Academic journal article Austrian Journal of South - East Asian Studies

"Only If You Really, Really Need It": Social Rights Consciousness in the Philippines

Academic journal article Austrian Journal of South - East Asian Studies

"Only If You Really, Really Need It": Social Rights Consciousness in the Philippines

Article excerpt


Poverty persists in the Philippines despite economic growth. Political patronage and oligarchic rule remain the order of the day. On the other hand, the rhetoric of change is pervasive in civil society discourse (Department of Political Science [DPC], 2010). This article draws on research with a focus on the sense of citizenship in the Philippines (Reese, 2015) asking to which extent Filipinos and Filipinas are willing to stand up for their political beliefs and personal goals (active citizenship) and which role they allot to the public, the government, and the state to provide for or at least support these beliefs and goals.

The first part of the article focuses on the extent of social rights that respondents feel entitled to and whether they consider the government to be the main duty bearer to fulfill these rights. Utilizing a qualitative approach and backing it up with quantitative data reveals Filipinos' general readiness to take political action (active citizenship) as well as their general expectations towards the state (passive citizenship). However, when respondents are asked to spell out these expectations (for instance, in terms of actual and concrete services), these are comparably modest and very basic. Here, I show that most Filipinos have modest expectations regarding government service and that most place high emphasis on individual and community action as the source of change in their lives.

The second part of the article attributes these empirical findings to ideal-typical state responsibility theories and modern citizenship paradigms (e.g., liberalism, communitarianism, and republicanism). Here, I argue that communitarianism is the prevalent "state responsibilization theory" (Zintl, 1996, p. 306) amongst Filipinos, which is further supported by ethnographic data. Communitarianism (with its inherent character of exclusivity), however, is proven to impede a democratic culture and is unable to serve as a guiding social philosophy in unifying large-scale societies mainly consisting of citizens who are strangers (in the Philippines, ibang tao) to each other.

The qualitative data employed in the article was gathered within a series of problem-centered interviews conducted between 2010 and 2012 with 28 young urban professionals from Manila, Davao, and Dumaguete, chosen by theoretical sampling.1 Variables used for the theoretical sampling were, among others, age, gender, years in college visited, place of origin (city or countryside), as well as occupation of the parents (socio-economic background). However, the only variable which turned out to be significant for their sense of citizenship was the organizational background of the respondents. Those who had been involved in a structurally transformative (left) activism had a much stronger sense of citizenship than those who had been involved in non-transformative activism or even those who had never been involved in any political organization at all.

My research focused on the political attitudes of urban professionals in precarious (prekarisierte) work settings, in this case, agents working in international call centers. They can be understood as part of the lower middle class.2 The 28 respondents were interviewed three times: An introductory biographical interview was followed by two problem-centered interviews. While the first problem-centered interview focused on the question of how they solve problems at work (enterprise-level citizenship), the latter focused on citizenship activities and their sense of entitlement towards the government and other duty bearers (such as family and friends). The questionnaires were comprised of semi-structured and open questions, but also included several items which were to be answered within an ordinal scale.3 Following a dual research strategy, the findings of these interviews were compared with quantitative data mainly by triangulating the qualitative data with the results of surveys done by the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) on government, social inequality, and citizenship (1SSP, 2008; 1SSP, 2012a; 1SSP, 2012b). …

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