“Filipino Time” Syndrome


Whenever I hear the notorious excuse or description “Filipino Time,” I feel a grave insult is hurled at my people, even if the generalization is usually uttered by my fellow Filipinos themselves. The defensive rationalization is usually accompanied by a snicker or laughter, a demeanor that trivializes the seriousness of the behavioral impropriety and rudeness.

To accept the insinuation that tardiness is a natural birth trait of the Filipino is to malign our people and irresponsibly admit that we are not educated and cultured enough, and that we are socially uncouth, ill-mannered, and uncivilized. This is no laughing matter and I do not find this funny. And I vehemently object to this unfair characterization.

I have been in the United States since 1963, and over the past 58 years, I have observed the transformation of “Juan(a) de la Cruz,” albeit sometimes with stubborn reluctance, to an individual more conscious of time, of the value of punctuality, and of the proper respect for other people’s schedule. There is no question that environment plays a fundamental role, second to training at home and in school, in the development of the behavior, trait, character, attitude and thinking of an individual. With this particular “syndrome,” genetics cannot deservedly take the blame. The culpability rests on the “infected ones” and not on the entire Filipino people.

While I can sense, and am proud of, the improvement in the matter of punctuality among many of our kababayan abroad and in the Philippines, especially among the younger generation, tardiness and the seeming lack of perception of time among a significant number of us is still rampant and bothersome. And what makes it more tragic is the apparent acceptance by many of our fellow Filipinos that being tardy is “normal, acceptable, excusable, or should be tolerated,” because, after all, “it is the Filipino Time.” This vexing acquiescence is unfair and a disservice to our people and to our nation as a whole.

I refuse to surrender, even for a moment, to the notion that we, as a people, are culturally, socially, and ethically inferior to the Americans or to any other civilized peoples of the world. Punctuality is not an exclusive trait of the people of the United States or of the Europeans. While I abhor the lack of punctuality among anyone and admit with embarrassment and dismay that many of us Filipinos (and other nationalities, of course) are guilty of this offensive bad habit, I still believe that, with proper training and discipline, starting from the nursery school, the Filipinos will be capable of developing the trait of punctuality, and discipline, among others, in them. Especially today, when time is gold.

There was an incident in Cebu a few years back when a father accompanied his 5-year-old daughter to a nursery/kindergarten school class (dance) presentation on its foundation day. The “invitation” said 3:30 P.M.  When they got to the school, there were only about a dozen other kids waiting, out of the two hundred or so participants expected. The program did not begin at 4:00 or 4:30, not even at 5:30. It started at 6:35, more than three hours late.  This delay actually prevented this dad from attending a previous dinner engagement he had at 7:30 that evening.

And this made me wonder. How can we teach our children about punctuality, the value of time, and the respect for other people’s schedule, if we, their elders, especially the school administrator and faculty, display before these young impressionistic minds our own careless disregard for promptness and our lack of respect for other people’s commitments?

Many of us usually come up with a dozen excuses for our misbehavior or misadventures. For being late for our appointment, meeting or party, we blame the Spaniards, our society as a whole, the alarm clock, the traffic, the car battery, the babysitter, or even the innocent baby itself. The usual rationale we hear from many is “they won’t start on time anyway; we’ll just waste our time waiting there.” And the vicious cycle goes on.

Making excuses or shifting the blame does not accomplish anything and only makes matters worse. Perhaps, its time to look at the mirror to view the real culprit, make the accurate critical diagnosis, and self-prescribe the appropriate treatment — promptly!

Let us set a good example for our children by showing them how we value and manage time, how time lost can never be recovered, and how we respect other people’s agenda. It’s about time we lost this bad reputation.

The “Filipino Time” syndrome is a disease only of those inconsiderate selfish compatriots of ours who simply don’t give a damn, and not of the entire Filipino people. So, when someone is late for an appointment, I beg you to, please, not to mention the lame excuse “Filipino Time” when I am around, otherwise, I won’t be responsible for my inexplicable but prompt ferocious reaction.

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I often hear the comment that the Filipino people are not disciplined. Against my better judgment, I had refused to believe it…until I experienced it first hand. Several times. And here are a couple of examples during a visit to the Philippines.

One time, I took the WG&A Our Lady of Fatima boat to Ozamiz for a business meeting in Oroquieta. Going down the stairs on the return trip to Cebu, I encountered a chaotic mob of “carriers” with pieces of luggage on their shoulders and around their arms and passengers alike inch their way recklessly to make their hurried exit, almost knocking people down the stairs. The jam slowed down the whole process quite a bit. Why we could not have spontaneously organized ourselves, formed a single line, and walked down the stairs in an orderly, more efficient, comfortable, safer fashion, and faster, is puzzling to me.

Another observation: Unruly drivers who broke traffic laws every chance and every which way they could, instantly became law-abiding and a model drivers when they entered Clark Field airbase, where strict US-style traffic rules were enforced with severe penalty. Once they got lout of Clark, they were transformed back to their reckless driving manners. This Jekyll and Hyde behavior is inspired by the lack of discipline, responsibility, and dereliction of duty of law enforcement agencies elsewhere in the country.

Fortunately, the young children, the hope of our country, behave in a more civilized manner.  When the teacher announces treats for them, these kids form a single line themselves, and take their proper turns in receiving the goodies. No shoving, no pushing, or taking advantage of one another. Each simply waits patiently for his/her turn. Perhaps, we adults should watch more children’s television shows (instead of “F” garbage) or go back to kindergarten to learn better manners. Actually, all we need in life we learn from kindergarten.

Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is an international medical lecturer/author, a Health Public Advocate, and Chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c)3 humanitarian and anti-graft foundation in the United States. Visit our websites: philipSchua.com and FUN8888.com    Email: scalpelpen@gmail.com