Colonial mentality and the Philippine future

John Mangun

Three countries became independent from their colony rulers at about the same time. The Philippines was released from the United States in 1946. India/Pakistan became independent countries in 1948. Indonesia cast off 350 years of Dutch colonial rule in 1949.

Many of these nations’ citizens had to fight and die for independence. They built a government, a society and an economy facing either neglect or outright hostility from the “mother country.” And all these countries have struggled and suffered as a result of being colonies of the West.

Yet, it is only in the Philippines that anyone would think of describing the people, at least some of the people, as having a “colonial mentality.”

The Philippines has operated for a half-a-century almost as an orphan still looking toward its foster parent, the same parent that exploited and abused it, for guidance and nurturing. Every president has been criticized, some more than others, of being a tool of the US. Even average Filipinos have felt without question that the hand of the US influenced elections, economic progress and social stability.

The other side of that perception is that the Philippines depends economically on the US. That was true 20 years ago and it was true by the choice, from Philippine government policy to average Filipino economic behavior. We bought American goods because they were “better.” Local manufacturers were afraid to compete with American imported goods. Filipinos laughed at products carrying the “Buy Filipino” slogan. What other nation on the face of the earth would carry as common wisdom the idea that “When America sneezes, the country catches cold?” And the sad fact is that far too many Filipinos still believe that to be true.

The common thought is that the Philippines has a love-hate relation with the US, and that may be true. The problem is that we need to have a non-emotional relationship as we do with the other 190 other global nations.

Maybe we need to look at the reality of the US to understand how great the Philippines is, and why the US should only be one of many players for the Philippines and not a role model.

The “land of milk and honey” does not have the crime problem that the Philippines has. Oh? The US has the largest percentage of its citizens in prison than any other country in the world. US law-enforcement authorities claim there are now over 1 million members of criminal gangs, responsible for up to 80 percent of the crimes committed each year. Phoenix, Arizona, features an astounding annual car-theft rate of 57,000 vehicles, and has become the new “car-theft capital of the world”

We are told constantly that the Philippines has a great inequality of wealth that shows how economically bad we are. For the US in 1950, the ratio of the average executive’s paycheck to the average worker’s salary was about 30 to 1. Since 2000, that ratio has exploded to between 300 and 500 to one. Inequality? Approximately 40 percent of all retail spending currently comes from the 20 percent of American households that have the highest incomes. The bottom 40 percent of income earners in the US now collectively own less than 1 percent of the nation’s wealth.

Employment is so bad in the Philippines, why would anyone want to stay here? More than 40 percent of those employed in the US are now working in low-wage service jobs. In February there were 5.5 million unemployed Americans for every job opening. This recession has erased 8 million private-sector jobs in the United States.

Are you sure that migrating to the US makes economic sense?

One argument I always hear from balikbayan and the want-to-be-Americans is that it is so easy to buy things in the US because of credit. Well, because things have been so easy to buy, for the first time in US history, banks own a greater share of residential-housing net worth in the US than all individual Americans combined.

Perhaps, the most amazing thing is how well our government under successive presidents has managed the national budget in comparison to the US. In 2010 the US government is projected to issue almost as much new debt as the rest of the governments of the world put together. And the people have not done any better. Total debt in the US, including government, corporate and personal debt, has reached 360 percent of gross domestic product.

But, at least, we should take some direction from the US stock market when making local investment decisions. Right? Only if you are an investment dummy, local or foreign.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average experienced the worst May it has seen since 1940. On the other hand, the combined net earnings of companies listed on the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) rose an astounding 79.6 percent last year from 2008. The 30 companies that make up the PSE index, the PSEi, reported a 54.9-percent jump in their combined net profits last year. And do not tell me that a portion of those profits were companies selling assets because the assets that were sold were bought by someone else, such as in the case of Meralco ownership.

The US does not have a chest cold; it has terminal lung cancer. The Philippines is not the one who is getting sick.

Why is this all so important? Because when 90 million Filipinos start having faith in the Philippines and in its future, attitude and behavior changes will happen. Corruption is not a consequence of greed, as much as it is the belief that the future does not hold anything more positive than a short-term dishonored gain. Political leaders, unlike our business leaders, must rarely think and never talk about their legacy 20 years in the future when they are permanently retired. It is only until the next election.

