Pakitang Tao: The Civil Game

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Thursday, 7 May 2015 - Last Updated on May 7, 2015

Filipinos are famous for being conscientious employees when in other countries, but when it comes to working here in the Philippines, we usually have a darker side – and it ties into a somewhat disturbing cultural trait, the pakitang tao. There are good and bad sides to this cultural habit, and it’s important to know how it can even make some social interactions smoother.

A face to show to the world
The literal translation of the term hews to “a personal image to show to others.” In that sense, pakitang tao is certainly about creating and maintaining an image that can be used by people as a way of interacting with others. It’s important to remember, that this does not necessarily mean that what they present is their actual personality – just that it is an “acceptable” one.

One of the closer ideas to this comes from Japanese culture, with the concept of “face.” However, Japanese “face” involves honor and reputation, and is usually seen in a positive light. The Japanese will even sacrifice their own lives, so that the “face” their family is known for will be intact or repaired, in the event of a dishonorable action. With the Pinoy version, honor and propriety are not exactly involved, though cultural traditions play a large part in it. Pakitang tao is all about appearances and how they are intrinsically important to how people deal with each other in Philippine society.

Face value
The first use of pakitang tao is, not surprisingly, to ease the friction when in awkward personal situations. Given how small the social circles in the Philippines can be, people who have a bad history with each other (former lovers are just the tip of the iceberg trust us) will, eventually, be in close quarters with each other in a party or event.

Pakitang tao solution:
There are two ways to approach this sort of situation. In the first case, it is important to know if the bad history is public or not. If both parties have elected to minimize telling others about what went wrong, then it will be easy to keep up friendly appearances, perhaps with subtle jabs that only the other person will know. In all, none will be the wiser, and no one else has to feel awkward. And whoever wins the subtle sparring gets to have innate satisfaction.

On the other hand, if the bad history is rather public, then both can choose to remain very formal and cordial. In one sense, this can be taken to an extreme, where the formality becomes a social weapon. On the other hand, both can simply remain civil and decide to greet each other then retire to their own circles of friends, some distance away from each other.

The bottom line:
This sort of “civility” or “face value” allows enemies to have the chance to be friends again, as they can show that they can remain civil and friendly, even if there are personal issues. If such an attempt at repairing or at least minimizing damage will be done, friends or the persons themselves can approach without a further loss of pride of being the “first one to give in.”

In all, pakitang tao in this case allows for less friction when in the company of mutual friends and strangers, preventing a spectacle. At the same time, it can function as a way to smooth things out, eventually.

Looking like you mean it
The less desirable side of pakitang tao comes from a very different meaning and usage: For some people, they put up an image of a hard-working employee, for example, and yet when their managers or employers are away, they end up being less than stellar workers, essentially putting their heels up on the table and not doing anything. Yes, it’s all about working hard, as long as someone is looking. Once the observation is gone, so is the hard work.

Pakitang tao solution:
Sadly, in this case, the solution *is* the pakitang tao habit. People don’t want their jobs to be in danger, but at the same time, they want to relax in their jobs a bit. The result is pakitang tao where they look like hard workers, but actually accomplish very little.

The bottom line:
For employers, the solution isn’t to come up with people who will always be there to observe the workplace – that’s the best way for workers to “creatively” come up with ways to goof off. What is important is that employers and managers should allow for a bit of goofing off, while at the same time coming up with ways to encourage employees to work gainfully in the office or workplace. It’s no stretch to say that letting employees blow off steam some of the time might lessen pakitang tao tactics.

Finally, there is the deep cultural aspect of pakitang tao. In this sense, pakitang tao is about following certain important traditions or beliefs, if only to make sure that there is less social upheaval. However, this sort of behavior can be both a negative and a positive, depending on why it’s being done.

Pakitang tao solution:
One popular pakitang tao habit is going to hear Mass, even if one’s heart isn’t there for it. On one level, it could simply be that the person sees the Mass as an opportunity to see other neighbors or crushes, and have a fun time talking with them outside the Church, while the older people actually stay inside. For others, they actually go through the whole Mass, but are not really into it, seeing it more as an empty obligation, but one that has to be done, so that the family will be satisfied.

The bottom line:
The good side of this is that it helps in keeping civil society running. A positive example is how people visit the wake of people whom they hardly know, simply because they are friends with the person’s nephew. While it may seem weird to visit and participate in the wake for a perfect stranger, it also shows the person grieving that their friend cares for them – even if the visitors don’t even know the actual person.

On the bad side of it, you can have people who go to weddings, not to participate in the joy of seeing two people get married, but for the buffet. And so it goes.


So, remember, when you’re thinking of going somewhere for “face value,” or if you’re thinking about looking busy so the boss doesn’t get angry, you’re actually engaging in a tried and true Filipino tradition. Sadly, though, that doesn’t exactly mean you’re doing something right. Ha!


Photos (from
“slack,” by Tim Patterson
“slacker,” by John Walker

Richard Leo Ramos (73 Posts)

Richard Leo Ramos is a writer, editor, and pop culture enthusiast. When not working, he is a bass guitarist of the metal band Cog. He is also the founding "bar owner" of an online hangout for mecha anime enthusiasts in Facebook, known as Mecha Toys.

About Richard Leo Ramos

Richard Leo Ramos is a writer, editor, and pop culture enthusiast. When not working, he is a bass guitarist of the metal band Cog. He is also the founding "bar owner" of an online hangout for mecha anime enthusiasts in Facebook, known as Mecha Toys.

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