Why It Matters – Amor Propio, Hiya, Utang na Loob and Balat Sibuyas in the Philippines

The post was inspired by a random subscriber who basically stated that there is no sense in covering criminal acts here as they can happen anywhere and that there is ‘nothing to be learned and no insight to be gained.’  You can actually see the image of his comment in this post.  So, thanks, random anonymous commentor:  You inspired me!

His actual comment was:

“Why the myopic TMZ coverage of exceptional foreigners regardless of cause – be it their own stupidity or the serendipitous events.  It serves no purpose except to say that anyone should avoid any compromising situations ANYWHERE ANYTIME.  The fact that it happened in the Philippines is superfluous.  As mentioned it happens everywhere, and all this does is serve to rubberneck with inauthentic concern.  There is no less to be learned and no insight to be gained.”


This past week I published a video on a 79 year old German national who was allegedly murdered by his live-in Filipina girlfriend.  As mentioned previously (ad nauseum), I do these videos as they center around or relate to expatriates living, working or studying in the Philippines.  As a vlogger/blogger or whatever it is being called this week, I believe it is important to talk about the good, the bad and the occasional ugly of life here.  I don’t make judgments on these incidents – I simply relate the facts as presented through local media sources and leave the rest up to the viewers.  Keep in mind that crime videos such as these cannot be monetized through Adsense, so I am not putting these out to make money. 

Moderating the comments on some of these videos can be a bit onerous.  The most egregious ones follow two themes: Comments about “Bloodthirsty  Filipinos” (probably coming from foreigners) and/or ones about “If you don’t like it, leave our country!” (probably from Filipinos).  I usually try NOT to moderate comments on my videos too harshly, especially ones offering constructive criticism.  But when it comes to blaming the victim or brushing an entire country with one stained brush, it’s time to wack the weeds.

But I digress.

I mentioned earlier that I try to keep judgment and opinion out of these videos.  Similarly, I try not to look too much into motives, assumptions or inferences.  Those are things best left to the investigating authorities.  Nonetheless, there are a number of factors unique to the Philippines that might give some insight into why tragic events such as these sometimes occur.   These are not THE reason for why things happen as they do – but they might give some understanding and we might possibly learn something along the way.

So, with that all said, let’s get into it.

This is the big one, and there is a reason that investigators will typically “follow the money” when looking for motives in capital crimes.  Many people have been convicted and jailed for killing loved ones in the name of financial gain.  For in all truth, it is not money that is the root of all evil; it is the love of money.  Greed – the grossest of the deadly sins.  Being in a relationship where one partner has MUCH more money than the other can oftentimes be challenging.  And that is just in the West.  Being in a relationship in the Philippines exaggerates that effect, especially if the family of your significant other is poor and depending on their daughter to help them out.  Sometimes, the financial security represented by a foreigner is all the woman – and her family – have.  They are, as they say, all in.  If there is a breakup, the money and financial stability is lost.  And getting between a man and his dinner table is always a risky proposition. 

The Philippines shares the concept of ‘face’ with many other Asian nations, and here it is more commonly called amor propio (love of self).  Having a healthy ego is a good thing and an intrinsic part of being human.  Having an overly-inflated ego, however, can cause a variety of problems especially when it comes to relationships.  As you will see further on, a damaged amor propio can be cause for shame (hiya), over sensitivity (balat sibuyas), an excessive sense of entitlement (utang na loob) and can trigger outbursts of anger if not rage.

We’ve mentioned this quite a bit and here it once again.  Hiya is the shame that is experienced when one’s amor propio is violated.  This can be a good thing if it stops a person from acting immorally or dishonorably, but the avoidance of shame can run counteractive to those very goals. Many foreigners have noted that some folks tend to lie and without awareness that they are doing so.  If we understand hiya and how desperately people want to avoid it, it might give some help in understanding this.  For if someone lies about doing something wrong, they don’t experience the shame of it.  It’s quite the coping mechanism and might help explain why some people refuse to acknowledge errors or personal failings and tend to blame others for the circumstances.  My favorite example of this continues to be, “Well, sir, if you were not in my country I would not have rear-ended you with my pickup truck!” 

There’s actually a certain bit of logic to that….

Utang na loob has also been previously discussed, and it also permeates and percolates within Filipino culture.  Sometimes it can be a good thing, as when someone helps you after you help them.  But it can also be a problem, especially when reciprocal corruption is encouraged under the banner of political favors.  Filipino families can also have issues with utang na loob, especially when children feel as if they are being exploited by their parents in their later years.  This “you owe me” aspect can also cause tensions in a relationship with a Filipino when they feel they owe their family money/compensation for what was given to them.  Likewise, in a relationship with a Filipina, she might feel that YOU owe HER for all of things she has done, like cooking, cleaning or simply tolerating being in a relationship with an abrasive and overly arrogant foreigner.  In short, utang na loob is a two-edged sword.