It is about time Filipinos realized that the Philippines can and must be the master of its own destiny. Shedding the last remnants of colonial mentality is one part of taking control of the future of this nation and making that future a positive experience.


  1. GabbyD

    ” We bought American goods because they were “better.” Local manufacturers were afraid to compete with American imported goods. Filipinos laughed at products carrying the “Buy Filipino” slogan. What other nation on the face of the earth would carry as common wisdom the idea that “When America sneezes, the country catches cold?” And the sad fact is that far too many Filipinos still believe that to be true.”

    the first two sentences: who believes that? really? mangun doesnt. i dont. do you? i think that this is just something people say to themselves, but has ZERO basis in reality.

    the third sentence, thats something that people believe. but its NOT because of colonial mentality. thats from GLOBALIZATION, and it affects all countries. evidence, u might ask? the global financial crisis. started in the US, now most countries are reeling.

    hence, filipinos arent the only one who believes it. just ask the europeans. the japanese. heck, the chinese. sigh.

  2. UP nn grad

    The sloganeering about “colonial mentality” among Filipinos may be better understood by determining its impact after a finer dissection of the population.

    First, this item. I do not think that “colonial mentality” is an earthshaking phenomenon among the 40% of Filipinos who are living on less than a dollar a day. A free relief T-shirt from Thailand is as welcome as a relief T-shirt from Canada or Norway. To a Payatas recyler (in my opinion), bote-garapa is bote-garapa, a discarded computer keyboard with a half-gram gold- or copper-wiring is just another keyboard whether it is from India, Japan, Bangladesh, China or made-in-Pilipinas.

    The top 5% of Pilipinas (in wealth) would think differently, too, thinking more about who may be their preferred business-partners (kamag-anak’s always preferred; USA may be good (USA laws against bribery) or bad (USA laws against bribery); then there are so many details about ability to enter markets or ability to buy high-technology equipment that everything becomes case-by-case basis USa-versus-Japan-versus-Canada-versus-Australia). Business concepts kick in to lessen the importance of “colonial mentality”. Filipino businessmen and political leaders talk USA-business-school concepts more than they talk of Norwegian, Finnish or japanese-economic development models, but China project loans ala NTN/broadboad allow for a lot more creativity, it appears.

    Then we go next to the Filipinos who belong to the agriculture sector. I don’t even know what “colonial mentality” does for these group of Filipinos — Filipino farmers are more into Kubota handoperated tractors than Deere combines, aren’t they?

    Then we go to the middle-middle and lower middle-class of the Philippines — the nurses and public school teachers, the college graduates — accounting & business, engineering and computer technology, mechanics and seamen. To me, “colonial mentality”, of course, would show in their lives by the products they buy. More important, though, is plain-vanilla economics of jobs — whether they have jobs in Pinas that pay the bills for themselves and their family or whether the economics of their lives propel them to Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Canada, Lebanon. “If USA sneezes, Pilipinas catches cold!” have little meaning to this sector. USA would be “preferred” only if they already have friends or family in USA, or if the jobs are in USA (e.g. accounting or computer programming) versus on a ship plying between Hongkong and Nigeria.

    I suppose what I am saying is this — that maybe, Mangun has missed the point about “colonial mentality” among Filipinos, and what should be done next.

    To say “we should think differently” means only so much without policy-recommendations for Pilipinas Congress, Pilipinas educational system or even to the Makati Business Club.

  3. UP nn grad

    Progress gets done with regards “colonial mentality” if the Noynoy administration creates a whole more jobs-in-Pilipinas for Filipinos.

    In the meanwhile, maybe Pilipinas Congress should ban all those Coca Cola advertisements and Nike advertisements and those movies that show street scenes from Canada, Monaco, France, New York City, California. The less of the world Filipinos get aware of, the less “colonial mentality” there will be.

  4. UP nn grad

    Evidence of colonial mentality is the market in Pilipinas for skin whitening products. Evidence of (confused) colonial mentality is Pilipinas distaste for Spanish despite Spanish being a universal language of commerce and travel.

