Law, Politics, and Philosophy

Tuguegarao City, Cagayan. Atty. MICHAEL JHON M. TAMAYAO manages this blog. Contact:

Filipino Philosophy


by Michael Tamayao 

I. Introduction

Philosophy could be seen in different ways. On the one hand, it is an academic pursuit typical of any western philosophy. On the other hand, it is purely a pursuit for wisdom which is characteristically eastern. If given the perspective that philosophy is a pursuit for wisdom in general, Filipino philosophy is indeed a philosophy.

But as an academic pursuit, it is not a philosophy.

In the Philippines, philosophy is understood in its academic or popular level depending on the paradigm and background the individual.

Sometimes the term has a negative connotation. For instance, when you say“…‘pilosopo’ naman yang pinagsasabi mo…” as construed in its vernacular context, it means the exact opposite of its original sense. It is sad that for us Filipinos the word for wisdom connotes “foolishness” (which simply means that it is indeed Greek to us).

Despite of this limitation, for Mercado there is an authentic Filipino philosophy. For him, the understanding of philosophy should not only be confined with the Greek definition, for one cannot use the rules for that which needs another set of rules. What he means is that the West has something that is characteristically west (something only apt for their way of thinking), and the East, likewise, has something that is uniquely for itself.

For him Western philosophy is individualistic while Oriental philosophy is holistic. Filipino philosophy, being geographically oriental is also “essentially” oriental since it does not compartmentalize reality.

Mercado accepts the definition of philosophy as “the system of motivating values, concepts, or principles of an individual, group, or culture.”[1] This definition is based on the etymological and common meaning of philosophy as a love/pursuit of wisdom. He adopted the position of Richard Rorty that philosophy is a humanistic and behavioral science. So philosophy in his perspective is not a rigorous science which embodies the ideals of analytic, logical and positivistic philosophies.

Holding the idea that philosophy is a behavior science, Mercado intimates that culture is an indispensable ingredient of philosophy.[2] Philosophy, as it deals with culture involves the study of the “world views” of the people in a particular society. By knowing the society’s world view, a scholar can unravel the physical, social, and symbolical things that comprise man’s reality, because these are all formed by and constitute a world view. Thus, for Mercado, we discover our philosophy through the specification and clarification of our world views. He said, “As, Filipinos, we have to clarify our world view and the result is philosophy.”[3] This was Mercado’s towards the crystallization of the Filipino Philosophy.

Mercado criticizes the individualistic philosophy of the west. He said that as philosophy becomes more and more specialized, it also becomes more and more absurd and useless. So in order to avoid the esoteric character of philosophy, it must be holistic and interdisciplinary. As such, philosophy could compare and contrast cultures. It is something to which the average Juan could relate into, something that is real and tangible (not merely a voice coming from the ivory tower). Philosophy, in this sense, transcends everything and may eventually be an instrument for unity.

In utilizing culture as his means of disclosing world views, Mercado developed methodologies pursuing a Filipino Philosophy.

II. Identifying the Filipinos

Mercado holds the idea that in order to know the identity of Filipinos, its static and dynamic elements must first be recognized. From this recognition of the elements, the inevitable similarities of Filipinos to other nations, most especially to the neighboring nations, and its intrinsic uniqueness are laid bare.

Mercado, however, focused only on the present Filipino thought, its potentialities, its identity and uniqueness, and its consequent worldviews. His study is not a comparative philosophical quest with other cultures but only an elucidation, clarification and identification of the Filipino thought and philosophy.[4]

Having seen the danger of a highly specialized methodology, Mercado adopts what he described as a “holistic” methodology. So in his quest to expose the Filipino mind/world view, he analyzed Philippine languages and behavior, since these are products of the human mind.[5] The methodology would include Metaliguistic Analysis, Phenomenology of Human Behavior, Comparative Oriental Philosophy and Value Ranking. In his book “Elements of Filipino Philosophy,” Mercado generally used only the first two (metalinguistic and the phenomenology of Filipino behavior). For him this is justified because “by concentrating even only on Filipino languages and behavior, more in-debt thoroughness can be achieved.”[6]

