Thursday, March 19, 2009

On Feudal Mentality

I once had a discussion regarding some pinoy traits, particularly about “welfare-state” mindset. I point out that one root of this kind of attitude is feudal mentality. At first I was surprise when the person I’m chatting with said “Ay, meron palang ganyan”. But then I realize that most of us, especially those raised in urban areas, doesn’t understand, haven’t experienced or didn’t encounter a “master-serf” relationship.

In a feudal society such as those in the Middle Ages, the king grants lands to his trusted lieutenants (knights). In return, he has a guaranteed standby army to do battle and settle his war at a wave of his hand. Within this turf, the knight is the absolute ruler, judge and executioner of every denizen who settles it. He also assures the safety of these people from marauders and harassment from other knights of nearby fiefdom. In return he taxed his subjects in a form of a percentage share of their produce and enlists able bodied men to fight his battle or the king’s war. In the Philippines, this practice still exists in the south and has evolved into another form of symbiotic relationship in the central regions.

Before the Lopezes monopolized public utilities and became media moguls, they were landlords and their source of income was sugar. If you have read “An Anarchy of Families” by Alfred McCoy, a section is dedicated to the rise to power of this family. A chapter of it mentions my grandfather’s hometown. It is a sleepy agricultural town in the upland part of my province. It was only mentioned because it’s where the first “sakadas” came from. Locally, it’s famous (infamous?) for two things; its fearless people, skilled in the martial art called “eskrima” and its razor-sharp, meter length bolo called “talibong”. I have a notion that because of their sword skill, they were hired to put into good use their mastery of the weapon by cutting sugarcane instead of limbs and torsos.

In the old days, during summer, a lot of farmers are idle after the rice planting season is over. It was also sugarcane harvest time. This was where my grandfather comes in. He recruits these farmers, shipped them out from the port of Iloilo to work in the sugar plantations of Negros. Sounds familiar? OFW diaspora is not a recent phenomenon. We’ve been doing it since 19kupong-kupong, only then it was in a national level.

Because of this annual “part-time” job they got, they in turn pledges their political alliance to my grandfather. Back then, you are somebody if you can guarantee 500 votes to a politician. You are a “lideres”. I remember when I was young, during election people would flock in my grandfather’s house, waiting for him to tell them whom to vote. But it has its drawbacks. My aunt, a physician, would treat patients for free because they are “kaapin” (political ally) or “tawo ni lolo” (grandpa’s men). Most are poor but some have means enough to pay her with a hen or a dozen eggs. They run to our family for advice for every problem they got, from domestic issues to legal guidance to governmental red tapes. In the bright side, the stronger your political base, the nearer you are to the people who pulls the strings. If you play your cards right, favors are easy to dispense when you got aces up your sleeves, the reason why I promised myself not to work for the government. What you know isn’t enough. You need political ladder to climb up.

People who are use to this kind of relationship bring this kind of mindset when they venture for a better life in the cities. And since they’re cut-off from their former benefactor, when problem arises, they seek the next best thing, either blame or cry for help to any politician or the government itself.

A former president knows very well this kind of mentality of the urban poor. He capitalized on it and they love him in return no matter what. The sad thing is he got their loyalty for a kilo of rice and two cans of sardines.


  1. Nice entry Kuya Vox...

    Nakarelate ako ng sobra-sobra.
    Hindi talaga nawawala ang mentality na ito sa Pinas lalo pa't madaming mahihirap na mas kailangan ang panandaliang pamatid-gutom.

    Madaming nakakalimot sa "hinaharap" dahil sa "kasalukuyan" ay nahihirapan na silang mabuhay...

    Maaaring ang "kaunti" na ipinagkaloob sa mga mamamayang mas nangangailangan ay "madami" na sa kanilang paningin kaya ganon na lamang ang katapatan nila sa kung sinuman ang makakapagbigay ng mumunting biyaya.

    Hindi natin sila masisisi, dahil gusto lamang nilang mabuhay...

  2. A-Z-E-L, wala akong sinisisi ni sino man. Ang kanilang pag-iisip ay produkto ng kanilang kapaligiran. Mas gugustohin ko pang burahin ang kanilang kamangmangan, ituwid ang kanilang kaisipan at turuang tumayo sa sariling paa para sa magandang kinabukasan nating lahat.

  3. ilonggo ka man to, haw?

    While reading this naisip ko lang, I spend two years walking and serving the people in Negros and Panay Island. I can relate to your story. Plus the fact that my parents are both from this two island.

    pure guid ko yah!

  4. kala ko sa probinsya lang namin nangyari ang ganyan.lumaki rin ako sa ganyang pangyayari,naging puntahan din ang bahay namin at nakalakihan ko na tuwing mageleksyon laging maraming mga goods at food sa bahay na bigay n mga pulitiko para suportahan sila,at pinamimigay namin ito nuon.ewan ko nga kasi di naman tumatakbo si nanay nun pero malakas sya sa mga pulitiko bago man o trapo.

  5. Very informative, I like this because it is written straight from the horse's pen.

    I've been to Bacolod City once because of the sea-travel stopover; I know it is not enough. It has been my (childhood) dream to experience the life in Negros and Panay islands simply because it is where my roots have originated.

    Yes, I believe that feudal mentality still exists in the Philippines today, and that it has evolved from one form (or style?) to another.

  6. ...and whether ‘feudal mentality’ is positive or negative, is a question that needs not just a blog comment box to answer, but heaps of book pages to fill with(, I reckon)!

  7. Good morning Blogusvox,
    I finally realized now where your political and radical stand-points were rooting from. It runs in the blood pala.. Please keep it up.
    Thanks. Have a nice and safe weekend with your family.. :)

  8. wow this is interesting, happy to be in your blog(arms)hehe.
    since i grew up in manila, wala e ignorante ako sa mga ganyang kaalaman(ako lang siguro di kasama yung ibang taga manila)lol.
    thanks ha, dami kong natututunan sayo.

