Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Filipino norms: Pakikisama and Utang na loob.

I’ve finally decided to write an article after quite sometime now.
In this article, I will talk about “pakikisama” and “utang na loob”.
There are no exact English translations for the two words.
But I will try to explain to all of you what these words meant.
I read an article about pakikisama and the author said:
“Pakikisama is micro-management at best.

The root word of pakikisama is sama which means to join or to adhere, ergo if you must be part of the group you have to do the bidding of the group or prove that you are worthy of inclusion which ispakikisama. Case in point, if your buddies drink beer, if you cherish the company of this group, you will not risk their ire by doing otherwise, makisama ka….or you augment in a way that you are part of the group.
This is just basic social dynamics in a very society not in love with individuality which the Philippines mostly is.
pakikisama is a societal pressure via passive aggression to comply with the herd or those in power and not some pastel-esque greeting from a Hallmark card as you deftly colored pakikisama.”

Well now that you have an idea on what pakikisama is, here’s what becomes the problem.
When you live in an apartment in the Philippines, and you have neighbors that will ask you “hey, can I tap on your cable?” and when you refuse because it is illegal, they will answer “wala ka naman pakikisama eh” (oh c’mon, where’s your pakikisama?).
It becomes a problem. People will try to reason with you using the word pakikisama to take advantage of a situation like tapping on your cable or electricity, borrowing things and probably never be returned, borrowing money that will also, probably, never be returned to you, and you can never refuse to whatever they are asking you to do.
Because they will make you feel like you’re betraying them.
And now another word associated to pakikisama is utang na loob or in English,
debt of gratitude.
Here’s another article I picked up on the internet:
1.) “Utang na loob” in the context of moral and social traditions in Filipino culture. In general, the concept of “utang na loob” is akin to “karma” because Filipinos value the idea of returning the favor to those who have done good deeds. There is also a saying in Tagalog, “Ang ‘di marunong tumingin sa pinanggalingan ay di makakarating sa paroroonan.” This proverb serves as a kind of reminder that one has to be thankful, grateful, and always remember those people who have helped them reach their goals in life. This is the basic context of “utang na loob”, where one has to have an attitude of gratitude and a commitment to return the favor of being the recipient of good deeds and moral support from his family, relatives, and community.

2) “Utang na loob” in the context of blind loyalty. Used in the context of blind loyalty, “utang na loob” has negative ramifications. This includes blind loyalty to one’s family (“blood is thicker than water”, “my family, right or wrong”), friends (“he is my best friend”, “he is my son’s ninong”), political leaders (“he has done so much for my family”, “he gave us money when we needed it”). Often this blind loyalty is invoked by those who have the power”and material resources to sustain a dependent relationship, and by those who have not been empowered to break from these ties or relationships. Thus, one finds many poor and uneducated people in the Philippines in this kind of dependent relationship, and “utang na loob” is a tie that binds them for a long while.
3) “Utang na loob” in the context of enlightened loyalty. There are Filipinos who are able to look at “utang na loob” as a social concept without having to be blind to the limits of loyalty. They appreciate the meaning of “utang na loob” as a moral concept, but it does not mean that they will give up the higher set of principles that they value for the sake of family, friendships, and community loyalty.
“Utang na loob” may be invoked by some people to demand favors from someone, for the right or wrong reasons. One is free to return the favor or not, but must take the risk of “burning his bridges”. Social conformity in Filipino culture is valued (the term “pakikisama” captures this virtue), and one has to face the possibility of being ostracized for not being loyal. This is the immediate drawback.
In the end, it is a choice between social conformity and one’s valued principles. ”

“In Filipino culture, one way to avoid social conflict is to explain things with sincerity and honesty, without being confrontational. As in other Asian cultures, saving one’s face is very important, and this is also true in the context of fulfilling social obligations, even in the context of “utang na loob”. In our culture, “talu-talo na kapag nagkasubuan na. (No more pakikisama when things get too heated up).


Now, majority or almost all of the Filipinos use these two words as an excuse to reason with you when they want to get something from you.
Pakikisama and pag tanaw ng utang na loob aren’t really bad.
But just like other issues that become a problem in the society,
It becomes bad when you take advantage of these words and manipulate them for your own gain.
Even if it means using your relationship with other people to get what you want.



  1. ,,''.. nice.. thanks for help

  2. Perfectly put! This is the main reason why I chose to move to the States twenty years ago.

    I'm a firm believer in 'makibaka, huwag matakot' and marching to the beat of one's own drum, which are totally 180 degrees from the whole 'pakikisama' concept.

  3. Jay Viterbo
    contributor, www.ourhappyschool.com
    One of the Filipino norms are "pakikisama" and "utang na loob". Pakikisama is when your friend is asking something from you and if you declined his/her request your friend will tell you "wala ka palang pakisama eh" which means that you are not a good friend. Utang na loob is an obligation to appropriately repay a person who has done one a favor.

  4. "Pakikisama" is said to be the most popular norm in the Philippines. It is like "peer pressure" but doesn't mean you should give in to your friend's favor. Saying "no" to a favor will not make you immoral because you have no "pakikisama".

    Brenda Beleno, AB Political Science
    Contirbutor, www.ourhappyschool.com

  5. One of the Filipino norms are "pakikisama" and "utang na loob". Pakikisama is when your friend is asking something from you and if you declined his/her request your friend will tell you "wala ka palang pakisama eh" which means that you are not a good friend. Utang na loob is an obligation to appropriately repay a person who has done one a favor.

    Jay Viterbo
    Contributor, www.ourhappyschool.com