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All content in this area was uploaded by Rolando Menardo Gripaldo on Jan 21, 2015
Content may be subject to copyright.
194 Bahala Na
BAHALA NA: A PHILOSOPHICAL
ROLANDO M. GRIPALDO
This article tries to clarify the various senses of
the term “Bahala na” in Filipino usage. It attempts
to show that the term has many senses but the primary
one is to leave one’s life—or anything—in the care of
God. The paper explores the various types of
determinism and points out the types which entail the
“Bahala na” fatalistic attitude. Finally, the work
shows that “Bahala na” as a cultural value is
ambivalent in that it can be applied in varous situations
responsibly or irresponsibly. The author contends that
it is best for Philippine society if Filipinos themselves
can avoid using “Bahala na” irresponsibly.
Bahala na is a Filipino cultural trait
which is situationally-based,
that is to say, its meaning can best be understood in a situational setting.
The word “Bahala” is believed to have been derived from the word
“Bathala,” which in the Tagalog language literally means God
1968:401). Thus “Bahala na,” as a linguistic expression, signifies leaving
something or someone in the care of God. In time this expression has
become a philosophy of life, a cultural trait that has strongly developed
into a significant core of Filipino attitudes.
I find it interesting and theoretically surprising that the Internet
provides a wealth of information about the Bahala na subject. The
Google search engine yields some 3,710 entries as of 6 December
2001 and gives us 100 pages of 1,000 selected entries on this subject.
The phrase is so popular that we find a Bahala Na martial arts (Arnis)
association (with many branches) based in the United States, a Bahala
Na gang, a Japanese Bahala Na sports team, a Bahala Na veterans
organization, some Bahala Na songs, a Bahala Na movie, some Bahala
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195Rolando M. Gripaldo
Na messages in German, Japanese, and other languages, etc. (see
Google+Search 2001: Bahala Na).
The books and articles which directly discuss “Bahala na” are
meager. There is one book by Jose de Mesa (1979: 1-206) which
discusses Bahala na and providence, and one article by Alfredo Lagmay
(1977: 120-30), which discusses some psychological situations that
invoke the “Bahala na” expression, but they do not really zero in on
the different meanings of the phrase from the philosophical point of
view. All other discussions in books treat this phrase only lightly or in
passing (see Singson 1979: 196-99; Guthrie 1968: 68-69; Cruz 1977:
8-11; Church and Katigbak 2000: 6).
This paper identifies the various situations in which the expression
is used, that is, the various senses or meanings associated with it. It
also determines the metaphysical underpinning of the primary sense of
this term and enumerates the practical and impractical applications of
this expression, i.e., its ambivalence in terms of value.
THE MEANING OF “BAHALA NA”
Situations have boundaries but they are not clear-cut. These
boundaries are fluid and they interpenetrate one another. In the
stream of consciousness, the transitional boundaries of one idea to
another, one feeling to another, one decision making to another, and
so on, are overlapping. We can, however, abstract from these fluid
situations a rational construct of a particular situation and identify
I have identified six of these different senses of “Bahala na,”
from the Internet entries and from discussions with other people, although
two of these are clearly derivatives in that the word “na” can be missing.
Of the 1,000 entries from the Internet, the first meaning of
“Bahala na” that I was able to extract is “Come/Happen what
may” or “Whatever will be will be.” Let us analyze a song
composed by Heber Bartolome (2001) entitled “Bahala Na.” (The
translation into English on the right column.)
The song captures the Bahala na attitude of the Filipino. A
Filipina worker goes abroad to seek greener pastures and hopes
she will be fortunate in her work, that is, without adversities (see
Lagmay 1977: 121). There is so much uncertainty in working abroad
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196 Bahala Na
by He be r Bartolome
Yan ang sabi ng isang Filipina
Bago siya nagpaalam papunta
sa bansang iba
Ang sabi nya—Bahala na...
[Whatever will be will be.
That's what a Filipina says
Before saying goodbye
in going abroad
She says: Whatever will be will be,
whatever will be will be.
