Looking Back

The indolence of the Filipino

Ramon Tulfo’s rant against our supposedly lazy countrymen coupled with unfair comparison with hardworking Chinese has reaped a whirlwind of online bashing from the onion-skinned who felt alluded to, and those who take every opportunity to contradict whatever Tulfo says or writes. Tulfo took refuge under the National Hero’s overcoat, tweeting: “To those who have been bashing me. Read Jose Rizal’s essay about the indolence of the Filipino in his time. Thank you!”

For a moment, bashing stopped, but resumed when those who looked up Rizal’s essay realized Tulfo had not read beyond the essay title!


“Sobre la indolencia de los Filipinos (On the indolence of the Filipinos)” is a very long, and at times angry, essay by Rizal that saw print in La Solidaridad in March 1890. From abroad and across time, Rizal reacted to the charge, from the Spanish colonial masters, that Filipinos were indolent or lazy. Rizal did not condemn it, rather he explained it:

“We must confess that indolence does actually and positively exist there; only that, instead of holding it to be the cause of the backwardness and the trouble, we regard it as the effect of the trouble and the backwardness, by fostering the development of a lamentable predisposition.”


Tropical climate is a major factor, Rizal explained: “Nature knows this and like a just mother has therefore made the earth more fertile, more productive, as a compensation. An hour’s work under that burning sun, in the midst of pernicious influences springing from nature in activity, is equal to a day’s work in a temperate climate.”

It is the Spaniard who is lazy, argued Rizal, as they detest manual labor and live surrounded by Filipino servants who “not only exist to take off their shoes for them but even to fan them!” His analysis as a physician and historian led to primary sources that proved Filipinos in pre-Spanish times were not so: “Indolence in the Philippines is a chronic malady, but not a hereditary one. The Filipinos have not always been what they are.”

Using his notes gathered from the British Library from 1888 to 1889 while at work on his annotated edition of Antonio de Morga’s 1609 “Sucesos de las islas Filipinas (Events of the Philippine Islands),” Rizal presented early accounts like the “Zhu Fan Zhi,” published by Chau Ju-kua in 1225, which described the industry and honesty of the Filipinos before the Spanish conquest; and Antonio Pigafetta’s chronicle of the Magellan expedition, regarding the capture and ransom of the Chief of Paragua. Wielding history as a weapon, Rizal asked sarcastically: “How did the industrious infidel become indolent centuries later when he was Christianized? Why did they forget their proud past and become indolent?”

Rizal also blamed the sorry state of the colony. The galleon trade had cut off existing trade between the Philippines and China and Southeast Asia, the trade monopoly running Filipino traders and artisans out of business. Furthermore, the lure of the galleon trade led to the neglect of commerce and agriculture. People were conscripted to work in the shipyards, forced to build roads and buildings with little or no pay, decimating the population and killing their natural love for work. Their goods and services were taken by force, such that they simply refused to work more only to have their products taken for free, paid cheaply, or so heavily taxed that these ended up not worth the trouble.

People were also insecure about their liberty, with false accusations and the like.

Gambling was another factor, because it bred “dislike for steady and difficult toil by its promise of sudden wealth and its appeal to the emotions, with the lotteries,” said Rizal. Finally, he pointed out the failure of education, which was more focused on religion than on the secular and useful, with the exception of the Jesuits and the Dominican Benavides. “From his birth until he sinks into his grave, the training of the native is brutalizing, depressive and antihuman (the word ‘inhuman’ is not sufficiently explanatory: whether or not the Academy admits it, let it go).”

Rizal did not just rant, he provided a solution: education and the formation of what he called a “national sentiment.” Rizal left us with 25 volumes of writings to instruct and inspire, but alas, he wrote a lot for a nation that does not read him. It took a foreigner, Syed Hussein Alatas, to build on Rizal’s essay and publish “The Myth of the Lazy Native” (1977), disproving as myth the laziness of the Malays, Filipinos and Javanese in colonial times.


Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: ambeth ocampo, Chinese workers, Filipino workers, indolence, lazy, Looking Back, Ramon Tulfo
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