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As the Philippines celebrates its 119th Independence Day today, we take the opportunity to debunk some of the most common myths or misconceptions about the nation and its people. The archipelago is free of occupation by Spain, Japan and the US, but even in the 21st century the nation still isn’t free from discriminatory stereotypes. We look at why Filipinos are sometimes misunderstood.

Filipinos are all happy-go-lucky people

Filipinos are generally very positive, with a sense of humour, an unwavering optimism and grace under pressure. This can lead others to think they are unconcerned about the future. 

But Filipinos don’t just shrug off big problems, it’s more a testament to their resilience. The Philippines is affected by natural calamities every year, from typhoons to strong earthquakes and its people have made a science out of dealing with such debacles with a smile. 

“The Pinoys’ ubiquitous natural smile is a mark of their fortitude, the cultural amulet that enables them to overcome the seemingly endless adversities testing his/her person and nationhood,” says Ben Domingo Jr, chairperson of the technical committee on journalism at the Philippine Commission on Higher Education and a professor of journalism at the University of the Philippines. 

“This is not a manifestation of weakness or of being irresponsible and carefree. Rather, it shows how he or she summons whatever is left in their inner power and pride to rise up again whenever they fall.”  

The Philippines is a poor nation

The Asian nation is a developing country for  many reasons, one of which is corruption, exacerbated by the inaction of previous governments to deal with this menace. But the Philippines is now one of Asia’s fast-growing economies. Data from Trading Economics show that at $81.8 billion (Dh300 billion), foreign exchange reserves are higher than Australia ($79.8 billion), and not far behind oil-rich Canada’s $84.7 billion. The country is very rich in natural resources and its biggest and most important assets — its people and their optimism — will be key ingredients in the nation’s continued growth.

All Filipinos are major freeloaders

This is probably one of the most unfair accusations against a Filipino. In fact, Filipinos are one of the most generous people on earth. If you are invited to a Filipino party, you’re most likely going to be treated like royalty. In the same manner, Filipinos help a whole lot of needy people in their home towns, apart from their own families.

Whenever there are calamities such as typhoons in the Philippines, Filipino communities in the UAE are very quick to organise aid efforts. A lot of them might not be able to afford huge amounts, but they will contribute — that is the bayanihan (brotherhood) spirit of the Filipino. They are so used to giving without expecting anything in return that branding them as freeloaders is certainly unfair. But of course, when they can get something for free, Filipinos would certainly try to grab the opportunity. But that doesn’t mean they’re freeloaders, just practical.

Filipino expats have low-income jobs

This is really a problem of economics, which we won’t discuss here. However, this also shows the ingenuity and determination of Filipinos. There are more than 100 million Filipinos, and given the country’s economic situation, not everyone gets to find a decent, well-paying job at home. That Filipinos have found their way into jobs all over the world shows they are resourceful people. The downside to moving countries means people don’t often find prestigious roles.

But as Paul Raymund Cortes, the Philippine Consul General in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, points out, “There’s nothing wrong if your job is decent and you can help the society.”

A huge number of overseas Filipino workers are also achievers in fields such as engineering, science, film, fashion, literature and education. There are around 650,000 Filipinos in the UAE, of which around 450,000 live in Dubai. Cortes 
says 40 per cent of these work in highly skilled categories such as engineering and nursing, while only 20 per cent do household work.  “It is unfair, false and inaccurate that Filipinos are generalised as working in low income jobs,” he says. 

Furthermore, even the low-income jobs are important in their own right, he adds.“The trust and confidence given to Filipino nannies and house helpers to maintain the nucleus of society is certainly a feat that cannot just be entrusted to anyone,” Cortes explains. “It speaks of the Filipinos’ contribution to the UAE and globally. Simply dismissing it as low as if it’s in consequential or demeaning certainly contradicts the very essence and importance of such a task.”  

The Philippines isn’t a safe country

With the ongoing Marawi crisis in a small section of the southern island of Mindanao and the consequent imposition of martial law on the island, as well as the recent incident at Resorts World in Manila, some might think the entire Philippines is not safe. That’s far from the truth. You have to remember that the Philippines comprises 7,107 islands — it has lots more to offer. 

For sure, peace and order and security are legitimate concerns given the recent incidents, but these are generally isolated. The Philippines in general is still a tourist-friendly nation.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) has reported that foreign tourists in the first quarter increased by 11.4 per cent to 1.7 million visitors. “Certain countries have [a] bad connotation, but we have reminded them that this is the only martial law where businesses are supportive of, there’s no suspension of congress and the judicial system, and it’s only in an isolated area,” said DOT Assistant Secretary and spokesperson Frederick Alegre in a statement regarding the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.

Filipinos are all big spenders 

Filipinos generally love branded products, but this is also true about everyone else, especially here in Dubai. For the Filipinos, buying high-quality products is sort of an investment (so you won’t have to buy a new one for a long time) and a reward as many of them who work abroad support families and even extended families at home. Filipinos abroad typically spend a big chunk of their money on education for their children and even extended families at home.

All Filipinos are good singers

Well, Filipinos are really talented when it comes to singing — and quite passionate about it. In the Philippines, you can see people singing on 
the streets, in restaurants, in malls, there’s a microphone and a videoke everywhere. 

In typical Filipino parties, there is often singing whether with a band, a karaoke or musical instruments such as guitars. But, of course, not all Filipinos have the gift of singing. However, in any group of friends, there’s always one or two who could dish out a Mariah Carey song and sound just like her.

All Filipinos have American dreams

The Philippines came under American rule at the start of the 20th century. The American influence, from brands to lifestyle, created a significant impact on the country, which explains why many Filipinos closely associate themselves with the US. But of course, the Filipino now has more of a global perspective, especially with the advent of the information era and the global opportunities that come along with it.

They’re respectful and obedient

This is not really a misconception, but Filipinos are often taken advantage of because of these innate qualities. Generally, Filipinos have high tolerance with rude people, which can be both an asset and a liability. 

“I believe these qualities can still be seen among baby boomers. They were raised to obey and not doing so would be tantamount to talking back,” agrees Agnes Blanco, a retired teacher at the University of San Carlos South Campus in Cebu City. “But the millennials are a different breed now. Schools are teaching them to speak up. They are now aware of children’s and human rights. When they speak up it does not mean they are being disrespectful or disobedient.” 

In certain situations, including at work, Filipinos indeed have to fight back as needed, especially if their rights are violated. 

Filipinos are gold diggers

This misconception often stems from Filipino women marrying foreigners, and the belief that they do so as a way to escape poverty. Some women do improve their economic standing through such marriages, but that’s not looking at the entire picture. 

In the first place, you have to consider why foreigners want to marry Filipino women. The qualities mentioned earlier in this article speak volumes why Filipino women are much sought-after by foreign men looking to raise a family. Filipinos value family so dearly, and foreigners are appreciative of this.