Colonial Mentality: A Filipino Heritage?

Một bài viết rất thú vị về tâm lý thuộc địa của người Phillipines. Trong cùng một bối cảnh của bài viết, nếu thay người Phillipines thành người Việt Nam, chúng ta sẽ thấy rất nhiều điểm tương đồng trong tâm lý thuộc địa của người Phillipines, người Việt Nam và các nước thuộc địa khác như thế nào?


This is a very interesting article. In the same context, if we replace the Filipinos by the Vietnamese, we’ll see many similarities in the colonial mentality of the Filipinos, of the Vietnamese and other colonial countries.



by: Maris Cay E. Garbones

“Tangkilikin ang saraling atin,” (Patronize what is ours), we hear this statement spoken quite often. Cliché as it may sound but Filipinos do not live by it.

Skechers, Havaianas, Converse and Crocs’ sales in the Philippines reach hundred millions a year while the Marikina Shoe industry remains an underdog. A kid prefers to eat Hershey’s Kisses rather than enjoy Goya chocolate. The Hunger Games and other Hollywood films attract more audiences than Ang Babae sa Septic Tank and other Filipino movies. The current trend in the Philippines is very far from what former President Carlos P. Garcia had envisioned when he initiated the Filipino First Policy during his administration. The program’s main objective was to free the Philippine economy from foreign control and supervision. Although there are Filipinos who try to follow the path of nationalism that Jose Rizal and other heroes had taken, there are more who are driven by colonial mentality.

Taking pride in being a citizen of a country is essential for that country’s progress. Colonial mentality is often held accountable for the backwardness of the Philippine economy and country as a whole. Its impacts can be deteriorating to the nation in various aspects especially if left not scrutinized and undirected to a more nationalistic mentality.

David and Okazaki (2006) conceptualized colonial mentality among Filipinos and Filipino Americans as a form of internalized oppression, characterized by a perception of ethnic or cultural inferiority. It involves an automatic and unreasonable rejection of anything Filipino and an instinctive and uncritical preference for anything Western or foreign. Its scope is not limited to the patronage of foreign products but also involves the choice of language, concept of beauty, educational system, laws and policies, and even political system. Filipinos with the colonial mentality are unconscious most of the time that they exhibit this type of mindset. The development of such a mentality is a product of the Philippines’ experiences.

Development of Filipino Colonial Mentality

The colonial history of the Philippines is the primary factor in the existence of colonial mentality among its constituents. It is believed to be a consequence of more than four centuries of colonization under Spain and the United States of America. According to the theories of Memmi, Fanon, and Freire, a salient effect of colonization is the internalization of the inferior perception that is imposed on a person by the colonizer (as cited in David and Okazaki, 2006). Such internalization may lead to feelings of inferiority about oneself and one’s ethnic or cultural group, and feelings of shame, embarrassment, or resentment about being a person.

Fanon formulated the classical colonial model which describes four phases of colonization (as cited in David and Okazaki, 2006). The first phase involves forced entry of the colonizers in a territory with the purpose of exploiting its natural resources and inhabitants. The second phase follows, wherein a colonial society is established to disintegrate and recreate the existing culture. In this phase, the colonizers impose their own customs on the inhabitants to create a contrast between their superiority over the latter. In the third stage, the colonizers employ oppression and domination. They portray the inhabitants as savage people that need to be controlled. The three stages eventually lead to the final phase where a race-based societal system exists and the political, social, and economic institutions in the colony are devised to benefit the colonizers and continually subjugate the colonized. Consequently, the colonized inhabitants would perceive their inferiority which lead them to mimic their colonizers as the latter’s ways are already regarded as superior than the previously held traditions of the colonized(David and Okazaki, 2006).

Applying the aforementioned model to the Philippine context, the Spanish colonization was a period of suffering and cruelty. Filipinos were treated ruthlessly and considered as second class citizens which brought about their lack of ethnic pride. They were caught in a hierarchy of inferiority; the mestizos bowed to the criollos (offspring of Spanish parents), the criollos to the peninsulares (those with parents born in Spain), while the Indios or the Filipinos knelt before everyone (Duldulao, 1987). The recurring reminder of the Filipinos’ weakness marked into their minds and is still reflected on their behavior as a race.

