I HEARD Carlos P. Romulo speak at least a dozen times. Those various occasions were never dull moments when listening to the wisdom of one who in his lifetime stood tall in serving his country.

Yet one thing that sticks to mind out of those hundreds of minutes listening to him is when he symbolized what his middle initial stands for. It is the letter "P" which is never missing when his name is written in documents and even in newspaper articles.

In two or three speeches for which I was privileged to listen to, he would tease that his middle initial "P" stands for "punctuality." Perhaps, in jest, he took pleasure in rubbing salt to embarrass late comers in those symposiums. But he would later take the edge off the public reproach with a declaration that being late is normal and an acceptable Filipino culture.

That culture is popularly called: "Filipino Time." It means Filipinos seldom come to occasions on time. In most cases than not, we Pinoys are always late and could hardly make appointments or attend on time.

Dear readers, you must have heard of that comical story where a toastmaster in a public gathering acknowledged the late arrival of a prominent politician of which he said: "Ladies and Gentlemen, may we also welcome the arrival of the late Mayor San Pedro."

It's odd but this peculiar trait is what Filipinos are known for the world over. It is a penchant to take "time" for granted.

Decades ago before I experienced an airplane flight, there was a joke on our flag carrier the Philippine Air Lines (PAL). The pun was PAL stands for "Plane Always Late." With apologies for a revelation: in all my years of traveling abroad, I avoided taking PAL for obvious reasons. I only took two sponsored (tickets) flights aboard our flag carrier.

Admiringly, transport buses nowadays take their departure take-off and arrival time seriously. Such a policy of bus companies also monitors the speed their respective drivers take along their routes. Arriving early at destinations would mean over-speeding. Delays can be attributed to slow traffic or bad weather conditions.

In the business world, wasted time is business and income lost as corporations revere time as gold. This is a concern of foreign investors whose offices are mostly located in the greater Metro Manila area. In our crowded metropolis where traffic would stand still for hours is the abused reason for tardiness whether at work or appointments.

It can be recalled that a study was conducted by JICA on the traffic woes of Metro-Manila which revealed billions of pesos in daily business losses. JICA stands for Japan International Cooperation Agency.

Supposing we reverse this practice or custom of "coming late" and take the side of one who comes early and on-time. He waits anxiously and dreads the idea of being "stood up." Good thing cellphones are at hand these days to communicate apologies for delays. But then again, what if the other does not have an operating cellphone?

This brings to mind attending religious Sunday masses or services. Believe it or not, a good percentage of Filipino churchgoers do not arrive on time. And most of them stand at the back behind the pews, aha, for an easy exit after the Holy Communion rites. My goodness, they have the temerity of making our Lord Jesus wait and leave him before the mass is over!

And believe me; do they ever apologize to him for being tardy?

How and where did I pick this embarrassing habit? Perhaps dear readers can provide some theories.

Is tardiness really a true Filipino characteristic and not an influence of the Spanish 300-year domination? Like the "mañana habit" among Spanish speaking netizens of South America that can be akin to laziness by postponing for tomorrow something that must be done today?