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Why is the Filipino special?

June 29, 2012

( A friend, from our UN past, emailed this feature which he says was written by former Sen. Ramon Magsaysay, Jr.  You may find much to agree with – or disagree. Anyway, read on - JLM )

Filipinos are brown. Our color should not be a reason for an inferiority complex. (Some) pine for a fair complexion, white people tan themselves – approximate the Filipino complexion.

Filipinos are a touching people. We create human chains with our perennial akbay (putting an arm around another's shoulder), hawak (hold), to kalabit (touching with the tip of the finger). We seek inter connection.

Filipinos are linguists. It is not uncommon for Filipinos to speak at least three: his own local dialect, Filipino, and English. A lot speak an added language, Chinese, Spanish or, if he works abroad, the language of his host country.

Filipinos are “groupists”. We surround ourselves with people and hover over them.  An average Filipino would have and know at least 300 relatives, notes Dr. Patricia Licuanan of Ateneo and Miriam College.

At work, we live bayanihan (mutual help). We want a kalaro (playmate) more than laruan (toy). At socials, even guests bring in other guests. When there is no more space in a vehicle, we “Kalung-kalong” (Sit on one another). No one suggests splitting.

Filipinos are weavers. Look at our baskets, mats and other crafts.  This art is metaphor. We are social weavers. We weave theirs into ours that we all become parts of one another.  Thus, we put premium on pakikisama (getting along) and pakikipagkapwa (relating). Walang pakikipagkapwa (inability to relate) is one of the worst labels.

We harmonize with people and include them in our 'tribe,' our 'family'. We seek to be included. Thus, we call our friend's mother nanay, we call a friend's sister ate (eldest sister), and so on. We even call strangers tia/tita (aunt) or tio/tito.

We have the 'ka' institution, loosely translated as 'equal to the same kind' as in kasama (of the same company), kaisa (of the same cause), kapanalig (of the same belief), etc. In our social fiber, we treat other people as co-equals.

Filipinos are adventurers. We have a tradition of separation. Our legends speak of heroes and heroines who almost always get separated from loved ones, and move to far-away lands. There, they find wealth or power.

Our Spanish colonial history is filled with separations caused by the reduccion (hamleting), and forced migration to build towns, churches or galleons. American occupation enlarged the space of Filipino wandering, including America. There is documented evidence of Filipino presence in America as far back as 1587.

Now, Filipinos compose the world's largest population of overseas workers. Today's citizens of the world, bring the bagoong (salty shrimp paste), pansit (sautéed noodles), siopao (meat-filled dough), including the tabo (ladle) and tsinelas (slippers).

Filipinos recreate their home, or feel at home anywhere.  Filipinos have pakiramdam (deep feeling/discernment). We know how to feel what others feel. Being manhid (dense) is slur. In our pakikipagkapwa (relating), we get not only to wear another man's shoe but also his heart.

Filipinos are very spiritual. We transcend the physical world. We have a sense of kaba (premonition) and kutob (hunch). A Filipino wife instinctively feels her husband or child is going astray, whether or not telltale signs present themselves.

Filipino spirituality makes him invoke divine intervention. Rightly or wrongly, Filipinos are always acknowledging, invoking or driving away spirits into and from their lives. His pakiramdam makes the Filipino, once correctly Christianized, a major exponent of the faith.

Filipinos are timeless. For nearly half-a-millennium now, the western clock encroached into our lives. Except for official functions, Filipinos still measure time with feeling.  Our time is diffused, not framed.

Appointments are defined by umaga (morning), tanghali (noon), hapon (afternoon), or gabi (evening).  Our most exact time reference is probably katanghaliang-tapat (high noon), which allows many minutes of leeway.

There is really no definite time.  A Filipino event has no clear-cut beginning nor ending. We have a fiesta, but there is visperas (eve), a day after the fiesta is still considered a good time to visit. The Filipino Christmas is not confined to December 25th, it somehow begins months before December and extends up to beyond the first days of January.

Filipinos are spaceless.  The Filipino concept of space is not expressed in kilometers but with feelings. We say malayo (far) or malapit (near).  Indigenous culture did not divide land into private lots but kept it open for all to partake of its abundance.

One's party may expropriate the street! So do sari-sari stores.  Provincial folks dry palayan (rice grain) on the highways. Religious groups matter-of-factly commandeer streets for processions and parades. “Filipinos eat, sleep, chat, socialize, quarrel, even urinate, or just anywhere!”

So what makes the Filipino special? Brown, spiritual, timeless, spaceless, linguists, groupists, weavers, adventurers; seldom do all these qualities find personification in a people. Filipinos should contribute their traits to the world-wide community of men. Ah, but first, they should know, like and love themselves.