From ‘utang na loob’ to bondage | Inquirer Opinion
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From ‘utang na loob’ to bondage

How so often we list utang na loob or debt of gratitude among the Filipinos’ sterling traits, citing it as if we were the only people in the world who discovered how it works. Perhaps, in a way, it is true, for only we can carry it to the extreme. It is so ingrained in us that the Tagalog utang na loob has its equivalent in other Filipino languages. Utang nga kabalaslan in Ilonggo/Hiligaynon, utang sa kabubut-on in Cebuano, utang na bo-ot in Bicol, and utang a lub in Kapampangan.

Kabalaslan in Ilonggo may have been derived from the word balos, which means to give back with gratitude or, in another context, to strike back in revenge or to get even. In extremis, it would be morally right to bite the evil hand that feeds you. But I am getting ahead of myself.

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The key words are utang or debt and loob/bo-ot or inner self. A heart thing, though it was not a Filipino who first came up with the saying “Gratitude is the memory of the heart.” In the internet are countless quotes and memes on gratitude that one can ponder on and share in these dark times when an unseen virus-turned-Goliath is pushing our lives to the brink.

What a shocker it was when the Inquirer had for its banner story by Jerome Aning on April 30, “Duterte: We owe a debt of gratitude to China.” (I heard him say that at his televised press briefing.) Without much ado, I took a screenshot of the front page of the Inquirer’s digital version and posted it on Facebook. The comments were instant and scathing. But a friend thought the Inquirer headline was “disgusting” and that the presidential statement should not have been given that kind of space. I disagreed. I thought people ought to know and be disgusted at the President, repeat, disgusted at the President they voted into office for making the Philippines look like a vassal of China.

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In a past column I did say that for every gift of anti-COVID-19 vaccine vial from China, a square foot of Philippine territory is being grabbed. This is not hyperbole—those gift Sinovac vaccines are from the enemy at the gates.

The blurb under the April 30 headline said: “The President is thankful to China’s vaccine donations but it does not mean the Philippines will yield sovereignty over its waters to Beijing. Lawmakers say it is the Chinese who owe respect to Filipinos.” My reaction to the first sentence is: Let Duterte tell that to the fishermen whose catch have decreased dramatically because they could not fish where they used to because big Chinese vessels threaten and shoo them away, because… Tell that to the galunggong that the Chinese are harvesting with wild abandon from Philippine fishing grounds and are reportedly exporting to the Philippines. Debt of gratitude? “Whiskey tango foxtrot!” to borrow the title of a journalist’s biopic focusing on her war coverage.

In very feudal times, so-called benevolent landlords kept farm workers and landless loyal because the latter owed their masters debts of gratitude, for real peso dole-outs and many things else—for an ailing child, school fees, etc. Beneficence turned into IOUs. Generations in bondage. But art imitates life, and so in the movies you might have the landlord ravishing the farmhand’s daughter or wife or the comely labandera.

The President has taken utang na loob to the extreme, making Filipinos look like bootlickers, mendicants, beggars, in bondage to China. His subalterns are getting hot under the collar, one spewing expletives directed at China. But the President protests and says he alone can use cuss words, something he does all year round and directs at everybody else except China. He now denies making a campaign promise to fight for our territory in the West Philippine Sea, but video clip after video clip prove otherwise. Well, if he cannot fight for us, if he cannot jet-ski in Scarborough Shoal and plant a Philippine flag there as he said he would, he might as well declare that the Philippines is the province of China. What a headline that would make.

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TAGS: Human Face, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, Maritime Dispute, PH-China relations, Rodrigo Duterte, West Philippine Sea
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