We often wonder what went wrong with the Philippines. Why is it that Filipinos, even if they know what’s wrong, continue to do it, even willingly? They go ahead and hit on other women or men even when already married, and fall into petty crime even though they know the jails are overcrowded. Even on things not related to crime, Filipinos fail to practice good common sense and would rather do what they feel. They still do stupid things like max out their credit cards and feed the whole barangay during a fiesta on borrowed money. Then they complain that life is hard. But why do they still do it?
I’d like to venture a daring proposition: it’s all because of our Filipino family values. They are flawed and cause us to take the path of self-destruction. I will thus make the case that some of our Filipino family values are among the cultural baggage that we need to dispose of.
Our cultural values can be traced to the teachings of the friars or prayles of Spanish occupation, who exercised an iron hand over Filipino values then. Whatever they demanded, the people do, or else the people go to hell. But whatever they demanded was not always for the benefit of the people.
We know today how the friars of those days bedded young and pretty maidens (A Cojuangco ancestor helped smuggle these women into friars’ private quarters), giving rise to the many mestizo people among our population. But they also taught people that they should obey authority – even if the authority abuses them. Jose Rizal attacked the teachings of the friars in his books. He knew that the values taught by the friars were meant to contain the Filipino people, preventing development of intelligence and reasoning, keeping the Filipinos in slavery. The friars basically caused the Filipinos to be dependent on them.
Thing is, if the friars are now gone, why are people today still bending to their manipulation? Why are they sticking to the “values” that the friars taught their clueless ancestors? The problem is now with the people themselves, not the friars anymore. They have forgotten that the friars have left.
People are still taught to conform, not just because it is fashionable, but because conformity has been seen as a sign of morality. Somehow, Filipinos have the sense that being “in” is a sign that you are a good and compliant citizen, and “alternative” styles or lifestyles are immoral. They have been deceived that conformity to society is a sign that you are a moral person.
BongV had an excellent exploration of the subject in his article stating that our dominantly authoritarian parenting style tends to produce wimpy children. Now, I felt that there was much more I could add. The basic Filipino family values are based on conformity, and often it is conformity to anything. If you differ, you are considered a disobedient whelp, or sutil. You must conform to the will of your parents, such as dictating the college course you should take; so it you don’t follow, you are sutil.
But not only conformity to supposed values is a problem. Even conformity to culture. Not only will Filipino parents encourage, or even force, their children to obey others blindly. They may even encourage children to follow fads. For example, if they see their children as different from their peers, such as not watching Wowowee like classmates do, for preferring manga art to basketball, the parents will call their children sutil, stupid, disobedient, walang pakisama, selfish, or what abusive word you can think of for children. Parents also do this probably to avoid their children bringing them shame. They may even dictate or criticize the tastes of their children (“this is what you should like,” “rock music is from the devil!”), and thus take away any notion of responsible individual freedom.
Even bad habits are sometimes passed through authoritarian means. Some ridiculous fathers will even chide their sons for having only one girlfriend, and will goad them to try and gather a harem. Not only will the fathers boast to fellows about their harems; they may even boast about their son’s harems. But even without authoritarian means, there are the comments and payo (advice) of the parents that tell a child to conform and be like everyone else, and that being different, even if it is right, can lead to shame or hiya.
Sometimes, these “values” are used in a manipulative way. I remember watching an old documentary on child labor in the Philippines. A man who was interviewed, probably the children’s employer, was asked whether he thought child labor was wrong (the labor was unloading sacks of cement off ships). He just kept on saying, “(ander sila ng mga magulang nila) they are under their parents.” Authoritarianism was used to maintain child labor. It’s in scenarios like these that children need to learn the value of assertiveness – that they have the right to say no.
One of the most common payo (advice) that parents would give children is, “study well, get a good job and a high salary, so you can buy good appliances and toys for your children.” This seems like a good, harmless adage. But there is a lot of harm in this payo.