The level of the social and economic development that the Filipinos had attained before colonization is also a factor in the development of their colonial mentality. There was no concept of nation yet in the Philippines prior to the Spaniards’ arrival. The communities consisted of separate, autonomous barangays whose contact with one another was only occasional and by barter only (Constantino, 1984). No particular religion existed to unify the early Filipinos, hence, Catholicism was readily embraced. The Spaniards forcibly resettled the scattered barangays into larger communities where the people could more easily be Christianized and where every aspect of their lives, their customs and ideas could be scrutinized and shaped in the desired colonial mode. The introduction of a religion which was an alien concept for Filipinos made physical conquest and cultural domination quite easy for the Spanish colonizers. Contrary to Cambodia and Indonesia, the Philippines had no Angkor Wat, Borobodur or any monument that could remind its people of their ancestral origin (Constantino, 1984). Countries that have advanced social structures and a firmly established culture would be able to confront colonizers with dignity and would not lose their sense of racial worth. In the Philippine experience, colonization occurred before Filipinos could develop a sufficient society so foreign influence easily penetrated their culture.

The culture and Philippine values system are also factors in the acquisition of colonial mentality. One of the goals of the Philippine values system is social acceptance which lies on the values of smooth interpersonal relationship, amor propio (self-esteem) and hiya (shame) (MacDonald, Raymundo and Panopio, 1994). According to Landa Jocano, “the Filipino, regardless of inner ill feelings, bows and resigns in silence since this is the behavior based on and required by primal cultural norms expected of hiya” (as cited in Yango, 2009). Filipinos by nature aspire to be admired by other people and they persevere in saving their faces from embarrassment, this desire is also an outcome brought by their colonial history. Even after colonization, there is a tendency for the colonized people to try to become like their colonizers to be freed from being identified as inferior. Their history and experience of being inferior brought Filipinos in wanting to become superior. Thus, in an attempt to prove their independence, Filipinos try to imitate their previous colonizers’ way of thinking, appearance, preferences, and lifestyle.

Utang na loob or the debt of gratitude is another of Filipino values that at some extent contributes to the perpetuation of colonial mentality (Enriquez, 1978). The Americans are viewed by Filipinos in a positive light since they bestowed them independence and they had continuously given aid to the Philippines whenever it is needed. In this sense, Filipinos have utang na loob (debt of gratitude) to the Americans that they can never repay through money thus they support whatever programs that the latter initiate as a symbol of their gratitude although at times it is at the expense of Filipinos.

Mass media also has a role in the colonial mentality of Filipinos. It has a large influence on Filipino viewers particularly on their behavior as consumers. Televisions through the unending displays of Western faces in advertisements and shows portray beauty as having fair complexion and tall noses (David, 1996). Celebrities that the people idolize are endorsing Western-made products and Western-owned companies which make it easier for the said companies to gain profit. These advertisements strengthen the yearning of Filipinos to live a lifestyle that is similar to that in the West and ignore the Filipino way of life. Randy David asserted that the importation of telenovelas and recently Korean novelas by local networks contributes to cultural invasion. The art of dubbing created a connection between foreign artists and Filipino viewers, which exposes the latter to foreign ways and further leads to emulation.

In addition, the introduction of globalization in the Philippines opened gates for more Western influences. Globalization aims to unify all nations of the world in international affairs, including trade, industry, culture and everything that can be exchanged and function together in a harmonious manner (Funtecha, 2009). At the present age, it is inevitable for any country to embrace globalization because it has various advantages. Globalization echoes the increasing need for greater transnational cooperation and understanding, which eliminates the boundaries of countries. It had bridged miles of distances between countries and paved the way for Filipinos to be easily susceptible to foreign influences and culture.

