Debt of Gratitude: A Filipino Social Phenomenon

"Scratch my back and I will scratch yours." - This describes the prevailing Filipino social phenomenon of debt of gratitude. It is an attempt of one to repay the other, who in the past had done something good or beneficial to him or her. This has been magnified by other social phenomena such as the continued emigration of Filipino workers outside the Philippines, such that remittances are actually in the form of payment to their families, as an expression of long-lasting debt of gratitude. This is just an example of how this phenomenon has shaped the Filipino society and culture.

In this blogpost, an in-depth analysis will be made to showcase the advantages and disadvantages of this phenomena, as various concepts and ideas revolving around it are enumerated throughout the discussion.

1. It exists in any type of relationship; familial, working, spiritual and others.

Because of man's social nature, there will be periods of self-sufficiency and vulnerability. During time of vulnerability, one needs help of others to pursue one's desire. It is therefore easy to ask for help, rather than attempt to do it alone. The Church could help in a way through advices, and through its teachings. The family ofcourse is an important social aspect that supports an individual unconditionally. Furthermore, work superiors and colleagues have contributed for one's survival. All of these relationships are source of debt of gratitude. As long as there is something good to one, a mere "thank you" is not enough since the person owes debt in gratitude to others from that time on.

2. It is an implied contract between at least two entities.

Debt of gratitude is about reciprocity. There is an exchange of benefits, regardless of what form it is. The magnitude of benefits varies from a little gift to an eternal familial loyality to an institution or a person. The challenge with this benefits is that it is non-consummable. It is therefore not sufficient to repay one or twice or thrice, for goodness is unquantifiable. The goodness will never be repaid, and the obligation exists as long as there is someone who remembers it. It is type of unwritten contract without expiry, validity and concreteness.

3. It is a result of colonialism.

Unfortunately, debt of gratitude stems from the Philippines' colonial past. Filipinos were made to believe that they are still unprepared for self-rule. It is therefore required for the colony to seek protection from external invasion, given that the colony is militarily and economically weak and small to defend itself. However, it is safe to say that colonialism is created European concept. The British, Spaniards, French, German, Dutch, Italians and other major European "superpowers" raced to conquer the world. They self-proclaimed dominion over land masses, disrespecting aborigines and traditions of the lands they dominated. Therefore, European colonizers are also responsible for this Filipino social phenomenon. They made their subjects believe that they are not independent amd capable, and the only way to exist is to be slaves, servants and parasites to their colonizing nation.

4. It is encouraged by religious teachings through stewardship.

To be generous and of service of others is the primary teaching of the Church. It is stated in passages of holy scriptures. However, the interpretations have gone to way varied. To be subservient is quite different from offering service to others. Offering service is quite limited to time, place and situation. On the other hand, to be subservient is limitless and self-sacrificial. These acts has been enshrouded in the rationale of stewardship, such that everyone encouraged to take care of each other, thereby making it obligatory to help others and expect others to do the same. There is no end for this exchange, and this is where others abuse and have been abused. There is therefore a need to delineate, what is enough and what is too much, an act itself contrary and in dilemma against Church teachings.

5. It is a means to address competition.

To answer why there is a need for debt of gratitude. It is actually reciprocal means to survive a highly-competitive social environment. Resources are scarce, such that building alliances and support groups is a must, rather optional. One could compare debt of gratitude as a currency in a hunting society, hungry and always in need of food and resources. This is quite similar living in a country of over 100 million people. There is always a constant struggle to outwit and outdo others. That is the ultimate problem, which in part or wholly resolved through debt of gratitude.

6. It fuels corruption and nepotism.

Benefits is the focus of debt of gratitude. In the Philippine society, there exists three types of benefits, legal, illegal and everything in between. Because there exists a very large gray zone in the social structure, people are given the leeway to decide on their own to interpret what is right and wrong. Here is where debt of gratitude interplays, the same leeway and decision power is utilized to yield something good, as a payment for debt of gratitude. Instead of selecting the best applicants for the government positions, the deciding power will give it to a close relative or recommended applicants of a person the individual owes debt of gratitude. In this way, corruption and nepotism magnifies and trickles in all sectors of the society.

7. It breeds conflicts and dilemmas.

To remain loyal to person one owes debt of gratitude or to follow the truth and justice is something usual dilemma created by debt of gratitude. Wrongdoings are tolerated to accomodate someone to do good. Moreover, people are forced to be in conflict with others by showing loyalty to a person. There is no value in objectivity and self-judgment in debt of gratitude. What is important is to repay someone for an act, which is in the first place, not repayable and subjective.

8. It usually involves money and authority.

Money and authority are two most powerful encouraging factors in debt of gratitude. For money to grow, a person needs someone to work and help him or her for it. Through debt of gratitude, it convenient and easy to fulfill this task. In the same way, to go up the ladder of social class, one requires the helping hand of another, who is superior in money and power. Money and power have become exchange vehicles in paying debt of gratitude. The problem occurs when power and interests overlaps with one and another, creating a bigger power struggle among power-thirsty entities.

9. It is Filipino's way of fulfilling social ethical obligations.

No one is an island. We are all made to believe on this. There is no one who will expess dissent on this principle. That is just a way of life. This is true for Filipinos as well. Naturally helpful to others, Filipinos will wholeheartedly share time, resources and money to be of help of others. This is the main advantage of debt of gratitude, knowing there are still people who care. The non-existence of debt of gratitude means the non-existence of care itself, and perhaps love. However, justifying mainly the incorrectness of debt of gratitude is in itself not sufficient if it is only based on love and care. There must limitations to using these reasons so as to avoid abuse and perpetual exploitation.

10. It is a form of perpetual modern-day slavery and indebtness.

Since the nature of goodness is unrepayable, one who owes debt of gratitude will never be capable of giving back to the person, who did good to him. The more significant the benefit one has received, the more timeless debt of gratitude become. Worse, family members are made to honor this debt even after the death of the primary person in debt. The person who gave the benefit will never be satisfied, with any kind of service or act. Debt of gratitude becomes eternal and irrevocable. The person who received the benefit will work harder and harder for a debt, in reality, he or she is not capable of paying, resulting to dependent relationship nearing to the concept of slavery.

I have to admit that during I wrote this blogpost, I was influenced by a personal experience related to debt of gratitude. I am honestly irritated by the situation, so it would seem that I am quite biased and negative in my perspective on this Filipino social phenomena. I made an attempt to balance how I wrote the article, at least. It is therefore upon the reader's judgment. However, I think a pessimistic point-of-view is needed to balance the discussion. Debt of gratitude has long been tolerated by the Filipino society. Its incorrectness has been continuously ignored and unchallenged, and sometimes hailed by the government as a form of sacrifice and heroism. Objectively, every Filipino deserves to determine what he or she wants without being influenced by social phenomena thay hinders his or her utmost potential, freedom and happiness.


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