A bully is someone who goes after a weaker and smaller rival that is incapable or too meek to fight back. His so-called toughness or manly arrogance is held by his admirers as a kind of courage, and he, the bully, convinces himself that his courage is unequalled. For this courage to be legitimate in the eyes of the world the bully has to expend and display it; he chases the weak and the powerless while cleverly avoiding any confrontation with (or pretends to confront) those whom he knows are equally powerful and capable of fighting back otherwise he will be exposed as a great fraud which he is.

The bully’s bullyness is a spectacle which deeply impresses his followers. They enjoy the spectacle of a human face beneath a boot. Because they themselves, deep in their hearts, want to become the bully. There is something sinister about human nature that takes great satisfaction in the suffering of the weak.

If the petty thieves and small time pushers and addicts in our society have not satisfied the government’s lust for barbarism it is quite natural for the latter that it should look for another hapless prey. And it finds one, easily; for our society never lacks subjects to oppress. This time the bully sets his eyes on the tambay (loiterers, idlers).

Who are the tambay?



The question doesn’t even beg for a scrap of imagination. In the art of stereotyping and discrimination the administration is adept. A tambay, according to the administration, is distinguished by his disposition:

– lives in a poor area

– idles before a sari-sari store (makeshift store)

– enjoys a good joke with friends

– probably shirtless while hanging out (Asian squat way)

– drinks (the identification of the liquid substance depends on the literary quality of police reports. Alcohol, the most sought after item in the inventory occupies a favorable place in police prose.)

– looks poor and is poor

– presumably unemployed

– hates the police

– smokes

and so on. The middle classes and the idle rich that are way more extravagant in their talent for tambay are of course excluded from classification. A peculiar attitude in the Philippines is to judge the book by its cover. It would be out of ordinary human experience to witness a police arresting a cool tambay who enjoys a bloody expensive cup of immoderately sweet coffee in a fashionable American cafe. What are the law enforcements for if they don’t serve the rich?

Now, I have nothing against the other class who are idling or loitering in such a fashion. This paper in fact is a defense of that very human phenomenon as tambay.

What ticks one’s nerves is the utter idiocy and the political motivation of such a campaign that is as unconstitutional, as great a breach of peace, as gross infringement of civil liberties as the repulsive war on drugs.

The notion of tambay that is impressed in our culture has a degrading and even discriminatory ring to it. Growing up as children we often heard the admonition of our elders: Don’t do this, don’t do that or you might end up a tambay; don’t follow the footsteps of the tambay, as though the tambay has reached the lowest of the low in our society.

And yet when the well-to-do speak of the tambay the tone is hypocritical. When the well-to-do idle in spectacular cafes our culture calls it leisure; when the poor idle in sari-sari stores our society calls it loitering. That, however, is a minor observation. Consider the masterful case of hypocrisy of landlords and big employers comparable to the Sadducees and Pharisees in the time of Jesus whose idleness is made possible by the backbreaking toil of peasants and workers while preaching the slogan “sipag at tiyaga” (industriousness and patience).

For a peasant who works under the scorching sun for almost an entire day and a worker who labors for twelve to thirteen hours a day in an uncongenial factory the preaching of industriousness and patience is not only impertinent but extremely insulting. When both peasant and worker lose their livelihood– the former driven out of his land, the latter bludgeoned by contractualization– they become society’s subjects of ridicule and the government’s punching bag, and we pride this country for being a civilized nation.

The point is when the middle-classes discourse on issues like tambay we don’t have to take it seriously and when the rich preach of sipag at tiyaga they are really attempting to be funny.

