Utang na loob

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Utang na loob is one of the readily-observable surface values often mistaken for distinguishing attributes of the Filipinos from other nationalities. This may be confusing because these values may vary among the different ethnic groups across the archipelago.

Charles Kaut (1961) admitted that utang na loob is not uniquely Filipino; it can also be found in Washington, D.C. except that Americans value kaliwaan (direct exchange) more. To argue that utang na loob is solely a Filipino value is therefore misleading and dangerous. Utang na loob would be convenient in perpetuating the colonial status of the Filipino mind (Enriquez 1977) especially since the English-language interpretations of utang na loob as reciprocity happen to be useful in promoting the image of the colonizer as the benefactor. Kaut's 1961 study was misused and overdrawn without due regard to the dangers of reductionism when the interpretation of utang na loob, in terms of direct exchange of goods and favors, became the interpretation of utang na loob. Utang na loob is definitely not so gross and scheming as the pragmatic "you scratch my back, I scratch yours". Kaut also translated utang na loob into "debt of gratitude" but the mercantilist interpretation of the concept remained until it got tagged as "reciprocity".

Another social scientist, Hollinsteiner, pushed the erroneous interpretation even further by claiming that the interaction emanating from utang na loob is "contractual". While recognizing the significant role of "emotions" (her closest gloss to loob), she claims that the recipient is compelled to "show his gratitude properly by returning the favor with interest. De Mesa's (1987) analysis of utang na loob as a commitment to "human solidarity" is closer to the logic of Filipino behavior and Philippine language use. According to De Mesa, it functions prior to any reception of favor. It is used as a plea prior to any favor because utang na loob, the debt owed to another who shares a common humanity (loob), exists just because we are fellow human beings. [1]

In the study of Filipino psychology, utang na loob is considered an important "accommodative surface value", along with hiya (propriety/dignity) and pakikisama (companionship/esteem). It is one of the values by which Filipinos accommodate the demands of the world around them as opposed It's counterpart grouping, referred to as the "confrontative surface values", which include values such as lakas ng loob and pakikibaka.[2]

The essence of utang na loob is an obligation to appropriately repay a person who has done one a favor. The favors which elicit the Filipino's sense of utang na loob are typically those whose value is impossible to quantify, or, if there is a quantifiable value involved, involves a deeply personal internal dimension.[3] This internal dimension, loob, differentiates utang na loob from an ordinary utang (debt); being an internal phenomenon, utang na loob thus goes much deeper than ordinary debt or even the western concept of owing a favor. Filipino psychology explains that this is a reflection of the kapwa orientation of shared personhood or shared self, which is at the core of the Filipino values system.[2]

Utang na loob is therefore a value which moves to recognize, respect, promote, and at times defend the basic dignity of each person. [4]


  1. ^ Enriquez, Virgilio (1992). From Colonial to Liberation Psychology: The Philippine Experience. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press. p. 66-69. 
  2. ^ a b de Guia, Katrin (2005). Kapwa: The Self in the Other: Worldviews and Lifestyles of Filipino Culture-Bearers. Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, Inc. p. 378. ISBN 971-27-1490-X. 
  3. ^ Borja-Slark, Aileen (January 27, 2008). "Reciprocity and The Concept of Filipino "Utang na Loob "". Filipino-Western Relationships. www.western-asian.com. Retrieved February 5, 2009. [dead link]
  4. ^ Enriquez, Virgilio (1992). From Colonial to Liberation Psychology: The Philippine Experience. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press. p. 70. 

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