Effects of Colonial Mentality

Colonial mentality produced effects that are graver than what Filipinos realize and imagine. It is a burden and a barrier for the progress of Philippine economy, especially on industries producing Philippine-made merchandises. Filipinos tend to see Western goods as superior over those made in the Philippines thus a producer and a vendor of Philippine goods will have a hard time marketing them. Filipino entrepreneurs in the cosmetic industry like Splash Corporation struggle to compete with multinational corporations that have adequate resources to afford costly advertisements. Meanwhile, most of Filipino enterprises suffer because consumers do not use much of anything made in the Philippines. Nowadays, when one sees a Filipino, chances are he is wearing something of a designer brand or eating a Western food. Filipinos are the only ones in Asia who prefer foreign things than their own (Andres and Ilada, 1987). Andres revealed that “Japanese patronize their products even if those are inferior compared to the foreign-made ones” also “Indians stick to their Indian ways and ideas”. Needless to say, the opposite applies to Filipinos for they are import-oriented consumers. A simple manifestation of this is how they trust soaps made with olive oil more than local coconut oil.

Filipinos’ preference for imported or foreign products influences their lifestyle. Colonial mentality extends also to the people’s concept of beauty. They perceive beauty biased on the mestizos’ attributes that is why skin whiteners are one of the top grossing products in the Philippines. Paulo Tirol, Assistant Brand Manager for Procter and Gamble Distributing (Phils.) Inc. said that “more than 71% of the Philippine skincare market is in whitening products”. A survey by Synovate on 2004 found that half of Filipino women use a skin-whitening product. Those in the upper class of the society undergo nose lift surgeries and bleaching for them to be considered beautiful. Nationalists view those actions as a manifestation of one’s discontent of Filipino attributes.

Philippine culture – music, literature and films – is unappreciated because of colonial mentality. Libraries and bookstores are filled with American and other Western books while there is scarcity in books published in Tagalog and written by Filipino authors. Erwin Ordoñez asserted that Filipino authors are seldom read by students and teachers since they favor Western writers (as cited in Abueva, 1999). Students are very much familiar with William Shakespeare and his works but the mention of Amado Hernandez or Jose Corazon de Jesus will place a crease on an average student’s forehead. Even the average Filipino readers prefer books written by international authors. In fact, only two Filipino authored books made it to the latest Bestsellers List of National Bookstore (National Bookstore Website, March 2013).

Hollywood movies have knocked down Philippine movie industry as well. Box Office Mojo reported that, as of January 2013, “The Avengers,” distributed by Walt Disney Pictures, is the all-time highest grossing film in the Philippines. Meanwhile, “Sisterakas,” the all-time highest grossing Filipino film is only in sixth place. Filipino movies are supported when they are competing with other Filipino movies but they fall short when compared with foreign films.

Emigration is another of the underlying effects of colonial mentality. As of December 2004, an estimated 8.1 million Filipinos, which is nearly 10 percent of the Philippines’ 85 million people, were working or residing in close to 200 countries and territories (Asis, 2006). Filipinos identify foreign lands as more progressive nations and they dream to permanently reside there. Filipinos have associated foreign countries with greener pastures, so, they choose to leave their country either to work abroad or permanently migrate. A nationwide survey of 1,200 adult respondents in 2002 found one in five Filipinos expressing a desire to migrate. More recent surveys carried out by Pulse Asia in 2005 found an increasing percentage of adult respondents, 26 percent in July and 33 percent in October, agreeing with the statement, “If it were only possible, I would migrate to another country and live there” (Asis, 2006).

Interest in leaving the country is not limited to adults, the young population share similar vision. In a nationwide survey in 2003 of children ages 10 to 12, 47 percent reported that they wished to work abroad someday (Asis, 2006). This could explain the growth of Nursing schools to offset the increasing number of students who want to pursue the career for the high income and employment overseas it promises.

