SOCIAL RELATIONS IN THE PHILIPPINES: UTANG NA LOOB, BAYANIHAN AND PAKIKISAMA

SOCIAL LIFE IN THE PHILIPPINES

Social relationships in the Philippines have been described as a “mosaic of personal alliances” molded out of “real kinship ties, ritual kinship relations, relationships based on special debts of gratitude, market-exchange partnerships, patron-client bonds, and friendships.”

As is true with Latin Americans, Filipinos enjoy being with other people and are very sociable. People like to hang out and socialize on the street. Conversation is a major pastime and people enjoy joking around and teasing one another. There is relatively little segregation by age and gender at parties. Teenage boys dance with their mothers. Little girls dance with old men. Adults dance with each other.

Things occur spontaneously without a set plan. People arrive unexpectedly or don't show when they are supposed. People may be a little annoyed by tardiness or perceived broken promises but they don’t get bent out of shape over rit. Whoever is missing usually shows up eventually. Because individuals are considered far more important than schedules, punctuality at meetings may be admired but not strictly observed.

Filipinos are extremely social and hospitable; they also like to eat and drink often. You are likely to be offered a drink (coffee, soft drink, juice or water) and a snack (biscuit cake etc.) almost immediately on first meeting. It is socially wise to accept the offer; at least of the coffee or soft drink. If you are the host you should also be prepared to offer and serve a coffee/soft drink and snack. If invited to a family or other social occasion it is Filipino practice to bring along a small gift for the host and/or hostess, typically a cake or other small gift of very modest value. [Source: Canadian Center for Intercultural Learning +++]

Filipinos have a knack for humour. They can always find something to laugh about. They even love to craft funny anecdotes about socio-economic-political situations and adversaries in life. Filipinos love to tell jokes in social settings, but less so in the context of business. Humour may be self-deprecating, often relies on puns, but is rarely dry or cynical. Irony is often not understood or is misinterpreted. +++

According to humanbreeds.com: “Filipinos are friendly and sweet. It is just true, they are so happy and friendly and sweet and they honestly remind me of the hobbits in the Lord of the Rings....Filipinos love to live and enjoy life and like to go out. This means that Filipino individuals with very little money in the bank or the wallet are more likely to go and spend a big chunk of this money on a Starbucks coffee, a movie or a night out with their friends rather than saving it for a time that the money is needed.” [Source: humanbreeds.com, February 7, 2014]

Friendship in the Philippines

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. *

Filipinos usually make friends easily. They are warm and hospitable. They smile a lot, which makes it easier for strangers or foreigners to feel at ease with them. They can easily strike up a conversation with the person seated next to them, for example. Filipinos can communicate with peoples of other nations with ease because the majority of the population can fluently converse in English.[Source: Canadian Center for Intercultural Learning]

According to the blog casualsavant: “In Filipino, the word "barkada" means a group of friends. As with many things Filipino, the delineation of closeness is not exact. I've heard it described as a group of close-knit friends or simply a peer group. The best definition I can come up with is that to a Filipino, one's barkada is another form of family. This may sound frightening to foreigners, since surely one group of relatives is enough! While it must be admitted that our loyalties do beget corruption and nepotism, the upside is strong networks. The barkada has the best of both worlds, people who know you and love you anyway, but who will allow you to take them for granted... to a certain extent. This motley crew is my barkada. [Source: casualsavant.typepad.com]

According to humanbreeds.com: “Filipinos get friendly with each other so quickly but are so noisy when in a group. Filipinos are generally very friendly, so it is so easy for two Filipinos who have just met to turn into instant friends. The social experiment: If you bring 1 Filipino to a crowd of people, he/she is likely to blend in, be friendly and nice and sweet. But bring 10 individual Filipinos into a bigger crowd, these 10 individuals, who had never met before, are likely to greet each other, become instant friends and form their own mini gang. A group of Filipino people easily stands out of the crowd with its loud Tagalog dialect and even louder laughter.” [Source: humanbreeds.com, February 7, 2014]

