How Colonialism Shaped the Filipino Character (2nd of 4 parts)
Filipinos often ask questions like, “What would Philippines be like today had Spain not colonized the island nation? Would the Filipino character developed the way it is now had the Spaniards not succeeded in putting the natives in chains for more than three centuries?
What if the Americans observed the principle that “governments derived their just powers from the consent of the governed”  and decided not to stay in 1898 and allow the Filipinos to govern themselves? The Americans should have known better. That principle was the driving force of the declaration of their independence in 1776. It is touted to be the model for the right to self-determination, the very right that they deprived the Filipinos of when they colonized the Philippines. The Americans justified their occupation of the islands by saying that the Filipinos were not ready for self-governance. But how sure were they? And even then, the Filipinos certainly would have preferred to have charted their own destiny as a nation no matter what the consequences maybe. The world will never know what would have happened to the Philippines had the Americans gave them the reins of their own government. While it is not certain that the Filipinos would have succeeded, one thing is clear, neither did the Philippines become a better nation because the Americans occupied it.
It would have been a big boost to the Filipino pride if only they were allowed to continue their war with Spain which they were winning at that time when the Spanish and American strategists connived to stage what would later become known as the “Mock Battle at the Manila Bay” which the Americans purportedly won. That plan was concocted to prevent Manila, the nation’s capital, from falling into the hands of Filipino revolutionaries. Just imagine how big a victory like that would have affected the Filipino psyche. Its character as a nation would have evolved in a much different direction. But it was not meant to be.
As it was, the Philippines was colonized by Spain and America. The evolution of the Filipino psyche did not go the way it should have had had they not been colonized by Spain and America. And how did that colonization affect the formation of the Filipino character? How did Spanish cruelty and American treachery impact the evolution of Filipino values and traits?
The character of a nation is manifested through the values and traits of its people. These values and traits developed through time and are shaped by the events in the life of the nation. They are also affected by the environment where the people live.
The Filipinos have positive and negative values and traits. Hospitality and resilience are examples of the positive qualities that can be attributed to these people.
Filipinos are famous for their hospitality. They treat their visitors, especially foreigners, in a very special way, giving them the best of what they have. As host, the Filipino will try his best to make his visitors comfortable and provide them with the best amenities. The Spaniards had a taste of this hospitality when they came to the islands, they loved it and took advantage of it. Although there were places were the natives were hostile to them, generally they were welcomed.
Sometimes this is mistaken as being subservient. Some contend that their having been colonized for hundreds of years made the Filipinos feel inferior, thus they are gracious to other people especially those coming from other countries. The Filipino is being perceived to have that feeling of inferiority complex, specially in the presence of foreigners because they were programmed by their former colonial masters to obey, serve and never ask questions. This stereotyping of the Filipino was compounded by the fact that many Filipinos work as domestic helpers abroad.
Those who look at Filipinos in the manner aforementioned are mistaken.
Filipinos are just naturally caring and friendly. They are very polite and respectful too. Their hospitality is a manifestation of their innate humanity, not subservience. These people from Southeast Asia are highly-relational. They could easily establish connections with other people. They are highly flexible being able to easily adapt to other cultures. Filipinos embrace people, specially foreigners, for the way that they are and not judge them. If people around the world would be tested for what Howard Gardner describes as “interpersonal intelligence,” the Filipinos would probably be tops.
This trait did not vanish with the coming of the Spaniards, it was actually reinforced. The Spaniards introduced Christianity to the natives and becoming Christians made them discover more reasons to be loving and caring for others.
Genuine care for others is something very natural among Filipinos. Thus, aside from domestic helpers, there a lot of Filipino doctors, nurses, caregivers, nannies, and teachers abroad. Filipinos are not egotistical. They can take on menial jobs thinking that “any necessary work that pays an honest wage carries its own honor and dignity”. This is the reason many Filipinos accept these kinds of jobs abroad. But Filipino skilled workers and professional are also being sought in many countries. There are also a lot of Filipino artists working in different parts of the world. All these are proofs of Filipino intelligence and innate talent.
Filipinos are also good in communication. This can be attributed to their confidence in speaking and high interpersonal intelligence. Their good command of the English language, result of the American occupation, and their being naturally friendly, enable them to easily start a conversation with people from other countries. Their excellence in communication, aside from their being hardworking, make them attractive to foreign employers. If there’s a profession where ability to communicate well and deal effectively with other people are badly needed it is teaching. Thus, many Filipinos work as teachers abroad, not just for the subject English but other fields of learning.
These people are also resilient, almost unwilling to give up. Both the natural calamities that have plagued this nation since time immemorial and their painful experiences as colonized people hardened them. They always get back to their feet after suffering from serious setbacks. Their ingenuity and resourcefulness enable them to find ways to wiggle out of difficult situations. Their trademark sense of humor allows them to laugh their way out of even the hardest of problems.
Another Filipino value that was preserved notwithstanding colonization was close family ties. Perhaps what the despotic rules of Spain and America did was make the Filipino families closer for in times of sorrow and desperation during those long years of being unwillingly chained they had nothing to rely upon but each other. This Filipino trait is indeed epic. They maintain affinity to their relatives up to almost the 4th degree of consanguinity. Parents also allow their children to stay with them even after getting married.
Strong among Filipinos also is the so-called “bayanihan” (spirit of communal unity). It is something similar to volunteerism. The natives display this trait in many ways but the most famous is the old tradition of neighbors helping a family trying to relocate. Long bamboo poles will be placed under a Filipino traditional house and it will be carried by volunteers to its new location . It did not vanish even now that houses are built using woods and concrete. The concept of “bayanihan” still lives on. It goes on in other forms specially in times of natural calamities. The Filipinos are ready to offer their help, even resources, to their neighbors in need. This is also part of the Filipino’s innate humanity that was strengthened by their having exposed to the doctrine of Christianity.
But Filipinos have negative traits as well.