    At the same time, in Pilipinas would be “ancestral forgery” — a few Filipinos believing that their surname is bloodline genetically tracking back to the Castros or Aragons, Arroyos or Santiagos of “The Mother Country” while enjoying the special shape of their eyebrows or insisting their cheekbones or nose differ from the average Pinoy.

  5. hartry small

    “the third sentence, that’s something that people believe. but its NOT because of colonial mentality. that’s from GLOBALIZATION, and it affects all countries. evidence, u might ask? the global financial crisis. started in the US, now most countries are reeling.”
    Obviously this is a comment from a young person who has no recollection of walking into Makati Supermarket standing where Glorietta Mall is now, in 1988 and having the clerk say “Buy this TV antenna cable. Made in US”. And who used the term Globalization then?

  6. GabbyD


    you called it right! however, a few items…

    mangun’s article was written in 2010. so i guess, do people feel this way now? when it comes to consumer electronics, no one wants american manufactures. it was japan, and now its korea.

    furthermore, it is also globalization. globalization is nothing but establishing trade relatioinships in goods and services around the world.

    “colonialism” can be defined as trade relationships between specific partners.

  7. UP nn grad

    Colonial mentality is about the feelings and attitudes of the citizens of the former colony (in this case Philippines) towards the former colonizer (in this case, USA and Spain). Colonial mentality refers to institutionalised or systemic feelings of inferiority; the citizens of the colonized accepting without challenge that the culture or doctrines of the colonizer are more worthy or superior; with the feelings extending into the physical looks (height, skin complexion, aquiline nose, cheekbones).

    And believing that Japanese cars are better than USA’s or Italian-cheese better than Spanish-queso doesn’t reduce Pinas feelings of inferiority about USA and/or Spain.

    Filipino-Americans get into this “colonial mentality” item, too. Some Fil-Americans even point and highlight the most obvious “colonial mentality” legacy —- Roman Catholicism.

    But to your question of “do Pinoys in Pilipinas still have “colonial mentality”?” Just think the Pinoys who fly to USA for angioplasty or open-heart. Or those Pinoys who say NO! to nuclear power plants for Pilipinas.

    Read these sentences and tell me if you’ve encountered them before.
    Pinoy engineers are great, but not in Pinas. Pinas scientists are great once they get to abroad. Pinas seamen are world-class, except those plying Pilipinas interisland waters.

    Go to FilVoices and the blogthread about nuclear power plants. Among the thoughts — that nuke plants operated by Pinoys-in-Pinas would be a disaster waiting to happen as Pinoys when in Pinas don’t have what it takes to operate safely those plants, especially with Pinoys-in-Pinas intrinsic talent for corruption, bahala-na, short-changing, puwede-na and taking shortcuts.

  8. GabbyD


    i’m even more confused with your point now. u define colonial mentality as: “institutionalised or systemic feelings of inferiority; the citizens of the colonized accepting without challenge that the culture or doctrines of the colonizer are more worthy or superior;…”

    the first phrase is standard, and i accept it (even as i dont understand — how is inferiority ‘institutionalized’?). the second is weird — its possible to like and admire doctrine WITHOUT feeling inferior. its OK to ADMIRE, right?

    next, u give examples, presumably of colonial mentality. but all of them say that pinoys are good, as good as anyone. its the NUCLEAR PLANTS that people are objecting to. or its the regulation of the shipping industry that is the problem. even if they were manned by another country, it would still be something they’d object to. this is NOT colonial mentality.

    now, as for the preference for white skin, caucasian nose, etc… i’m no expert, but i think people like what they dont have. white skinned people want to get darker. darker people want to get lighter. people like certain proportions on the face — too stub nosed and thats a turn off… too hook nosed, and thats a turn off too. there are scientific studies saying that people “symmetric people”, people with certain proportions.

    i’m fallen in love with all sorts of women, so i cant speak to wanting a “type”. :)

  9. UP nn grad

    GabbyD: my mistake… I had guessed obviously wrongly that you and I had read the same blogthreads. (I don’t even know why I made the guess considering how expansive the world wide web is)

  10. GabbyD

    @ angela

    seriously, what is your example of colonial mentality. i’d love to know what colonial mentality is. is it about whitening products? is that all there is to it?

