Do Pinoys Understand What It Means to be a Citizen?

Just so as not to be eaten up by this fixation that elections are the silver bullets that will render all of the Philippines debacles dead, we need to ask the question – after the elections, what next?

The need for transformation in the Philippines goes on whether one’s candidate for president and the entire elective government positions wins or loses. If one’s candidate does not win, there is a possibility that the issues of charter change  for example will be placed in the back burner.

And, if one’s candidate wins, there is still a possibility that charter change or the issues that were in the forefront of the electoral campaign can take a backseat because of the urgent matters of administrative governance. It is at this stage when “change” tends to get lost in the shuffle. This is where the former candidate-turned incumbent either drops the ball (as in Cory Aquino and Erap Estrada), or runs away with it (like FVR).

Post Election Aftermath

The electorate therefore has to deal with the former candidate-turned incumbent to ensure that the momentum which the campaign has generated is sustained.

For example, BenK distills the array of proposed principles to the Philippines woes into four action items:

  1. Develop and enforce a meaningful labor code.
  2. Put an end to tenant farming.
  3. Nationalization of, or at a minimum, providing strong, non-political, public oversight for critical infrastructure businesses.
  4. Allowing foreign ownership of businesses and property, and liberalizing the restrictions on investment outflows.

Benign0 adds to the material by identifying the cultural challenges that need to be surmounted in order for these four action items to take place. He does so by asking the following key questions:

  1. One’s true character shows in the way one treats people who they have power over. Do we regard, relate with, and treat such people the way we can or the way we should?
  2. Do we strive to equip our kids with the ability to think for themselves, make sound judgments, and go out there and make it on their own in their way?
  3. Filipino logic seems to make sense at small scales, but then starts to break down when we begin to apply it at larger scales.
  4. Do we deserve to be the sole exclusive owners of our physical assets and resources? If we have so far shown such a sorry track record of sweating our assets optimally, then it’s high time we re-consider the flawed concept of “protecting the national patrimony” that politicians have been shoving down our throats for decades.

To be able to ask, evaluate, and follow through on such issues is an act of citizenship. These are actions of responsible proactive citizens.

Which leads me to ask the question – do, we Filipinos even understand what it means to be a citizen? The reason being that if we don’t even know what a citizen or what citizenship means, we still have a long way to go in getting our sh*t together.

Revisiting the Fundamentals of Citizenship

If I ask the typical Juan de la Cruz, what does it mean to be a Philippine citizen your most common reaction will probably be a scratch in the head, or a one liner – e di yung Pilipino.

According to wikipedia – A citizen is

a person with citizenship – membership in a political community such as a country or city.

The online dictionary defines citizen as:

  1. A person owing loyalty to and entitled by birth or naturalization to the protection of a state or nation.
  2. A resident of a city or town, especially one entitled to vote and enjoy other privileges there.
  3. A civilian.
  4. A native, inhabitant, or denizen of a particular place: “We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community” (Franklin D. Roosevelt).
The political dictionary defines citizen as:

The status of being a citizen, usually determined by law. In the republican tradition, qualifications for citizenship are associated with particular rights and duties of citizens, and a commitment to equality between citizens is compatible with considerable exclusivity in the qualifying conditions. For example, classical republics excluded slaves, women, and certain classes of workmen from citizenship.

In general, qualifications for citizenship reflect a conception of the purposes of the political community and a view about which persons are able to contribute to, or enjoy the benefits of, the common good, or the freedom of the city. Although the concept of citizenship may refer to a status conferred by law, it may also be deployed to argue that persons have entitlements as a consequence of their position within a community or polity.

This approach suggests that since individuals, as a matter of fact, participate in a common life, they have rights and duties as a consequence. Hence, it has been argued, we have moral obligations to one another because of that shared existence, whether what is shared be characterized as economic activity, culture, or political obligation. There may, then, be an uncertain connection between the ideas of membership of a community and citizenship of a polity.

Both membership and citizenship may be construed as conferred statuses or as empirically determined positions; membership of a community may be asserted as a qualification for citizenship; the common good may be seen as what gives value to both community and political organization. And both membership and citizenship may be valued partly because they are not universally available.

— Andrew Reeve

Citizenship is defined as

“the state of being a citizen of a particular social, political, or national community. Citizenship status, under social contract theory, carries with it both rights and responsibilities. “Active citizenship” is the philosophy that citizens should work towards the betterment of their community through economic participation, public service, volunteer work, and other such efforts to improve life for all citizens. In this vein, schools in some countries provide citizenship education. The group of all citizens is the Citizenry.

