Utang na Loob

ELECTION PERODS are always of great interest to social observers. The ballot reflects the people’s frame of mind, their values, their hopes and fears, and even their resignation to fate. What candidates do to win votes also tells a lot about the level of our political maturity.

Observing elections in the Philippines is both exciting and frustrating. Exciting because, by and at large, campaigns are run like a circus, but frustrating, too, because we observe how painfully slow we move, if at all, towards clean, honest, credible, and enlightened elections.

Ilocos Norte politics is sizzling hot at this time, what with two Marcoses gunning for the gubernatorial post.

Former 2nd District Representative Imee Marcos, daughter of the late president, is up against her cousin, incumbent governor Michael Marcos Keon (MMK).

The Imee camp is reportedly raising the issue of “Utang na Loob” against MMK, who previously enjoyed the support of the Marcoses, especially in 2007 when he ran for and won the governor’s post previously held by now congressman Bongbong Marcos, who is running for a senate seat.

Roughly translated as ‘reciprocity’ or ‘debt of gratitude,’ “Utang na Loob” is a deeply rooted Filipino value. A person who is “walang utang na loob” is “walang kuwentang tao.” One characteristic of true Utang na Loob is that it can never be fully repaid, not by all gold bars in the world.

As any student of Sociology knows, values are double-edged swords. They can be good or bad, depending on the circumstances by which they are manifested.

Here are some insights worth reflecting on as we delve with the Imee-MMK “Utang na Loob” issue. Thank you to Noel M., a fellow blogger, for his inputs on this.

1.) “Utang na loob” in the context of moral and social traditions in Filipino culture. In general, the concept of “utang na loob” is akin to “karma” because Filipinos value the idea of returning the favor to those who have done good deeds. There is also a saying in Tagalog, “Ang ‘di marunong tumingin sa pinanggalingan ay di makakarating sa paroroonan.” This proverb serves as a kind of reminder that one has to be thankful, grateful, and always remember those people who have helped them reach their goals in life. This is the basic context of “utang na loob”, where one has to have an attitude of gratitude and a commitment to return the favor of being the recipient of good deeds and moral support from his family, relatives, and community.

2) “Utang na loob” in the context of blind loyalty. Used in the context of blind loyalty, “utang na loob” has negative ramifications. This includes blind loyalty to one’s family (“blood is thicker than water”, “my family, right or wrong”), friends (“he is my best friend”, “he is my son’s ninong”), political leaders (“he has done so much for my family”, “he gave us money when we needed it”). Often this blind loyalty is invoked by those who have the power”and material resources to sustain a dependent relationship, and by those who have not been empowered to break from these ties or relationships. Thus, one finds many poor and uneducated people in the Philippines in this kind of dependent relationship, and “utang na loob” is a tie that binds them for a long while.

3) “Utang na loob” in the context of enlightened loyalty. There are Filipinos who are able to look at “utang na loob” as a social concept without having to be blind to the limits of loyalty. They appreciate the meaning of “utang na loob” as a moral concept, but it does not mean that they will give up the higher set of principles that they value for the sake of family, friendships, and community loyalty. For example, there are a number of political and military leaders who, despite their closeness to President Gloria Arroyo, could not ignore the disgust of the nation against her alleged corrupt leadership. Hence, they have withdrawn their support from her for the sake of nation. However, there are those leaders who, despite their economic independence and above average intelligence, choose to turn a blind eye against the abuses and excesses of the current regime. They are apparently beholden to the administration, and it is here where “utang na loob” in the context of blind loyalty applies.

“Utang na loob” may be invoked by some people to demand favors from someone, for the right or wrong reasons. One is free to return the favor or not, but must take the risk of “burning his bridges”. Social conformity in Filipino culture is valued (the term “pakikisama” captures this virtue), and one has to face the possibility of being ostracized for not being loyal. This is the immediate drawback.

In the end, it is a choice between social conformity and one’s valued principles. MMK himself, in explaining the difficult decision of running against Ms. Imee, invoked the preservation of his dignity and self-respect.

In Filipino culture, one way to avoid social conflict is to explain things with sincerity and honesty, without being confrontational. As in other Asian cultures, saving one’s face is very important, and this is also true in the context of fulfilling social obligations, even in the context of “utang na loob”. In our culture, “talu-talo na kapag nagkasubuan na.”

I have always maintained that the scenario of two Marcoses, both well qualified and highly esteemed, offering themselves to the electorate can be beneficial to the people’s struggle for good governance. This will give the candidates a chance to speak, granting that money will not talk louder, more clearly about their platforms and leadership agenda, and not merely to rely on pedigree and familial legacy. The people will have a choice, and choices, dear karikna, is essential in a democracy.

The MMK-Imee political fight, if played fairly and intelligently, may show us how Ilocos politics is moving towards maturity.

But this can only be possible if we acknowledge that any public servant’s “Utang na Loob” is ultimately due, neither  to Michael nor Imee, but to you and me, the people, from whom all government power and authority emanate.

19 Comments

Filed under Government/Politics, Ilocos, Uncategorized

19 responses to “Utang na Loob

  1. The thing is this: two Marcoses, vying for just one post. It seems that these two candidates do not want to raise the white flags; they are determined to get the top post of the province. I think the voters of Ilocos Norte will be having a hard time deciding about this, especially that the election is just almost 4 months from now.

    Sir, what do you think about Imee’s visit to MMSU during the Foundation Anniversary?

