Filipino competencies and idiosyncrasies

The Philippines landed on the top spot of US News global ranking of 2018 Best Countries to Invest In. This was based on a survey of more than 6,000 business decision makers around the globe on eight attributes – entrepreneurship, economic stability, favorable tax environment, innovation, skilled labor, technological expertise, dynamism and corruption.

Skilled labor is definitely our edge. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, the Philippines has three core competencies that no nation can equal, to wit:

Creativity – a set of skills and expertise deeply rooted in a long history and rich heritage of artistry, making Filipinos distinct and a cut above the others. This is evidenced by the abundance of Filipino creative talents anywhere you go – performers on Broadway, hotel lounges, and bars; programmers, illustrators, digital media and advertising professionals working in large companies such as Marvel, Google, Disney, etc.; architects, painters, writers, actors, fashion and interior designers are renowned all over the world.

Hospitality and customer-service orientation – a recognized trait and quality by foreigners around the world. It is our disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way. This trait also takes root from our culture of helping others, which sets us apart from other nations. This is evidenced by the country’s flagship industry – the business process outsourcing, and growth of the hospitality industry. Filipino nurses, caregivers, seafarers, household helpers and professionals working in hotels, casinos, hospitals and stores are all in high demand globally.

Facility with the English language – the Philippines ranked 13th in the English Proficiency Index with the best non-native English speakers in the world, as released by an international education company, Education First Ltd., in November 2016. That’s why we are dubbed the call center capital of the world because of this faculty. The Philippines is also fast becoming the world’s low-cost English language teacher – with rapid increases in overseas students coming to learn English or study in English-speaking universities.

Amid these heralded competencies are idiosyncrasies that further set us apart from other countries, albeit in positive or negative manner:

Third most ignorant – the Filipino people are the third “most ignorant” regarding their nation’s key issues according to The Perils of Perception 2017 study. I’ve written previously that this is due to the declining critical thinking skill, brought about by the age-old rote learning pedagogy in schools and widespread social media use.

Third most confident – ironically, despite giving inaccurate answers, respondents from the Philippines also ranked third among those most confident. This is explained by a form of cognitive bias wherein people of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, manifested by overconfidence, but, in fact, due to lack of self-awareness and cognitive ability.

Fourth most emotional – according to Gallup’s 2016 Global Emotions Report, Filipinos are the fourth most emotional people in the world and first in Asia.

Third happiest – the Philippines has emerged as one of the happiest countries in the world, according to a 2017 global survey by US-based firm Gallup International.

Most time spent on social media – the Philippines again topped the world in terms of social media usage as the number of internet users in the country hit 67 million people, according to a new report by London, United Kingdom-based consultancy We Are Social.

Declining English proficiency – the level of English proficiency of College graduates from the Philippines is now lower than the target English proficiency of High school students in Thailand, according to a study conducted by the Hopkins International Partners.

It is not my intention to spoil the great news about our country’s top investment grade, but rather to shake off the complacency among all sectoral leaders. These idiosyncrasies are worrying, interconnected and may degrade our country’s foundational competencies.

The lack of critical thinking among Filipinos results in ignorance. The more ignorant people are, the more confident they become. Ignorance may also lead to happiness, based on social science and psychological studies, hence, the famous quote “Ignorance is bliss.”

We applaud the Filipino’s high level of happiness because it helps us adapt to hardships in life. But we may be wrongly celebrating this quality as it may be stemming from ignorance.

The high level of social media engagement of Filipinos contributes to the decline of critical thinking. Further studies reveal that the lower the critical thinking skill, the more emotional a person is; hence, the reason why Filipinos are one of the most emotional people in the world.

All these boil down to the urgent need to improve the quality of education in our country – from rote pedagogy to reflective and experiential learning. It is not the sole responsibility of government, but all sectors as well.

Media companies should produce and expose our people to meaningful content, opening them to analysis and debate. We should have internet connectivity more accessible and affordable to all barangay (villages) all over the country for people to have access to these types of quality content.

But these are all long-term solutions that our country should start investing in – and it should begin now.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of FINEX. The author may be emailed at The author is president and CEO of Hungry Workhorse Consultancy Inc, a digital and culture transformation firm. He is the chairman of the ICT Committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX). He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. He is also an adjunct faculty of the Asian Institute of Management.