History of Modern Citizenship

In the modern world, citizenship is a legal status that bestows uniform rights and duties upon all members of a state. Modern citizenship is associated with equality before the law, freedom from arbitrary rule, and a basic sense of human dignity bound up with the idea of human rights. It is a powerful term that evokes not only the rights that citizens may claim, but also the duties to which they are called, including dying for one’s country.

In early modern Europe, the status of citizen was far feebler and more varied in nature. At the dawn of this period, there were no centralized national states, and the vast majority of the population were servile  peasants who lived under the rule of a local lord. The idea of citizenship, that is, a body of free people bound by a common law, was restricted to those who enjoyed full rights of membership in privileged towns, the burghers or bourgeois.

There was no concept of universal rights of citizens. Rights took the form of privileges that were legitimated by tradition and distributed inequitably according to place, rank, and membership in other corporate bodies—guilds, parliaments, universities, and the like. Urban citizenship was thus just one form of juridical  status that coexisted alongside a wide array of corporate groups entitling members to rights and privileges

The Social Contract

By the end of the eighteenth century, then, two visions of republican citizenship had emerged. One, often labeled “liberal,” was derived from a natural law tradition and emphasized the rights of individuals, representation, and material progress. It was concerned with checking arbitrary power and securing the conditions that would allow men and women to enjoy the fruits of their labor in peace. A second, more activist and communal strand inspired by classical republicanism appealed to civic virtues of self-sacrifice, public-spiritedness, and the constant vigilance of citizens against enemies of freedom.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau brought elements of both traditions together in The Social Contract, a treatise meant to serve as an ideal, not an actual blueprint, for society.

According to Rousseau, men in their natural state were free and equal, but they were also amoral and governed by instinct. Men reached their full human potential only through the exercise of citizenship. In the social contract, each individual gave up his powers from the state of nature to everyone else in order to form a state. The essence of citizenship, then, was participation in the social contract, which created a state of morality, civil freedom, equality, and democratic participation.

Citizens were bound by law, but remained free, because they imposed laws on themselves. Citizens were equal before the law, because everyone came into the social contract under the same terms. The public interest or “general will” served as the ultimate source of law, because all individuals had sacrificed their private interests to become part of the state.

For Rousseau, citizenship was a legal status, but not a passive one, as it implied moral duties and active participation.

– History 1450-1789
Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World, by the Gale Group, Inc.

The concept of citizenship was at the heart of the Constitution. When Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence in 1776, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” he drew upon the writings of the ancient Greeks Solon (circa 640–559 B.C.) and Pericles  (490–429 B.C.) who had argued that the state has legitimacy  only so far as it governs in the best interest of its citizens.

Jefferson argued that citizens were autonomous beings whose individual needs had value, and he said that governments that interfered with the fulfillment of those needs—”life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”—were tyrannical and unjust.

-Encyclopedia of American History

Principles Plus Surmounting Challenges = Active Citizenship

More often than not, we, Filipinos look at citizenship as an act of subservience to government. In exchange for this subservience, the government “takes care” of us – patronage on a societal scale. These view of course takes us on a self-defeating course, not only as shown by the history of other nations, but also by our own history. As Benjamin Franklin once quipt – “They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security”.

We need to remember that citizenship comes with rights AND RESPONSIBILITIES which include:

  • betterment of the community through economic participation
  • public service
  • volunteer work
  • follow rules and regulations
  • vote in elections and referendum
  • other such efforts to improve life for all citizens.

We, Filipinos have focused too much on our “rights” while neglecting our responsibilities.

We can do better as citizens. We can be active citizens instead of passive citizens. From citizens who exercise their rights only to react against unwanted policy, we can step up to the plate by becoming active citizens – someone who takes a role in the community.

The Council of Europe, Education for Democratic Citizenship in Dec 2004 provided the following description of Active Citizenship.

Active Citizenship is a form of literacy: coming to grips with what happens in public life, developing knowledge, understanding, critical thinking and independent judgment of local, national, regional, global levels. It implies action and empowerment, i.e. acquiring knowledge, skills and attitudes, being able and willing to use them, make decisions, take action individually and collectively.

