Editor's note: The following is an opinion piece by Martha Ignacio.
As of recent, I’ve been learning how to commute around Metro Manila on my own. Surely I know how to get a cab, or ride the train. But I’ve never ridden the jeep on my own until two weeks ago.
And it wasn’t until then that I gained much more respect for Filipinos who brave the weather, the competitive nature of hailing a ride, and the lack of courtesy that’s been present in public transportation in Manila.
I wasn’t oblivious to the dangers and hardships that come with commuting in the metro, but it wasn’t until I was immersed in it that I developed so many insights about where the lack of common courtesy stemmed from.
As I learned to commute even more, I realized that the crude personality of Filipinos come from a much bigger issue – which is basically how my fellow countrymen feel robbed from their own government; the sole body that is supposed to protect them.
Looking at other cultures
Of course, I didn’t come to this realization instantly. I analyzed and looked back on other cultures I have been exposed to. I looked at Japan; a country we all know has the value of respect ingrained in their culture.
I am not going to deny that perhaps the Japanese don’t have this kind of attitude because of their ancestral culture. But looking back at how I observed the people of Japan when I traveled there, I realized that they are well taken care of.
In the Philippines, one of the most prominent problems facing our people is minimum wage. They are not compensated properly for their hard work. While Japan, on the other hand, pays their blue-collar workers well.
People in Japan have great public transportation that you wouldn’t really need a private vehicle. When a natural disaster struck Japan, it didn’t take long for them to rebuild their infrastructure.
But I also thought that Japan may not be an accurate basis of comparison. So I also looked at New York, a city deemed to have the snobbiest and most rude people on earth.
I admit that this was my first thought of New Yorkers. But it wasn’t until I visited the city three years ago when I saw two sides of the spectrum. Yes, the people there have a tendency to be rude.
I remember some people cat-calling my sister as we walked the streets of Manhattan, deciding to just ignore them and quicken our pace for our own safety. It was in New York where I was probably exposed to an increased risk of danger.
But as I spent more of my days exploring the Big Apple, I saw more of people’s humanity there as well. I recalled the time where a handicapped man on a wheelchair struggled to mount on the sidewalk due to some repairs being made.
People stared at him, trying to make a decision in their mind on whether to help the man or not. But I noticed this one local who didn’t even hesitate and helped the man to get his chair on the sidewalk.
As I passed by them, I heard the handicapped man say a sincere “Thank you,” while the helpful local simply replied with, “No problem, man!”
I also visited SoHo. It was a rainy day, I wasn’t well dressed and I was soaking wet. I embarrassingly entered a Nordstrom flagship store, preparing for the judgment I would receive from its sales personnel, with them thinking, “This girl can’t even afford anything in our store,” just because of the way I looked.
But I was happily proven wrong. Upon entering, the personnel greeted me with a genuine, “Hello, how are you today?” And even as I browsed through the store, a saleslady would come up to me from time to time, asking if there was anything in particular they could help me with.
Maybe it’s part of their job, but would anyone report them if they failed to attend to me? I don’t think so. The sincerity of their voice proved to me that people in New York are wrongly stereotyped, because they’re actually the friendliest and most accommodating people I have encountered.
So I wondered, how come these other cultures are able to foster a mentality, a willingness to help others? While our own countrymen, perceived as one of the friendliest people in the world, fail to show respect and a sense of nationalism for their own people?
It was there that I realized that people adopt a certain mentality because of how others are treating them, and because of how they feel the need to pay it forward.
With a competent government, citizens have something to look up to – like a role model. Citizens are able to embody a better attitude towards their countrymen. They don’t have any frustrations or any ill feeling that they are not taken care of, so why shouldn’t they take care of others?
No one looks after each other
I thought to myself, that maybe Filipinos feel like they don’t need to look out for others but their own because maybe they’re cranky, maybe they’re frustrated that they work so hard but gain so little. And all that they can afford to do is to look after themselves and not be bothered by the daily struggles of other people.
While that’s somewhat understandable, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to neglect our countrymen. Just because our daily struggles are too much stress on our own plates, doesn’t mean we have to turn our back on others, especially on very shallow and small acts of kindness towards other people.
With corruption being such a norm in the local government, perhaps Filipinos felt like no one would look after them – except for themselves. The saying, “Every man for himself” is an accurate summary of this Filipino mentality.
For years now, the government has not only robbed its people of money intended for the improvement of the country, but also of their humanity.
The government’s incompetence has led Filipinos to believe that no one could be trusted, which is pretty understandable, considering the surmounting crimes that perpetually happen in the metro’s streets.