A.) Metaliguistic Analysis

Language as a methodology, presupposes that language mirrors the world view of a particular culture. Hence, through the world views extracted from the language of the Filipinos, Filipino thought is drawn out. The thoughts and values of the speaking group are encoded in the language.[7]

This method is for the native speakers who try to analyze their own language unlike that of the componential analysis which is intended for the non-native speakers employing sophisticated and cumbersome procedures. The method begins with the linguistic aspect then moves to its underlying concept and content with the aid of one or several linguistic aspects until it arrives at the content or theme of the language.[8] In this method, non-linguistic data are derived from the linguistic data by deducing the central concept of a word or group of words examined. Inference is based on semantics and derived from structures.

Mercado elicits the idea that “every word is a potential goldmine.” While it is true that Filipinos are divided by numerous languages, shared terms among them can give us a glimpse on the general “Filipino worldview.” A single word, shared in common by the different languages, could therefore shed light on the similarities in the thinking of different ethnic groups. A word can open a window to the Filipino world view, and from this opening, Filipino philosophy could be developed.

Mercado also realized that, based on our language, Western philosophy is dimensions apart from Filipino philosophy, since the latter lack the all-essential western concept of Being.[9] This simply means that the west and the east indeed have different cultures.

The method has the following phases: First, potential words with philosophical contents are listed down; second, group the meaning of the words according to usage; third, cluster the meaning according to the cognitive relation; and lastly, infer the tentative philosophy from the patterns This method can be further enriched if a similar thing can be done on the synonyms as well as the use of other Philippine languages (Cebuano Visayan, Tagalog and Ilocano).[10] The phases show a movement from the Linguistic to the non-linguistic data, thus it is referred to as a metaliguistic process.

This method is basically a form of reduction or abstraction. It involves the evaluation of the essential components of a group of particular data, then looking for patterns and similarities and eventually arriving at theories out of the most essential or necessary data gathered from the group of particular phenomena.

Mercado denies any form of allegiance with other linguistic schools so as not to include his self with other individualistic outlooks.[11]

Difficulty arises in the analysis because of the intrinsic ambiguity of words. In the Filipino language, this is seen in the indefiniteness in the number, gender, and locative demonstration of pronouns and prepositions.[12] For the sake of objectivity, therefore, Metalinguistic analysis is complemented by other methodologies.


B. Phenomenology of Filipino Behavior  

The verbal (metalinguistic) must complemented by the non-verbal.

Aside from Language, behavior is used to infer the philosophy of Filipinos. Quoting the statement of Mercado, “If actions speak louder than words, actions are then a kind of ‘language.’”[13]

He used the phenomenological method in studying the Filipino behavior.

In the phenomenological method, the empirical data gathered from the different findings of the social sciences, and from the experiences of the perceiver as he is immersed in the different cultures, provide as a starting point for the analysis. From here, he exhausts all the interpretations and meanings taken from the observations and then look for the patterns in the observations gathered. The intuition of the patterns requires “reflection.”

Mercado accepted that the method is in danger of “subjectivism” and for which he recommends: “One check for the objectivity of the criterion of coherence, that is, if the explanation sufficiently explains the patterns of Filipino behavior as well as the findings of metaliguistic analysis, then the explanation is probably correct.”[14] Aside from this check for objectivity, he also recommends the exposure to other cultures so as to broaden the one’s mind.

As a complementary tool therefore, phenomenology of behavior establishes a pattern common to most Filipinos; its conclusions can fathom Filipino philosophy.[15] Words and deeds show the blueprint of the human mind.

C. Comparative Oriental Philosophy


Mercado developed this methodology by using the analogy of the family resemblance. This analogy tells that each member is unique in his own right but, at the same time, shares a common feature with the members of the family. Applying this to the analysis, some characteristics of Filipino philosophy can be uncovered by getting some hints from neighboring nations. As a popular saying goes, “tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.”

For example, it is apparent that there are models that dominate the whole western philosophy. Models such as the dualistic body and soul, which influenced most of the individual philosophies. In the Orient, Chinese, Hebrew and Buddhist philosophies shared the body-spirit-soul model. Thus, by knowing these models, we can have a more or less rough understanding of the word views of adjacent nations.