Pakikisama and Group-Oriented Filipino

Perry Gamsby Harvie wrote in his blog filipinawives.wordpress.com: “Filipino research into the psyche of the Pinoy is very much like the society itself, very group oriented. That shouldn’t be surprising as group behaviour is preferred to doing things on one’s own by all Filipinos. Even going across the street to the sari sari store, I have observed Filipinos take a companion with them. Even if it is just a baby who can do very little to assist them should the need arise, having someone with you is more comforting than going it alone. Now you might begin to understand why your Filipina is hesitant to do anything on her own, at least for the first year or two when she arrives in your country. [Source: Jeff Harvie, Perry Gamsby, D.Lit, M,A filipinawives.wordpress.com, August 26, 2014 <<>>]

This is a core value of Filipino culture and life and it has a name; ‘kapwa’. Togetherness. Just like the old joke of how many Filipinos can you fit in a jeepney (one more) there is always room for more people in the group. Individualism, ‘kanya-kanya’, is something that was introduced to Filipino society by western colonisers. Perhaps now you can see why incompetence and the inability to get things done that seems so endemic in everyday situations is virtually non-existent among Filipinos abroad. Let me explain. <<>>

There is a thing called ‘pakikisama’, or group harmony that means it is more important for everyone to feel good than for anyone to feel bad. Doing something as a group, however badly or ineffectually, is always better than doing anything, no matter how well, individually. When the pinoy becomes an OFW or migrates abroad, this group harmony is no longer as important and the same individual who earlier couldn’t get the job done right and on time, all of a sudden becomes the most valuable employee in the business! <<>>

Pakikiramdam and Filipino Moral Obligations

Underneath the veneer of change wrought by colonization and modernization, Filipino’s moral values have remained intact and continue to influence behavior. Filipinos are more moralistic than foreigners generally believe. The most powerful moral obligation in Filipino culture is utang na loob or debt of gratitude. It is the essence of loyalty, commitment, and moral order. Utang na loob is a form of reciprocity, i.e., a favor must be repaid adequately and properly to show gratitude. Quantifying the original debt may be difficult, but repayment is expected to supersede the original or else acknowledge that payment is partial and needs further reciprocation.Other moral obligations include dangal (honor), puri (also honor), pananagutan (responsibility, accountability), and katapatan (loyalty). [Source: Philippines Australia Business Council ^^]

On the Philippine concepts of pakikiramdam and utang, Perry Gamsby wrote in , filipinawives.wordpress.com: Pakikiramdam is all about empathy, putting yourself in the other’s shoes, or flip-flops. It is a heightened awareness of how the other person feels and is a very key element of the mental make-up of the Filipino, no matter how rich or poor or how well educated or otherwise they may be. As you can see, it is a complex social structure that hopefully explains a lot of things that may have been puzzling you. Like why do they smile or even giggle when they make a mistake or you point out an error? How come they are so touchy about being at fault or blamed for something, even when they clearly are the culprit? [Source: Jeff Harvie, Perry Gamsby, D.Lit, MA(Writing), filipinawives.wordpress.com, September 2, 2014 <<>>]

“Another concept, that of Utang na Loob, means a debt or obligation of honour, yet utang is also the word (at least in Visayan) for debt of money, when you owe something to someone. If you have a ‘suki’, or regular shop like a butcher or greengrocer, then they have ‘utang’ to you for being a loyal customer. If you lend someone money, they have utang to you, not that that is any guarantee you’ll get repaid but we’ll leave that topic for another article. Doing favours for others is a big part of the culture and having utang, or utang na loob, means these obligations are usually taken very seriously. <<>>

Bayanihan

“Bayanihan” ("buy-uh-nee-hun") is a Filipino word derived from the word bayan meaning town, nation, or community in general. "Bayanihan" literally means, "being a bayan," and is thus used to refer to a spirit of communal unity and cooperation. Although bayanihan can manifest itself in many forms, it is probably most clearly and impressively displayed in the old tradition of neighbors helping a relocating family by getting enough volunteers to carry the whole house, and literally moving it to its new location. They do this by placing long bamboo poles length-wise and cross-wise under the house (traditional Filipino houses were built on stilts), and then carrying the house using this bamboo frame. It takes a fairly large number of people -- often 20 or more -- working together to carry the entire house. All this is done in a happy and festive mood. At the end of the day, the moving family expresses their gratitude by hosting a small fiesta for everyone. [Source: groups.csail.mit.edu/cag/bayanihan]