Another thing that is rather common within our sunny archipelago is a tendency towards being overly sensitive (onion skinned).  In Tagalog this is referred to as balat sibuyas (balat-skin, sibuyas-onion).  This seems to be related to amor propio/face and trying to avoid shame/hiya.  As with many things in the Philippines, it is something that has to be personally experienced in order to fully appreciate it.  A simple example of this is when a Filipino laughs at your accent when you try to speak the local language.  If you were to laugh at their Filipino English accent, however, they would see it as an insult (violation of their amor propio).  And since they are now experiencing shame/hiya, they will most likely go on the offensive.  Or they might simply withdraw and sulk (tampo).  So again, balat sibuyas is something to keep in mind when talking about crime/offenses in the Philippines or Filipino relationships. 

Salvage in the Philippines often refers to murdered bodies being left out to be found the next day.  The term seems to have started during the martial law days of President Ferdinand Marcos when police would ‘salvage’ the remains of floating murder victims from rivers and bays.  Salvage is also a remnant of the Spanish occupation, with ‘salvaje’ meaning doing a deliberate bad act to another person.  In Tagalog, this is now ‘salbahe,’ which also means being bad. 

Finally, there is the idea of the Latin temperament, which has historically been described as passionate and hot blooded.  And even though the Philippines is part of South-East Asia, it was occupied by the Spanish for 350 years and many Filipinos now possess DNA passed down by their Iberian progenitors. The comedian Joe Koy actually did a bit on this in his latest Netflix comedy special, noting that Filipinos are basically South Pacific Mexicans.  (And since Joe Koy is Filipino-American, he can get away with saying that).  I have experienced both the passion and the temper of the Philippines and can vouch for its reality. 

So that’s about all I have on this subject. If you would like to add something or share your experiences, please leave a comment! 

Until next time, keep your eyes peeled for that Philippine dream.


  1. Great article, Ned! We foreigners often get so wrapped up in the superficial language differences that we don’t look deeper into the cultural differences. I appreciate you bringing these cultural concepts to our attention.

    I was paying 59,000 pesos for building materials at my local hardware today, and the Cebuano shop did not have any large bills, so I was paying with 500 peso and even 100 peso bills. I was embarrassed to be paying with such a big bundle of bills, and I was really trying hard not to attract attention. But you can imagine how the locals saw the transaction: the rich foreigner throwing cash around, more than many will ever see at one time. They have no idea whatI had to do to save that money (teaching 9 months in a cold, snow-covered Eskimo village without any transportation or things to do outside of school). All they saw was a huge pile of money and a “rich” foreigner.

      1. I have noticed a lot of Filipinos wearing socks with sandals in Dumaguete since the rains started.sally the british use this as a put down for an American here.”Look at that American Septic wearing socks”.My Asawa will use any excuse to not be at fault for anything,or wrong about anything.Bringing here to USA to meet and deal with Filipinas that have immigrated has helped some.I don’t say “you are not hearing or listening to me,I say maybe you did not understand what Im saying,let me rephrase or say it again.Interestingly enough my daughter shared a memo from the National Institute for Mental Health with me.so I can rephrase my comments to her if we are having problems talking.My daughter from a previous marriage who is an american living in USA.

  2. Fascinating article Ned!

    Helping me understand the lady with whom I share a son. Very important to understand the culture and the language so as to avoid faux pas with my future in-laws. I am still learning how to interact with them without ruffling too many feather.

    Also having lived in Quezon City for almost a year helps also. I am appreciative of your work.

  3. All I can say is that if for whatever reason you don’t like the manner or fashion someone is spending their own personal time and effort to report or relay information that may be of some interest then turn that dial and move on. I personally admire anyone that puts time and effort in to their work that may be of some benefit to others. Multiple sources of information or news is more favorable to form a more logical or sensible opinion on any issue. Blah, blah, blah, etc, etc.

    Thanks for your time, Ned

  4. Pleased to hear utang na loob come up in conversation; your interpretation is useful confirmation of the notion of utang na loob I acquired through reading, which I then put into a passage about a Filipino character in a novel (set in 1860, so he’s actually “Manilaman”) caed Vincente. This is especially helpful as I’ve had no opportunity to engage Filipinos in my descriptions of their countrymen. Here’s an excerpt from Vincente’s thoughts:

    There’s a rooster, crowing very late or very early, always early back home, flew up on our little hut, cogan grass thatch, woke everybody, except Lola – Lola woke the chickens, cooked breakfast, pork tapa, tocino and sausage, camote fritters, fried bananas, salted eggs, rice porridge. Lola and Nanay start bickering again, Joselito and Pepito went early to the fields to get away – what to do when Grandmother and Mother fight all day? Go to sea – Joselito and Pepito wanted to go. …Both Joselito and Pepito wanted to run away to sea – you have utang na loób I said, like Chinese filial piety, must stay home and care for grandmother, mother, sisters, grow camotes, plant rice, and I would bring money. Brought enough each year for at least part of the next year. Lola scolded, ungrateful child, neglect parents, have no gratitude walang utang-na-loób, but Nanay said go, care for us better by going to sea as a sailor.

    [Vincente would up in Shanghai in 1860 and was there or several years, so that is how he would have familiarity with some Chinese ways.]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *