*This was originally written in July 2009 while I was in the Philippines doing my final research for my Intercultural Studies Degree. I welcome any thoughts or critiques of my research by Filipinos so please leave me comments to tell me how bad I got it wrong, or to tell me how accurate I am! Either way is cool for me as long as I learn more.
Philippines Basic Values Model, Conflict Management Styles, Globalization (Change)
Being able to live in the Philippines for six weeks has given me insight into some of the basic values that Filipino culture shares. The first section of this paper will discuss issues such as their sense of time, way of thinking, their reactions to crises situations, social interaction, their focus on status ascribed prestige VS. achievement ascribed prestige, and their way of dealing with vulnerability. I also got insight into how they handle conflicts which the second section of this paper will explain, and I saw the way globalization has changed their culture which will be discussed in the third section of this paper. This paper’s conclusions to Filipino culture are based on my personal observation living in the Philippines for six weeks during the summer of 2009 and uses the charts and descriptions from Christianity Confronts Culture by Mayers (1987), and Ministering Cross-Culturally by Lingenfelter and Mayers (2003) to describe my observations.
Section I: Basic Values Model
The basic values people share within a culture can tell an outsider a lot about how the people group lives and works in virtually every aspect of life. It prepares the outsider to be ready for cultural adjustment when living within the new culture,and it also helps the outsider cope or calm down when a new cultural belief or action occurs which offsets the outsider’s view of life. The following six comparisons of basic values can help the outsider calmly deal with new frustrations that Filipino culture might bring upon them. These comparisons also show some similarities between Filipino culture and American culture.
Time orientation VS. event orientation
Filipinos have a different sense of time than most westerners, especially Americans. Where Americans expect punctuality, as they can get testy when people do not show up on time, Filipinos tend to be more relaxed. Filipinos are event oriented, whereas American culture is time oriented. Filipinos can be early or late depending on the preference of the individual. I was able to observe such traits when I went to churches in Metro Manila and Rizal. Many Filipinos arrived late, some of them even 30 minutes late during the sermon and no one was bothered by such tardiness or at least seemed to care a lot.
My observations show that it is important for Filipinos to be at church during the sermon, but there are different situations that can cause people to be late; so it is understandable for people to arrive after the service has already started. Even with people showing up late, the church service remained the same length of time as an average American church service lasts. Americans and westernized Filipinos call such behavior Filipino Time, and events are usually adjusted to start later then stated beforehand. Most of the time events will start about 30 minutes later than listed.
An opposite effect of Filipino time can possibly occur all though it is more rare. For example, a pastor talked to me on the phone and discussed meeting me the next day at 1:30pm, because earlier he had to teach a Karate class for his Martial Arts ministry to youth living in the slums. When he arrived, he showed up an hour early; at 12:30pm. I was not ready to go, but he was; so I felt like I had to rush and brush my teeth fast and gather my things. I jokingly mentioned he was to arrive later, but he stated that his class got out early and his other engagements were cancelled. He did not call to warn me ahead of time. After we left I reflected on the situation and realized that he was not rushing me to leave fast which is something my American mind was trained to assume. When he came to the house he calmly spent time talking to the pastor’s wife I was with and was in no rush. I had expected him to come at 2pm, which would be 30 minutes later than he announced. Even so, event orientation played out on his end while he waited for me to get ready with no complaints. He was living for the current event of speaking with the pastor’s wife while he waited for me to get ready for us to leave, which would be the next event to come up after.
In all of these situations, concern for details of the event was what mattered with a “let come what may” outlook not tied to any precise schedule. Stress on completing the event as it went along was the reward in itself, and the emphasis of the event was the present experience rather than the past or future.
Dichotomistic thinking VS. holistic thinking
Filipinos think dichotomistically instead of holistically. This can be seen in their sense of morality, acceptance of people from other classes, and how they make choices for things. Most Filipinos believe in right and wrong and in orderly fashions. Most Filipinos go to school at least some point in their lives and are influenced by Western thinking in their institutions, as their history has been one of Western colonization by the Spanish for 333 years; and then the United States for the first half of the 20th Century.
Most of the Filipino nationals I was around spoke in terms such as, “They are wrong.” And “They think they are better then others.” Many Filipinos express bitterness towards the upper class Filipinos. The lower class Filipinos claim that the more “rich” class thinks they are better than the poor people. Security comes from the feeling that one is right and fits into a particular role, or category in society. Filipinos, while being more shy to express strong opinions, still hold to beliefs that there is a right way to live and a wrong way to live. Judgments are black/white and right/wrong.