Mga ariarian ay naisanla
Milyon-milyong katulad nyang
All the property is pawned
Millions of workers
Wish to live comfortably
To live comfortab ly
Bahala nang pamilya kong
maiiwan sa bayan ko
Mabubuhay naman sila,
hanggang sa unang sweldo ko
Bahala na... Bahala na...
The family I leave behind will
have to take care of themselves
They will survive
until my first salary
Come what may... come what may...
come what may...
Dakilang Maylikha, ako'y
nagdarasal sa 'yo
Bahala na kayong
pumatnubay sa biyahe ko
Ang tanging nais ko'y buhayin
ang pamiliya ko
Bahala na kayo sa
manggagawang katulad ko
Great God, I am
praying to you
I leave it to you
to guide my journey
My only desire is the [comfortable]
survival of my family
I leave it to you to take care
of workers like me.
Baka naman sakaling
ariling buhay at lakas na
syang puhunan ko
Iaalay sa bayan ko
(Ulitin ang Koro)
I will be fortunate
My own life and strength
which are my capital
I will offe r to my ho meland
Whatever will be will be.
(Repeat the Chorus)
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197Rolando M. Gripaldo
considering the fact that (1) the contract signed in the native country
may not be honored or may be replaced by another contract when she
arrives at the workplace; (2) the salary may be delayed and cause
anguish to the family left behind; (3) the prospective employer may be
inconsiderate or too strict; (4) the employer may sexually abuse the
worker; or (5) the spouse left behind may become unfaithful. She
hopes: “Baka naman sakaling swertihin ako” (“I hope I will be
fortunate”). If she is unfortunate, the pawned property will not be
recovered and the family will not live comfortably.
Plagued by these uncertainties, the worker is not sure as to the
outcome of her going abroad to work. She leaves to God whatever
may become of her and her family. She leaves to God her fate. God
will guide and take care of her and her family. Such attitude gives her,
at least temporarily, peace of mind.
The situation may be summarized thus: “I am going to a foreign
land to work, but the outcome of my undertaking is uncertain, so
Bahala na.” To elaborate, “Whatever will be, will be,” in this
context, means “I will leave everything to God; He will take care of
me. It is up to Him. I am ready to face the consequences of
The variations in the second meaning pertain to the performer of
the action. It can be in the third person singular (s/he, him/her) or
plural (they, them), in the second person (you), or in the first person
singular (I, me) or plural (we, us). The second meaning thus says: “It
is up to the person(s) [him/her, us, me, you, them] to take care of
things. The person(s) [s/he, they, we, I] will take care of the situation.”
An example is: “…Bahala na kayo kay Inay. Pamimisahan ko na
lang siya dito. Balitaan niyo na lang ako pagkatapos ng libing.…”
[“Take care of my mother. I will have a Mass for her here. Just send
me news about her burial later.”] (Local Jokes 2001a). Vilma Santos,
in this connection, is quoted to have said, “Bahala na nga lang ang
mga kritiko ang humusga sa naging acting ko” [“I will just leave to the
critics the judgment on my acting”] (Pinoy Central 2000). We often
hear something like this among friends: “Pumunta kayo sa party. Huwag
kayong magdala ng anuman. Bahala na ako sa pulutan at inuman.”
[“Please go to the party. Do not bring anything. I will take care of the
food and the drinks.”] The more common expressions are: “Sila na
ang bahala,” “Bahala na kayo,” or “Ako na ang bahala.” The purpose
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198 Bahala Na
of the bahala na expression in this context is to dissipate any possible
The third usage of the term “bahala na” pertains to a situation
where the person is left to do what he wants but must be prepared to
face the consequences. An example is: “Bahala ka na diyan. Sarili
mong problema iyan.” [“It’s up to you. It’s your own problem.”]
(Ekonomiya 2001). Sometimes the “na” is missing: “…bahala ka,
umalis ka kung gusto mo! Ganyan ka naman, eh!” [“Do what you
want; you leave if you like! You’re like that anyway.”] (Jacq’s 2001).
In this context, bahala na means “Do what you want, it’s up to you,
but be ready for the consequences.”
