Perfectionism in being Filipino | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

Perfectionism in being Filipino

/ 02:27 PM April 09, 2016

What makes a “true Filipino,” according to Filipinos?  Is it the same as, or different from, what makes a “true American,” according to Americans?  What do other peoples think is important for someone to be a “true” member of their community?

There is a survey question in the International Social Survey Program’s 2013 module on National Identity that goes: “Some people say that the following things are important for being truly [NATIONALITY]. Others say they are not important. How important do you think each of the following is?”


The “things” to which the survey question refers are eight plausible criteria for being a “true” member of one’s nationality.  For each criterion, the possible answers to the question are: “Very Important, Fairly Important, Not Very Important, And Not Important At All.” We focus here on the percentage saying that a particular criterion is Very Important.

Summarized below are the findings of the survey about the attitudes of Filipinos.  They are compared to the attitudes of Americans and Spaniards, to check for spillovers from our colonial past, and to the average attitudes of people in the 32 countries where the survey was conducted.


From the cross-country surveys we shall see that we Filipinos are in fact quite special. When it comes to ideals about being a true Filipino, we are perfectionists.

Criterion 1. To have been born in the Philippines (Ang maipanganak sa Pilipinas) is considered very important by 83 percent of Filipinos. This puts us at the top of the 32 nationalities, far ahead of Indians (68 percent, second place). Yet, to be born in one’s country is very important to only 43 percent of Americans (13th) and to only 38 percent of Spaniards (15th). The average in the 32 countries is only a minority 39 percent.

Criterion 2. To be able to speak Filipino (Ang makapagsalita ng Pilipino) is very important to 81 percent, again for first place. This compares to only 73 percent in the United States (eighth), for ability to speak English, and 56 percent in Spain (21st), for ability to speak Spanish. The ISSP-wide average is 59 percent, a slight majority.

Criterion 3. To feel Filipino (Ang madama ang pagka-Pilipino) is very important to 79 percent, for second place. In first place is Georgia (84 percent).  It is 59 percent in the United States (11th) and 46 percent in Spain (27th). The average is 54 percent.

Criterion 4. To have Filipino citizenship (Ang magkaroon ng pagkamamamayang Pilipino o “Filipino citizenship”): 79 percent, first place. It is 72 percent in the United States (second), but only 44 percent in Spain (22nd). The average is 52 percent.

Criterion 5. To have Filipino ancestry (Ang magkaroon ng lahing Pilipino): 77 percent, first place. This criterion of jus sanguinis is very important to only 34 percent in Spain (12th) and to only 25 percent in the United States (18th). The average is only 32 percent.

Criterion 6. To be a Catholic—the majority religion (Ang maging Katoliko): 75 percent, first place. (Of course, the proportion is much lower among  non-Catholics.)  It is 33 percent in the United States (ninth; I assume the reference is to being “Christian”) and 14 percent in Spain (16th, to being Catholic).  The average is 22 percent.


Criterion 7. To have lived in the Philippines for most of one’s life (Ang pagtira sa Pilipinas nang halos buong buhay ng isang tao): 74 percent, first place. This criterion, which can be called a relative of jus solis, is 42 percent in the United States (11th) and 40 percent in Spain (15th). The average is 39 percent.

Criterion 8. To respect Philippine political institutions and laws (Ang igalang ang mga institusyong pulitikal at mga batas ng Pilipinas): 65 percent, fifth place. It is 65 percent in the United States (sixth) and 35 percent in Spain (26th).  The average is 52 percent.

Thus, we Filipinos are the most demanding of 32 peoples with respect to six of the eight criteria, and the second in rank with respect to a seventh criterion.  Our lowest rank is fifth out of the 32.

Given our perfectionism on the criteria for true national identity, it is not so strange that we argue so stridently about the true meaning of a natural-born Filipino.

Note that our requirements are always higher—usually very much higher—than those of Americans or Spaniards.  Therefore, we did not acquire our values about national identity from them.  I think that most of our basic values, like our sense of religiosity, are probably pre-Hispanic.

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Those data are available for the following 32 countries (alphabetized by abbreviation): Belgium, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Estonia, Finland, France, Great Britain, Georgia, Croatia, Hungary, India, Ireland, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Korea (South), Lithuania, Latvia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, Turkey, Taiwan, and the United States.  (A 33rd country, South Africa, also did the survey, but with a slightly different answer grid.) The ISSP data can be found at

The Philippine survey on National Identity was fielded by SWS on Feb. 19-23, 2014, on a nationally representative sample of 1,200 adults. Since it takes about two years for the global data set to be assembled, the comparison shown here is actually quite “fresh.”

As the Philippine member of ISSP, SWS has completed all the 24 ISSP survey modules of 1991-2014.  Last month, SWS fielded the ISSP 2015 (Work Orientations) and 2016 (Role of Government) modules in tandem; data processing is ongoing.

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