  2. William S.

    I should let Sir Herdy answer the question but Comeooon Guys!!!the lady candidate is just a “brand” name carrier of the previous Apo. I have not seen any lasting impact that she accomplished back when she was congresswoman reps of the district- if she could not deliver then for the caused of her constituency then I do not see any reason she can do it for the future. At least, the present governor, with his previous public service positions back many many years ago he managed the Gintong Alay which produced top athletes that brought honor to the country. My point is if it is not broken then why fix it? or change it? what is her credibility to become gov in the first place?… saludsudek lang apo nga kailiak.

  3. imeenot

    i love FEM very much!but i do not mean to love all the marcoses, especially his kids and wife.mrs imee do not deserve my vote. when she came in MMSU during the foundation anniversary, with her galamays, i was there sitting and clapping for her, which until now can’t believe myself i did it. but yeah for respect’s sake. then she greeted everyone a pleasant afternoon. then later on she slipped the words (di siguro uso ang utang na loob sa Australia). hearing that line aroused me to listen to her speech, which was too political. then i asked myself, where is her urge to run for the position came?my answer:family!family and not for the people.imee is like noynoy, all whistles.

  4. William S.

    to imeenot: You really hit the nail in the head about her political agenda for the people of the district. This is about running for elective political positions to perpetuate the family “brand” name and protect their selfish personal interest. This is kinda’ merry-go-round in a magic chair for their family and it is beyond my belief why the people in the district still patronize her candidacy. The political spin doctors of her camp really need to take a second look to find another job after this election since the Ilocanos in this district can be fooled once but not twice. These spin doctors do not have political platform or agenda for their lady candidate. They only know how to run negative campaigns and put up smear slogans against the opposite side, but Ilocanos are smart and talented people, aren’t we?

  5. @imeenot and @William S.: A few weeks ago, Imee Marcos had an advertisement on local television. It was a song with a line “Manang Imee equals trabaho.” What do you think?

  6. imeenot

    @william s:ilokanos are not just smart and talented, but they themselves are politicians too. they know the boundaries of politicians. they were already tired of traditional politics-they were deafened by promises, banged by lies, disheartened by corruption. i know that imee-keon fight will be an ordeal to them. specially that ilokanos, like me, love FEM so much. however i am in no doubt that the one which will merge as governor will be a minority governor. and i just hope that the people will not just consider FEM. but also consider the betterment of the ilokanos. i go for mr keon!

    @guiengarma: i have too see that ad yet.

  7. tita lita

    i just hope that whoever will win, these cousins will be able to mend their differences and not let politics go over their heads and ruin their blood lines….and the legacy of our dear FEM live forever.

  8. imeenot

    our dear FEM live forever!!!

  9. Lower positioned politicians are randomly seeking or being sought by moneyed high profile patron-politicians. Here in Ilocos Norte, we have seen cohesion of some politicians/ex-officials who used to be political nemeses. Guapo has been dumped out from the political scene before by Madam through her offsprings, now they are all together also with Lady Y who used to have differences to the Fs. Such things happen in the wild game called rolling doughs of politics! Some people just gets to stick on the dough, oh, so goodahh…

  10. William S.

    to asiong: This is what you call politics at its best and these “comedians” thrives during electioneering campaigns. They do not have permanent agenda, and if they have one, it is a moving target. They do not have permanent rivals either since their motto is: “scratch my back today and it will be my turn tomorrow”. They do not have allegiance to anybody except for their personal interest to fill up their “kabans” and create more “kabans” for themselves. The bottomline is some of these comedians do not have “delikadezas” at all.

  11. Pingback: The Great Divide: Imee or Keon « Blauearth's Blog

  12. Pingback: The Great Divide: Imee or Keon « Blauearth's Blog

  13. The word ‘delikadeza’ has been long gone in Pinas, Bill! The word ‘gahaman’ is the term for most politicians. There is no honor among thieves and so are among sleazy traditional politicians anymore. It started with the old change-coatism; now there is the so-called ‘no permanent enemies, only permanent personal agenda’ as some have changed coalitions where he/she could benefit for power and money! Pundits say that there is ‘Villaroyo covenant’ as GMA is thought of abandoning Teodoro for Villar for the presidency because of the continuous downtrend of Gibo on surveys.

  14. I read many sites about the interpretation of the utang-na-loob, this blog has been the most informative for a foreigner to understand. Thank you.

  15. I am also interested in the concept of Utang Na Loob. There a danger when the feeling of debt is that great that the person does not feel they can ever repay it. Then the concept of Hiya can kick in. Despite having Utang Na Loob the person who can not repay it or feels great shame may reframe things in their mind so they no longer feel there is an Utan Na Loob. This could even mean they find reason to hate the person or manufacture a reason to feel a resentment towards them that cancels the Utang Na Loob

    • Yeah, that’s true Chris Bennetts. The worst scenario is wen in the prostitution business the human traffickers and bar fines owners “lend” money in advance to legal and underage girls usually to buy medications for a family member. You know the rest of the story Chris, don’t you? They will end up in the most disgusting porn sites written by psychopaths and criminals mostly foreigners living in the Philippines. Oh well…That’s life Chris.. Any way, nice meeting you here Chris…

  16. Rank Merida

    Congrats, Herdy. This post has been linked to by Daron Acemuglo. You have just become an authority on Philippine politics. See http://whynationsfail.com/blog/2012/12/20/the-politics-of-utang-na-loob.html

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