In a related context, being ready for the consequences is
tantamount to issuing a threat.
“Bahala ka kung aalis ka’t pumunta sa
barkada mo, pero…” [“It’s up to you to leave and join your friends
[somewhere], but…”]. The “but” here could mean a threat, as in,
“…but when you come home you cannot enter the house.”
The fourth situation indicates unmindfulness on the part of the
person concerned. It means basically, “Never mind or it does not
matter.” This usage is common among Bisayans: “Bahala na ug dili
perfect ang akong writings as long as this [sic] can be understood”
(Ipage 2001). In Tagalog, we say, “Hindi na bale….” The translation
of the example into English is: “Never mind if my writings are imperfect
as long as they can be understood.”
The fifth situation is to tolerate the person or allow him/her to do
what s/he wants by just leaving him/her alone. An example is: “Bahala
na siya; pabayaan mo na lang siya sa kanyang ginagawa. Okey lang;
pasensiyahan mo na lang siya.” [“Let him/her be; tolerate what s/he is
doing. It’s okay. Just be patient with him/her.”] The Internet entry
talks about corruption and bewails the Filipino attitude towards it:
“…because we purposedly LET IT BE (and this must also be our one
true weakness: ‘okay lang’ or ‘pabayaan mo na lang’ or ‘bahala na
siya’ or ‘pasensiya na lang’)” (Messages 2001).
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199Rolando M. Gripaldo
Sixth and Last Meaning
The sixth meaning should portray a situation where a warning is
tacitly implied. The meaning is “Go on with it (as a warning) [usually
without the ‘na’].” An example from the Internet, which I modified a
little to emphasize this sixth meaning is: “Ano na naman and ginawa
mo sa Tupperware natin? Bakit mo sinira[an]? Bahala ka, sige. Ikaw
ang tumawag na [ordinaryong] plastic [iyan!]” (Local Jokes 2001b).
The warning in this context is that if the person continues doing what s/
he does, then they will lose their market. The English translation is:
“What have you done again to our Tupperware? Why did you disparage
it? Go on with what you are doing! It’s you who call it an ordinary
It has been mentioned earlier that two of the senses of “Bahala
na” are clearly derivatives, i.e., the third and sixth meanings, since the
“na” can be missing. It would seem, however, that the other three
meanings or senses are likewise derivatives from the first sense because,
etymologically speaking, the meaning of “Bahala” comes from
“Bathala,” which literally means “God.” In other words, the primary
sense or the meaning of the phrase “Bahala na” is the first one: “Come
what may. It is up to God.”
When one invokes “Bahala na,” there is always a philosophical
worldview that is presupposed. This worldview is Fatalism. The
classical meaning of fatalism, the Greek Moira, appears distinct from
determinism and predestination. Fatalism, unlike predestination, is not
“prearranged by a being outside the causal order,” or, unlike determinism,
is not necessarily causal in nature. But the current usage of determinism
has become so broad that even fatalism, or “cosmic determinism,” and
predestination are subsumed by it. Determinism is described broadly
as a situation where situational conditions, circumstances, or cosmic
set-ups or plans exist such that given them, nothing else could happen.
Fate in ancient Greece is “blind, inscrutable,…inescapable…impersonal,
and irrational.” Even the gods were subject to it. Christianity replaced
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200 Bahala Na
it with the “doctrine of divine providence,” which is “supremely personal
and supra-rational” (Bloesch 2001). The Filipino use of the phrase
“Bahala na” is fatalistic in the sense that it evokes resignation to the
consequences of one’s undertaking, but the intent of the phrase is
providential in that it carries the wish or hope that Providence will
personally take care of one’s future. This paper uses fatalism to mean
providential (i.e., theistic fatalism) as the equivalent sense of the phrase
The fatalistic worldview in the sense of “Bahala na” (theistic
fatalism) can be consistent with, at least, either pantheism, Leibnitzian
determinism, panentheism, deistic supernaturalism, or theistic
Pantheism. Pantheism is the belief that “All is God and God is
all,” or the “Universe is God and God is the universe.” Held by the
Stoics and by Benedict Spinoza, pantheism has a rigid deterministic
system. Here everything is willed by God and individual freedom
consists in submitting one’s will to the will of God. It is construed as
a violation of freedom when one does not accept God’s will and the
person, in this case, becomes psychologically disturbed, emotionally
unbalanced, and will generally have no peace of mind. Resignation,
indifference, or apathy to adverse occurrences in life are considered
the highest good. One is free to do what can be done but must be
ready to face the consequences of his/her actions.