Although Filipinos abroad contribute to the country’s economy with their remittances, such a setup must not be favored by the government. Filipinos lose their sense of identity as they are exposed to the culture of other nations. Moreover, it leads to brain drain since educated individuals choose to harness their expertise abroad in exchange for larger income, which further causes scarcity of professionals in the Philippines. The talents and competencies of Filipinos are utilized by other nations while the country makes use of whatever was left behind. As a result, the Philippines is left uncultivated similar to a rice field that was abandoned by its farmers.

Furthermore, the educational system is unsuited to the country, it being a “clone of the American school system” as expressed by Ordoñez (as cited in Abueva, 1999). The apparatuses of education were utilized by the past colonizers of

Filipinos to produce ideas, instill values, and transmit information that would insidiously work on the minds of the populace and render them impotent and incapable of critical reflection. Teresita Maceda explained that alien or foreign cultural standards dominated Philippine intellectual centers without material basis in Philippine society (as cited in Abueva, 1999). As a result, Filipinos regard First World culture as superior and their own as inferior and marginal. She further asserts that Philippine folktales were excluded from textbooks during the colonization period and viewed as insignificant while those written in English or Spanish are given importance. English textbooks did not only introduce the Filipinos to a new language but it also opened a gate to the Western world that Filipinos had already learned to imitate. The problem stems from the fact that scholars in the country are trained and educated in Western institutions thus they tend to think in Western terms and teach in Western ways (Espiritu, 1968). There are tendencies where Filipino culture is ignored brought by the predominant Western culture that was already embedded in their minds.

Western concepts are not always applicable to the Philippines for the culture and environment greatly varies. For instance, in studying psychology and sociology there are terms and ideas that were described in Western models that do not really capture their actual meanings. The best example is the word kapwa which is translated in English as “others” but in the Philippine culture kapwa means differently, it refers to a union of the “self” and “others” (Enriquez, 1978). According to Dr. Zeus Salazar, what the Filipino scholars lack is the mastery and application of pantayong pananaw (a “we” perspective; usage of Filipino language as discourse in history and other social sciences). Clearly, the Philippine educational system is largely Western influenced which is incompatible with Filipino culture.

Eradication of Colonial Mentality

Although one can argue that colonial mentality brought some advantages, like changing Filipinos’ non-rationalistic values orientation to a rationalistic one and strengthening their English proficiency, it is still undeniable that it produced more drawbacks. To progress as a nation, Filipinos must decide to eradicate colonial mentality in their system. Strobel suggested decolonization as the method that can eradicate colonial mentality (as cited in Yango, 2009).

Decolonization refers to the task of unlearning colonial mentality. Its objective is to retell the narrative of the oppressive colonial experience throughout Philippine society for the purpose of exposing its oppressive intent. Yango (2009) asserted that “liberation begins with recognizing one’s history” thus the means of decolonizing is not found in the destruction of the colonial narrative but within the “power of knowing the colonial experience”. Transformation is a significant objective in the process of decolonizing and it is expected that the power of knowing the colonial experience will lead towards a new narrative that has learned to respond against other colonial narratives and tendencies in the context of globalization. The task of decolonizing colonial mentality indicates an attempt to reconfigure the Filipino story in relation to their colonial experience and view colonial mentality as abnormal or alien within the Filipino consciousness (Yango, 2009). Decolonization involves conscious mindset and deliberate action of individuals.

The government plays a significant role in this advocacy. Strict implementation of the principles laid down in the Constitution and laws that protect Philippine industry and are pro-Filipino should be practiced. A number of provisions that promote the interests of Filipinos and protect Philippine entrepreneurs from foreign exploitation exist in the 1987 Philippine Constitution such as Filipino control of the economy (Art. II, Sec. 19), complete Filipino management and control of public utilities (Art. XII, Sec. 11), promotion of the “Filipino First” policy (Art. XII, Sec. 10, par. 2; Sec. 12), and the reservation to Filipinos of certain areas of investments if in the national interest (Art. XII, Sec. 10, par. 1). Moreover, the Constitution upholds the preservation and enhancement of Filipino national culture (Art. XIV, Secs. 14-18). The Philippine Constitution is obviously pro- Filipino and it supports Filipinos in their endeavors. The legislators should now ensure that the provisions of the Constitution are reflected in laws or else the Constitution would be nothing but a piece of document.