The pulse of this anti-loitering campaign is an artifact of a colonial mentality which tends to blame the underdog for its vices. What is considered loitering or idleness today was considered indolence by colonial officials and nasty friars in the colonial period. In fact Rizal wrote a brilliant polemic against that colonial superstition: On The Indolence of The Filipinos. Yet Rizal wrote a very strong argument for inaction:


“A hot, climate requires of the individual quiet and rest, just as

cold incites to labor and action. For this reason the Spaniard is

more indolent than the Frenchman; the Frenchman more so than the

German. The Europeans themselves who reproach the residents of the

colonies so much (and I am not now speaking of the Spaniards but of

the Germans and English themselves), how do they live in tropical

countries? Surrounded by a numerous train of servants, never going

afoot but riding in a carriage, needing servants not only to take

off their shoes for them but even to fan them! And yet they live and

eat better, they work for themselves to get rich, with the hope of

a future, free and respected…


“The fact is that in tropical countries violent work is not a good

thing as it is in cold countries, there it is death, destruction,

annihilation. Nature knows this and like a just mother has therefore

made the earth more fertile, more productive, as a compensation. An

hour’s work under that burning sun, in the midst of pernicious

influences springing from nature in activity, is equal to a day’s

work in a temperate climate; it is, then, just that the earth yield

a hundred fold! Moreover, do we not see the active European, who has

gained strength during the winter, who feels the fresh blood of spring

boil in his veins, do we not see him abandon his labors during the

few days of his variable summer, close his office–where the work

is not violent and amounts for many to talking and gesticulating in

the shade and beside a lunch-stand,–flee to watering  places, sit

in the cafs or stroll about? What wonder then that the inhabitant

of tropical countries, worm out and with his blood thinned by the

continuous and excessive heat, is reduced to inaction? Who is the

indolent one in the Manila offices? Is it the poor clerk who comes

in at eight in the morning and leaves at, one in the afternoon with

only his parasol, who copies and writes and works for himself and

for his chief, or is it the chief, who comes in a carriage at ten

o’clock, leaves before twelve, reads his newspaper while smoking and

with is feet cocked up on a chair or a table, or gossiping about all

his friends? Which is indolent, the native coadjutor, poorly paid

and badly treated, who has to visit all the indigent sick living in

the country, or the friar curate who gets fabulously rich, goes about

in a carriage, eats and drinks well, and does not put himself to any

trouble without collecting excessive fees?”

Tambay or inaction contrary to the careless definition by the law is an integral part of our culture; it is something organic in the life of a Filipino. To tambay is human. Again Rizal:

“We find, then, the tendency to indolence very natural, and have to

admit and bless it, for we cannot alter natural laws, and without

it the race would have disappeared. Man is not a brute, he is not

a, machine; his object is not merely to produce, in spite of the

pretensions of some Christian whites who would make of the colored

Christian a kind of motive power somewhat more intelligent and less

costly than steam.”

Filipinos are not machines nor brutes. Tambay is a natural, persistent course to sociality. Rich and poor practice it; it is unavoidable as sunshine and rain. It is a form of intimation which opens individuals to community feeling. The spirit of solidarity, pakikisama, is manifested in the simplicity, spontaneity, and affability of this shared moment of idleness. To criminalize tambay is to deprive the Filipino one of his natural and legal joys.

To tambay is one thing, to become a tambay is another; especially if the latter is the result of a government that is incapable of terminating contractualization, impotent in enacting a national minimum wage, and cowardly in the face of agrarian reform is the same government that puts behind bars the so-called tambays! Talking about the joke of the century.

The vulgar creatures, the philistines of our age, the wielders of power put forward the argument that the condition of tambay leads to committing crimes. That is a weak if not foolish argument.

An active or non-tambay person is as susceptible to committing crimes as a loiterer or an idler. That is a truism only a naturally gifted idiot could miss. If comparative criminality is taken into consideration there are others more life threatening than the tambay. Take the police who are becoming more and more unbearable and uncivilized as the traffic in EDSA; or the multinational corporations and mining companies that are destroying the planet and taking advantage of people day and night. They are far more deadly than a tambay who, after being fired unjustifiably by a despicable company, stupors himself in cheap alcohol with friends. Tambay has a lower degree of dangerousness, and thus doesn’t require such policing as is happening now.

Thus it is not loitering or idling that is the devil’s playground but power and greed of those who wield power. If the government really insists on ”frisking” or “arresting” those who indulge in tambay, using Rizal’s matter-of-fact reasoning it is only fair and christian to start with our modern version of corrupt colonial officials and spoiled friars (landlords, big employers and fat politicians) whose base existence rests on the drudgery of others.