Crisis orientation (declarative) VS. noncrisis orientation (interrogative)
Filipinos are highly noncrisis oriented and definately not crises oriented. This can be seen in how they fix road construction problems, fix housing problems, and prepare for emergencies. Filipinos are fatalistic and live for the present. They do not fix problems unless the problems are already happening. For example, in the Santa Lucia Mall in Antipolo, there was a leek that was sprung and water began to flood the floor on the second level. The water could have splashed down the balcony onto people, but the water was instead directed toward the escalator and leaked inside of it; so maintenance men had to fix it while I was there. It was interesting at how calm people were. No one was in a hurry or apologetic. All of the workers and security just called in the problem and casually walked around it and watched the water flow. They only occasionally told people to watch out for it if they were close. In the United States people would be rushing to the problem and yelling on their walkie-talkies and putting up security barriers such as cones or caution signs. This problem would also not have happened usually in the USA as it would have been fixed way before it would ever have leaked. Or if it did happen in the USA it would frantically be taken care of.
Most Filipino children when given food will eat it all right away without saving any for the future (unless they have hungry brothers or sisters back home, then they will save some for them). People do not stock up on supplies as much as they do in the United States. People tend to buy things as they need them. Even with such attitudes, I noticed a lot of sharing which was interesting, and calm reactions to food and clothing distribution among the poor communities. Nobody ran up to the box and went crazy like many children and some adults would do in the United States. This was due to community standards within individual groups (of course the children were controlled by their parents). This collectivistic mindset causes people to be concerned with the needs of others and not just their own. So, when something unusual happens like free clothes and food, or a leak in a pipe, people are normally calm.
The road construction in Metro Manila shows that the culture is noncrisis in an obvious way. One will see that there are many pot holes, unfinished pavement, signs crooked, broken street lights, and other problems that construction workers, for the most part, in the United States would be called to fix as soon as possible. I have seen broken street lights in my neighborhood back when I was a boy in Oregon get fixed within a few days. The Philippines would not fix something unless there was dire need. Eventually, when they feel like it, it will get fixed. This plays into the event orientated culture of this country as well. Another example is the road that is unfinished near the American missionary’s house I stayed at in Antipolo. It needed plumbing fixed as well as paving and it had been over a month and still had not been taken care of.
Filipinos downplay the possibility of crisis; avoid taking actions, and delay decisions. The actual experience of a crisis is what matters to them. While all these attitudes occur to many situations, expert advice is sought after, but things can still be delayed or not tampered with. Filipinos are interrogative, and definitely not declarative, when it comes to crisis.
Task orientation (goal-conscious, object as goal) VS. person orientation (interaction-conscious, person as goal)
Filipinos are definitely person oriented whereas Westerners are more task oriented. Filipinos focus on persons and relationships and find satisfaction with interaction. Filipinos are group oriented and deplore loneliness. Filipinos hardly ever walk around alone. They usually walk in groups and are close knit. They have a term called barkada which on the surface means “your circle of friends,” but has a deeper meaning almost like a brotherhood. The barkada are the people a person grew up with and are very close to that person. One would sacrifice a lot for their barkada. Within this circle of friends men are called pare and women called mare. These slang terms have the equivalent of “homeboy/homegirl” or “bro/girl” in the United States.
Filipinos love fellowship and spend a lot of time with one another hanging out. They sit in groups on the streets, and at the market place. Filipinos are also physically close to one another as men will put their arms around men, or rest a hand on their friends shoulder as they walk. Women will hold hands and hug each other’s arms as they walk as well. It shows that community and close relationships are important to Filipinos. These physical actions are completely non-sexual, whereas in Western culture such actions would be seen as homosexual affection.
There are some exceptions that fall more into task orientation than they do person orientation. Some of the higher class Filipinos, the extremely rich people, were at my friend’s cousin’s baby shower, and I was able to observe their behavior and the things they talked about. They reminded me almost of people I have known in Southern California. They are more individualistic and achievement driven as they have a deep influence of Western culture that comes from their wealthy upbringing. They are able to buy more Western things that are imported which are more expensive and they pay more attention to Western trends since it is seen as prestigious, and they have access to Western media more often and up to date than most Filipinos. Many are going to international school and studying for certain careers, or are involved in college basketball. These individuals seek friends with similar goals and hang out with similar people and sometimes accept social deprivation for the sake of personal achievements. But this is the minority of Filipino culture since over 90% of the Philippines’ population consists of lower class poor people. This large majority is person oriented.
