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Monday, August 30, 2010

Reciprocity and The Concept of Filipino “Utang na Loob ”

Because of the interdependent society of the Philippines, interpersonal relations revolve, to a large extent, around the granting and receiving of favors. Reciprocity has developed in order to keep interpersonal relationships “smooth.”

What I mean by reciprocity is that every service received, whether solicited or not, demands a return determined by the relative status of the parties involved. To Filipinos, reciprocity could be two things:

1. Contractual- whereby two or more persons enter into a contract regarding the performance of something. This could be either a written or an oral contract. What matters is that the parties have agreed and the amount and form of performance are established beforehand. Both parties know what is expected of him and what he may expect of other. For example, upon completion of the work, a handyman is paid the agreed amount and the reciprocal relationship is terminated. There is a very little or no sentiment or emotion involved in this kind of relationship.

2. “Utang-na-loob”- Gratitude is highly valued in the Philippine society. A Filipino should at all times be aware of his obligation to those from whom he receives favors and should repay them in an acceptable manner. “Utang na loob” invariably stems from a service rendered which is impossible of quantification even though a material gift may be involved. Here, one of the parties does not expect to be paid back. The degree of debt of gratitude depends to a large extent on the favor received. For instance, if a nearly dying patient was cured by a doctor and survives the family of that patient will forever be indebted to the doctor. “Utang na loob ” in this instance is unquantifiable as there is nothing more important to a person than his life and that of his family. A child is indebted to his parents for his life and is considered ungrateful, ” walang utang na loob” (ungrateful) if he fails to care for them in their old age. We have a Filipino saying ” Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan, hindi makararating as paroroonan (He who does not look back to the place he has been to will not get to where he is going).”

A Filipino who is a recipient of a favor shows his gratitude by returning the favor “with interest” to be sure that he does not remain in the other person’s debt and he would feel “shamed” “napapahiya” if this token of gratitude is not received. To refuse a token of gratitude would make one feel that his gift is not good enough or interprets it as a sign that the other party wants to end their relationship. For example, when a person was helped by someone secure a public office, the recipient will naturally feel grateful and try to find a way to repay the former for his help. So when this person comes to him for a for by virtue of that office, he is expected to grant this new favor an much more in order for him not to remain indebted to the former. If he is able to help him back, say, secure a government contract, “utang na loob ” is deemed offset. If the person in office refuses, the other person will feel very offended and takes it as a cue to end their relationship.

However, debts of gratitude, big or small, cannot really be paid at all, as shown in another Tagalog saying: ” Ang utang na loob, napakaliit man, utang at utang din kahit mabayaran. Sa pakitang loob at tapat na damay ay walang sukat maitimbang (A favor, no matter how small, is a debt we must never forget since no money can ever fully repay it).”

A person who continues to ask for favors cannot presume that the other party doesn’t want to ask him future favors. If he does, he is deemed as “walang pakiramdam” (literally translated means “no feeling” i.e., callous) or “makapal ang mukha ” (”thick faced’,’ i.e., shameless).

The Filipino cannot run his office as impersonally as the Westerner. In many offices, one usually gets the impression that when he gets his papers processed, for example, a favor has been done for him. It is not unusual, therefore, for people who have received such “favors” to feel that they should offer a “reward’.’ These rewards may take the form of, say, fruits and vegetables, eggs, a sack of rice, etc. and are given at a “decent” time, i.e., not too soon after the favor has been received. Giving money as a payment for a favors however, is usually considered insulting. Where a Westerner would simply write a “thank you” note for a favor received and consider his ”debt” paid, the Filipino does not write such a note but considers himself indebted and waits for a chance to return the favor.

To illustrate the difference between “utang na loob ” and another Filipino trait “pakikisama”, the latter is more like the “I owe you one” scenes in Hollywood movies which presupposes repayment of a debt on request. “Utang na loob” is more intricate and far-reaching because one is expected to repay the favour with interest, and the fact that one’s obligation is not readily quantified creates an escalating cycle of “utang na loob”, weaving a highly complex fabric of interdependence.

In the circle of Filipino relationships every Filipino is deemed to have “utang na loob” to someone, while others have “utang na loob” to him. In effect, “utang na loob” binds a group together.

A foreigner is best warned before entering in this web of reciprocal obligations, as even Filipinos are careful about getting themselves in someone’s debt. On the other hand, it is important to understand the concept of “utang no loob” because a lack of awareness thereof can cause serious errors of judgment. For example, a businessman will find that an employee who is less skilled at work and does not appear as conscientious, but who has connections in government positions and among business clients may still be considered a very good asset because he obviously has built up a bank of “utang na loob” which he can call upon when needed.

The political system, from barrio level to national machinery functions blissfully, largely on “utang na loob”, despite contradictions from the principles and tenets of the Western political model established in the Philippines. The Western model expects the political system to be determined by ‘issues’, but “utang na loob” has a stronger pull. Filipino politicians utilize political patronage in exchange for votes at election time, thus introducing the Filipinoutang na loob” element into a Western political system. The contradiction between the basic Filipino dynamics of power involving such aspects as “utang na loob” and the theory of democratic elections from the West makes up volatile and footloose political system of the Philippines.

Many historians and political analysts claim that the Filipino leaders had been placed in a disadvantageous position in negotiations between the United States and the Philippines after World War II because Filipino leaders acted under a sense of “utang na loob” for the American ‘liberation’ of the Philippines from Japan. Thus, the onerous US parity rights inserted in the Philippine constitution and the re-establishment of US military bases were disproportionate concessions given out of a feeling of obligation to repay “utang na loob” .

Therefore, one must be aware that in some diluted form or even intact in some tiny corner, “utang na loob” as well as “hiya” and “amor-propio” are could ambush an unwary person. Smooth interpersonal relations with heavy doses of euphemisms and “pakikisama” always come into play.

Source: http://www.western-asian.com/utang-na-loob

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