ARE FILIPINOS STINGY?
By Dolly Banzon
This is a reflection on your question cited above and first posed on September 1, 2008.
I am not so sure about the “stinginess” of the Filipinos when it comes to giving to a cause. Stinginess implies reluctance to give or being tightfisted. But are we? We are known for our hospitality and our spirit of bayanihan (people helping people). Our spirit of hospitality even extends to offering the best food, the best room in the house (if you are a houseguest) and the best attention.
Filipinos back home, and even here, throw lavish parties. As a matter of fact, there are parties almost every weekend, two or more, in one day. If you attend them all, you will probably gain so much weight, more than enough to let the cholesterol level zoom up, and suffer a stroke or what-have-you. The doors of our house are always open to everyone - relatives, friends and strangers alike. Even the poorest family of six in a squatter area lunching on a small pot of corn grit and dried fish unhesitatingly invites you to partake of their meal. This inherent Filipino attitude, in itself, is a certain form of “giving”, but probably not from a spiritual point of view, or is it?
But giving to the church is another matter. In the Philippines, we always hear the parish priest soliciting money for this and that purpose; we are asked to be generous because God is generous to us, and it carries an implied message that by following God’s example, we become truly his children and are assured of a place in heaven. So we give to firm up our “reservation” to that heavenly place. We are not taught what and how to give to God. The clergy creates the programs and the people merely implement them.
Thus, the focus is on the implementation of the programs or on the purpose for fundraising and not necessarily on God. And we think of ourselves to be faith-filled. We seem to confuse religiosity, which is the external practice of piety, from spirituality, which is a relationship with God. Maybe it is because we are not taught that faith in God is more than what we are made to see or hear; that faith is believing in a God who is totally unknowable, but who continues to manifest himself to each one of us in his own way, and according to our openness to him. Faith is allowing him to work in and through us. And this can only be done by keeping a relationship with him through a regular and disciplined prayer practice. Just like in a human relationship, we spend time discovering one another through honest communication, trust, and closeness, by spending more time with each other. Prayer is the way to get to that intimacy with God.
I believe that some of us really do not understand what stewardship is all about, then and now. It is a process that we arrive at after a certain spiritual awakening where God bestows his grace on us, enabling us to see and understand. Not everyone here in the U.S. knows what it is either. I am aware that some non-Filipinos support a cause because they are attracted to it for one reason or another, but not necessarily because of God.
Filipinos contribute huge amount of money if their names are published as donors, but not in the church offertory where there is no publicity. I have seen in some churches in the Philippines where the front pews are seemingly “reserved” for top donors because their names are etched in some golden metallic bars. But this kind of display is not exclusively Filipino because this is also evident in and encouraged by the churches here in the U.S. We have read about philanthropists being feted, and are recipients of awards, and have some building wings named after them.
The problem is not that Filipinos are stingy. Just like any other God-loving people, we need to be educated about stewardship. Even some priests here are reluctant to promote this program because stewardship has always been associated with financial solicitations. People, poor or wealthy, are burdened with a lot of causes flying around, and the reality is that they overwhelm a person. It is a fact that one cannot give to every cause that exists. Hence, one makes a choice as to what cause he believes God is leading him to fulfill wherein his services are most effective in addressing the needs of God’s people.
The lamentations of some Filipino religious and secular leaders about the decline of contributions to their cause may hold some truth. But it is not because of Filipino stinginess. The Filipino communities just have too many fundraisings going on, so much so, that unwittingly, they are already competing with one another.
Filipinos cannot give to every fundraising. Some of us do have other causes that we support back home, here, and elsewhere. This is the reason why I think it to be necessary that we understand what stewardship is all about, because giving is not just a matter of doling out money to a cause or helping the poor. I will forever maintain that the poor should never be the object of our charity. Our love of God is the reason for our reaching out to the poor. We don’t build houses for the poor, but we build houses for God who is among the poor. We offer our services to God because he is in the poor. We love God in the poor. Maybe, the zealous fundraisers for the Philippines, as well as donors like us, should look into our motivations as to why we desire to reach out to those we deem as “ the less fortunate ones.” There is just such a fine line between doing something beautiful for God and for promoting one’s own self interest.
-- Dolly Banzon is the secretary of the Board of Directors of Metro Infanta Foundation and a long-time donor.