote in Culture and History, the last five hundred years of a colonial past, intermingled

with close contacts with the neighboring Asian countries, developed a Filipino culture that is

distinct from the rest of Asia. The resulting culture was both Asian and Western.

      To understand better this interaction between history and culture, let me quote Nick

Joaquin: "The Philippine condition in pre-West Asia (before 1521 and 1565) can be summed up

in two words: unknown and unknowing; while the attitude of our neighbors to us can likewise

be summed up in two words: ignorant and indifferent: and these ignorance and indifference are

exemplified by their supposed maps of us. We were a veritable terra incognita. Certainly, with

the Spanish epoch, what a change in Asian attitudes towards us! Suddenly we are no longer terra

icognita. Suddenly this land fit only for snakes and savages becomes, for the Chinese and

Japanese, a good place to visit, to settle in, even to covet. Suddenly this land so ignored by

Asian progress finds its neighbors come crowding with their produce and manufactures, for the

galleon trade dealt not only in Chinese silks but with the entire gamut of Asian commodity, from

the stuffs of jewels of India and Cambodia to the pearls and herbs of Japan and the Indies; and

Manila, which gathers in all the wealth of the East for export to the world, becomes, as the port

of Asia, an Asian city at last!"

      The most obvious cultural advantage of the OFW is his working knowledge of English and
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his knowing many Spanish words incorporated into Tagalog and other Philippine languages.

Whatever valid criticisms we may have against certain colonial practices of the Americans

during their four decades of rule here, it cannot be denied that the English language they left with

us is one of our greatest assets in deploying our workers abroad.      There are many other poor

countries that have larger populations like the Philippines. But, with the exception of China and

India, these more populous countries are unable to capitalize on their surplus labor by sending

them abroad because of their language handicap. Moreover, the multilingual environment with

which our colonial past endowed us makes it relatively easier for Filipinos to learn other non-

English languages. In fact, in the hospitality industry in Spain, where I was able to observe more

closely the work of Filipinos, their learning of the language is almost instant in their trade

because they already have as part of their vocabulary such "Tagalog" words as baso, silya,

lamesa, kutsilyo, tenedor, kutsara, servilleta, and botella; and not to mention dishes like camaron

rebosado, paella, tortilla de patata, etc.

      What struck me most in Barcelona, that has some of the best restaurants in the world (like

El Bulli), was the predominance of Filipino waiters. In fact, in some of these restaurants, the

policy is to hire only Filipinos as waiters. The explanation that I received opened my eyes to

another trait that we take granted among Filipinos, even among the poorest of the poor. This has

to do with a habit that we share with most islanders as those who live in the South Pacific. I am

referring to the almost compulsive custom of taking a bath every day or more than once a day.

This great hygienic advantage can partly explain why Filipinos are preferred in personal services

that require close physical contact. Through no fault of theirs, workers from countries that are

land-locked or are surrounded by desserts hardly acquire the habit of showering daily. For

obvious reasons, this poses a handicap for them in the personal services that are in greatest
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demand in the aging countries of the West. They usually find themselves in manufacturing,

construction work and janitorial services.

      Culture is defined as a distinct way of living, acting, and behaving of a group of people.

Enshrined in culture are traditions, customs, values and virtues that have been products of the

physical environment and common historical experiences of the group. As we have seen above,

Filipinos have in common certain traditions, customs, values and virtues that have resulted from

the archipelagic nature of their geography and the historical events of at least the last 500 years.

It is up to the present and future generations to preserve whatever cultural traits can help

Philippine society attain the integral human development of each Filipino. For comments, my

new email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.

				
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