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Philippine Culture: Family

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Family can be considered one of the most significant cultural attributes in the Philippines. More so than religious or governmental policy, the family unit seems to dictate responsible behavior, support the population of unemployed, and enable things to get done that normally would be impossible or take too long.

As an expat, you will inevitably experience the Filipino family system during your time here; you may get invited to join an extended family through a baptism or wedding, you will probably employ someone who is supporting an entire family, and eventually you will come to recognize how important relationships are in getting things accomplished. It is near impossible to spend any amount of time in the Philippines without coming to realize the importance of family.

In a collective culture, such as the Philippines, identity is very strongly linked to one’s social connections and groups, the most elementary and most important of which being the family. I was and continue to be impressed by how close Filipino families are. As an immigrant family to the US, leaving our extended family when I was still a child, it is very interesting to see the level of comfort and association in Filipino families; cousins often are best friends, aunts and uncles are like second parents and often times business and livelihood is tied into several of these relationships. Being as tightly linked as this brings both comfort and responsibility, most notably in the form of maintaining a family’s overall name and ensuring each other’s well-being.

Especially in smaller provinces, where everyone knows each other, responsibility to the family serves as a very powerful tool in guiding behavior. Saving face becomes not only important for the individual but even more so for the family as a whole. Whereas in the west, a mistake on my part might only harm my reputation, a mistake in the Philippines will damage the family name and, as such, the family becomes a major consideration in guiding conduct. When I first moved here, I lived in a small community in Bohol called Tubigon; living there, everyone wanted to know who I was and with whom I was now living/associated. Even though I am a very independent American with no blood ties to the community, I had been adopted by a very caring family and, once I realized that I couldn’t do much without everyone knowing about it (Camilla bought 2 kilos of mangoes at the market today instead of 1), I started to feel a responsibility for my behavior that was beyond myself. For me, new to this concept, this was extremely stressful and I was surprised at my Filipino friends who didn’t actively recognize the stress at all, having been familiarized with this concept from birth.

It would serve to reason that when there is a mass migration to the cities there is a breakdown of this family code. However, interestingly, because of the mobility of most Filipino families, having at least one member of the family in a city or in another country one never seems to be too far from the family structure, be it through extension or close relation, and the ties, for the time being, still seem to be strong.

Interdependence is another feature of family. In theory, this is a noble and enviable intention, taking care of one another, making sure no one is left behind, and giving out of the goodness of one’s heart for the joy that is being with family. In general there are few retirement homes catering to the Filipino market, and, in comparison to some other neighboring countries, a small amount of adoption opportunities. For my western mind however, I still find myself frustrated by the degree to which it is sometimes practiced. In the worst case scenario, what has been known to happen is that a very driven and successful member of the family who has done well for his/her self, is relied upon by less determined members of the family; this makes me consider if this doesn’t dis-incentivize an individual’s determination, drive and hard-work. Where is the incentive to work hard, if there is always a safety net provided through someone else? However, for those who are truly in need of support, as many here are, this system of interdependence is maintaining a majority of the population who are unable to find work. With the recent recognition of Overseas Workers as the “Heroes of the Philippines”, we can see that the interdependence on family is now recognized on a country-wide level.

Lastly, in a country where getting things accomplished largely depends on who you know, a tight and large family unit is paramount to success. In addition to the biological family, there are 3 main occasions in a Filipinos life in which the circle is made even larger to encompass more people in an extended family arrangement, baptism, confirmation and weddings. In all 3 occasions non-family members can be asked to join the family as a godparent, or a sponsor and now are part of the family with the same kinds of responsibilities and comforts as a biological member. It is an honor to be asked, and generally is requested out of respect, but before you accept, be sure to know the full implication of loyalty, interdependence, cooperation and participation.

Watching the style of family relationships and the importance given to certain aspects can be an interesting way to gauge a changing culture. It is no secret that the Philippines has a growing middle class and major migration both to the cities and abroad. With these changes comes adaptations in cultural norms, and the family, a cornerstone in Philippine culture, will be an interesting feature to watch. The middle class, who traditionally believe in hard work and determination for getting ahead, will drive the change as it relates to meritocracy versus cronyism, but more of an unknown is how the migration of Filipinos, especially abroad, will change the traditional family unit. Will more overseas opportunities lessen the need to depend on family members and slowly break the bonds through economics? Or will the need to work overseas create more dependence as extended families are called in to assist those who remain at home? Does living overseas slowly dim the bonds of loyalty or will the concept of an extended family system just grow larger as the cultural tendency is to create and nurture family bonds? Only time will tell.

 

 

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Author: Expatch Editorial Team
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