An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, they say
Disclaimer: this essay is a depiction of the writer’s own thoughts, experiences and observations, and in no way reflects the opinions of the publication on which it is shared, nor does it reflect the opinions of the publication’s parent company or fellow businesses
In 2022, Liza Soberano officially signed with James Reid’s Careless. Of course, the news shocked many—how could one of the most prominent actresses in the industry break away from powerhouse management and move with a startup label? But as she answered the public’s questions, one thing became clear: Liza Soberano wanted to do more as an actress and discovered that Careless would enable her to do so. But how does utang na loob culture play into all of this?
You see, since signing with her new agency, Liza Soberano took time to step back, recalibrate and see what the rest of the world could offer. A quick scroll through her socials shows that the actress has done much and she’s enjoying. Taking acting classes abroad, meeting new people, auditioning, getting the part and even joining the cast of Lisa Frankenstein—needless to say, things have been going great. Fast forward to February this year, she explains her choices to take this direction in her latest vlog called This is Me, which inevitably ruffled some feathers. Specifically, those of individuals from her previous management.
While I’m not surprised that many older people felt the need to criticize Liza over the vlog, it got me thinking: What is it with utang na loob culture and holding favors over others’ heads?
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“Utang na loob” culture
In Liza Soberano’s case, this culture manifests in the expectation not to speak anything less than positive about her tenure in that network. After all, they paved the way for her career, giving her direction and opportunities others can only dream of. She should’ve just stayed silent or shown more gratitude. Her previous manager, Ogie Diaz, held her screen name over her head, saying it provided for her family. Boy Abunda said the vlog made him “extremely disappointed.” Network executives supposedly subtweeted (yes, in the year of our Lord, 2023) the actress for her statements. Don’t even get me started on the strangers online calling her ungrateful or “walang utang na loob”—that’s not it.
On a personal level, every one of us has encountered the “utang na loob” culture. The way others expect to receive an equally big gesture after a favor. We see it in how Filipino parents view their children as “investments.” They expect them to be paid back for all the resources and money spent raising them because their children are indebted to them. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, they say. Now, this is a beautiful thing if people do it willingly; that’s the Filipino culture of bayanihan or family oriented-ness. You do it because you want to do it, out of the kindness of your heart. But feeling upset and holding each good deed over their heads leads to the toxic version of utang na loob culture.
“Utang na loob” culture CAN kill creativity. Liza Soberano wanting to try something new to grow AS AN ARTIST is somehow being crucified as an ingrate? Diba you want better entertainment? Artists need to explore for that to happen. They won’t grow if the system won’t allow them.
— Reb Atadero (@rebranger) February 26, 2023
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It’s never wrong to want more
Liza Soberano could’ve had all the pushes and opportunities in the world—but all would’ve been rendered useless if she didn’t want to take them. So her career bloomed because it was a two-way street, and she delivered (and more) on her end of the deal even if it felt limiting in the end. The actress spoke about the conditions that influenced her decisions as facts. No ill intent, no resentment. Just a clear picture. So what’s wrong with that? It’s not like she never thanked them either—she always spoke nicely of the people who helped her reach her milestones. Yet here they are, heavily emphasizing the “we made you” narrative as if she didn’t work hard for her career either. This entitlement heavily underscores the toxicity of utang na loob culture.
Props to the actress for responding to the statements with grace and gratitude. And mind you, she doesn’t even owe anyone all of this. A girl just wants to do more with what she has, which isn’t a crime. That was her impression of her career, so why do all these people want to jump in and try to dictate how she’s supposed to look back at the past 10 years?
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If you find yourself in the same spot, remember that wanting more for yourself is not a crime. People can call you many things for choosing yourself. And to be completely honest, the words and criticism they can throw at you can hurt. But staying unhappy or not following your heart to please others will bring you more pain. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: put yourself first. Future you will be infinitely grateful for all the growth it will bring you.
While we’re all for giving credit where credit is due, telling the world that you’ve outgrown people doesn’t make you less grateful for what you have. People can police Liza’s tone and delivery all they want, but one thing remains clear: being proud about choosing oneself is still deemed radical. But like Hope Elizabeth Soberano—standing your ground and being firm with your choices will reward you with great results and the growth you need.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver