Culture & Heritage

Bahala na: A Filipino Trait

Written by Patrick
Travel Insurance

If you have spent some time with Filipinos, you’ve probably heard the phrase bahala na being uttered at some point or another.  In fact, it is one of the overused phrases and deciphering the thought the speaker is trying to convey can be a bit confusing especially to a listener who does not truly understand the context of the phrase.

The phrase has both negative and positive connotations, depending on the situation and how it is used.

Understanding Bahala Na

Bahala originated from the Tagalog word Bathala which means god or Supreme Being worshipped by Filipinos before the Spanish came to the country and introduced Catholicism.  The phrase, therefore, is in the context of “leave it to God” or “God willing”.

The use of this phrase showcases the tendency of Filipinos to submit everything to the Supreme Being especially during tough times.  It highlights their devotion and trust that whoever god they worship has a greater power than man or any difficult situation they are in.

However, some see it in a negative light, believing that it’s an excuse for laziness and a way to get away from their responsibilities.

Bahala Na as A Negative Trait

Scholars theorize that the trait is a form of submission or defeatism, believing that there’s nothing they can do to alter the course of their lives since it is fate, destiny, or God’s will.  They give up without even trying for they see no reason to continue doing the best that they possibly can thinking that everything is set in stone.

While it’s a good habit of knowing when to give up, unfortunately, some use the trait to fuel or justify their laziness.  Example is when one is too lazy or irresponsible to deal with a problem at work.  The trait is used for not doing something to resolve the issue.

Bahala Na as A Positive Trait

Fortunately, several Filipinos use the phrase in a positive context.  It’s a kind of mantra they use to encourage themselves. It gives them a sense of peace and acceptance after doing their best to deal with a particularly difficult situation.  It also showcases determination and willingness to achieve something.

One good example of how bahala na is used positively is during natural calamities like typhoons.  Despite the precautionary measures done to prevent or lessen the damage, they say bahala na since they know they have no control over the strength of the typhoon.  It’s like preparing themselves for whatever is coming their way and the resolve that life goes on regardless of what may happen.

Another example is accepting a job opportunity despite the uncertainties.  They show up and do their best while learning along the way.  It says a lot about one’s determination.

To sum it all up, bahala na isn’t all that bad nor is it perfectly good.  The meaning is subjective and depends largely on how the phrase is used.

READ MORE: Common Filipino Phrases

What are YOUR thoughts on this topic?

About the Author


Patrick is an entrepreneur, digital nomad, explorer, and photographer. Patrick is always in search of fun and adventure. He is well travelled throughout the world, and although location independent, his home base is Phoenix, Arizona in the USA. Patrick loves island lifestyle which is no wonder why he is so interested in spending time in the Philippines with it’s over 7,000 islands. Patrick created this site to share his knowledge of and experiences in the Philippines with Filipinos as well as other foreigners.

Leave a Comment

1 Comment

  • Thanks Patrick for an insightful study of this expression and for your interest in the Philippines. We have a rich culture which our people need to rediscover for our own benefit.