‘Pakiusap,’ ‘palusot’ and ‘pasaway’
Filipinos have an infuriating habit of (1) breaking the rules (“bawal pumarada o umihi rito,” “pumila po tayo,” or “submit requirements by 5 p.m.”) and (2) justifying their actions before or after the fact. And they do so in at least three ways: pakiusap, palusot and pasaway.
Filipinos plead in pakiusap mode. After violating a rule, they humbly ask for clemency (“Sorry, boss, hindi ko naman po sinasadya at ngayon lang naman po”). Pakiusap also involves breaking protocol altogether and appeals to connections (“Kakilala ko ’yung boss; baka puwedeng pakiusapan na lang”).
The palusot resorts to excuses. But she is also a clever hunter of gaps and creative exploiter of loopholes (“Kung makakalusot, bakit hindi?”). Pasaway describes someone who stubbornly does not follow the rules. Put up a barrier, and the pasaway finds a way over, through or around it.
Pakiusap, palusot and pasaway are typically lamented as an indication of Filipinos’ lack of discipline. Perhaps. But what if these three modes also betray a deep distrust of rules, a symptom of an indifference to and a lack of confidence in some forms of authority?
Filipinos perceive some regulations as unfair, cumbersome, inefficient, insensitive or superfluous. Sometimes, their rule-breaking and -bending comes from a sense of entitlement, which dovetails with status and class: The rules do not apply to me. In other cases, the defiance has roots in a view of authority as corrupt and even predatory. Traffic enforcers have been called “kalaban” or “buwaya.”
Even when laws are enforced, (non)enforcement can be selective and inconsistent. And since Filipinos know that some people occasionally get a pass, they, too, expect one “Bakit sila hindi mo hinuli?” says many a driver who was apprehended.
Filipinos’ cavalier attitude to the rules and the erosion of confidence in law and authority actually form a vicious circle. They distrust and defy the rules, and thus engage in pakiusap, palusot and pasaway, which undermine the integrity of the law and authority further, which then encourage even more rule-breaking or -bending. And naturally, distrust and disrespect for law and procedure precipitate an adversarial relationship between Filipinos and the authorities. Heated and violent encounters between drivers and traffic enforcers have been reported. And tempers flare and shouting matches ensue between the public and government employees.
Lastly, the Filipinos’ penchant for pakiusap, palusot or pasaway undercuts their desire for an orderly society. They will profess a belief in discipline, but often engage in rule-breaking on their own. And many of them resent, snap or give you a malevolent look even if you politely reprimand them. “Sila na nga mali, sila pa galit.”
Where does this leave Filipinos?
First, they have to reassess their relationship to law and authority, even if they have little or no faith in them. They have to find a way to at least develop more respect for the notion of law, authority and power even if they perceive these to be inept, corrupt, unreliable or predatory, even if they are caught and others get away with violations.
Secondly, Filipinos must appeal to their better nature and recognize that some rules are rules, which have to be followed no matter what and even if others do not do so. In the land of pakiusap, palusot and pasaway, obeying the rules or accepting the penalties of breaking them can be the most progressive, albeit inconvenient, thing Filipinos can do.
Third, the strict and consistent implementation of regulations, one not subject to pakiusap, palusot or pasaway, can help improve confidence in—and compliance with—the law and authority. And the faster, and more efficiently, such services are delivered, the less necessary it will be to resort to pakiusap or pasaway.
At the same time, Filipinos may need to think about their deep-seated cultural preference for an informal, personalistic way of doing things. For better or worse, friends, family, personal and informal ties, and “smooth interpersonal relations” matter more to Filipinos than rules, formalities and impersonal institutions.
This is another reason pakiusap, palusot and pasaway are not or should not just be a matter of discipline. It forms part of a deeper fundamental divide: the tension, complicities and conflicts between a personal, informal and connection-oriented way of doing things on one hand, and a formal, “rational,” and institutional approach on the other.
Can Filipinos simply abandon the personal and informal to become mature, more “rational” citizens of a formal, modern democracy? Or are things much more complicated?
For sure, personal connections and informal ties can be exploited for one’s gain. But in other cases, people resort to personal connections not (just) because they are undisciplined but (also) because things simply get done faster that way. In this sense, relying on the personal and informal compensates for the problems of the formal and institutional. Indeed, the preference for the personalistic and informal nature of Philippine society may be both a symptom of and solution to weak, less effective institutions.
Filipinos must examine and disentangle these considerations. But where should they begin: with the (Wo)Man in the Mirror, their government, or their political culture? It’s a chicken-and-egg problem, but Filipinos have to start somewhere. Or in all three. At the same time.
Janus Isaac V. Nolasco (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a university researcher at the Asian Center, University of the Philippines Diliman, where he is a member of the editorial team of Asian Studies: Journal of Critical Perspectives on Asia.
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