The Filipino Family: Then and Now

Last week, my dad wrote an essay on the Filipino family, then and now, for one of the parish orgs–the Christian Family Movement. His is a very personal discourse, one I’ve heard firsthand many times, and I’m glad to share a part of it below:

It has always been said that the family is the building block of society. If we can claim rightfully that the Pinoy society is free, peaceful, progressively wealthy and developed, highly educated, God-fearing, God-loving and truly Christian, then, it could only be because the ordinary Pinoy family strongly manifests these qualities. But is it the truth? It is wishful to think so, but I guess we are expressing here the high ideal that CFM wishes to achieve but still is a long way from success.

So let us just think back to the past and relate our current situation to the present and the future.

Being myself a senior citizen of 60 years, I can still recall my maternal great grandparent who lived up to the 60’s. We called her Lola Inay, a spritely woman who lived in a bahay na bato in the old town of Indan, in my home province of Camarines Norte. Her daughter was Lola Titay, who in time became, by succession, the matriarchal head of my mother’s side of the family. On my father’s side, my Lola Leonor who lived to the ripe old age of 90, and similarly represented that elderly generation in her hometown of Baccarra, Ilocos Norte.

My siblings and I were fortunate that we, in our childhood, experienced three generations of family. Ours was a happy childhood, marked by frequent visits to fiestas at the ancestral homes. There we learned the hallmarks of the older generation– education and land ownership, and strong and close family relationships.

In these generations, there seemed to me to be no attitudinal generation gap at all, for they were all unified in their desire for their children and families to get a proper education; it was the norm then that in order to succeed, one has to earn a degree and be a professional. Yes, it was customary to introduce one another as a Teacher, a Lawyer, a Judge, a Doctor, an Engineer, a Captain in the Military, a Gobernadorcillo or a Konsejal in the town. Government service then was honorable. And the politicians were real statesmen. The priesthood and religious life were truly well-respected positions.

The provincial desire of the young was to go to the big city to study. Some of the youth of that time juggled for government scholarships abroad in order to train for government jobs when they returned. The youthful scholars were called pensionados; they were assured of a job and a place in society.

Society then was of a simple structure–the aristocracy and the middle class rich (who owned lands) and the tillers (who cultivated the soil). The former afforded their sons and daughters private schools. The latter availed of the public school system, which at that time also produced great leaders. From these two classes naturally emerged industrialists and leaders and elites.

The rise and fall of the classes depended on their education and the opportunities that gave them the necessary edge or advantage, not to mention any inheritance of wealth or business. In the social milieu of these past generations, the youth of that time learned their Christian values and good manners. They learned that respect for authority and respect for elders led to a peaceful, caring and safe society; that hard work, study, self-discipline and punctuality were real habits. In those times, population was still low and food was in abundance, owing to the adequate agricultural production. The peso was half the value of the US dollar. Those were great times, indeed!

There were, of course, disruptions and other negative influences. The Japanese occupation of the 1940’s left the country in ruins. The youth was deprived of proper schooling for five years. They were the youth whose children have now grown up, and today are still afflicted by the sufferings of the past. In wartime, many families suffered separation, death, financial collapse, etc. The war changed Society’s values, exposing the vulnerability of the once happy and genteel society of the Commonwealth days. Many of the values changed in the name of survival. Still after the war, the nationalistic striving for Philippine self-rule led to independence in 1946.

Philippine history from 1946 up to the present time has been most colorful, if turbulent, but never productive. Defective and wrongful policies promulgated by government did not result in a balanced agricultural development. Neither did these policies lead to the development of industries. Thus, the productivity of the Filipino lagged behind population growth. This has led our people to become poor and poorer. If the hallmarks of the past generations were education and productive land ownership, which made their social classes homogenous and interactive, the present hallmarks of success are terribly wanting in social interaction between the classes and have led to class struggle, some of them violent as those of the rebels. More noticeable today are the terms described in the media as conflicts between rich and poor. Land policy is the culprit, foremost of which is the failure of agrarian reform to make the farms productive, and the failure of the government to address and espouse the rights of private owners against squatting. Most of the squatters were farmers and seasonal workers who have been marginalized by land reform or who could no longer survive in their lands and were thus forced to come to the cities in search of a living. In these cases, the long time Filipino values have been degraded and lost.

Like in past hard times, values changed not for the better. Unfortunately, the deterioration of education or the lack of it is a major cause of the loss of values. That loss is reflected strongly in government service, which in general, was once viewed as most honorable, but is now regarded as the least desirable choice of work. Now petty corruption occurs even in the lowest level of administering government services, as if it is already a way of life. Parents tolerate their family members in dishonest work. A parental gap has become prevalent. Where have gone our best values? Just try getting a building permit. Or a business permit; you will know what I mean. Is there hope? Are our programs gearing up to turn the tide? Are our families still the building blocks that we wish them to be?

In present times, many complex influences are changing family life. Migration to other countries has become a very attractive alternative to the young. Fathers, mothers and youth are getting separated by work conditions so necessary for survival. The national government itself is in the throes of survival, plagued by heavy debt and by mismanaging leaders. All these problems are affecting the Filipino family now. Problems need solutions, they need analysis, they need political will to resolve, step by step. The solution lies in the family itself, with God’s help through the Word of God.

by Jose B. Pilar

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