Respect for time

/ 09:52 PM September 27, 2011

It’s not true that everything in the Philippines runs on “Filipino time”—the disreputable but widely tolerated national habit of always being late. Not many are aware, for instance, that nearly all the country’s professional theater companies start their shows on the dot, a practice now established enough in the local theater community as to have become unremarkable, even expected. Among the lot of performing artists, at least, it’s considered a high mark of unprofessionalism and lack of commitment to arrive for rehearsals late, or defy one’s call time, or—horrors—be tangled up in traffic and other sundry hurdles even as the lights are dimming and the curtain gets ready to rise.

Artists, of course, don’t have a monopoly on this virtue. Look around, and you realize this country is not lacking in individuals and entities with a healthy respect for time, whether imposed by workplace culture or one’s own conscientiousness.


Companies and businesses all over the country operate by their own rigorous rules on punctuality and respect for the clock, from delivery of crucial services to running internal operations. Many organizations employ a variety of means to encourage employees to show up for work on time, from rewarding the perennial early birds to penalizing the perennial latecomers. Workers who are serious enough about getting ahead in their careers know that their job appraisal hinges in part on their punctuality record—their availability to do the job, in other words, to be at their desk performing the task assigned to them within the compensated time the company expects them to. It’s no coincidence that the most accomplished people around are also, almost always, the most fanatical when it comes to fulfilling commitments on time.

It’s not the bleakest of records, but—yes, the Filipino is still, often enough, defined by a general lackadaisical attitude towards the clock—and towards the very mindset that underpins it. Too many of us continue to think being late is no big deal, and making a fuss about it is the big deal. The habit, since perceived as being practiced by nearly everyone and his cousin, no longer provokes outrage, merely a sigh of resignation or a shrug of the shoulders. Worse, it can be contagious. Keep one waiting crossly long enough, and he will think it’s normal, justified even, to do the same the next time around.


Ignoring a culture of delinquency has measurable consequences. In the United States, HR magazine once estimated that tardiness “costs US businesses more than $3 billion each year in lost productivity. The effect on the bottom line of the average business is significant: An employee who is late 10 minutes each day has, by the end of the year, taken the equivalent of a week’s paid vacation.”

That estimate was made in 2005. Six years later, the costs should be much bigger.

Transpose that figure to a country that has even learned to coin a term for its dubious custom—which, while perhaps moderated by rules in the workplace, is presumably freer to run rampant outside of it in the ordinary, day-to-day lives of people—and the picture becomes much more depressing. Jacque Ruby, Discovery Channel’s representative in Manila, sees it in starker terms: Habitually being late is “a social ill. It is no different from gambling, from eating disorders, because it affects relationships, it even affects your career. The problem is Filipinos have gotten used to it.”

Now, Ruby and the Department of Science and Technology have banded together to launch “Juan Time,” a campaign to reinvent “Filipino time” into something more edifying than the shorthand for national tardiness that it is at present. “With Juan Time, Filipino time will come to mean ‘on time’ and no longer late,” said Science and Technology Secretary Mario Montejo.

Juan Time also encourages everyone to synchronize their watches with the Philippine standard time displayed on the website of Pagasa, the official timekeeper of the Philippines by law since 1978. But “Juan Time is not just about standardizing our time, it’s time management… Otherwise, you will miss the important things,” said Ruby.

Are they tilting with windmills? Maybe. But it’s still an initiative worth supporting, for the important shift in mindset it may help engender. After all, if this country could learn to lay off on the excuses and show up on time, set aside procrastination and fix itself to deliver, it could find itself outside of its present mediocre straits and on the path to better things. It’s been a laggard long enough.

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TAGS: editorial, Filipino time, juan time, opinion, time management
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