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A debt of gratitude – Really?

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Anybody who has been reading this site for much time at all is aware that I take lessons in the Cebuano language, and that my teacher is Bebe Metillo.  Bebe and I are quite close, and I really consider her like a sister.  In addition to teaching me the language, Bebe also teaches me cultural lessons and about how to deal with Philippine Culture.

A couple of years ago, Bebe gave me a little guide booklet about the “SIR” system.  SIR stands for “Smooth Interpersonal Relationships” and is what the entire culture of the Philippines is based upon.  There are eight components of the SIR system, and I have outlined each in my series of articles about the SIR concept.

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Today, though, I want to concentrate on one aspect of SIR, based upon an event that happened to Feyma and I a few days ago.  The aspect of the culture that I want to focus on is:

Utang Kabubut-on – “A Debt of Gratitude”

Here is the tenet of Utang Kabubut-on:

Every Filipino is aware of his sense of duty to those from whom he has received favors.  He is compelled to act in a grateful manner to honor what is considered an important obligation.  The finest compliment one can pay a Filipino is to say that he totally fulfills his obligations.

Unfortunately, Feyma and I had an experience the other day that we felt showed a great deal of un-gratefulness toward us.  Let’s see what you think.

Many readers will remember, back in December, as we do every December, we went out and distributed food and other things to poor people.  Much of the distribution came from contributions made by readers of this site.  In addition to our normal giveaways, we took on a bit of a special goal this year by helping four needy high school students here in Davao.  These girls are extremely bright students, but are very poor.  In the past, for lunch they would only have hot water, nothing else.  We took it upon ourselves to sponsor the school lunches of these four school girls for the rest of the school year, and we fulfilled our promise to do so, not missing one day of buying their lunches.  Additionally we did some extra things for the girls too, including them in family outings, having them over for dinner at our house and such.

About a month ago, or so, our labandera (lady who washes our clothes) failed to show up for work.  After a few days of her not showing up it became clear to us that she had quit.  That’s kind of the way it is done here, if the maid or labandera wants to quit, they don’t usually tell you, they just stop coming.  Oh well.  So, it left us without a labandera.  Being a large family, we have a lot of clothes to wash.  I told Feyma to start looking for a new labandera, but it can be difficult to find one right away.

After a few days of not being able to find a replacement labandera, I told Feyma that perhaps we should offer these 4 girls whom we had been helping, if they want to earn some extra money by working around our house during the summer.  We would pay them a salary, plus also provide them with 3 good meals per day, which I would dare to say they were not getting at home, as they are very poor.  Feyma thought it was a good idea, so we contacted them and told them to come to our house on Monday morning at 8:30am.  One of the girls could not be found, perhaps she is out of town for the summer, I am not sure.  But, the other 3 showed up and were even early!  We talked to them and offered them our deal, and they were very excited.  They were really happy that they would be able to earn a little money over the summer vacation from school, and also that they would have good food to eat over their vacation too!

At about 5pm, one of the girls said that she had to go home.  We told her that she was free to go home, as the work was done for the day anyway, but we asked her if she wanted to stay and eat dinner with us.  She agreed, and texted her mother to let her know that she would have dinner here before coming home.  When the girls were ready to go home it was already dark, so I had my nephew drive them home, to ensure their safety.  Normally, the girls will use public transportation, but since it was late, and also their first day, I wanted to give them a ride home.  No problems.

On Tuesday morning, one of the girls did not show up.  Later in the day, we got word that she would no longer be working for us, because her mother didn’t like it that we made her stay here late!  Uh, what?  Made her stay late? Well, she did stay late, but only to eat dinner!  And, she had a good dinner too, not just rice or hot water.  She ate the same food on Monday night that I did, nothing different, and she was free to have all that she wanted too.

When Feyma and I heard the news that the girl would no longer be working, we felt it was a bit of a slap in the face.  We had been feeding the girl for about 4 months already and had given her a job with above average pay, and free meals too.  Doesn’t it seem that what we had done falls under the tenet of “Utang Kabubut-on” or “debt of gratitude?”  But, it seems that the girl and her parents don’t feel any debt of gratitude toward Feyma and I.

Well, my thinking as of now is that this girl will not be getting any school lunches from us next school year.  Sometimes, it seems to me that there is little gratitude in the Philippines.  However, I will say that the two girls that are still working are very friendly and happy to have a job, so I cannot say that all Filipinos are ungrateful, that’s for sure.  But, I have encountered the ungrateful attitude many times here in the Philippines, and I often wonder why it is like that.

