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Philippines Table of Contents



The great majority of the Philippine population is bound together by common values and a common religion. Philippine society is characterized by many positive traits. Among these are strong religious faith, respect for authority, and high regard for amor proprio (self-esteem) and smooth interpersonal relationships. Philippine respect for authority is based on the special honor paid to elder members of the family and, by extension, to anyone in a position of power. This characteristic is generally conducive to the smooth running of society, although, when taken to extreme, it can develop into an authoritarianism that discourages independent judgment and individual responsibility and initiative. Filipinos are sensitive to attacks on their own self-esteem and cultivate a sensitivity to the self-esteem of others as well. Anything that might hurt another's self-esteem is to be avoided or else one risks terminating the relationship. One who is insensitive to others is said to lack a sense of shame and embarrassment, the principal sanction against improper behavior. This great concern for self- esteem helps to maintain harmony in society and within one's particular circle, but it also can give rise to clannishness and a willingness to sacrifice personal integrity to remain in the good graces of the group. Strong personal faith enables Filipinos to face great difficulties and unpredictable risks in the assurance that "God will take care of things." But, if allowed to deteriorate into fatalism, even this admirable characteristic can hinder initiative and stand in the way of progress.

Social organization generally follows a single pattern, although variations do occur, reflecting the influence of local traditions. Among lowland Christian Filipinos, social organization continues to be marked primarily by personal alliance systems, that is, groupings composed of kin (real and ritual), grantors and recipients of favors, friends, and partners in commercial exchanges.

Philippine personal alliance systems are anchored by kinship, beginning with the nuclear family. A Filipino's loyalty goes first to the immediate family; identity is deeply embedded in the web of kinship. It is normative that one owes support, loyalty, and trust to one's close kin and, because kinship is structured bilaterally with affinal as well as consanguineal relatives, one's kin can include quite a large number of people. Still, beyond the nuclear family, Filipinos do not assume the same degree of support, loyalty, and trust that they assume for immediate family members for whom loyalty is nothing less than a social imperative. With respect to kin beyond this nuclear family, closeness in relationship depends very much on physical proximity.

Bonds of ritual kinship, sealed on any of three ceremonial occasions--baptism, confirmation, and marriage--intensify and extend personal alliances. This mutual kinship system, known as compadrazgo, meaning godparenthood or sponsorship, dates back at least to the introduction of Christianity and perhaps earlier. It is a primary method of extending the group from which one can expect help in the way of favors, such as jobs, loans, or just simple gifts on special occasions. But in asking a friend to become godparent to a child, a Filipino is also asking that person to become a closer friend. Thus it is common to ask acquaintances who are of higher economic or social status than oneself to be sponsors. Such ritual kinship cannot be depended on in moments of crisis to the same extent as real kinship, but it still functions for small and regular acts of support such as gift giving.

A dyadic bond--between two individuals--may be formed based on the concept of utang na loob. Although it is expected that the debtor will attempt repayment, it is widely recognized that the debt (as in one's obligation to a parent) can never be fully repaid and the obligation can last for generations. Saving another's life, providing employment, or making it possible for another to become educated are "gifts" that incur utang na loob. Moreover, such gifts initiate a long-term reciprocal interdependency in which the grantor of the favor can expect help from the debtor whenever the need arises and the debtor can, in turn, ask other favors. Such reciprocal personal alliances have had obvious implications for the society in general and the political system in particular. In 1990 educated Filipinos were less likely to feel obligated to extend help (thereby not initiating an utang na loob relationship) than were rural dwellers among whom traditional values remained strong. Some observers believed that as Philippine society became more modernized and urban in orientation, utang na loob would become less important in the political and social systems.

In the commercial context, suki relationships (market- exchange partnerships) may develop between two people who agree to become regular customer and supplier. In the marketplace, Filipinos will regularly buy from certain specific suppliers who will give them, in return, reduced prices, good quality, and, often, credit. Suki relationships often apply in other contexts as well. For example, regular patrons of restaurants and small neighborhood retail shops and tailoring shops often receive special treatment in return for their patronage. Suki does more than help develop economic exchange relationships. Because trust is such a vital aspect, it creates a platform for personal relationships that can blossom into genuine friendship between individuals.

Patron-client bonds also are very much a part of prescribed patterns of appropriate behavior. These may be formed between tenant farmers and their landlords or between any patron who provides resources and influence in return for the client's personal services and general support. The reciprocal arrangement typically involves the patron giving a means of earning a living or of help, protection, and influence and the client giving labor and personal favors, ranging from household tasks to political support. These relationships often evolve into ritual kinship ties, as the tenant or worker may ask the landlord to be a child's godparent. Similarly, when favors are extended, they tend to bind patron and client together in a network of mutual obligation or a long-term interdependency.

Filipinos also extend the circle of social alliances with friendship. Friendship often is placed on a par with kinship as the most central of Filipino relationships. Certainly ties among those within one's group of friends are an important factor in the development of personal alliance systems. Here, as in other categories, a willingness to help one another provides the prime rationale for the relationship.

These categories--real kinship, ritual kinship, utang na loob relationships, suki relationships, patron-client bonds, and friendship--are not exclusive. They are interrelated components of the Filipino's personal alliance system. Thus two individuals may be cousins, become friends, and then cement their friendship through godparenthood. Each of their social networks will typically include kin (near and far, affinal and consanguineal), ritual kin, one or two patron-client relationships, one or more other close friends (and a larger number of social friends), and a dozen or more market-exchange partners. Utang na loob may infuse any or all of these relationships. One's network of social allies may include some eighty or more people, integrated and interwoven into a personal alliance system.

In 1990 personal alliance systems extended far beyond the local arena, becoming pyramidal structures going all the way to Manila, where members of the national political elite represented the tops of numerous personal alliance pyramids. The Philippine elite was composed of weathly landlords, financiers, businesspeople, high military officers, and national political figures. Made up of a few families often descended from the ilustrados (see Glossary), or enlightened ones, of the Spanish colonial period, the elite controlled a high percentage of the nations's wealth. The lavish life-styles of this group usually included owning at least two homes (one in Manila and one in the province where the family originated), patronizing expensive shops and restaurants, belonging to exclusive clubs, and having a retinue of servants. Many counted among their social acquaintances a number of rich and influential foreigners, especially Americans, Spaniards, and other Europeans. Their children attended exclusive private schools in Manila and were often sent abroad, usually to the United States, for higher education. In addition, by 1990 a new elite of businesspeople, many from Hong Kong and Taiwan, had developed.

In the cities, there existed a considerable middle-class group consisting of small entrepreneurs, civil servants, teachers, merchants, small property owners, and clerks whose employment was relatively secure. In many middle-class families, both spouses worked. They tended to place great value on higher education, and most had a college degree. They also shared a sense of common identity derived from similar educational experiences, facility in using English, common participation in service clubs such as the Rotary, and similar economic standing.

Different income groups lived in different neighborhoods in the cities and lacked the personal contact essential to the patron-client relationship. Probably the major social division was between those who had a regular source of income and those who made up the informal sector of the economy. The latter subsisted by salvaging material from garbage dumps, begging, occasional paid labor, and peddling. Although their income was sometimes as high as those in regular jobs, they lacked the protection of labor legislation and had no claim to any type of social insurance (see Employment and Labor Relations; Economic Welfare , ch. 3).

Data as of June 1991

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Philippines Table of Contents