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Kanya-kanya, tayo-tayo, atbp.


What would Felipe Landa Jocano say?

He would deign to meet with me, a lowly neophyte professor (a “lecturer,” as non-tenured or part-time professors were called then) at the University of the Philippines Diliman (UP) College of Business Administration. Dr. F. Landa Jocano, Professor Emeritus, taught at UP for nearly half a century. He served as Chairman of the UP Department of Anthropology, Director of the Philippine Studies Program at the UP Asian Center, Dean of the UP Institute of Philippine Studies, and Head of Asian Center Museum Laboratory. He was the country’s foremost anthropologist at that time. (Prof. Jocano passed away in 2013.)

On some Saturday mornings, I would catch “Prof” (as he preferred to be called), at the UP Bahay Alumni, having brunch on the veranda overlooking the serene campus grounds, far from the hustle and bustle of the characteristically hyper young UP students. I consulted with him on the subject that I taught, “Human Behavior in Organizations” (HBO). His books — Filipino Value System (1997), Management by Culture (1999), and Work Values of Successful Filipinos (2000) — were required reading for the MBA classes that I taught in.

Prof, would you say that there is a noticeable “kanya-kanya” (to each his own) syndrome in our society today, I might ask.

He would probably stop me right there. Are you implying some negative value, a character flaw, or wrong behavior, he might accost me, still in his gentle Ilonggo tone. He would not allow “Filipino bashing.” In his book, Filipino Value System, he said, “there are no negative Filipino values, as some writers aver. There are only wrong uses of the values because our models for value-analysis are western — particularly those used by former colonizers and foreign observers.”

Jocano identifies two models of the Filipino value system. The first is the exogenous model or the foreign model, while the second is the indigenous model or the traditional model. The foreign model is described as a “legal and formal” model. The indigenous model is described as a “traditional and non-formal” model or guide, but one that is deeply embedded in the subconscious of the Filipinos. The foreign model was inherited by Filipinos from Western cultures, particularly from the Spaniards and the Americans. An example of a foreign or exogenous influence is the bureaucracy exhibited in the government of the Philippines.

But Jocano does not say that foreign influence is necessarily bad. “We do not advocate the total rejection of these foreign-derived institutions, like the bureaucracy, which has already become part of our social system. This will isolate us from the modern world. It will also lead to parochialism, which is inimical to progress” (Jocano, Filipino Values System, op. cit.).

But more than the ambiguous gift of the “bureaucracy” and its disciplines (or lack of it), foreign cultures have affected and perhaps changed Filipino values and mores. Attitudes and behaviors have evolved with the day-to-day reinforcement of what works and what does not work in coping with the changing world and its environment.

Jocano was one of the first scholars to suggest alternatives to H. Otley Beyer’s Wave Migration Theory of migration to the Philippines. His Core Population Theory proposed that there were no clear discrete waves of migration, but rather a long process of cultural evolution and movement of people. The theory suggests that “early inhabitants of Southeast Asia were once of the same ethnic group with similar culture, but eventually — through a gradual process driven by environmental factors — differentiated themselves from one another” (Halili, Maria Christine N. [2004]. Philippine History).

There you go! People change. The world has changed drastically in the last two decades. Globalization has worked swiftly to equalize the coping and compromise of peoples in order to survive and prosper, aided by the dizzying speed of high technology. Ah, yes, technology has impersonalized relationships, as competition has done. And values are all about relationships — the “kapwa” (the neighbor or fellowman) is the objective of core Filipino values.

In his book, Management by Culture, Jocano cites “three core elements of social organization that provide Filipinos with proper contexts for organizing their ideas, defining their needs, interpreting their experiences, passing judgments and guiding their behavior whether they are operating within the formal environment of the organization or the community, namely, personalism, paternalism, and familialism.”

All three elements play on the Filipino’s “strong desire to be counted, to be part of a collectivity,” Jocano says. This need to “belong” raises expectant dependency — manifested in negative behavior like the entrenched patronage system, the ubiquitous “pakikisama” (obligatory support), or the endless gratitude of “utang na loob.”

“Filipinos, by social orientation, are ‘groupists,’ not ‘individualists.’ The popular trait (‘to each his own’) is an urban coping mechanism that developed in response to the entrepreneurial demands of city life. It is also the result of modern education, which emphasizes individualism as an ideal trait. However, the principle of groupism continues to prevail as an ideal trait,” Jocano says.

But how much longer will the ideal of collective strength survive over the empirical evidence of growing individualism, in the challenges of voracious, cannibalistic modern life? “To each his own” seems now the lighter way to move around obstacles.

The forced individualism chiseled into minds and hearts in the isolation and restrictions of the three-year COVID-19 pandemic may have precariously threatened to create a paradigm shift in social values, not just in the Philippines but around the world. The most terrifying obvious manifestation of this is the political unrest in the world, with hapless Ukraine being mercilessly attacked by Russia in the midst of the pandemic. Where are the human values of family and togetherness, support, and love, in brother fighting brother — for the peoples of Russia and Ukraine are of the same ethnic origins and share a socio-political history. Countries such as Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Libya, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria are all currently experiencing civil wars, resulting in significant casualties and displacement. Drug wars are another form of conflict that can result in significant violence and unrest.

In our country, disenchantment is palpable over the old values that Prof. Jocano so idealized. In little everyday experiences, one is often not so subtly reminded to “fight your own battle,” and not to expect to be bailed out of your troubles by relatives or friends. “Scratch your own galis (itch); eat your own kamatis (tomato)” is a form of derision chanted by little children at play to the loser in the game.

But does not the prevalent the patronage system from perversely justify itself as the savior of those in trouble, by the forced allegiance these “padrinos” (godfathers) exact from those who come to them for dependable redemption? And so, corruption and injustice thrive and flourish in our country. “Pakikisama” (companionship) and “awa” (mercy) can have ambiguous meanings.

So can “kanya-kanya” and “tayo-tayo” (just us) be good or bad — depending on the meaning and purpose in one’s heart.

Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.

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