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Michael Tan
7 May 2002
HERE'S a familiar scene from our television newscasts: a mother tearfully protesting
criminal charges filed against a son saying, "Mabait naman siya."
Let's postpone the English translation for now and loo at what transpires ne!t. "he
camera shows the errant son and you #egin to agree he is mabait. His face is almost
angelic as he responds to the $uestions from policemen and reporters, his voice ever
so timid, complete with all the courteous po's and ho's.
% used to thin this was all play&acting, an attempt to get pu#lic sympathy, #ut % am
now convinced we're dealing with a different phenomenon revolving around mabait.
"he errant son may in fact #e mabait, #oth as a son as well as a mem#er of his
barkada, and that is what has gotten him into trou#le.
%f we're ased what "mabait" means, we'll respond "good" and "ind" #ut those are
terri#ly wea translations. Mabait is more accurately defined as conforming to the
norm and to social e!pectations. "he opposite of ma#ait is not "#ad" or "unind" #ut
#eing deviant, not conforming to what persons in authority and peers define as
'hat complicates matters is that the "norm" differs depending on the conte!t, one
that is defined #y powerful feudal relations.
'e teach our children to #e mabait in the sense of #eing o#edient and courteous. %n
the classroom, the mabait child is one who never $uestions the teacher, speaing
only when given permission. %f the child ass why she should eep silent, the only
e!planation we can give is: "(ecause ma'am is your teacher."
"Bait" #ecomes pro#lematic #ecause it reduces ethical #ehavior to conformity. %n
training a child to #e ma#ait, we emphasi)e pakikisama or getting along with people,
especially with those superior to you. So what do you e!pect when that child grows
into adolescence and has a barkada* %f the barkada invoes pakikisama for drugs,
the ma#ait child will give in easily #ecause non&conformity maes you unpopular,
maing you not mabait.
"Bait" comes to us from our feudal past and is crucial in defining the roles to #e
played in a feudal relationship. "he dominated are mabait in the sense of #eing
o#edient, pandering to every whim of the dominant. (ut the oppressor in such a
feudal relationship is also e!pected to #e "mabait" in his or her own way, rewarding,
even if in a sewed way, the loyalty of the mabait "client".
+n e!treme e!ample would #e cases of se!ual a#use of children. "he "mabait" child,
un$uestioning and docile,may in fact #e more vulnera#le to se!ual a#use #y adults.
"he "mabait" child is easy prey for a#use and is "safe" #ecause the a#user,a father,
a teacher, or a priest,can eep the child silent simply #y reminding him to stay
-ote that this martyr role applies not .ust to a#used children. (attered wives will
stay on as well, convinced that this is the role of the "mabait" wife.
"Bait" forms the core of the patron&client relationship, so crucial in /hilippine politics.
%t doesn't matter if a politician is venal and corrupt as long as he or she treats you
well on a personal level, which means occasionally tossing a few crum#s to the
faithful. %melda 0arcos and former president 1oseph Estrada were very successful at
#uilding up this mabait image with their dole&outs. 2Ate or, lately, Inang 3loria tries
terri#ly hard #ut fares poorly.4
% worry, too, a#out "bait" in schools, where the "mabait" teacher is defined as
someone who gives high grades. -ever mind if the teacher can't teach5 never mind if
he or she hardly shows up in class. "he student learns to play the game: "6ou give
me a good grade and % eep $uiet a#out your incompetence." "he social damage
comes not .ust with the undeserved grades #ut in what the student learns 2or
doesn't learn4 a#out responsi#ility.
+rchaic as this "mabait" value may #e, it thrives well even in the most modern of
#usiness corporations. %n these large intitutions, "mabait" #ecomes more diffused,
dealing not .ust with relationships #etween a #oss and an employee #ut with the
maintenance of smooth interpersonal interrelationships. "he "mabait" employee is
someone who minds his or her own #usiness. "his can foster mediocrity, with
creativity and innovation sacrificed for safe conformity.
%t's interesting that 1ose 7illa /angani#an's "agalog&English dictionary, pu#lished in
89:;, gives "prudence" as one of the definitions of "#ait". % suspect that this older
concept of bait as prudence has evolved into a ind of opportunism, of accepting the
status $uo and gaining favor with the powers that are.
% am not saying that we should throw out tactfulness and diplomacy, indness and
graciousness. (ut % do feel strongly that we need to $uestion this concept of
"mabait". "Mabait" is #eing good for an ulterior motive, usually currying favor with
those in authority, or gaining popularity among peers. 'e need to learn to #e good,
well, for goodness' sae. -ever mind mabait5 what's more important is #ecoming
good persons, mabuting tao.