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Understanding Filipinos and families - the inferiority complex

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The topic of the Filipino “inferiority complex” has been mentioned by many as a core cause of Philippine society’s backwardness. Many writing about it would call it a legacy of the colonizers, who supposedly implanted this belief in us to make sure we don’t advance as a society. I have a different idea.

My mom told me about when she spoke before residents of the Payatas dump site as part of a church outreach program. The topic of her talk was, now that the dump site was being removed, the residents will have to work and not depend on dole-outs. She said that many of the Payatas residents were willing to do this. But she mentioned the younger generation were implanted with the inferiority complex. These younglings were shouted at with things like “wala kang kwenta (you’re useless)” and other demeaning words by their parents and elders.


When I heard this, I realized, aha, this is the current significant reason for the inferiority complex of Filipinos. It’s not foreigners or colonialism. It’s irresponsible parenting.

Part of Philippine tradition is for elderly people to stop working and to depend on their children to support them. However, this tradition can be abused. For example, we may have heard of parents who do nothing but drink, depending on their children for buying their drinks. Those children, if not working in legal jobs, may even be goaded to steal for that. If those children are unable to produce some money, they might be at the receiving end of parental violence. What if those irresponsible parents are using such money for illegal drugs and not just vices?

Let’s say there’s a moocher and tambay (standby, or jobless) father who abandoned his children and left the family to fend for themselves; then when he sees his children have jobs and earn well, he turns up to demand that they give him what he wants, because he gave birth to them. I would say the children have no obligation to give in to that. Thus I oppose that move to allow parents to charge in court children who they feel are not supporting them. That would prevent such irresponsibility from being properly addressed.

Some people may say, “but we Filipinos are good parents! We can never be bad, we are only good, because we are a special people!” Grandiose navel-gazing makes people unable to see the truth.

Like many other cases, it supports my assertion that the dysfunction of Filipinos can be traced to the family. If we are to fix some problems in society, one important place to start is the family. Perhaps we need to undo some traditions that we’ve long cherished as part of our “Filipino identity,” and replace them with better practices.

First, elder adults don’t need to stop working. Columnist James Lafferty himself says older people should still be part of the workforce, since some of them still want to work and be productive. Even people with disabilities have become willing workers. It would be worse if they were part of the moocher population.

Of course, there is the problem of lack of care by erring children. However, that still does not justify the proposed move to have parents sue their children in court. Between children and parents, the latter usually have more capability and power to carry out their responsibilities. One belief considered right is that parents should work to make the lives of their children easier, and not exploit them. I have also supported fellow blogger and Manila Times editor Ben Kritz’s proposal for expanded elderly benefits, because it makes better sense to take the burden off the children.

Authoritarian Family Culture

Perhaps one topic that needs to be brought up is the authoritarian culture of the Philippines. Perhaps people today are forgetting that Filipino culture is mainly oriented to authoritarian family principles. The parents are considered the monarchs of the family home, their word is law, and all that they want should be served by their children. Sometimes, the parents have children solely for the purpose of providing for them and having servants to use.

I’d like to repeat that catchy comment of Marius: “(Such) Parents don’t seem to give their children any kind of moral guidance at all, except to remind them that they owe their existence to ma and pa, and are therefore responsible for bringing home the bacon, the iPhone, the Tanduay, and the new roof, or whatever ma and pa shall desire this week. Bashing the kids occasionally, and at random, is not the same thing as imposing discipline.”

Much has been said criticizing the authoritarian nature of Filipino family dynamics. Some people today may remember their own parents or grandparents wanting to dictate how they should dress, act, talk and what to believe. These believe it is their right to run the lives of other people. It would be no wonder why some of these older people approve of something like martial law: it agrees with their authoritarian beliefs. Irresponsible parents exploit this, making their children feel inferior in order to reduce them into servants and walking ATM machines. We at GRP blame the culture of seeking to have no work and to live by taking from others as the most glaring reason for the backwardness of our country.

The Myth of ‘Dependence is Love’

Perhaps there is a prevailing myth (or deliberate deception) prevalent in Filipino families that dependence leads to love. Some religious leaders believe this and thus prefer that Filipinos remain poor, on the assumption that family members will rush to aid them and that this is automatically an outpouring of love. Unfortunately, that is not always true. Providing for others could be done with strings attached; politicians, for instance. They do this for themselves and not others. That way, it is not love. People mooch not because they love someone else (I doubt mooching is love at all!). And the one being mooched on does not necessarily love the one they’re giving dole-outs to. This idea about dependence and love should be shattered, and Filipino ideas about love need to be changed.

Solving the inferiority complex of some Filipinos will need a massive change in culture. That change may even challenge things people believe as part of being “Filipino.” For example, some may believe the dictatorial nature of parents is Filipino and should not change. The younger generation tends to try and stand up to it, so the Bible reference to family members being turned against each other may even include the children correcting erring parents. Others may say the old generation is passing anyway, so it is up to the newer generation to be better examples once they become elders themselves.

My mom during her Payatas talk had told the children that they are not useless and deserve to be treated better. Such encouragement and assurances are needed in eradicating the so-called inferiority complex. It however may require some opportunities for the children in the form of jobs and recognition for their work. Also, the reason for the tradition of obliging children to care for elderly parents is that they are expecting hard times; what if such hard times are well prepared for with benefits for the elderly and other solutions? Or better yet, if times were not that hard? Then there likely won’t be a need for that tradition. It is an issue that tends to be multi-faceted, so the solution needs to be so as well. Starting with a few facets, such as our own cultural practices and actual habits, is still a good way to go.


Edited by Paul
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Thanks for that.

I think many Filipino families fail to recognise some qualities they still have that are diminishing elsewhere.

Last year we were in the sad situation of having our niece / nephew's first born baby die after two months in IC and a heart operation. The family was devastated but they had each other and to see the way they pulled together then and since was humbling indeed.

Back here in Oz with all our material every bloody thing, my thoughts were often with this dirt poor family, poor financially but rich in so many other ways, and they don't recognise what a gift / wealth they have so I wrote them this message:

A message to all of the XXX family.

 Sitting here saddened by your tragic loss and thinking back over time has caused me to want to write this to you all.

Since I first met a ‘XXX’  (a gutsy kid who wanted a cell phone!), you people have never ceased to impress with your tenacity, integrity and above all the love and support you give each other as a family.

You XXXs’s may not have any monetary wealth but you are among the richest people I have ever had the privilege to know.

From my first visit up the hill to your home when young xxxx held onto his bread roll until his little sister was awake so he could share with her, to the beautiful sisterly love and support xxxx and xxxx share, and the way you guys have come from the remote interior to face the world and achieve.

To be privileged to be at xxx and xxx's wedding and see the way you all helped to make their day so special and now how you all get behind a family in need again and help each other.

You are one very special group of people, one very special family and your Mom and Dad should be congratulated for the values they have instilled in you.

We are so saddened by your loss and know that you are all hurting, but keep that XXX family love and support going and you will move on through anything.  

It has been our priveledge to be able to help you and remember baby Gxxx is in a better place now and at peace with no pain.  

May he rest in peace in God’s care.

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