Leibnitzian Determinism. Gottfried von Leibnitz believes that
God is all good and all perfect so He decided to create the best of all
possible worlds. Hence, nothing in the universe could be different
from what it is. In this best world, that is, a universe which has the
maximum of perfection, evil is necessary. Human freedom consists
in realizing one’s inherent potentialities that were pre-established
before birth. Here the person must surmount whatever obstacles
may block the realization of his/her potentials. Voltaire (1946), in his
book Candide, had the optimist Dr. Pangloss remark “this world is
the best of all possible worlds” whenever he met adversities in life.
In other words, one is free to do what can be done, as it is in pantheism,
but must be resigned to God’s purpose which lurks behind the
adversities that one encounters in life.
Panentheism. Panentheism is the belief that God is everywhere
immanent in the universe but, unlike pantheism, is distinct from the
universe. Here God maintains order in the universe. He serves like a
traffic policeman who maintains order on the streets. There is Creativity
going on in the universe where chance and individual freedom are
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possible. Again, in this metaphysical system, man is free to do what
can be done but must be ready to face the consequences of his actions.
It is said in this type of worldview that God is man’s fellow traveler in
that He is with him in his journey, in his joys and travails in life.
Deistic Supernaturalism. Deistic Supernaturalism is the belief
that God created the universe with all its scientific laws—biological,
chemical, physical, etc. But once in a while, God suspends the laws of
nature to perform a miracle. It allows individual human freedom and is
consistent with Predetermination/Predestination but God’s Foreknowledge
does not cause the individual human choice. I may know, for example,
that Efren “Bata” Reyes, a world champion in billiards, will hit the red
ball at the center to have it roll to the side pouch but my knowledge of it
does not cause him to do so. He will do what he must, or through his own
Deistic Supernaturalism does not also lend to Physical or Scientific
Determinism because human actions (in terms of behavioral or
sociological laws) are statistical in nature and not rigidly causal as in
natural laws. Human actions, from a general vantage point of view,
behave, as described in fuzzy logic, in a chaotic, random, or disorderly
fashion; however, there is a certain statistical uniformity in them that
can be expressed in a mathematical formula.
Theistic Circumstantialism. Circumstantialism (see Gripaldo
1977: 1-144) is of two kinds: theistic and atheistic. Both may invoke
fatalism after an exhaustive deliberation and decision-making, i.e., when
fatalistic conditions are emergent. In the atheistic sense, the
circumstantialist invokes cosmic determinism or the paganistic
conception of “Bahala na.” In the theistic sense, s/he invokes
providential fatalism or the theistic conception of “Bahala na.”
Fatalism and Determinism. Fatalism is closely related to
determinism. Not all types, however, of determinism entail or imply
fatalism. To reiterate, fatalism is “the acceptance of all things and events
as inevitable; submission to fate” (Random House Webster’s Unabridged
Dictionary 2001). Later, Fate was replaced with the doctrine of divine
providence such that “Bahala na” is a fatalistic attitude whose intent is
basically providential. Determinism, on the other hand, states that “for
everything that ever happens there are conditions [causal, situational,
cosmic, etc.] such that, given them, nothing else could happen” (see
Taylor 1967: 359; Gripaldo 1977: 111-12).
It is, I think, necessary to discuss the types of determinism in
relation to fatalism as providential “Bahala na” (see Fitelson 1999).
There are six standard types of determinism which I will discuss here.
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Types of Determinism
Ethical Determinism. Ethical determinism argues that “since
every person chooses what seems good to him/her, then his/her voluntary
actions are determined by this, if by nothing else.” Plato, for instance,
says that one’s action is determined by what appears good to him/her.