Using this methodology, Mercado probed into the evolutionary and process-oriented philosophy of evil of the Filipinos, meticulously explored into the principles of Filipino Legal Philosophy, and elaborated the Filipino concept of loob and sakop which became a model and basis in the present study of the Filipino worldview.

D. Value Ranking

Adopting the Thomistic position that morality is based on human nature, Mercado holds the notion that because of the sharing of some unique aspects of human nature Filipinos could infer their interpretation of morality. So in judging moral issues one depends on the value-ranking of the people.[16] The analysis was applied in his study of the concept of marriage and justice (legal philosophy).

III. Critique on Mercado’s Methodology

While I give much respect to the work of Mercado, I would like to give the following comments:

1. The foundation of these methodologies lies in the belief that philosophy includes the study of culture; and from that culture, the mindset and the worldview of the people, hence, the Filipino Philosophy. But Culture seems to pose a problem, since from the start it was not already included in the definition of philosophy.

2. Mercado basically used only the two methodologies, namely the metalinguistic analysis and phenomenology of behavior. These are good starting points for the unfolding of a Filipino philosophy, but using only these in most of his analysis could not suffice for the quest. So there is still a need for more methodologies that would add to the objectivity, authenticity and credibility of the whole endeavor.

3. Connected with the above mentioned, the two methodologies seem to picture the same procedures but only in different applications. It is a process of deriving a pattern or commonality among the different data gathered in order to establish a single identity. The other methodologies which also aim at exposing the worldviews of the Filipinos follow a similar procedure. In short, there is really a lack of tool or methodology.

4. In language as a methodology, there is a great task of being immersed in all ethnic cultures and languages of the Philippines. Mercado only used the three major laguages (Cebuano-Visayan, Tagalog, and ilocano). Other dialects will certainly show more nuances of the Filipino worldview.

5. Filipino Language is imprecise because of the intrinsic ambiguity and mystery embodied in it. So in extracting the meanings of the words, one’s biases may enter. And in listing down words with philosophical contents, it is inevitable to use western concepts as basis. The result would be a form of comparison and biased translations.

6. There is also a disregard for phonology in his inference from linguistics. It must be emphasized that in Language, the way words are pronounced and articulated is also indicative of the culture of a certain group of people. Phonology could have strengthened the linguistic aspect of Mercado’s metalinguistic analysis.

7. It is also ironic that while the philosophy intended by Mercado is a “philosophy of the masses,” it became so sophisticated that just like other western philosophies it again succumbed to the voices in the ivory tower. For me, a philosophy is worthy of praise if it can reach to all members of the society.

8. Mercado did not yet transcend the spirit of Western Philosophy. An example of this would be the Thomistic foundation of his methodology of value-ranking. In addition, his standard of philosophical excellence is still that of the West which is contradictory to his thrust as producing a whole new Philosophy that is unique Filipino. And for me, in order to have one’s own philosophy one must start at zero.

9. Another very obvious issue in his work is his use of a non-native language, i.e., English. As to why he did not use Filipino is not clear.[17] He may have a point in saying that using “Filipino” in evaluating the three biggest languages will be biased because the national language has more inclination for Tagalog. But nonetheless this is not reason enough because the Filipino language still reflects in one way or the other all the Philippine languages.

In general, the methods used are good but such may only serve as starting points. These methods are not yet sufficient for the success and the formation of a Filipino Philosophy.

[1] Mercado got this definition from Webster’s Tenth New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 873.

[2] It could be gleaned from his works that culture is one of the core elements for his study of Filipino philosophy. He encountered some problems on the inclusion of culture in the definition of philosophy but eventually it was accepted.

[3] Leonardo N. Mercado, S.V.D., Filipino Thought (Manila: Logos Publication, 2000), p.8.

[4] Cf. Leonardo N. Mercado, S.V.D., Elements of Filipino Philosophy (Tacloban: Divine Word University Publication, 1976), p. 6.

[5] This obviously based on Aristotlian-Thomism with regards to the concept of man and his faculties.

[6] Ibid., p. 8.

[7] Ibid., p. 24.

[8] Ibid., p. 9.

