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Grandmaster Max Pallen

Beach - Philippines

Understanding the Filipino Values and Culture

To a person who is not familiar or aware of the Philippine culture, understanding Filipinos is like playing a game one has never played before and of which the rules have not been explained very well. Understanding the values of Filipinos pose a challenge, to enjoy the game without missing the joys and fun of like living in the Philippines.

A stranger or foreigner who has a knowledge of or exposure to the Filipino society’s customs, etiquette, and manners, is less likely to experience intense culture shock.

The Philippine Islands and Filipino Profile:

The Philippines is composed of 7,107 islands with a total land area of 296,912 square kilometers (1.6 kilometers equal 1 mile). This makes it a little larger than the British Isles and a little smaller than Japan. Its land area is eight times larger than Taiwan, 2/3 the size of either Thailand or Spain, but less than 1/30 of the size of the United States or Mainland China.

The country is bounded on the west by the China Sea, on the east by the Pacific Ocean, and on the south by the Celebes Sea. It lies a little above the equator and is 965 kilometers (600 miles) off the southeast coast of the Asian mainland. It is about 160 kilometers (100 miles) below Taiwan, and 24 kilometers above Borneo. Just being above the equator, puts the Philippines in the typhoon belt. The two pronounced seasons in the Philippines are the rainy months from June to October and the dry months from November to May. In between these seasons come a number of typhoons that hit the country yearly.

The Philippines has a population of more than 50 million. The population of the country is rather unevenly distributed on the larger islands due to livelihood opportunities, social and economic organizations and historical factors. Its biggest islands in addition to the three (3) main islands (Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao) are Mindoro, Samar, Panay, Cebu, Palawan, Leyte, Bohol and Masbate. Its largest cities are Manila, Quezon, Davao and Cebu.

The Philippine population is characterized by an almost equal number of males and females. 40% of Filipinos are below 15 years of age. Literacy stands at 82.9 percent. The Philippines has for its languages Pilipino, English and Spanish; it has 87 different major dialects. English is widely spoken; in fact, this country is the third largest English-speaking nation in the world. Philippines is the first democratic country in Asia.

Filipino Culture:

Welcome to the Philippines! Welcome to this country of warm smiles and vivacious people. Getting to know the Filipinos is easy enough. If you speak English, you will find that most of the Filipinos speak the language; and what’s more, they are only too happy to make your acquaintance in English. Even if you don’t, the Filipino is so outgoing by nature that making friends out of total strangers or chance acquaintances is simply being in character.

The Filipinos are a happy blend of several races, basically Malay with Chinese, Spanish, Indian and American admixtures. Their values and ways of life were shaped by several, sometimes conflicting cultures and the resulting blend is what makes their own uniquely Filipino. In their veins run the rich Christian values of Europe, the pragmatic and democratic values of America, and the spiritual values of Asia.

The seven distinct elements in Filipino culture are: values, basic personality, basic social unit, politics, economics, technology and ecology. Each of these aspects of the Filipino culture has a body of ideas called "content" which gives form and meaning to each aspect. This form and meaning are expressed through "structures" or institutions which the Philippine society creates for the orderly regulation of behavior in established ways.

Filipino cultural values are widely held beliefs which make some activities, relationships, goals and feelings important to the Filipino people’s identity. When these Filipino values coalesce and mesh in a mutually supportive system, it is called "Filipino value system." The content of the Filipino values are the Filipino myths and religion while the structures are the Filipino oral and written traditions, churches, sacred places, temples and mosques. The Filipinos internalize these values of their culture and thus create for themselves a "world of meanings."

The Filipino basic personality is determined by the Filipino culture because of the selection of those congruent types that are congruent with the culture. The content of the Filipino basic personality is made up of Filipino beliefs and knowledge while the structure is formed by the Filipino initiation and various rituals and formal and informal education.

The Filipino basic social unit is the family which contributes to and maintains the Filipino values. The content of the Filipino social unit is the family, groups and community life while the structure is the lineage, marriage descent, neighborhood, peer group and villages.

The Filipino politics are the Filipino ideas and structures related to the distribution and channeling of power within the Philippine society for its well-being, order and regulation. The content of politics is the Filipino traditional power units and democracy while the structures are the law, parliament, councils, elders and chiefs.

The Filipino economics are the ideas which the Philippine society develops and the structures which it creates for provision of food, clothing and shelter for its members. The content of Philippine economics is the production by private enterprises while its structure is capitalism and socialism.

Filipino technology includes all that the Filipinos have invented to make their life easier, less arduous, and shifted from the brink of mere survival thus changing their way of life and giving them more control of their physical environment. Its contents are communication and health while its structure is composed of the various media, professional organizations, medicine, hospitals and laboratories.