Anyway, this was our experience this past week.  What do you think?

Bob Martin

Bob Martin is the Publisher & Editor in Chief of the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine. Bob is an Internet Entrepreneur. Bob is an American who lived in Mindanao from 2000 until 2019. Bob has now relocated back to the USA.

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Wade
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Wade

Hi Bob,

Could it be because you’re a white foreigner and your feelings don’t matter? That thought crossed my mind. Have you noticed the same behavior amongst Filipinos?

MindanaoBob
Guest

Hi Wade – I was talking about this a few days ago with another foreigner who has lived here for some time. We both came to the conclusion that if you are a foreigner, your motives are automatically suspect. I would have thought, though, that since we’ve been helping this girl for a long time already, people would have known that we meant no harm to the girls and were only trying to help them.

Marc
Guest

Hi there Bob & Wade, there is a saying that we cannot pleased everybody not only you experienced this. Philippines is a multi-culture peninsula Luzon, Visayas & Mindanao. Even in your own country of origin. Everyone of us has different mentor who raised us, upbringing of a certain plays a vital role. When a family living in too much poverty as you said, are you expecting that the parents has a time to honed their children not to be a social delinquent kids? We must accept the bitter truth. We are in the world of wait and see situation. Like… Read more »

MindanaoBob
Guest

You are so right, Marc. You can try hard, but still some will not be pleased. It is unfortunate, but seemingly unavoidable!

Wade
Guest
Wade

Hey Bob & Marc, I lived in Mindanao for a year in high school so I do understand what you’re both saying. Even Filipinos recognize the regional culture shock; when a local Filipino exchange student from Manila knew I was bound for Cotabato, he begged me to find another place! Anyhow Bob, 10 years later and you still get surprised! And I agree that perhaps your motives were held suspect by the families in some way, shape or form.

MindanaoBob
Guest

Hi Wade – I’m not sure what you mean by “10 years later and you still get surprised.” But, yes, I am surprised from time to time, there is no doubt.

Tony
Guest
Tony

No good deed goes unpunished I guess.

MindanaoBob
Guest

Sadly, Tony, it would seem so.

Bdul
Guest

True not only for foreigners helping locals but also for locals helping locals, too. A priest I talked to lamented the failure of paying the monthly amortization of 200 pesos by the people he helped provide a piece of land to build their small houses. Yet each family member had their different individual brands of shampoo, had money to go malling, buy cell phone load, and drink some rhum. I, too, have similar stories. It seems the motivations and incentives of people cannot be easily divined. Well, Bob, as anybody who has tried to do “good works” that stretch over… Read more »

MindanaoBob
Guest

You are sure right Bdul. When you try to help people, disappointment is inevitable. The hope must be that there is more satisfaction than disappointment, and that is my experience so far.

David L Smith
Guest
David L Smith

Hi Bob Sorry to hear that, but i guess its life and part of the merry go round we have to deal with. It hurts a lot more when its one of your own blood relations that shows such ingratitude. The main thing Bob is not to let the bitter disapointment change you, keep on being the guy you are because im sure most people will be grateful for your kindness . I can understand the parents concern but after they have been informed that their daughter has agreed to have dinner and also will get transport home then i… Read more »

MindanaoBob
Guest

Thanks for your comment, David. I don’t think that any apology will be coming… and I really don’t even want an apology. There are plenty of people here who are willing to accept help, and need it, I suppose. It just saddens me that this girl will have to go back to having no lunch at school.

Papa Duck
Guest
Papa Duck

Bob

You are right there are more than enough people to help. All you can do is move on and help someone that will appreciate what you do for them. You are doing all you can and somethings are just out of your control. Have a nice day my friend.

MindanaoBob
Guest

Thanks for your support, my friend.

Loren Pogue
Guest
Loren Pogue

Why be sad? You may still be able to supply her lunch, with out to much offence to the family. Of course their pride and the fact that they can’t take proper care of the daughter may prevent them from allowing their daughter to accept your generosity. Oh well, their loss. The real loser is the young lady. Any way keep up the good work. The world needs more good people like you.

MindanaoBob
Guest

Hi Loren – I do not wish to provide her with lunch if she or her family are not willing for her to be able to interact with my family. It is their choice, though.

Paul Thompson
Guest
Paul Thompson

Bob;
Help me out here, was it the girl, or the mother’s fault, that she stopped coming to work? If her fault then I understand your feelings. If it was the mother’s fault, than the young lady was doing the correct thing, in obeying her mother. Either way it would be hard to understand why the mother would have no gratitude for the kindness you’ve shown in the past. I guess I’ll second Tony’s comment!