We are living in a corporate capitalist world in which the unhealthy, abusive, soulless practices of production and consumption with the complicity of the state and various institutions are irreparably destroying the natural environment on which we depend for human life. The notion of tambay needs a careful definition in this context. The wonderful American anthropologist David Graeber remarks on the non-industrious or the tambay:

“At least they are not hurting anyone. Insofar as the time they are taking off from work is being spent with friends and family, enjoying and caring for those they love, they’re probably improving the world more than we acknowledge. Maybe we should think of them as pioneers of a new economic order that would not share our current one’s penchant for self-annihilation.”

This is precisely the virtue of tambay in a cruel and greedy corporate-capitalist world: its inactive harmlessness. By inactive I don’t necessarily refer to mere passivity but to that opposite state of productivity which in our current system enriches only an already excessively rich minority.

A tambay is environmental friendly insofar as his idleness involves little or nothing in the act of corporate production and mindless consumption. A tambay who spends his time freely with his/her friends or loved ones outside the space of work disconnects him/her self from the harm industrial work is inflicting on the environment. A tambay is immune to the illnesses produced by corporate capitalism: depression, dyspepsia, weariness, exhaustion, isolation, frayed nerves, alienation, etc.. He/she benefits more from the simple happiness of doing less or nothing at all. A tambay is saved from the demoralization of overwork and from the vanity of ambition which turns men into wolves and scoundrels. Oscar Wilde, an advocate of socialism, condemns the obsession with profit-making:

“The industry necessary for the making money is also very demoralising. In a community like ours, where property confers immense distinction, social position, honour, respect, titles, and other pleasant things of the kind, man, being naturally ambitious, makes it his aim to accumulate this property, and goes on wearily and tediously accumulating it long after he has got far more than he wants, or can use, or enjoy, or perhaps even know of. Man will kill himself by overwork in order to secure property, and really, considering the enormous advantages that property brings, one is hardly surprised. One’s regret is that society should be constructed on such a basis that man has been forced into a groove in which he cannot freely develop what is wonderful, and fascinating, and delightful in him – in which, in fact, he misses the true pleasure and joy of living. He is also, under existing conditions, very insecure.”

Any one who has a minimum concern for the world and life should not ignore the advantages of tambay.

We Filipinos despite the desperate circumstances that we encounter in our lives are still capable of joy, love, laughter, and hope; and tambay is a miniscule manifestation of that capacity. It is never trivial if it strengthens friendship and the community.

The tragic fact in the whole of this episode is the mental process of those who thought of the campaign. One hardly believes that such a thing merits one’s attention until the police is around your throat. One suspects that this campaign is a symptom of a widespread spiritual disorder rampant in high places. It would have been a different story had the government have other ambitions than to fill the overcrowded prisons and instill terror in the hearts of the people. But wisdom, love, and culture are, unfortunately, things in which our public officials are little versed and the malicious connotations attached to tambay (loitering, idleness, laziness, indolence) by the well-off are misleading and hypocritical. I strongly believe that a redefinition of tambay or the wise use of tambay will add to the general happiness of our country. We should come up with a form of tambay that is more creative, more pleasurable, more healthy, and more productive not in terms of profits but of intelligence and love. Besides that we should stubbornly demand and fight to, in the words of Bakunin:

“Improve working conditions, render to labor what is justly due to labor, and thereby, give the people security, comfort and leisure. Then… they (the people) will educate themselves; they will create a larger, saner, higher civilization than this.”


Some readers may find certain statements in this paper outrageous or simply unintelligible. Some of the ideas invoked here are mere echoes of the ideas from a brilliant essay of a wonderful and very relevant philosopher Bertrand Russell’s In Praise of Idleness. I invite my readers to take time to search and read the said essay.

Carlo Rey Lacsamana is a Filipino, born and raised in Manila, Philippines. Since 2005, he has been living and working in the Tuscan town of Lucca, Italy.

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