Filipino ecology is the relation of the Filipino to the ecosystem such as temperature, type of soil, amount of moisture, types of crops that can be grown or types of animals present in the Philippines and other environmental features. The content of Filipino ecology is the identification of the Filipino with nature and its structure including hunting, fishing, nature worship and irrigation.

Cultural Contrast:

The Filipino, compared with Westerners, prefers a "structured" way of life rather than one in which he can be assertive of his own individuality. Thus, a Westerner will find the Filipino less autonomous and more dependent. This is because of the social concept of the Filipino self-esteem. His concept of self is identified with his family. Right from childhood he is made to believe that he belongs to the family. Since childhood a Filipino is encouraged to tell all of his thoughts to his parents and submit to his parents’ direction, counsel and advice. He is admonished to be good because any disgrace that he commits is a disgrace to the family. In times of misfortune he is assured of his family’s support, sympathy and love.

By western standards, the Filipino parents can be considered overprotective and sometimes intrusive. However, if one understands this seemingly unreasonable control in the context of the Philippine culture wherein exists the belief in the primacy of the extended family over that of the individual and that the only source of emotional, economic, and moral support is the family, one will be more tolerant and respectful of such actuation.

The Filipino Family and Kinship:

The basic units of the Philippine social organization are the elementary family which includes the mother, father and children, and the bilateral extended family which embraces all relatives of the father and the mother. Of special importance is the sibling group, the unit formed by brothers and sisters. There are no clans or similar unilateral kinship groups in the Philippines. The elementary family and the sibling group form the primary bases of corporate action.

The Philippine society may be characterized as familial. This means that the influence of kinship, which centers on the family, is far-reaching. The persuasive influence of the family upon all segments of Philippine social organization can be illustrated in many ways. Religious responsibility, for example, is familial rather than church-centered. Each home has a family shrine. The influence of the family upon economic and entrepreneurial business activities is also great. The so-called "corporations" found in urban areas are generally family holdings. The prevailing family structure emphasizes loyalty and support of the family, not of any higher level of social organization. The Filipino family is the nuclear unit around which social activities are organized – it is the basic unit of corporate action. The interests of the individual in Philippine society are secondary to those of the family.

Ethical and Normative Behavior of Filipinos:

Ethics bases itself on what is human. Not everything is universal in human nature. As Clyde Kluckholm and Henry A, Murray say "Every man is in certain respects (a) like all other men; (b) like some other men; (c) like no other man." It is within the context of (b) that ethical and normative behavior of people in the Philippines has its distinctive characteristics.

The Filipino cultural orientation is supported by shared values which function as the basis of shared behavior common to most Filipinos. Values have reference to standards people use for evaluating what is right or wrong, good or evil. Values are related to norms which are rules of conduct specific to given social situations.

The Filipinos have two sets of paradoxical traits and patterns of relationship that are imbued by his culture. The first set is the highly structured and authoritarian familial set-up where roles are prescribed especially for younger members of the family. This is characterized by autocratic leadership of the elder-members, submitting one’s self to the decision of the family elders, and almost one-way communication in the pecking order. The second set of social relationship that the Filipino has, which ironically exists side by side with the highly structured set-up, is the strong communitarian practice called "Bayanihan" which literally means "being a hero." This practice ignores social ranking, structures, leadership roles and authority relationships. The roles in the structured set-up mentioned earlier cease to exist. Surprisingly, the Filipino is at home with both cultural practices in his social life. He shifts from one setting to another with unbelievable ease and grace. In the first set up, there is no way that a child can lead the elders in any form of decision-making. In the Bayanihan set-up, however, if a child proves that he has the right qualification needed for the task, he may lead the elders, not excluding his father and elder brother.

There are three main imperatives that underlie Filipino value orientation: relational imperatives (actual person to person encounters), emotional imperatives (emotionally laden norms), and moral imperatives (Filipinos are more moralistic than ordinarily perceived and that the most powerful moral imperative in Filipino culture is "utang na loob" or debt of gratitude/loyalty or commitment).

Unlike in other Asian countries, women in the Philippines occupy a high status. Equality with men is a birthright of the Filipino women. Unlike her Western sisters, they didn’t have to march the streets to be heard. Women are highly respected in the Philippines. They may walk alone on the streets. They can also drive alone.

Filipinos are fond of giving and attending parties. Any event can be an excuse for having a small or big party – the baptism of an infant, a birthday, a daughter’s debut, a wedding, or an engagement. Even a promotion in a job, passing a government exam, getting one’s first paycheck or recovery from illness is enough reason to give a party.

© 2005 Senkotiros Incorporated. All Right Reserved
No portion of this text may be used or reproduced without the express written consent of Grandmaster Max Pallen