According to the Philippines Australia Business Council: “The concept of bahala na enables Filipinos to tackle difficult problems. Bahala na is a source of psychological strength when options are few and a decision must be made. Bahala na is calculated risk. It is not fatalism or resignation, but an inner strength; it is the force that makes Filipinos daring and resilient. A person must extend not only material help to someone suffering from misfortune, but also emotional support. Sometimes awa is used to draw attention to one’s self or to influence decisions, ‘Sir, maawa na kayo sa akinâ?|’ (Sir, have pity on meâ?) [Source: Philippines Australia Business Council]

The Canadian Center for Intercultural Learning says: Filipinos cherish the ancestral trait of "bayanihan" which means cooperation. However, this can be used to the extreme through "pakikisama" which means that Filipinos prefer smooth relations with colleagues, friends and relatives, even when those others are wrong. They also have a high sense of gratitude ("utang na loob"): showing appreciation or returning the favour to someone who did something beneficial to you. The "padrino" (godfather) system is still in force. In this case, a "padrino" who is a person of position will get things done faster for you through his clout. It should be noted though that a non-local (expat) is not expected to abide by the unwritten rules of "utang na loob". Be firm about operational standards and procedures and be transparent with these.[Source: Canadian Center for Intercultural Learning+++]

Utang na Loob (Debt Cycle)

Obligation and responsibility are often viewed in terms of reciprocity ( utang na loob), comprised of debts ( utang), and inner-self-free will ( na-loob). The process begins with an unsolicited gift and continues going often into to the next generation. According to Wikipedia: Utang-na-loob (pronounced “u-tang na lo-ob”) is also sometimes translated as a "debt of gratitude." In the study of Filipino psychology, utang na loob is considered an important "accommodative surface value," along with hiya (shame) and pakikisama (togetherness). That is to say, it is one of the values by which the Filipino accommodates the demands of the world around him, as opposed to confrontative values like "lakas ng loob" and "pakikibaka". [Source: Wikipedia +]

The essence of utang na loob is an obligation to appropriately repay a person who has done one a favor. The favors which elicit the Filipino's sense of utang na loob are typically those whose value is impossible to quantify, or, if there is a quantifiable value involved, involves a deeply personal internal dimension. This internal dimension, loob, differentiates Utang na Loob from an ordinary debt("utang"); being an internal phenomenon, utang na loob thus goes much deeper than ordinary debt or even the western concept of owing a favor. Filipino psychology explains that this is a reflection of the "kapwa" orientation of shared person-hood or shared self, which is at the core of the Filipino values system. +

Kevin Limbo wrote in his blog: “1.) “Utang na loob” in the context of moral and social traditions in Filipino culture. In general, the concept of “utang na loob” is akin to “karma” because Filipinos value the idea of returning the favor to those who have done good deeds. There is also a saying in Tagalog, “Ang ‘di marunong tumingin sa pinanggalingan ay di makakarating sa paroroonan.” This proverb serves as a kind of reminder that one has to be thankful, grateful, and always remember those people who have helped them reach their goals in life. This is the basic context of “utang na loob”, where one has to have an attitude of gratitude and a commitment to return the favor of being the recipient of good deeds and moral support from his family, relatives, and community. [Source: kevinlimbo.blogspot.jp, June 7, 2011 \^/]

2) “Utang na loob” in the context of blind loyalty. Used in the context of blind loyalty, “utang na loob” has negative ramifications. This includes blind loyalty to one’s family (“blood is thicker than water”, “my family, right or wrong”), friends (“he is my best friend”, “he is my son’s ninong”), political leaders (“he has done so much for my family”, “he gave us money when we needed it”). Often this blind loyalty is invoked by those who have the power”and material resources to sustain a dependent relationship, and by those who have not been empowered to break from these ties or relationships. Thus, one finds many poor and uneducated people in the Philippines in this kind of dependent relationship, and “utang na loob” is a tie that binds them for a long while. \^/

