Failippines: The Failing System of Smart Shaming in the Philippines


Presenting facts or thought-provoking conversations commonly elicit ill-placed jeers. An opinion backed by evidence is often questioned. So if knowledge is power, why is intelligence seen as a negative trait?

What exactly is smart shaming?

By textbook definition, smart shaming is a person opposed to or hostile toward intellectuals and the modern academic, artistic, social, religious, and other theories associated with them.” Basically, it is a by-product of anti-intellectualism, wherein one is mocked just by being smarter. E ‘di ikaw na magaling! Ang dami mong alam!

Philosophy graduate and Senior High School professor Keren Jireh de Guzman, MA explained that the anti-intellectual phenomena is rooted in something deeper than we think. Most Filipinos don’t like the feeling of being outsmarted, due to our #PinoyPride.

smart, Failippines: The Failing System of Smart Shaming in the Philippines
Keren Jireh De Guzman

“It’s deeply rooted to the fact that we’ve been through a lot as Filipinos. We’ve felt insignificant for so long that it feels good to finally feel better than someone else,” Keren said.

The anti-intellectualism phenomenon

It is only in the Philippines where “philosopher” and “intelligence” are seen as insults. In politics, a lot of candidates often downplay their accomplishments to win over the masses. Why? Because people are intimidated by smart people. Naku, baka masyadong matalino ‘yan!

Recently, former Vice President and Angat Buhay chairperson Leni Robredo has been selected as one of the Hauser Leaders at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership.

In the same week, the Robredo family shared that Doc. Tricia is bound to start her medical school in Harvard Medical School’s Master of Medical Sciences in Global Health Delivery program.

For a reasonable person, these are amazing achievements. Harvard! Bigatin! But surprisingly, a lot of Filipinos didn’t take this well.

Leni Lugaw, lutang, and madumb were the most common phrases used by trolls against the elder Robredo.

smart, Failippines: The Failing System of Smart Shaming in the Philippines

On the other end of the spectrum, current president Bongbong Marcos claimed to have graduated from Oxford. In 2021, Oxford replied to an email saying that “according to our records, he did not complete his degree, but was awarded a special diploma in Social Studies in 1978.” 

Even so, he was still supported by most Filipinos. Well-mannered is better than well-educated naman daw!

Keren agrees and says that “Filipinos are generally afraid of the truth”.

“Especially the truth about our current state. We don’t want to accept the fact that we’re being abused by the government because they’ve instilled the normalcy of corruption, hardships, and resiliency to people.” 

And when we’re wired this way, we refuse wisdom, we reject those that make us believe that we don’t deserve any of this shit. In the end, we settle for mediocrity.

The culture of ignorance

In 1980, Isaac Asimov, American writer, condemned the “Culture of Ignorance” as a response to the American’s ignorant views on scientific literacy and evidence-based learning.


“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” 

This is not the case in most of East Asia, especially in the Philippines. We actually value education so much that it comes as an expectation, a demand.

And although we value education in the Philippines, the majority of Filipinos can’t afford basic education. “Ang Pilipino hindi nagpapaaral para tumalino, kung ‘di para may makapagtrabaho,” Keren says.

As an educator herself, she observed that most of the time, education is just a means to an end. It is precisely the reason why we answer “para maiahon sa hirap ang pamilya ko” when asked for our reasons for pursuing a college degree.

The problem here is: that we can’t blame the masses! The Philippines is a poor country. And as much as we celebrate education, the average person doesn’t value “learning” as a skill or a necessity, but rather, as a gateway to a better life.

The culture of anti-intellectualism in the Philippines is so rampant because we have our priorities misplaced. What many of us need is access to basic education and academic empathy. We must be given the opportunity to pursue learning. To value education, one must first be educated.

Understanding the anti-intellectualism culture on a deeper level proved how much Filipinos value the pursuit of knowledge. Come to think of it: what do we get for mocking people who fervently seek new knowledge?

It’s toxic. And it’s alarming.

Instead of seeing intelligence as a threat, it’s high time we foster curiosity, encourage meaningful conversations, and promote critical thinking! Let people think, wonder, and speak their minds.

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