We can identify some key characteristics of Active Citizenship:

  • Participation in the community (involvement in a voluntary activity or engaging with local government agencies)
  • People are empowered to play a part in the decisions and processes that affect them, particularly public policy and services
  • Knowledge and understanding of the political/social/economic context of their participation so that they can make informed decisions
  • Able to challenge policies or actions and existing structures on the basis of principles such as equality, inclusiveness, diversity and social justice.

The FACEIT Active Citizenship Project website further says:

There is no universally accepted definition of Active Citizenship and no standard model of what an active citizen is. But there is general agreement that it refers to the involvement of individuals in public life and affairs. This can take place at local, national and international levels.

The term is used especially at local level to refer to citizens who become actively involved in the life of their communities tackling problems or bringing about change or resisting unwanted change.

Active citizens are those who develop the skills, knowledge and understanding to be able to make informed decisions about their communities and workplaces with the aim of improving the quality of life in these. At national level it can move from voting to being involved in campaigning pressure groups to being a member of a political party.

At international level the global active citizen may be involved in movements to promote sustainability or fair trade, to reduce poverty or eliminate slavery.

An active citizen is not necessarily a ‘good citizen’ in the sense that they follow the rules or behave in a certain way.

An active citizen may challenge the rules and existing structures although they should generally stay within the bounds of democratic processes and not become involved in violent acts.

There is a general set of values and dispositions that can be associated with active democratic citizenship including respect for justice, democracy and the rule of law, openness, tolerance, courage to defend a point of view and a willingness to listen to, work with and stand up for others.

What next?

As the 2010 elections come to fruition, a few primary scenarios can take place:

  • The election will take place smoothly. (Best case)
  • The election will take place. It will have technical glitches. But the results are credible. (Good)
  • The election will take place. It will have technical and operational glitches. The results are credible in general. (Fair)
  • The election will take place. It will have technical and operational glitches. The results are highly contested. But power will be transferred constitutionally. (Satisfactory)
  • The election will not take place. Power will be transferred extra-constitutionally. (Fail)

Life will continue after the completion of any of the previously mentioned scenarios.There will be new faces, but it will still be governed under the same set of rules and laws that we all agreed to abide by.

We Filipinos can react to the agenda, or we can work together to set the agenda.

Filipinos can continue being passive citizens or they can sustain the drive of becoming active citizens who demand and create change during and between election cycles. We Pinoys can step up to the cultural challenges and work on getting programs implemented based on the four recommendations.

Or we can just drop the ball, expect the trapos to do their thing. Then complain in midstream, take to the streets and dance to the tunes of another pied piper.

Ball is in Da Pinoy’s court – our court.



  1. Very legitimate question. However, that your constructive blog has zero comments, and a blog entitled “Filipinos Divided over Noynoy Aquino”, posted at the same time, has 13. This suggests Filipinos even of the blogging community are more starstruck and interested in superficial passions than specific action. The latter, of course, requires thinking and working.

    Please add to your roster of constructive ideas my own write-up where I have identified seven steps that can be taken to re-jig the social infrastructure. BenK kindly refers to the ideas and did a nice deconstruction some weeks back.



  2. I see citizenship as a contract between parties… we’ll follow your laws, pay taxes and contribute in other ways you could call us to, and in exchange, give us peace of mind, order in society, enough resources for food and health, assistance for business and protection of our interests, etc. Clearly, we’re seeing a lot of breaking of this contract in this country.

  3. I share your frustration, but on the other hand, I’ve gotten used to the idea that we’re not dealing with a society that is generally known for thinking ahead. All we can do is to keep pounding the message; sometime in the near future when the first person gets that little light bulb over his head and says, “Oh damn, we should’ve thought of that,” then I’ll know we’re getting somewhere.

  4. I was commenting on another blog that the campaign is largely constructive. Passionate, aggressive, well-competed. Something the Philippines should be proud of. The candidates have substance, and personality.

    Here, people want to leave the country if their candidate is not on top. Fair weather patriot, I guess.

    It reflects the gahi ulo perspective of many Filipinos. Not much elastic in the cranium.


  5. I disagree with your assessment of the commendability of the campaign, but I do have to acknowledge that, yes, they are indeed having one, and it has a high probability of having some sort of result. May as well accept that given and start thinking about ways to make the most of whatever result it turns out to be.