Firstly, this reveals the highly consumerist nature of our culture. Filipino families continue to have the dream of upward mobility. But they don’t just want to manifest it; they want to show it. They want to have the latest gadgets, the coolest designer clothes, know the latest songs, watch the latest shows or even travel all over. Same as described above; not being “in” can be seen as a moral lapse.
Also, having all the consumer stuff is seen as a sign that you have worked hard for it. So when you don’t have the consumer stuff, you are seen as not hardworking and morally lapsed. Thus, the people who work hard and don’t spend so much on consumer goods are wrongly accused of being lazy or having no good dreams in life (That’s how some Filipinos see the industrious Filipino-Chinese!).
In addition, the above payo also teaches children to be employees – and not pursue higher dreams of being an entrepreneur or self-employed person. Parents are teaching their children to be subservient or submissive, and discourage them from challenging the more likely fomenters of stagnancy in the country like our local elite. It’s as if the values taught them were meant to prevent them from growing and doing something good.
Let me quote something from another of my articles that demonstrates consumerism:
For example, imagine yourself as a working class Filipino, eldest among the children, with a job and salary. You arrive home after work, and you hear the screams of “where are our French fries!” from your siblings. Your parents, who are already senior citizens, will demand, “when are you going to bring us to Boracay?” When you reply that your salary is too low for that, they’ll scream, “then go abroad!” You’ll go abroad, you earn enough to send them to Boracay, but your family goes there without you. Lugi ka. Add to that the hassle of going abroad, adjusting to another country and culture, separation from your own, etc.
Families are forced by this pursuit to live beyond their means. When the parents or children come home to their families, their symbol of love is consumer goods. But when hospital bills come, or the credit card bill collector comes knocking, somebody gets troubled, and family tensions grow. Families would like to say that “we will bond together through hardship,” but the reality is that families in hardship are more likely to be dysfunctional.
The oligarchs or big businesses like consumerist families since these families consume their products. The 1950s depictions of “happy” families in media were associated with consumer goods. Most of the children who grew up during this time are today’s parents or grandparents, and are likely the ones goading their children or grandchildren to bring in consumer goods from abroad. Thus, our families are drawn into consumerism and further into poverty.
Teaching the Wrong Thing
Sometimes, a child would tell their parents about a friend who invites them to cheat at something, such as get a school paper from Recto. To their surprise, the parent says go ahead. “But isn’t cheating wrong?” asks the child. The parent, in their usual know-it-all swagger, says, “No, that is how you get ahead in life.” Perhaps an additional reinforcement from the parent would do it: “Look, people get rich by cheating.” And people wonder why corruption is so rampant in the country!
Another faux pas for parents is when they forbid the children from something, but they do it themselves. They tell their children not to smoke or get drunk; but they do it themselves. When the children happen upon them one day and complain about the parents’ example, the parents just throw their weight around and shout at or even hurt their children to be silent. Another dysfunctional family in the making.
There is also the use of tall tales to confuse children. For example Benign0 would recall the grandmother who told her granddaughter about how humans are born, “galing ka sa pwet” (Click on link to read full reader’s letter to Getrealphilippines.com). Like the tales of St. Peter playing bowling to explain thunder or may duende sa bakuran (dwarf in the backyard) to keep them from being naughty, parents confound their children about the birds and the bees. Sex education is sadly an area where Filipino families are lacking, because of absurd conservatism. And thus, our population grows like ants.
Nepotism is the obvious fault of our local Filipino families. When you have a business and are looking for the right person for the job, Filipinos often look within the family. Or even family friends. It’s not a fault by itself to consider someone because of familiarity or connections; but it is when you choose that person or service because of those connections and not because of competence.
Just to show I’m not the only one thinking this way, I decided to use the story of commenter Ben, who described his experience with families of differing values, to demonstrate my point. He commented in response to BongV’s posting of an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” which featured Filipino cuisine, and upon seeing a Filipino family in the episode that seemed to show these issues in parenting:
“When I came to the Philippines and met with my family from both sides, I saw a big difference comparing where the “Filipino” culture is more dominant.