3) “Utang na loob” in the context of enlightened loyalty. There are Filipinos who are able to look at “utang na loob” as a social concept without having to be blind to the limits of loyalty. They appreciate the meaning of “utang na loob” as a moral concept, but it does not mean that they will give up the higher set of principles that they value for the sake of family, friendships, and community loyalty. “Utang na loob” may be invoked by some people to demand favors from someone, for the right or wrong reasons. One is free to return the favor or not, but must take the risk of “burning his bridges”. Social conformity in Filipino culture is valued (the term “pakikisama” captures this virtue), and one has to face the possibility of being ostracized for not being loyal. This is the immediate drawback. In the end, it is a choice between social conformity and one’s valued principles. ”

“In Filipino culture, one way to avoid social conflict is to explain things with sincerity and honesty, without being confrontational. As in other Asian cultures, saving one’s face is very important, and this is also true in the context of fulfilling social obligations, even in the context of “utang na loob”. In our culture, “talu-talo na kapag nagkasubuan na. (No more pakikisama when things get too heated up).” Now, majority or almost all of the Filipinos use these two words as an excuse to reason with you when they want to get something from you. Pakikisama and pag tanaw ng utang na loob aren’t really bad. But just like other issues that become a problem in the society, It becomes bad when you take advantage of these words and manipulate them for your own gain. Even if it means using your relationship with other people to get what you want.

Tampo and Magtampo: Filipino Sulking

The Tagalog term tampo has no English equivalent. Magtampo is usually translated as 'to sulk', but it does not quite mean that. 'Sulk' seems to have a negative meaning which is not expressed in magtampo. It is a way of withdrawing, of expressing hurt feelings in a culture where outright expression of anger is discouraged. For example, if a child who feels hurt or neglected may show tampo by withdrawing from the group, refusing to eat, and resisting expressions of affection such as touching or kissing by the members of the family. A woman may also show tampo if she feels jealous or neglected by her beloved. Tampuhan is basically a lovers' quarrel, often manifested in total silent treatment or not speaking to each other. The person who is nagtatampo expects to be aamuin or cajoled out of the feeling of being unhappy or left out. Parents usually let a child give way to tampo before he/she is cajoled to stop feeling hurt. Usually, tampo in Filipino culture is manifested in non-verbal ways, such as not talking to other people, keeping to one's self, being unusually quiet, not joining friends in group activities, not joining family outing, or simply locking one's self in his or her room. [Source: Center for Southeast Asian Studies Northern Illinois University, seasite.niu.edu <>]

John Miele wrote in liveinthephilippines.com, “Tampo is, essentially, sulking or pouting, but with a unique Filipino twist: It starts suddenly and for often no apparent reason. For someone with two American ex-wives, I know the difference… There is no Western equivalent. Tampo time is usually silent. Things go very quiet all of a sudden. Brows scrunch up. Plates and other items start being set down noisily. Angry Filipina voices start being heard, outside doors in Tagalog, on cell phones in Ybanag, and so on. Female neighbors or the maid may raise an eyebrow when they see you. Hey! I’m just a stupid Kano here! My friend, your goose is now, officially, cooked. [Source: John Miele, liveinthephilippines.com, March 2, 2010 ^+^]

“The thing about tampo is that it can often creep up on you and surprise you. “What did I do?” “How would I know that?” Well, my friend, whether you know what caused it or not, you had better figure out why, because until you do, and proper penance and contrition on YOUR part has been served, tampo will continue. ^+^

“So, aside from the obvious crimes, like cheating or coming home drunk, tampo can be caused by a myriad of factors: tone of voice in an innocent conversation, losing face, or even if it is rainy outside and not sunny. My fellow expats, it is just something that you had better learn to deal with, because, eventually, no matter how lovey-dovey your relationship is, it WILL happen. So, how long does it last? Well, in my case, I’m a pretty good boy. I commit very few serious crimes. So, it usually lasts for a day or so, IF, and only IF, I can figure out what I did. Notice I said “I” did… getting defensive will never help and only serves to lengthen your time in tampo purgatory. So, since I normally am good, it can take a while for me to figure out what caused the tampo to occur in the first place. I’ve normally done nothing truly obvious, to me at least. ^+^