No one voluntarily chooses what is bad. Although Aristotle disagrees
in that one who knows something bad for his/her health, as in smoking
(at present there is the television warning that smoking is bad to one’s
health), may still continue doing it. At any rate, determinism in the
ethical sense does not appear to entail fatalism.
Psychological Determinism. There are two kinds of psychological
determinism. The first argues that “human action is caused by an act of
will, a motive, or some mental event.” This means that there is always a
causal explanation or a reason for a human action. Some philosophers
believe that reasons are causes of action. In this regard, rational
explanations are causal explanations.
A distinction is made between a human behavior and a human
action. The latter, unlike the former, is intentional. One has a reason
for doing things. If Pedro wipes the glass wall of Jollibee and all of a
sudden it breaks, the manager may shout, “Why did you break the
glass?” And Pedro may reply, “I did not break the glass. It broke.” Or
Jose is walking on the sidewalk when all of a sudden he hits the sidewalk
floor. A bystander asks, “Why did you fall?” And Jose responds, “I did
not fall. I slipped.” Psychological determinism does not imply fatalism.
The second type of psychological determinism is behaviorism or
operant conditioning. It holds that the individual is conditioned to act in
certain ways by his environment as s/he operates or interacts with it
within the general framework of stimulus and response and the pleasure
principle. B. F. Skinner (1971) believes that a technology of behavior,
as in Walden two, can be formulated as to condition a community of
people to be happy. Psychological determinism as operant conditioning
does not appear to entail fatalism.
It is worthy to mention one major objection to behaviorism. The
philosophy of cognitive science (Thagard 1996) tries to subvert the
general S-R model by emphasizing the element of freedom that takes
place in the person’s head or mind in terms of mental representations
(such as rules, concepts, images, analogies, logical constatives
mental procedures (such as deducing, searching, matching, rotating,
and retrieving). Even in the recent cognitive neural science or in the
shift to the neuron-to-synapse-to-brain-state connectionism, the person
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is assumed to be able to project a behavior that is not in keeping with
his/her apparent intentions by, for example, lying or pretending.
Logical Determinism. Logical determinism maintains that “If
the statement [here conceived as having no third value except true and
false] ‘Juan will get rich in the year 2025’ is true, then it is true by
2025.” In appearance, logical determinism entails fatalism. Like the
proverbial Juan Tamad, Juan need not work hard because if the
statement above is true, then Juan will get rich in the year 2025 whether
we like it or not. But this conclusion does not have to be. The precondition
of the statement might be that the reason Juan will get rich in 2025 is he
continues to work hard till 2025.
The missing premises of the syllogism might be: “Juan works
very hard. Juan will continue to work hard till 2025. Therefore, Juan
will get rich in 2025.” Construed in this way, this type of determinism
does not necessarily entail fatalism (see Kiekeben 2000).
Physical Determinism. Physical determinism says that
“everything in nature, including the person himself/herself, behaves in
accordance with the unchanging and inviolable laws of nature.” In
appearance it seems that physical determinism entails fatalism. If the
human constitution and human actions are causally determined by the
laws of nature, then there can be no human freedom and fatalism is a
matter of course.
There are attempts to subvert this type of determinism. The first is
Heisenberg’s Principle of Indeterminacy which argues that in the
subatomic level it is difficult to predict both the position and velocity of an
electron. One may predict the position of an electron at a given time but
not its velocity, or vice versa. There is a quantum jump somewhere and
this implies unpredictability. It has implications to ethical decision-making
and human freedom. The second comes from the social sciences. I
have already mentioned behavioral/sociological laws as statistical in nature
which emphasizes group uniformity that allows individual free movements.
The third objection comes from the existential and phenomenological
experience of human freedom. Not only that a person feels free, but that
s/he tries to fill the nothingness between his/her being (present) and his/
her becoming as s/he makes himself/herself to be (future). According to
Sartre (1968: 568-69), the person is absolute freedom, a project to be
Physical determinism as causal determinism may appear true in
the natural sciences, but it does not appear to be so in the social sciences
and the humanities. This type of determinism does not therefore
necessarily entail fatalism.
