Today’s View: Utang kabubut-on, a pernicious trait

Apr. 12, 2013

Indeed, the conscious and faithful adherence to the injunctions of utang kabubut-on is a formidable trait among Filipinos, such that it has become a pernicious weapon wielded by politicians as a means to garner votes.  

Davao Today

My father, when in his sermon-giving mood, would often say, “Way hinungdan ang tawong di moila’g utang kabubut-on [He (she) is an unworthy person who does not honor a debt of gratitude].”

Verily, utang kabubut-on (utang na loob in Filipino) is a commendable but delicate state of mind and heart.  It is regarded as an attitude that spells the difference between what makes an enduring relationship and a fragile companionship.

Among members of the family, this trait is cultivated early in childhood.  Perhaps, at the bottom of this is the phenomenon of clannishness that promises future expectations or rewards, in terms of personal service or perhaps, economically and socially, as well.

The parents, consciously or unconsciously, would look forward to that inevitable season in their life when they would need the care-giving attention of their children.  And utang kabubut-on is their form of “life insurance policy” for this eventuality in their twilight years.

Between siblings, and this is especially true in low-income families, the eldest child is often entrusted with some responsibility to look after the well-being of the younger ones.   And the younger siblings ought to reciprocate as a matter of paying an utang kabubut-on implicitly or explicitly invoked.

In friendship, as in romantic relationship — and yes, in conjugal partnership! — the demands for this utang kabubut-on commitment often manifest in emotional intensity during lovers’ rows or marriage break-ups.  And this, even with the popular saying, “All is fair in love and war.”

Indeed, the conscious and faithful adherence to the injunctions of utang kabubut-on is a formidable trait among Filipinos, such that it has become a pernicious weapon wielded by politicians as a means to garner votes.

The voter, by the sheer fact that he has a debt of gratitude to return to a candidate for an electoral post, ignores the politicians’ inadequacies as a political person.  He (she) merely sees the need to pay his (her) utang kabubut-on no matter the big flaws that make such politician unfit for office.

Our politicians invariably bank on this mindset of our people.  And the unscrupulous politician, his (her) mouth foaming with triumphant braggadocio and pretense, proclaims, “It is my big utang kabubut-on to give you the kind of service you deserve by your support!”

And what kind of service, does he (she) contemplate?  Only he (she), with his hypocritical attribute as a political animal, knows what quality of service he (she) sees is commensurate to the people’s sense of utang kabubut-on he (she) has effectively peddledduring the campaign.

But why should one consider it a repayment of utang kabubut-on to elect a candidate for public office for a personal favor he (she) had received?  Much more so if such favor is one that accrues from the very nature of the politician’s official function or governance?

A common example of such queer happenstance is the feeling of being beholden to a politician for a job or livelihood or scholarship grant out of money from the public coffers.  Or on account of such simple infrastructure projects as cementing a portion of a road, or an artesian well, or a classroom building which, after all, is the very service expected of him as a public servant out of the people’s money?

A former Davao congressman can be called an examplar emeritus of such brand of politicians who earned the distinction of having claimed as his own certain public parks by labeling them with his name.  He even installed lapidas on ten-meter stretches of roads he caused to be cemented out of his “fattened” pork barrel — fattened on account of his illustrious sycophancy to the former lady president.

But the worst form of utang kabubut-on is one that ensues from vote-buying.  The entire electorate cannot complain later for the consequent misgovernance in return for their ill-advised act of selling their votes.  The politician would have no qualms calling them ingrates if they do.  For naturally he would consider it the electorate’s utang kabubut-on for his magnanimity in showering them with a few pesos as direly needed blessings in these difficult times.

And the masquerade goes on, elections after elections after elections, in a vicious circle to the disenchantment of the people who find no basic change in the social reality.

For, after all, utang kabubut-on is not a pledge of loyalty to service  and to public trust, but a matter of  very personal self-serving consideration it has no bearing whatsoever on a principled commitment to public welfare.

Don J. Pagusara is a native of Mindanao, a multi-awarded author and a Palanca-awardee.

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