  11. @ gabbyd : its not just whitening products or nose lifts to look more white than brown, it’s the attitude na okay lang ang vfa, we need help to fight the insurgents/terrorists (not that their 10-year presence has eradicated the abu sayyaf or the milf or the npa), that it’s great to have that supposedly special fil-am relationship, okay lang that our economic and trade and foreign policies are dictated by america/the imf-world bank (never mind that poverty continues to increase and national debt continues to balloon). it’s not caring to stand on our own, it’s living with the illusion that america’s continued interests in the philippines is good for us when really it’s only good for america.

  12. GabbyD


    thanks! all these things u mention are worthy of bloglength debates separately, so i wont get into that. i also note that these arent what mangun was originally saying.

    but regarding the phrase “colonial mentality”, the last sentence is symptomatic: ” it’s living with the illusion that america’s continued interests in the philippines is good for us when really it’s only good for america.”

    one example u might raise is the VFA. for VFA to be colonial mentality, u have to show that there are no benefits for RP (or no benefits on net). is this true? none? further more, “help to fight the terrorists”… under the VFA? surely u dont mean actual fighting, right?

    but i do think we need more transparency with the VFA. lotsa people are pushing for that. the situation can definitely be improved upon (i.e. ur latest post of marawi)

  13. UP nn grad

    gabbyD: I’ve written down: (1) skin whitening;
    (2) finding nothing unusual when Filipino upper-middle-class-or-higher go to USA for angioplasties or open-heart despite Filipino surgeons and facilities;

    I can add — immediately thinking to write to Obama or Nancy Pelosi (but not to thai King or Taiwan Prime Minister) to complain about human rights violations against Pinas media, against Pinas labor or against Pinas leftist organizations.

    what would be two or three indicators which, if a Pilipinas mayor or congressman or if the parents of students at Araullo High School were to show it, would be YOUR indicators of “colonial mentality” and/or Pinas feeling of inferiority?

  14. Tiu Niasing

    You want to be a liar,

    The Americans are the the biggest liars in the world.

    The whole of US government is ONE big lying machine complemented by the US media.

    All the lies has been there before including the so called sneak attack on Pearl Harbour. The Japanese will have a different take,

    Here is my take.

    1) The Presidency of GW is a living lie. Al Gore got the most votes and the hanging chade saga in the electoral colleges of Florida took more than a month to resolve and it took ONLY one Republic judge to override the entire mandate of the entire US electorate.

    2) The same Presidency cherry picked their own intel info to ask Colin Powell to lie to the world in the UN about WMD, the basic premise to go to war in Iraq.

    3) The US financial system bundled all those toxic mortgages in the US and the sold to the rest of the world and brought the whole house down.

    First it was a political lie, OK, this is their own internal politics but when it comes to invade another country based on blatant lies, this is a heinous crime against humanity. It is a military lie.

    To complete the set, the lying Americans brought the financial system of the whole world to a grinding halt with those unregulated and totally run amok bankers in Wall Street to sell toxic mortgages inside a nice looking package which the rest of the world is fooled into.

    The financial lie tops it all.

    Since China did not buy into all their lies from the start, now the banks with the largest capitalization are all in China.

    So you Filipinos still want to call Uncle Sam, uncle.

  15. All I read here are excuses from Filipino and Filipina people complaining about the American society and people and blaming us for all the problems of the world. I spent some time in the Philippines and my opinion is that the people have the capability to improve but lack the desire it seems and bragging about the national budget being under control only means they have failed to spend on anything for their own people but tend to take more money and give it to their friends and family in the government. The philippines is a corrupt government that needs a complete replacement with politicians that can be trusted.

  16. Ernie Opher

    Long term use of skin whiteners can lead to pigmentation increasing to the joints of the fingers, toes, buttocks and ears. The skin of the face can become thinned and the area around the eyes can have increased pigmentation causing a ‘bleach panda effect’…,`*

    Be well <