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or Situational Determinism contends that “In any given situation,
especially the choosing situation, there are situational conditions (or
circumstances) such that given them nothing else could happen.” There
are three stages in a rational choosing situation. The first stage is
where the alternatives to be chosen are located or in full view at a
given time. The second stage is where one starts deliberating and in
the process makes up his/her mind. When a decision is made, then
the person has chosen an alternative. Then comes the third stage
which is the performance of the choice made, that is, the buying,
eating, going to the place, etc., of the choice. It is in this context that
we say the act of choosing has been fully consummated.
Our primary concern here are the sources of situational conditions: (1)
the person’s present environment (where the alternatives are in principle
found); (2) the person’s past (through memory where the events or situational
conditions that are relevant to the present situation are creatively retrieved);
(3) the person’s future (through anticipated consequences of one’s actions/
choice); and (4) the person’s physical and mental health. For example, a sick
person will generally choose not to go to Hong Kong on a tour.
It is readily noticeable that the chosen action or object, the choice
itself, is determined by the situational conditions but it is the person who
voluntarily does the choosing act, the deliberation, and the decision-making.
One is free to do so. One is not compelled by an authority or by someone
else. In short, circumstantialism does not necessarily entail fatalism. But
when does it entail fatalism?
Circumstantialism entails fatalism, either theistic or atheistic, when
there are uncertainties in the ultimate consequences of one’s choice, when
after a thorough deliberation one still remains undecided but is forced to
make a choice, when loved ones die unexpectedly, and the like. It is during
these situations that one invokes “Bahala na” fatalistically.
Theological Determinism. There are, at least, three types of
theological determinism: religious, Spinozistic, and Leibnitzian. I will start
with the first.
(1) Religious Determinism. We can identify at least two kinds
of religious determinism. The first is predetermination and the second
is predestination. The two terms are sometimes used interchangeably,
but they can be distinguished. It is, of course, all right not to distinguish
them, but if we wish to do so, then here is the distinction. The first has
something to do with the issue of foreknowledge and causality while
the second deals with the issue of fatalism and divine providence (see
Watson 2001, Ross 2001, Bloesch 2001, and Warfield 1970). There
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are necessarily overlappings since the issue of foreknowledge may
also come in on the issue of divine providence.
Anyway, regarding predetermination, I have already said that God’s
foreknowledge is not causal and does not necessarily countervail human
freedom. Regarding predestination, or the issue between Moira and Divine
Providence, D.G. Bloesch (2001) makes the following contrasts: (a) “Fate
is the portentous, impersonal power that thwarts and overrules human
freedom” while “Providence liberates the person to fulfill the destiny for
which s/he was created.” (b) “Fate means abrogation of freedom” while
“Providence means the realization of authentic freedom through submission
to divine guidance.” (c) “Fate is the rule of contingency that casts a pall
over all human striving” while “Providence is the direction and support of a
loving God.” (d) “Fate makes the future precarious and uncertain” while
“Providence fills the future with hope.” (e) “Fate is impersonal and irrational”
while “Providence is supremely personal and supra-rational.” Formulated
in this way, religious determinism as predetermination and predestination
(Divine Providence) does not entail fatalism.
“Bahala na” recognizes the precariousness and uncertainty of
the future but at the same time hopes that Providence will take care of
(2) Spinozistic Determinism. Spinozistic or pantheistic
determinism as earlier discussed entails fatalism since God wills
everything and since human freedom is in consonance with God’s will,
then something that runs contrary to the human will must be accepted
as God’s will and be fatalistically resigned to it, hoping that in the final
analysis it is good.
(3) Leibnitzian Determinism. Though Leibnitzian determinism
is non-pantheistic, it likewise entails fatalism in that human freedom
(that is, the freedom to actualize one’s potentialities towards perfection)
has been predetermined before birth. Someone, like Dr. Pangloss,
must be resigned to adversities whose consequences to oneself are
objects that need to be ultimately overcome.