So, how do you deal with something like this? Well, I usually hide in my office for a while and either catch up on work or play video games for a while, all the time running down a mental list of things I MAY have done. Then, I try apologizing for things I’ve mentally selected that I may have done. It is always my fault, such is the nature of tampo: There simply is no defense and you just need to suck it up and be contrite. It is worth noting, however, that if I guess wrong and apologize for the wrong thing, tampo continues and is probably lengthened on account of being so stupid as to not KNOW what I did. ^+^

“I already know what my crime was: Speaking disrespectfully last night. I’m already planning my penance. My stay in tampo purgatory should be short. It may take Bob’s flower delivery service to make proper amends.

Juramentado: Filipino Running Amok?

In the Philippines, amok also means unreasoning murderous rage by an individual. In 1876, the Spanish governor-general of the Philippines José Malcampo coined the term juramentado for the behavior (from juramentar - "to take an oath"), surviving into modern Filipino languages as huramentado. It has historically been linked with the Moro people of Mindanao, particularly in the island of Jolo in connection with societal and cultural pressures. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Juramentado, in Philippine history, refers to a male Moro swordsman who attacked and killed targeted Christian police and soldiers, expecting to be killed himself, the martyrdom undertaken as an unorthodox form of personal jihad. Unlike an amok, who commits acts of random violence against Muslims and non-Muslims alike, a juramentado was a dedicated, premeditated, and sometimes highly skilled killer who prepared himself through a ritual of binding, shaving, and prayer in order to accomplish brazen public religious murder armed only with edged weapons. +

For generations warlike Moro tribes had successfully prevented Spain from fully controlling the areas around Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, developing a well-earned reputation as notorious seafaring raiders, adept naval tacticians, and ferocious warriors who frequently demonstrated extraordinary personal bravery in combat. While Moro forces could never match opponents' firepower or armor, such bands used intelligence, audacity and mobility to raid strongly defended targets and quickly defeat more vulnerable ones. One extreme asymmetric warfare tactic was the Moro juramentado. +

See Separate Article MUSLIMS IN THE SOUTHERN PHILIPPINES

Regional Differences in the Philippines

Identification with one’s group is regarded as strong and remains strong even when the groups go over seas. Tagalogs are regarded as proud, boastful and talkative. Pampangans are considered independent, self-centered and materialistic. Ilocanos are seen as hardworking, aggressive and worried about the future. And Visayans are seen as fun-loving, musical and courageous. Batangueños are known as the "salesmen of the Philippines."

Filipinos have a strong sense of regionalism. Strong ties bind those who come from the same province or those who speak the same dialect. They support each other because they consider themselves as "brothers or sisters". Sometimes, it is whom you know that counts when facilitating papers or when trying to get quick and positive results. [Source: Canadian Center for Intercultural Learning+++]

There are strong ties between Filipinos of the same area of origin and ethnic group and language. In Metro Manila, businesses and settlements may be organized in such groups. Although most Filipinos can converse in Tagalog (the basis of the national Filipino language), the majority of Filipinos grow up speaking other Malay based languages. It is only at the high school level that Filipino (Tagalog) becomes the common language of instruction and at the tertiary level English is the normal language of instruction. While most major Malay based ethnic groups do accept each other well, people prefer to interact socially and live close to workers from their own ethnic group. +++

Although many Chinese Filipinos do not speak any Chinese dialects or are not aware of their Chinese genealogical origins, there is some resentment of the success of Chinese-Filipino business and commercial enterprises and, in particular, of the Chinese community’s support for financing its own businesses and the high rates of interest some frequently charge on informal loans and loans for consumption purposes. +++

There are many diverse pockets of indigenous tribal groups in the remote hilly and mountainous areas of the Philippines. These peoples speak languages unrelated to Malay and have different ethnic origins than mainstream Malay culture Filipinos. In the Cordillera mountain provinces of Northern Luzon they are collectively known as Igorots; elsewhere in Luzon there are Aeta communities; in Mindoro Mangyan communities live in much of the uplands; in the Visayan islands of the central Philippines these indigenous minorities are referred in somewhat derogatory fashion as "Negritos" +++

See Minorities

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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