Can we Filipinos shape up? | Inquirer Opinion
No Free Lunch

Can we Filipinos shape up?

/ 12:59 AM November 08, 2016

There’s a meme making the rounds in social media that says: “In Japanese schools, the students don’t get ANY exams until they reach grade four (the age of 10)! Why? Because the goal for the first 3 years of school is NOT to judge the child’s knowledge or learning, but to establish good manners and to develop their character! That’s what our scholars taught us: Manners BEFORE knowledge!” At the end, it asks: “Shouldn’t this method be implemented all over the world?”

While the supposed absence of exams has been factually disputed, Japan’s early emphasis on manners before knowledge generally holds true. Moral education does in fact have a fundamental role in Japanese education. As prescribed by government, moral education is built on the four pillars of 1) self, 2) relationships with others, 3) relationships with nature and the sublime, and 4) groups and society.


On developing the self, values inculcated include independence, self-reliance, endurance, hard work, high aspirations, and living moderately. On social relationships, focus is on courtesy and honesty along with cooperation, thoughtfulness, participation, and good manners. The third pillar seeks to have people moved by the magnificence and wonder of nature, and feel the importance of nature and living things. The fourth pillar stresses keeping promises, following rules, maintaining order, regularity, respect for public property, freedom, justice, fairness, having a sense of public duty and upholding the common good. All these are integrated in every level of basic education, infusing attitudes, habits, and behaviors that are consistent with the Japanese value system. Underlying it is an acute sense of dignity and honor that permeates Japanese society.

Having lived and worked in Japan twice over the last 28 years, I’ve seen first-hand from the eyes of a foreigner how those qualities appear largely taken for granted by the Japanese. For us, however, those qualities sound like the wish list we constantly dream of when we find ourselves lamenting common flaws in the Filipino character that have stood in our way to nation-building and achieving a just and progressive society.


I was in a conversation the other day with a friend about this flawed Filipino character, one manifestation of which is the propensity to go for “easy money” rather than earn it properly the hard way. Hence, people from all walks of life fall easy prey to persistent pyramid scams, and business people choose to put their creativity, energy and resources in rent-seeking behavior like lobbying and buying public officials rather than in improving efficiency and productivity.

And then there’s the common tendency to violate rules and laws, often openly, especially because hardly anyone enforces them, and worse, the enforcers themselves would be first to violate them. Hence, hardly anyone shudders at the information that police generals are among President Duterte’s list of drug protectors. Willingness to wait for one’s turn seems an exceptional virtue for us, hence the propensity for breaking into a queue or creating an improper counterflow lane when traffic goes slow. Lack of concern for our surroundings is commonly seen in the most basic matter of how we dispose of our litter. And it’s tempting to believe that Filipinos generally have a dishonest streak, trying to make “palusot” with improper, unethical, or illegal behavior at every chance, whether in small or big ways.

To be fair, we have many positive traits to be proud of as well. But with so many negative behaviors seemingly ingrained in us over time, my friend and I concluded that it will take only disruptive change, such as the President now represents, for us Filipinos to finally shape up.

But there are no guarantees, especially with all the associated discordant “noise.” Neither will change come overnight. It would take well over a generation, and to start the process, we will have to make a thorough revisit of how we inculcate good manners and right conduct in our schools. On this, there is much we can learn from the Japanese.

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TAGS: culture, discipline, Japan, manners, opinion, rules
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