“Bahala Na” as a Socio-Cultural and an Individual Value
We may imagine two “Bahala na” scenarios. One is Spizonistic
and Leibnitzian while the other is panentheistic, deistic supernaturalistic,
First Scenario. In all types of determinism earlier discussed,
only the Spinozistic (also stoical) and Leibnitzian types of fatalism directly
come into play. In both Spinoza and Leibnitz, human freedom is only
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illusory. There is the hovering deterministic scheme of things of which
the individual is inevitably a part. The human person acts, decides, and
makes choices in situations which appear to be within his/her control.
Only when things seemingly do not appear within one’s control that s/
he leaves them to God.
In Spinoza, a woman, for example, must struggle against a rapist,
but if in the process she is still raped, then that must be the will of God,
and she must think that in the final analysis what happened to her is
ultimately good. She must stoically accept what happened and do what
is necessary, such as filing a case against the rapist, if known.
In Leibnitz, being raped is part of the obstacles to be hurdled by a
woman in realizing her predetermined destiny which is to actualize her
potentialities. She must not allow herself to be deterred by that incident
in the pursuit of her dreams. She must stoically accept that incident as
God’s will for an unknown purpose, and then move on. If she allows
herself to be deterred, then she has become unfree since she allows
herself to be imprisoned by that incident, and she is paralyzed, as it
were, and cannot move on.
Second Scenario. This scenario pertains to the panentheistic,
deistic supernaturalistic, and cicumstantialistic situations where there
is a positive affirmation of human freedom. Phenomenologically and
existentially, the person is free to make decisions and choices. S/He
feels s/he is not under compulsion, that s/he acts voluntarily or freely.
The circumstantialist also believes in this type of human freedom, which
is fundamentally Aristotelian, and also in the Sartrean type of human
freedom. Jean-Paul Sartre emphasizes the freedom to fulfill oneself in
the open future, to fill the void or nothingness between oneself and the
project s/he makes his/her being to become.
In “Bahala na,” in its primary sense, it is only when things or
situations go beyond one’s deliberative power that the person leaves
the situation to God. God helps the person who helps himself/herself,
beyond which it is hoped that God will take care of things or the situation.
This view is different from a rigid type of deism wherein a person must
literally help himself/herself, because God is nowhere to be found: He
is an absentee God.
In other words, it is only when things or the situation goes beyond
one’s control that the person says, “Bahala na.” It gives him/her a
psychological peace of mind and an emotional stability. In this respect,
“Bahala na” becomes a socio-cultural and at the same time an
individual value. For a value is something that a cultural group or a
person holds dear because of its reflexive practical consequences.
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207Rolando M. Gripaldo
AMBIVALENCE OF “BAHALA NA”
Ambivalence means the tendency of something (a person or a
situation) to go either way in a certain scale. If the scale is ethical, then
that something can go either good or bad, depending upon the context
“Bahala na” is a positive value in at least the following situations
or circumstances which are beyond one’s control: (1) when calamities
or accidents occur despite all precautionary measures; (2) when the
death of a loved one takes place in spite of all attempts to let him/her
live longer, or in spite of all careful attention made relative to the situation;
(3) when the death is sudden or unexpected; (4) when one feels the
uncertainties that lie ahead despite making a careful and deliberate
choice or decision; and (5) when, in spite of a very extensive deliberative
process, one cannot still decide what to choose until finally he picks out
a choice indifferently. Here “Bahala na” enables one to have the
stoic resolve and the attendant peace of mind. As Distor (1997) says,
“Held close to the heart, the ‘bahala na’ phenomenon becomes a
coping mechanism in the face of risky undertakings.”
There is first human responsibility, even in situation (5), before
invoking “Bahala na.” “Bahala na” turns negative, firstly, when one
haphazardly deliberates in making a choice. “Bahala na ang Maykapal
diyan” (“Let God take care of the situation”) or “I’m tired deliberating.
I’ll take this one. Bahala na kung ano ang mangyari” [literally it means
“Never mind what happens, I’ll leave it to God”]. Here one does not
exhaust all possibilities to determine the merits or demerits of alternative
options before making a choice or a decision. The person is either lazy
or simply unmindful of the consequences of his/her choice/decision. In
either case, s/he is simply irresponsible.
