Why ‘utang na loob’ or indebtedness may be destructive
October 8, 2019 Shaina Dulay
Let’s face it: the Filipino value ‘Utang na Loob’ is destructive in a lot of ways.
We don’t want to generalize and be too opinionated, so we are going to tread lightly on this topic. ‘Utang na Loob’ or ‘indebtedness’ is a Filipino value that is often taught to discuss about moral obligations. Because it talks about social relations with other people, it also signifies ‘invisible debt’.
There really is no corresponding amount or thing that represents ‘utang na loob’ because it’s more of the thought of reciprocation. It may be for a service rendered, for help given, or for just receiving something in general. ‘Utang na loob’ can span years and generations because of the strong family ties that Filipinos have.
How can it be destructive?
In our opinion, ‘utang na loob’ is a powerful tool that may be used to destroy a person. If that made you wonder, no we are not talking about physical damage. Because ‘utang na loob’ is a moral obligation that would make a person feel indebted to another, that feeling could be manipulated. Let’s try to view it through examples, shall we?
A wild situational example:
Imagine two mothers, which will be named Mom A and Mom B. Let’s put it like this: Mom A is someone who is filthy rich with lots of money at her disposal. On the other hand, Mom B is a struggling single mom.
These two mothers are always talking together while waiting for the dismissal of their children. One day, Mom B needed a lot of cash to repay a big debt to the bank. Because Mom A is rich, she immediately gave Mom B the money. Mom B is thrilled for the help that she received, and now she feels indebted to Mom A. She thinks to herself, “when it’s Mom A’s turn to need anything, I will be there to help”.
Now the time came when Mom A actually needed help. However, it was not related to money at all. Mom B received a call from Mom A saying that she killed her husband for mistakenly accusing him of cheating. Because of this, Mom B feels conflicted about helping her.
But desperate and needing assistance to hide the dead body, Mom A uses her ‘utang na loob’ card to urge Mom B to help her. And because of that, Mom B eventually contributed to the crime.
We know that our example may have been a little dark and wild, but do you see the point? ‘Utang na loob’ may be used to actually manipulate people. We know a lot of people who have actually done this.
Moreover, do you remember when we discussed about Filipino parents and the way some think regarding their children? That could also be related to ‘utang na loob’.
However, given these points and arguments, what does this all boil down to?
A question on our morals
When I asked a friend what she thought about the concept of ‘utang na loob’, she shared that she loves helping other people. Moreover, she expects nothing in return. However, when asked about being at the receiving end, she mentioned that she would always want to give back — not because she was obliged to, but because she wants to.
At that point, I realized that ‘utang na loob’ is really inherently good as a Filipino value. It just gets twisted because of people’s personal greed and selfishness. Moving forward, we hope that more Filipinos will understand the kindness that we all owe to each other. Help someone because you want to, and not because you want something in return.