  6. Well, I didn’t grow up here. This may be where my heritage is but I have always considered Australia my home. You could say as I was here, I tried to help out around my respective communities (whether it be in college/school, church, work). I’ve tried to help friends and family realize the things that need to be changed. I can’t change things, but I did plant seeds in peoples lives (I hope) and I believe that I’ve done enough to influence many. I’ve been planning to go back to Aus a long time ago, but budget (and my parents) has been holding me back.

    Well… I don’t think anyone would understand. Just saying…

  7. Well, “making the most of it” does not necessarily preclude someone’s leaving, either.

    As for me, I came here because of my wife and because I was at a point in my life where I needed to do something drastic to get my head on straight; I stay because I’ve now got a higher calling, and a mission to accomplish; and I give a shit because of my kids, to whom this country really belongs and who deserve to be proud of it for the right reasons, since they didn’t get to choose. If it weren’t for them, I probably wouldn’t understand (at this point, if someone asks me where “home” is, I either give them my address or just tell ’em “Earth”), but I think I do.

  8. BenK:

    That boils down to the definition of “there” –

    “there” – where he was safe.

    “there” – where he was unsafe, but stayed nonetheless.

  9. BenK,

    Well said. Goes for me too.

    I think leaving the home country in search of opportunity, adventure, to give, and wealth are wholly admirable. I think leaving because the wrong guy is elected president reflects a certain lack of understanding of democracy, people, and courage.


  10. Joe:

    I understand what you are saying but perhaps leaving is one’s way of coping with the fact that at the end of the day one has to deal with the majority decision. The caveat of being a minority in the Philippines is that the threat of bodily harm can be too real. In the process of beefing up your personal security, you become the person you detest – a warlord, a wannabe-warlord, or a warlord’s apprentice.

    Opting for flight instead of fight is but one of natural options available. after all, what if, upon leaving because the wrong guy is elected, he ended up with opportunity, adventure, to give, and wealth – does it make him less admirable? Or is admiration even relevant in the first place? Would you rather make other people happy, or should you start with yourself first (and I mean this in an altruistic way).

    What’s the point in making other’s happy if you will be miserable the rest of your life? Should you sacrifice your right to personal happiness – for the sake of admiration?

    Where will the Counts of Monte Cristo be if they allowed themselves to get decimated when they were not yet ready? Going away can also be a form of healing, of dealing with the unpleasant realities of life in the Philippines – to either ignore it, go with the flow, swim against it, be drowned by it, to channel it.

    Should I begrudge said person for the number of times he fell, or the number of times he dusted himself by the boots and said, i’ll try again using another approach.

    As Michael Jordan once quipped – i’ll go through you, if i can’t go through you, i’ll go around you, over you, under you. I will just do it.

    After all, an ancient sage had his 40 days in the desert – and the chosen people spent 40 years in the desert before crossing the great river.

    At the end of the day, the promised land is where you choose to be at that moment in time and space.

  11. This is admirable, what BenK said…

    “I stay because I’ve now got a higher calling, and a mission to accomplish; and I give a **** because of my kids, to whom this country really belongs and who deserve to be proud of it for the right reasons, since they didn’t get to choose.”

  12. I love this response. I don’t judge people who leave the country. People have been on the look out for that greener pasture since time immemorial. With globalization, it’s so normal for people to be assigned to another country that offers a better opportunity monetary wise. If the place happens to offer a tree change or a sea change that’s also good for the individual’s well-being, it’s all good. Migration is an activity not exclusive only to Filipinos. Even Americans leave America for a change of scenery but it doesn’t mean they don’t love America anymore.

    What I find worse are Filipinos who continue to say they love the Philippines but are apathetic to what’s really happening around them. These people are the ones who should leave the country to get a better perspective.

  13. Just to make things clear, I’m choosing to leave the country because the wrong guy get elected. Maybe if Gordon wins I’ll stay a little longer to see what happens, but this has been my plan for a long time now. So yeh. Coming back to philz was not my choice, I was pretty much forced. You can imagine, being 17 and your parents saying you have to leave everything behind and that I had no choice but to go with them… *sigh* those were very depressing days…

  14. Oops.. I meant “I’m NOT choosing to leave the country because the wrong guy gets elected.” I’m a little tired guys.

  15. noong kapanahunan ko ( /me grabs walking cane)we had this Sprite TV Ad that said”kung saan ka masaya, doon ka”… and “magpakatotoo ka”…and the ad that topped the Sprite TV ads was the – “sinong bes pren mo doon” 😀

    this, too


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