Secondly, when one indifferently picks out a choice without deliberation.
Here there is a refusal to deliberate. The person simply picks out one among
the options whimsically or without thinking. Or s/he may toss a coin and let
it decide for him/her. “Pag cara pupunta sa party; pag cruz sa bahay na
lang” [If heads I’ll go to the party; if tails I’ll stay at home]. Thirdly, when
one relies too much on God by not helping himself/herself first (see Lagmay
1977: 121, 124). “Hindi ako nakapag-aral kagabi, pero kukuha ako ng
eksamin. Bahala na” [I have not studied last night but I’ll take the exam.
Come what may]. Lastly, when one knows something detrimental but still
pursues it. For example, s/he knows s/he is overcharging his/her credit card
beyond his/her capacity to pay. “Bahala na kung papaano ko ito babayaran”
[I do not know how to pay this, but I’ll let God help me find the way].
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208 Bahala Na
In all the above negative instances, “Bahala na” is the scapegoat
of one’s irresponsibility. The person hides this irresponsibility by invoking
“Bahala na” is a characteristic trait of the Filipino culture. The Filipino
child is exposed to this culture and s/he unquestioningly imbibes this trait,
thereby forming a predisposition towards it and eventually shaping an attitude
about it. The attitude is reinforced in his/her daily contact with others in
society where “Bahala na” is openly manifested. S/He too manifests it and
finds no objections from others. In time, s/he cannot distinguish its negative
applications from the positive ones. S/He simply lumps them all into one
piece. Not until a philosophical analysis points out what the irresponsible
practices of “Bahala na” are.
To recapitulate, while “Bahala na” can presuppose both the Spinozistic/
Stoical and Leibnitzian deterministic systems, it is more in keeping with
panentheistic, deistic supernaturalistic, and circumstantialistic theological
frameworks. The latter two are theistic in orientation, where by “theism” is
meant the belief in one personal God. If one is a religious circumstantialist,
then “Bahala na” in its responsible sense can also be entailed by it since
circumstantialism stresses responsible deliberative act of choosing.
In the case of Spinoza and Leibnitz, “Bahala na” obliquely affirms
human freedom while in the case of panentheism, deistic supernaturalism,
and theistic circumstantialism, it directly affirms human freedom as voluntarily
making actions and choices within one’s control. There is an explicit recognition
of “Bahala na” in the power of God on matters beyond human control.
“Bahala na” can be positive (with responsibility) or negative (with
irresponsibility) in application. It seems to me that Filipino society will be
better off if the negative applications were to be avoided or completely
obliterated in Filipino decision-making.
1. Paper presented as the first of the Claro Ceniza Lecture Series
that started on 12 December 2001 at Tereso Lara Seminar Room. The
lecture was accompanied with a powerpoint presentation. Also read during
the Annual Philosophical Convention of the Philosophical Association of the
Philippines at the Holy Rosary Minor Seminary in Naga City. The theme of
the convention was “Philosophy and Culture.”
2. Rogelio A. Santos (1998) includes “Bahala na” fatalism among
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209Rolando M. Gripaldo
the Filipino cultural traits he has discussed.
3. Gorospe’s (1966: 43-44) contention that the term “Bahala” is not
derived from “Bathala” is based on a linguistic error. If “meaning is use in
the language,” as Wittgenstein (1989: 20) would say, then one of the signficant
usages of the term has a reference to God.
4. In particular, see Goodman (2001), Bahala Na Systems
International (2001), Movies (1957), Ecochallenge (2001), Mabuhay
Philippinen (2001), Bahala na diving (2001), etc.
5. The other “Bahala Na” song is by Ito Rapadas, Jimmy Antiporda,
and the Neocolours (2001).
6. This related meaning of a threat came about during the open
forum of the PAP Naga City philosophical convention on 5 April 2002.
7. The original phrase is “logical propositions,” but I have replaced it
with the term “logical constatives” since I have rejected the term “proposition”
in the speech act theory (see Gripaldo 2001).
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