  9. Pareng Vox, I was a witness to this feudal life for 15 years...I have seen its two faces:

    The sacadas loaded in "batils", enter into a short term-contract with the enkargado, the sharp and glistening espading swishing and whooshing the sugarcane stalks...where these sacadas, unmindful of the prickling "kantyaha" and scorching heat of the sun, would load tons upon tons of the cut stalks to the bagon...

    On the other side, you will see the hacienderos, enjoying, having fun... filling their gluttony with all those imported steaks and caviar... and getting drunk with those expensive wines and liquors at the ritzy and glitzy hotels, restaurants and exclusive golf clubs... speeding through the city with their new and latest models flashy cars...

    Life is unfair, I used to say at that time... I was trapped in the middle. But the world is round, and it never stops on spinning...

    I'm glad some of those sacadas I know, run their own businesses now, many of them are OFWs, and others managed to get good education to bring them out of slavery.

    One by step at a time...this feudal mentality will slowly become a thing of the past (or will just evolve to another type as how RJ puts it)...

    No one's to be blamed... feudal mentality is not just isolated to the where there are rich landlords but it has affected us just like what its sibling, colonial mentality did to almost all the Pinoys.

    Great blog - one that really awakens us to who we really are!

  10. I'm re-discovering Phil history recently. I've read books authored by Culliane about the Ilustrados of the past. The Lopezes were mentioned as well as the wealthy landlords in the south.

    Insightful post.

  11. It seems to be a vicious cycle no? The reason people are poor is because of politicians who can do nothing for them but work to gain more wealth while the poor who cannot do anything but get these people elected for a measly price just to survive for a day.

  12. very nice insights. tracing back those times can also define some of our character as pinoy today.

    this happened around the nation but you've cited one of the concrete examples in negros.

  13. Kenjie, yes I'm from Western Visayas.

    ever, may mga taong ganyan. Hindi nila hinahangad ang poder. Sila ang mga taong nagluluklok ng mga politiko sa pwesto. Sila ang mga taong nakatago sa likod ng trono.

    RJ, I know these because I grow up seeing and observing these practices.

    Ms.Loida, my family is still practicing this in the local level. But I'm apolitical. I've seen it and I don't like it.

    TZ, welcome back. That's understandable kasi these things happens in the provinces and not in urban places like Manila.

    NJ, my family formerly belongs to a group what you call "caciques". And I believed you. You know all the terms used in the sugarcane industry. : )

    Mari, try to read Ambet Ocampo's books. You'll be shock to know that what they teaches in school are just facades. Para mabango ang tingin ng mga tao sa mga tinatawag nating mga "bayani ng bayan".

    Ka Rolly, it won't be like that if only the poor gets proper education. I have a feeling, people at the top wants to keep it that way.

    donG, to understand the present, it helps to know the past.

  14. this a world of competition. The better a person is the better oppurtunities one gets.

    Unfair don sa mga kulang sa "connection"s.

    Some even do the best (or worst) they can to survive.

    Survival of the fittest, even dito sa France...

  15. Francesca, true, life is hard. But at least we have a fair playing field from where we are. Unlike in the Philippines, you won't get far if you don't have a political clout.

  16. Actually, all of them politicos know this kind of mentality of the urban poor. Kaya I'm sure they're going to make use of this weakness once again. And again. And again.

    Mahihirapan tayong alisin ang ganitong ugali dahil malakas ang kapit sa atin ng "utang na loob".

    Very informative, Ed.

  17. This is still practised in some parts of Laguna. I remember my family's/relatives' huge shock when they learned that I voted for Alfredo Lim for President instead of Joseph Estrada. Our clan are Marcos and Erap loyalists.

    I also remember this system of giving protection in exchange of some services in early centuries. In this book I'm (still) reading, The Other Boleyn Girl, someone consented to have his wife to be the king's mistress in exchange for promotion and other benefits. But in the first place, he had no choice but to comply. In some provinces in the Philippines, the no choice scenario really exists.

  18. Nebz, alam mo, this traits are the ones holding us back to be progressive.

    Ms.Jo, even at present, UK royalties are still descretely practicing it. Remember Charles mistress (now wife). She was the former wife of an admiral. The affair was all over the papers but never did I heard any reaction from the husband. I wonder if his promotion has something to do it. : )

  19. These few elites control the wealth of the whole nation and they to are either politicians or king makers every election the wannabes are lining up to get their blessings and of course for campaign funds and endorsement,What do these elites gets in return? your answer is same as mine.These cycle is already a cancer of our society and unless somebody (person with clear conscience which is rare ) breaks this cycle the poor will remain poorer and the elites richer.

  20. Funny but I'm reading the same book you cited right now. And I'm on the last chapter that deals with the Lopezes. The book, "Anarchy of Families" is a very good read and was well-researched. It's sad to note that rent-seeking has become so institutionalized in our country that it has also perpetuated a feudal system, much to our detriment.

  21. ed v., IMO, unless there will be a revolution perpetuated by someone who belongs to the masses and has no elitist or church connection our dream will remain as it is... wishfull thinking.

    panaderos, isa pa yang "rent seekers" na yan. Laway at connection lang ang capital. If their venture goes bust, si Juan dela Cruz ang papasan ng mga inutang nya. : (

  22. The Spaniards were the masters in the art of serfdom and their favored Indio assistants inherited their power when they left. Nothing had changed - in fact the inheritors of their power made it even worse !

  23. bw, we inherited a lot of traits from the Spaniards. Most of them are either impractical or not nice.