[9] There is no an exact translation of the verb Being in our language

[10] Cf. Leonardo N. Mercado, S.V.D., Essays on Filipino Philosophy (Manila: Logos Publication, 2005), p. 31.

[11] Cf. Elements, op. cit.

[12] For Mercado, this was an indication of a holistic world view of the Filipinos.

[13] Essays, op. cit., p. 33.

[14] Elements, op. cit., p.11.

[15] Ibid., p. 12.

[16] Essays, op. cit., p. 35.

[17] Maybe because he has bias for the Visayan dialect, of which he is very fluent.


12 comments on “Filipino Philosophy

  1. Richard
    February 17, 2009

    Wow! this is really great. I’ve looking for this!

  2. dax
    February 9, 2010

    i think you got a good grasp of mercado’s filipino philosophy..i’ve read his book..and i totally could not grasp it fully..


  3. dax
    February 9, 2010

    by the also in the field of philosophy..

  4. Justo H. Apostol jr.
    July 15, 2010

    Good Morning Fr. Mercado, this is Justo from the order of St. Augustine. I am on my four years of studying philosophy and i am working on my thesis about the Filipino Philosophy specifically on the EDSA Revolution as a non-violent protest. if you would not mind father, can i ask your assistance in doing this thesis requirement. Thank you. this is my email add this is my phone number 09994420413. thank you father. hoping for your positive response.

    • edd
      August 30, 2014

      Fr. Mercado is currently based at Tayuman, SVD House. Cathoilci Trade Manila.

  5. Samnak P.J. Concepcion
    November 4, 2010

    Therefore, what is Filipino philosophy? “Ay mali,” sums it up, doesn’t it? The phrase indicates the mind’s turn to a state of wonder or perplexity in its search for reason and the truth. The Filipino word “ay” suggests his/her awareness of being. “Ay” can serve as the Filipino’s starting point in the quest of the Filipino philosophy.
    It will reflect a distinct Filipino mind that has been selfless.

  6. Louie
    April 5, 2011

    good critique

  7. Rens Peralta
    July 13, 2011

    Makes sense. 🙂 Indeed, there is an authentic Filipino philosophy! 🙂

  8. rico
    December 12, 2011

    man is embodied in culture,especially when that man is one who is in a community or society. Everything he does is culture; his practice of his religion, as he makes contracts with others, his politics, even the way he eats and his food preferences, the transportation he uses, etc. Culture taken in that sense is the same fabric as that of philosophy. Where there is culture (activities of a conscious and rational man) there is also philosophy. Our failure in the past, whether our own or caused by foreign interventions, is that, we have been led to queries that no longer concern this “Filipino philosophy” (the systematic or as an activity of a particular group of people) but are turned to address the more pressing events as experienced during the spanish, japanese, american occupation, and the condition filipinos experienced imposed by modernization and globalization.

    • edd
      February 7, 2012

      Maganda ang exposition sa kaisipan ni Fr. Mercado.

  9. Matsy Tumacdang
    June 2, 2012


  10. Quan
    April 26, 2013

    Magandang araw po. Thank you very much for this article. I will keep a hard copy of it as I will need it some day. Please, meron po ba silang mairekomenda na mga authors o di kaya websites na nagsusuri din ng Filipino philosophy? Nag-aaral po ako para maging isang guro kaya kailangan kong maintidihan ito nang maigi. Thank you po in advance, at harinawa.

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This entry was posted on February 15, 2005 by in Filipino Philosophy and tagged , , .





Tuguegarao City, Cagayan Atty. MICHAEL JHON M. TAMAYAO manages this blog. He is currently starting his private law practice. Contact:; Tel. No. 09353343739. PROFILE: Atty. Tamayao is currently teaching law, philosophy and social sciences at the Cagayan State University. He finished his Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy degree at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Santo Tomas and graduated in 2005, garnering the highest academic honors in that Academic Year. He pursued Licentiate in Philosophy and Master of Arts in Philosophy degrees at the same university, completing them both in 2007. In 2009, he took up Bachelor of Laws and Letter at the Cagayan State University, where he also teaches. He passed the 2013 bar exams, and now currently taking up Master of Laws and Letters at the San Beda Graduate School of Law.

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