On my mum’s side, family times and Meal times are a lot more noisy and discussions are very frequent. This was because of the fact that my cousins on that side are well educated and sort of “Westernized.” They dont conform to much of the Filipino society and they dont watch local channels. This made them easier for me and my brother (who grew up in Aus) to associate with considering there was no tradition in demanding respect from older people (po and opo and mano mano and such) and we felt more comfortable because it just felt like we were talking to just the same old group back home in Aus.
On the other hand, my dad’s side, which has more of an aristocratic vibe, it was very quiet, comfortable and sometimes they were unbearable to be around. I’d hear the older people get pissed at kids who forgot to say opo, I’d be required to make mano to everyone and the worst thing about it, meal times were so fricken QUIET! As in no talking… And this was what I saw in Augusto’s family. This is the Filipinized family. Their past time is watching Eat bulaga or Wowowee or Game KNB or MTB (back in the day). They made kids dance the ocho ocho and perform for the elderly and some kids hated it and some loved it. It was so uncomfortable.
What I noticed too is that on my dad’s side, people are so easily offended. And I guess that’s one of the reasons why people were so quiet during meal times – they were afraid to offend someone on the dining table.
When it comes to small family gathering like in the scene in Augusto’s family’s house, another key point would be that there was a foreigner amongst them. Filos hate to make themselves look bad, esp the older generations. If the kids make them look bad in front of foreigner, they get banished to say the least.”
Thanks, Ben, for sharing this. And I’m sure you’re not alone. A lot of Filipino families are like his dad’s side – cold, anti-intellectual, loveless and materialistic. It shows the things that are wrong with the Filipino family. Dick Gordon said the country is dysfunctional. It’s probably because the Filipino family is dysfunctional.
It’s a good thing that the side of Ben’s mom shows better, proper family values. This is what today’s Filipino family should emulate.
The Filipino Family – a Destructive Institution
Way I see it, our family values were really designed to make Filipino families broken and dysfunctional. The Filipino family was sabotaged from within. Whatever the friars or other influencers planted in the Filipinos, the Filipinos never bothered to remove. Even if told that these were tools of deception, they still clung to these false values!
The Filipino family’s intrinsic intolerance against nonconformity causes people to not reach their true potential in this country. Thus, they seek it elsewhere. This is probably one reason why droves of people go abroad; to be “free” from this inhibiting culture. The Filipino family is clearly one of the tools to perpetuate a defective culture onto its people. The way the people vote, the rampant corruption, and people’s bad behavior and bad attitudes toward life – they reflect the state of the family. The arresting of the family has resulted in the arresting of the nation.
My sociology teacher said that the most violent institution in human society during peacetime is the family. This is because of domestic violence, “spanking,” and all that. But in another sense, in the Philippines, the family may be the most destructive institution, because all the dysfunctions of authoritarianism, nepotism, slave-mindedness, backward traditionalism and even corrupt practices stem from it.
You know, if Filipino society wants to weed out corruption, the government is the last place to start. The right place is the family, where it starts. We clearly need to reform traditional family values. But how do we make these reforms? I’ll be sticking my neck out when I say that children can “go against their parents.” But there are parents who can certainly change their parenting style and teach their children to be more assertive. BongV’s article on assertiveness has all the material to help teach children the right values.
We must remind people that the “friars” are gone – and should not be revived. Catholic priests and authorities, highly conservative religious and other parties cannot dictate your personal values. A person must now evaluate morality based on not one religion or school of thought, but on universal principles of ethics and a study of each and every belief system.
We also have to draw from other countries on values. Now why should we draw from other countries? Isn’t that “un-Filipino,” some may accuse? No. In fact, it may be better for our country. We need to acknowledge that the Philippines does not have a monopoly on what is right or wrong. Heck, our “Christian” values come from abroad.
We need more anti-traditionalism and liberalism. We need to shake off the chains of bad family values and restore the Filipino family in this 21st century.