MindanaoBob
Guest

Hi Paul – I am not sure if we know the real story, or ever will. What was said was that the mother will not allow the girl to come back, but I am not really sure. I don’t blame the girl, but I do blame the mother at this point.

Biz Doc
Guest
Biz Doc

hi bob, how old was the girl again? who knows, she could have stayed out late that night after she was driven home, only to do what she pleased at that time, and then gave the work at your place as an excuse so she wouldn’t get scolded by her mom. sometimes you have to do stuff yourself, meaning driven those girls home yourself, just so you’d not be made an excuse for anything. at this point, even if you ask your nephew what time he brought the girls home, he wouldn’t know if any of them sneaked out as… Read more »

MindanaoBob
Guest

Hi Biz – Perhaps you overlooked in the article… we DID drive the girls home, directly to their doors. The girl was driven to the front door and entered the house before we left.

Biz Doc
Guest
Biz Doc

hi bob,

not to add fuel to the fire, but i still think the girl’s ‘reasoning’ on why she was late had something to do with the mom’s resulting decision.

after all, having been kids once, we all know entering the house doesn’t mean we can’t sneak out before somebody sees us we’re back home ” )

cheers,

MindanaoBob
Guest

Hi Biz Doc – You may be right. However, whatever the reason is, she can no longer come here and interact with my family, which is a requirement for the assistance.

Biz Doc
Guest
Biz Doc

hi bob,

that’s how i would decide on the matter if that happened to me. all the best

cheers,

MindanaoBob
Guest

Thanks, Biz Doc.

Ricardo Sumilang
Guest
Ricardo Sumilang

Hi Bob – let’s see if I got this straight. Out of the kindness of your heart, you took it upon yourself to sponsor free lunches for 4 honor student girls when you found out that, because of poverty, the girls were drinking only hot water for lunch. When you lost your labandera, you saw an opportunity to financially help these girls further by offering them employment to work around your house for a good salary plus lunch, which they have all happily accepted. On the first day, Monday, one girl did not show up for reasons unknown. Later that… Read more »

MindanaoBob
Guest

Hi Ricardo – Actually, you have misinterpreted what I wrote in several ways: 1. One girl is not available at all. She is not in town. I have no problem with that. She has not and will not be working because she is not in town. 2. The girls are not given a good salary plus lunch. They are given a good salary plus THREE meals per day – breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus two snacks. 3. The work they did? They washed clothes for about an hour. Washed dishes. Cleaned one bedroom. They rest of the day they played… Read more »

Gary
Guest
Gary

I don’t think it’s a white foreigner thing. There may be some of that involved sometimes, but I’ve seen very similar things as you’ve described (or worse) when Rose’s mother, or Rose’s aunt and uncle have helped others out. No white person involved. I’ve also seen where expectations for help rise, “you give me free lunch what about breakfast and dinner too?” The opposite is also true, many people are very grateful, and it’s really nice to see those who have “made it” because of a little help they received years ago. People like that tend to be very grateful,… Read more »

MindanaoBob
Guest

You are right, Gary, many people are indeed quite grateful. The two girls that are working with us now are grateful, and I enjoy having them around. Since December when we started supporting them, I can see improvements in their health and such, and it really makes me happy. I enjoy having the girls come here and spend time with our family.

Stevo
Guest
Stevo

Hi Bob, Maybe you should have Donald Trump check her birth certificate! Maybe she is really a spoiled rotten American like too many are now. We Americans are getting so lazy! Maybe she is watching American TV. Who knows for sure. Anyway, you seem to have a good heart for the really less fortunate, so don’t stop caring. There will always be ungrateful people everywhere, so good luck and appreciate the good girls. There have been people in our family that we have helped, some are grateful, some not so much. But, it really makes me appreciate the ones that… Read more »

MindanaoBob
Guest

Hi Stevo – Well… I don’t care much about the birth certificate, and I am quite sure she is not an American. Maybe she just acts like one! 😉

Boon
Guest
Boon

I am surprised that you are surprised. This is a common trait among people here for one reason or another. Many that defy logic.I have given up my sensitivities about such things a long time ago and come not to depend on anyone to appreciate what I do for them. Of course I am being somewhat melodramatic as most of the people that come into my life to help me with stuff here are very dependable and accomodating. One thing I never do is clap myself on the back and say what a great guy I am for feeding this… Read more »

MindanaoBob
Guest

Hi Boon – I don’t think I was “clapping” (did you mean patting?) myself on the back. I was only relating an experience. I didn’t say I was surprised either.

