The Filipino Culture of Schadenfreude

Apr 06, 2011

The Philippines seems to be a nation of skewed values.

583 Photo credit: Some rights reserved by wili_hybrid


It has been a hell of a week. In the beginning we had Willing Willie, and the allegations of child abuse that spawned from it. It sparked a poor versus rich debate. So much for that apology. The Willing Willie and Jan-Jan issue was followed rather swiftly by the execution of three Filipinos sentenced to die for being drug couriers, and I wrote that “Poverty does not excuse us from committing crimes.”

Throughout the week a theme seems to have developed. No, it isn’t that abject poverty has driven both cases, but rather our society’s values seem to be skewed. We’re not talking about sexual mores or the proliferation of scantily clad women in magazines, no, this is far, far more horrifying. We’re talking about the cancer that has spread into every facet of society. That everything can be twisted and turned.

Children are now taught how to dance provocatively like an adult, and a segment of the public finds it humorous. We have Filipinos going abroad posing as drug couriers. Some of them victims, some of them willing to do it for a quick buck. We have Filipinos treating other Filipinos that way. And at thej core of it all is the abject poverty that many feel. We have sacrificed our values for a quick buck. What’s most frightening is that they don’t think it is wrong.

It has become the norm to hash out problems with the Police to get out of a situation. It isn’t even thought of as bribery, just asking for a favour, as if asking, “Could you please look the other way?” Or ask the government to bail them out of a jam while abroad. Most certainly there are many who are indeed innocent, but when do we stand up for law and justice?

Then there is the frightening state debate on Reproductive Health, where the Bishops proud of their role at EDSA and many other important junctures in recent history, simply disengaged themselves from the debate. The RH Bill story is no longer based on the merits, and details of the bill, but the vitriol thrown from both sides of the aisle.

As a society we cringe at the thought of millions being stolen by military officials and their wives. It has become a daily afternoon telenovella for news junkies. We dream of a day when the Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez finally leaves or is forced to leave office, and we agree, to “Nuke ’em.”

Yet the cancer prevailing in our society runs so deep, it boggles the mind. It isn’t just that millions get stolen from government coffers anymore. It is how We the People behave, and what we believe. Our social mores have twisted and turned into something far, far less civilized. Is this the price of decades of corruption? That we now have a culture of being un-Filipino?

The quintessential Filipino is basically good, isn’t he? He is funny, and happy, but his jokes while sometimes lewd, and hinting of innuendo, still respects kids.

The quintessential Filipino is basically good, isn’t he? He is funny, and happy, but his jokes while sometimes lewd, and hinting of innuendo, still respects kids. The true Filipino male does everything for his family, but while poor fears the law. That our idea of Maria Clara is a good woman: the devoted wife, and mother; the good sister. Are these merely nostalgic images from a bygone age?

Some of us don’t think so. In fact, as John Nery pointed out when Carmen Pedrosa was bitten by a mosquito, John Nery wrote a most eloquent op-ed, “Opinion and the gullible columnist.” In his concluding paragraph, he wrote about how some Filipinos think so lowly about our fellow Filipinos. Nery wrote on Pedrosa, “In all likelihood she began with her conclusion. Her low regard for her fellow Filipinos, especially those who did not see the wisdom of constitutional change during the Arroyo presidency or who were undiscerning enough to vote for Noynoy Aquino, is no secret. That must have been why, when she clicked on the link and saw the story, she failed to follow her own advice and “question information.” The story confirmed her worldview, and was therefore true.”

In many ways, his words too capture the culture of schadenfreude that Willie Revelame promotes.

We also think very lowly of country. How many times have people said, we cannot do this or that because, the country is not sophisticated enough. If elsewhere like Japan they cannot do it, what more in the Philippines? Why are we so afraid to dare? Why are we so afraid to take chances? Why are we so afraid to fail?

Today, does the Filipino fear the law? Do we fear the repercussions? Do we even think of the repercussions? Perhaps, this too is an awakening for those of us living in ivory towers. Maybe those nostalgic images were just vivid fantasies, and that changing our society is going to take much longer, and the changes must run deeper. Like many things wrong with our society, change begins in us, not the government not that neighbour of yours. In. Us. As the Weepies song goes, “Why everybody wishes they were somewhere else, but in the end, the only steps that matter are the ones you take all by yourself.”


This post was originally published on The Pro-Pinoy Project in March 2011.