Filipinos must reexamine their values and rekindle their pride and dignity for being Filipinos. Heber Bartolome’s song (1978) is very suggestive in the context of Filipinos undergoing cosmetic surgeries, it goes “Tayo’y mga Pinoy, tayo’y hindi Kano, huwag kang mahihiya kung ang ilong mo ay pango” (We are Filipinos and not Americans, don’t be ashamed though your nose is flat). It alludes Filipinos to embrace their traits and take pride in them. Furthermore, Randy David pointed out that a Filipino should accept and be proud of whatever physical attributes given to him and not try to look like a Westerner since beauty is subjective (as cited in Abueva, 1999). Patronizing Western products and trying to look like a Westerner will never make a Filipino become one. “Bakit nangagaya, meron naman tayo” (Why imitate when we have our own), this line from Bartolome’s song is an advocacy for Filipinos to refrain from imitating foreign ways and preserve the nation’s own identity. There is a need for cultural change among Filipinos and this process requires the Filipino consciousness to reject the admission of colonial mentality into the Filipino being (Yango, 2009). Without this particular culture change, the Filipino consciousness will continue to be victimized by Western influences, be it from within or outside Philippine society.

Most importantly, nationalism – the attitude that the members of a nation have when they care about their national identity and their actions when seeking to achieve or sustain national unity and independence – must be emphasized in social institutions like family, school and work place (Miscevic, 2005). Ideally, Filipino nationalism, as characterized by Constantino (n.d.), is defensive or protective, anti-imperialist, mass-based and not anti-development. She relates that nationalists believe that the resources of Philippines should be for the benefit of Filipinos today and in the future. To achieve this, she suggests that the Philippine government should protect its people against foreign competition and give them preference in dollar allocations.

Constantino clarifies that being anti-imperialist is not synonymous to racism. Filipino nationalism is not anti-American or anti-Japanese; it only advocates opposition against those policies of governments that harm the interests of the Filipino people, policies which these governments pressure the Philippine government to adopt. It is mass-based because, unlike in the past, it aims to serve the interest of the majority and no longer the interest of one or another sector. Constantino regards it as democratic since it believes in the greatest possible participation of the people in the determination of policy, particularly in the re- orientation of development programs.

Filipino nationalism is not anti-development and it does not advocate economic, political, scientific or cultural isolation. It actually “fosters ease and comfort, good health, and access to the best products of man’s intellect and artistic spirit that the highest achievements of modern science and art can provide” (Constantino, n.d.). This means that nationalism believes in economic, political, and scientific exchanges with other countries but it recommends that such exchanges are done carefully and selectively, always placing priority on the needs and welfare of the Filipino people.


History is something that no one can change. The colonization that the Philippines went through for over four centuries is engraved in the nation’s historical experience and culture. Nevertheless, this does not necessarily imply total tolerance and indulgence of Western influences, goods and concepts. The cultural heritage and unique crafts of Filipinos are the things that define their identity as a people; consumption of Western products will ever transform anyone to a Westerner. In the first place, Filipinos must not attempt to imitate Westerners. They must willfully recognize the greatness of their own race.

Colonial mentality should be eliminated slowly if not eradicated completely from the Filipino being. Decolonization of Filipino colonial mentality should be achieved before it totally ruins what was left of the Philippines and nationalism must be promoted and advocated. It would take a deliberate action and a lot of determination but Filipino nationalism is not impossible to be revived. Benigno (2003) was encouraging Filipinos to do just that when he said, “We were born Filipinos. Now we must learn to be Filipinos.” After all, it is only the identity and conviction of being a Filipino that can revive the sense of nationalism Dr. Jose Rizal manifested in between the lines of Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.

***I’ll be happy if this paper would be able to help anyone. Just please give credit where credit is due.
Last Updated: October 9, 2013
How to cite this article: Gabornes, Maris Cay. (2010, March 11). Colonial Mentality: A Filipino Heritage? Retrieved from
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