Christine
Guest
Christine

Hi Bob, I am with Boon on this one. I too have given/helped people in the Philippines and here in Australia (Pinay girls getting themselves into trouble), most of the times not even a word of thank you, and sometimes my kindness rewarded with malice in the form of “tsismis”. So I have also given up on the gratitude thing. Sometimes Filipinos will show gratitude if it suits at the time, but contrary to popular beliefs, Filipino utang na loob is never lasting, and you’d be lucky to even experience/told that they have “utang na loob” to you. In the… Read more »

MindanaoBob
Guest

Hi Christine – Yes, I agree too that gratitude is fading here. I pointed this out in the article that I had encountered many times when there was no gratitude shown for help that I have given in the past. There is still gratitude here with most people, but for some it seems non-existent.

Ricardo Sumilang
Guest
Ricardo Sumilang

“Perhaps you would like to support the one that I may cut off? If so, let me know, and I would gladly pass the money on for you.” Exactly my thoughts, Bob. The offer would have been the last sentence in my comment above, but deleted it at the last moment. I’m amazed at the coincidence. Yes, my first thought was to help, but, as you know, I am not a rich man. If you can give me an idea about how much a month, or for the entire school year, for the one girl who stands to lose her… Read more »

MindanaoBob
Guest

It doesn’t cost much, Ricardo. You could buy lunch for the entire school year for $200 or less.

By the way, like you, I am not a rich person. You don’t have to be rich to help out those less fortunate.

Ricardo Sumilang
Guest
Ricardo Sumilang

Hi Bob – as the U.S. government likes to say, “Check is on the mail!” I will contact you via the “Contact Us” above to make arrangements for sending the money towards the end of the month. I am happy to help. She does not need to know who I am; I just would like to know her name so I can look at her picture in the article you wrote in December 2010. Thanks again.

MindanaoBob
Guest

OK, no problem Ricardo. I will be on the lookout for your e-mail. I don’t want to publish the girl’s name, it would be embarrassing for her, I am sure. I will e-mail you privately with that.

Ricardo Sumilang
Guest
Ricardo Sumilang

Good enough, Bob. I will contact you by private email about the end of the month. I just finished reading the article about your Christmas give-away last December, and your and your family’s visit at the home of the 4 girls. I am just curious as to which one it is that I would be helping.

MindanaoBob
Guest

Hi Ricardo – I sent you an e-mail about 30 minutes with the girl’s name. I don’t want to publish it here. Please check your e-mail.

Ricardo Sumilang
Guest
Ricardo Sumilang

Got it, Bob! Thanks.

Dan
Guest
Dan

Well Bob…It looks to me like the Mother of the girl can take over and pay for lunch for next years school year..but hey from the sound of this post and one many months ago..this Mother could not even handle that responsiblity as a parent…So…from everything I have read…I would say she is a poor Mother…and really do not care if any body else reading this LIP agree’s or not…..In my mind…A good parent wants the best for their child in many and all ways…and so if they let their own pride…or bad thinking or what ever stand in the… Read more »

MindanaoBob
Guest

Hi Dan – Thanks, I appreciate your comment. Yes, I really don’t feel much desire to help the girl further. I feel sorry for her that she would not get a free lunch next year. The thing is, though, I want to sponsor kids that I can mold and teach. I want them to spend time with my family, and take in things that I can teach them. I feel it is important for kids (including my own kids!) to learn the value of money by working. I feel it is important for them to learn how to earn money,… Read more »

rebecca Ferry
Guest
rebecca Ferry

Bob, Can i apply for a part time job? hahaha! As you may know i’m planning to retire in 2 yrs. time and although i said i will retire i dread to think of staying at home and doing nothing, infact, i still want to work but i will probably just doing some part time job,i mean just a few hrs. just to keep myself busy or taking up some vocational course or anything just to keep myself away from home most of the time ( but no more full time job), 2 of my friends here are also planning… Read more »

MindanaoBob
Guest

Ha ha.. sure, rebecca… send me your resume! 😆 Just kidding…

rebecca Ferry
Guest
rebecca Ferry

Hahaha! I’m just joking too Bob i think if i ever look for a part time job, it’s probably near my place so i don’t have to travel that far….

MindanaoBob
Guest

😉

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