Netizens react: Is it time to let go of 'Ma'am, Sir'?

Are these honorifics badges of our oppressive colonial past, or a unique part of our culture?

Bea Orante

Published: 10:24 AM August 14, 2015

Updated: 10:27 AM August 14, 2015

MANILA, Philippines – In the Philippines, it's common to address people as "Ma’am" or "Sir." Could it be that this is one habit developed from our colonial past that Filipinos just cannot shake? Or is this just a part of our culture? 

An essay recently republished on Rappler  ignited this discussion on social media. It got many netizens in fiery debates in the Rappler comment section, Facebook, and Twitter. (READ: A note to Filipinos in Singapore: Please don’t call me Sir)

For Filipino-Singaporean journalist Clement Mesenas, Singapore has set a good example by eschewing terms like “Sir” and “Ma’am.”

He says Singaporeans, and Singaporean Filipinos by extension, dropped the use of "Sir" and "Ma’am" under Lee Kuan Yew’s administration to “rid [themselves] of [their] colonial mentality of obeisance or servitude.” This, for him, is reflective of Singapore's bid as a “a nation of equals.” (READ: Don't call me Madam

Ego boost?

So does Mesenas have a point? Should the Philippines drop its “Ma’am/Sir” culture?

Readers are divided over the issue, some argue that the Philippines should be following Singapore’s example. For Borris Aldonza, “a revolution is being initiated” with Mesenas’ suggestion.

Dan Da Dan Fernandez and Jerome Rustia note that in the hierarchy they see in Philippine society, many Filipinos seem to get “ego boosts” from being called “Ma’am” or “Sir.”

For Fernandez, these terms are part of Filipino culture because of the tendency to parade one’s titles. Even then, he says, it might not be enough to “satisfy [their] attention-seeking, overinflated egos.” Rustia says this creates an organization that “creates a mentality of someone being superior, the other being inferior."                                                               

'It’s not servitude, it’s called manners'

Culture of respect

Others say using such titles is not about feeling superior or inferior, or perpetuating the hierarchy – it is simply a matter of showing respect.

“It’s not wrong to be respectful. Even taxi drivers and construction workers I address as ‘Boss’ or ‘Sir’,” says Tim Ramos. “It’s not servitude, it’s called manners.”

“These phrases do not raise anybody above anybody else, but show the basic respect for your fellow human beings that [sic] you interact with," says Tony Degara.

Nakadikit ang kultura sa wika ng bawat bansa. Ang po at opo ay paggalang nating mga Pilipino.

Another major point is whether or not Filipinos should remove these terms since respectfulness is said to be part of Filipino culture.

Mannix Pelingon asks, “Why do we always have to imitate what’s in Singapore or in any country?”

Others go on to attribute this practice to something inherent among the people, linking “Ma’am” and “Sir” to “po” and “opo” – Filipino honorifics when addressing older people or those in authority.

Lemuel Tino comments, “Nakadikit ang kultura sa wika ng bawat bansa. Ang po at opo ay paggalang nating mga Pilipino (Culture is intertwined with language in every country. 'Po' and 'Opo' are how Filipinos show respect).” For Eper Agdamag Silan, Filipinos use “Ma’am” and “Sir” “because ‘po’ has no equivalent meaning.”

Preserve or break tradition?

One side of the argument calls for the preservation tradition, and the other, a break with tradition.

What about reserving the titles for school or work? Some believe these should be dropped even for work environments. Nadine Cumilang argues that “the Sir/Madam culture can hinder employees from establishing a collaborative relationship with their bosses.”

Others say dropping “Ma’am” and “Sir” is already the norm in countries like Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. “Here in Canada I can talk to our [d]irector just by…using his first name,” writes Joyce Bautista Salvador. “More so in the UK…Even with millionaires we just call them by their first names,” says Celine Ladrido.

Then there were those who don't see a need to sacrifice a tradition of respect for equality, and recommend “doing as the Romans do.”

“You have to adapt [to] the culture of the country you are visiting,” Rogemar Bravo says.

Clyde Villegas writes: “There’s really nothing bad [about] addressing or not addressing someone with Sir…No real right or wrong answers here, I think.”

What is your take on the issue? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below. – 

Bea Orante is a Rappler intern.