But the flaw with this selfish mentality is the fact that our countrymen believe that since no one is there to protect them, they feel no need to help others simply because it wouldn’t benefit them in any way.
The elderly woman
This mentality flaw was evidenced by a recent experience I had a few days ago when I was riding the jeep. An elderly woman – more or less 80 years old – was trying to get aboard on the PUJ.
I noticed her struggle as she tried to mount the vehicle. Luckily, I was seated by the door and decided to grab her arm, trying to pull her up the high step. She dropped her umbrella along the way and couldn’t figure out whether to get her umbrella first, or try to get on board.
The man in line behind her decided to grab the umbrella – which accidentally opened – and fixed it for her. Everyone else onboard just stared. No one even bothered to slide further in to the jeep in order to make space for her to sit.
I noticed as she tried to gather coins in her small purse to prepare the fare. At that instant, I wanted to grab my own coin purse and offer to pay for her fare instead. Unfortunately, she beat me to it.
As she tried to pass her fare, many people beside her didn’t even bother to reach their hand out to pass the money to the driver, except for the same man who helped her with her umbrella.
As we waited for our respective stops to arrive, I noticed the grandmother flash a friendly smile towards me (even with my resting bitch face), perhaps her way of saying, “salamat sa pagtulong mo, hija.”
He was even kind enough to tell her where she would get off, and was the one who told the jeep driver to stop at the area where she wanted to get off.
Even with my earphones on – trying to zone out the rudeness of my fellow passengers – I couldn’t help but feel thankful for this man, who was the only one who showed a teeny bit of humanity towards the elderly woman.
Because let’s face it, this is something we rarely see nowadays.
With my commuting experiences, I noticed more and more the bastos personality of my countrymen. Decently clothed – albeit looking like someone who obviously doesn’t commute – I encountered numerous truck drivers and even fellow commuters trying to catch my attention, doing that weet woot whistle as I walked on the sidewalks of C5 and Ortigas Avenue.
I’ve learned to ignore this, primarily because I’ve come to accept the fact that Filipinos have already gained a certain mentality that these crude actions are okay. However, as much as I’ve tolerated these actions, it still doesn’t justify the Filipinos’ lack of courtesy and humanity towards other people.
Don’t get me wrong: the structure of the Philippine government has led its citizens to foster this mentality. But it is not solely the government’s fault. As human beings, it is also our responsibility to not let this be a part of our own personality and manner towards others.
The overlooked factor
People want change, but many do not understand that change cannot happen if we do not start with ourselves. I mean, that’s a cliché for a reason, isn’t it?
Citizens want cleaner streets, and they even want to be able to walk safely without smelling any garbage or that smell of piss on the side of the road. But many overlook the fact that these things are self-inflicted.
If you, as a Filipino, want to eradicate this pollution in our country, then don’t contribute to it. It’s as simple as that.
If people of the masses don’t want to be treated like they are inferior to the wealthier class, then they should act as though they are worthy of respect, instead of fostering a self-pity attitude.
If a woman doesn’t want to be taken for granted by men, if she wants men to see past her physical appearance – that’s she more than just a one night stand – then she shouldn’t give in so easily.
Although these are shallow examples, there is some truth behind the point I am trying to make: regardless of the external factors that have affected your way of thinking, it is up to you to take action and beat the stigma.
I still stand by the fact that the government is responsible for this absurd “every man for himself” mentality that Filipinos have long fostered. The government’s incompetence has led Filipinos to adopt a mentality that they do not want to be taken for granted any longer.
And we can’t deny the fact that we can’t really blame the Filipino people for feeling as such. Let’s face facts, Filipinos have long felt abused over the years – we’re talking Spanish, American and Japanese occupations, as well as the martial law imposed by the Marcos regime.
Thus, Filipinos have never wanted to help others solely because they do not want to extend anything that would not be advantageous to them. Maybe they don’t believe in karma – and that’s really up to them – but that doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye on common courtesy.
Even though this mentality is rooted from the Philippine government, as I’ve mentioned before, this doesn’t excuse the Filipino behavior. I don’t understand how Filipinos can find it so difficult to practice respect and common courtesy to others. Why is it so hard to exercise an act of kindness?
Is it so difficult to give up your seat on the train or on the bus to a pregnant or to the elderly? Why do we even have to impose rules of segregation in public transportation? Why can’t we all just be respectful and kind to one another?
We can blame the government all we want, but the fact remains: this mentality is dependent on each and every person.
It’s been evidenced, not everyone has this rude personality – especially in provincial areas. I’ve witnessed instances where people have extended some random act of kindness towards me, and I always try to do the same.
So what excuse do you have left? Nothing.
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