Status focus (prestige-ascribed) VS. achievement focus (prestige achieved)
I found that there are different opinions on whether or not Filipino culture is status focused or achievement focused. I personally think there is a mix, with a large majority pointing toward achievement focus. Even so, there is still status focused people; mostly the Filipinos with high Spanish blood. Filipinos have a colonial mentality which leads to many people to look up to others with lighter colored skin. Most of the light skinned Filipinos have Spanish blood and there is still a small group of extremely rich Filipinos who own successful corporations who do not even speak Tagalog, or a native dialect (such people speak a form of Filipinoized Spanish or English). Filipinos also look up to Americans greatly and are very impressed when a white American walks through their market or barangay (neighborhood). In my experience I was stared at by everyone and hit on many times by females; and all of the Filipinos who knew I was from the United States were very interested to talk to me. Many street and squatter children called out the word “Americano!” with absolute delight and fascination.
African Americans are also prestigious to Filipinos as they are fascinated with African American culture and style. When I was talking with a girl whose father is a CEO of a major internet and phone company in the Philippines, she told me how fascinated she was with the way African Americans talk and their style of dress. Kobe Bryant is very popular in the Philippines as well as many African American hip hop and rap musicians.
With such a colonial mentality there is a focus on prestige ascribed through status, but even so, most Filipinos are able to ascribe prestige through their achievements. Manny Pacquiao is the greatest boxer alive today and world famous. He is Filipino and lives in the Philippines and is an example of status achieved prestige. He grew up poor and is now a millionaire; the Filipinos praise him as he is a national hero (I have seen many Filipinos in Metro Manila wearing Manny Pacquiao t-shirts, I bought one too and wore it around). People with successful businesses also get a lot of praise by other Filipinos. Education is one of the main routes to prestige being achieved by status. People will associate with such people regardless of background as long as they have accomplished great achievements in life with only the small social elite mentioned above having different ideas of status. The amount of respect most Filipinos achieve varies with their accomplishments and failures; attention is focused on personal performance.
Concealment of vulnerability (vulnerability-as-weakness) VS. willingness to expose vulnerability (vulnerability-as-strength)
Concealing vulnerability is very important to Filipinos. This is highly unlike American culture where more people are shown to be less concerned with failure. Many people in the United States see failure as a learning experience that benefits their life (vulnerability-as-strength). There is relative unconcern about error and failure, with an openness to alternative views and criticisms. Filipino culture, on the other hand, is the opposite and a desire to highly protect self-image at virtually all costs exists. There is a reluctance to go beyond one’s recognized limits or to enter the unknown; and a denial of culpability.
From interacting with different Filipinos I was told that face-saving is very important. What is interesting though, is that other Filipinos when observing other people’s failures will try hard to save the other person’s face by directing attention away from their failures or by simply laughing about it as if it is no big deal or just a joke. Even the person who makes a mistake will laugh at himself on purpose (sometimes causing others to laugh as well before they even noticed the mistake). When I was spending the night with a national pastor in the slums of Antipolo, the pastor repeatedly made jokes about how terrible his house was and that all of the cockroaches are his pets (as well as the mouse and lizard that invaded it while I was there). Before I got to his house he kept explaining how his home is humble, and if I came over I would have cockroaches crawl all over me as I slept. He said this in a joking tone, but the majority of it was true: his house was terrible according to American standards and cockroaches infested it (but none crawled on me thank the Lord, because he told me to keep the lights on and tie a cloth around my eyes). He had to make such jokes before I came over in order to see if I would still accept him as a friend knowing how poor he was. When I showed myself to be accepting of him and his family and his way of life, he was very impressed and relieved to know things would be okay. All of his negative jokes about his house were a way to protect his vulnerability. He was only willing to expose his vulnerability after I was able to establish trust with him.
Section II: Conflict Management Styles
The observations I was able to make after spending time in the Philippines about the culture’s conflict management styles have been scarce. I have not seen much if any conflicts. The closest thing to an observation has been word of mouth given to me after something happened. The closest conflicting situation I was involved with was when the mother of my pastor whose house we stayed in was upset that her maid borrowed money from me in order to buy laundry detergent so she could wash my clothes. She did this because the house was completely out of it. I was the one who suggested borrowing money, but the mother was extremely upset at what the maid did and apologized to me about it and made sure I knew that she reprimanded her maid. I felt really bad because I did not mean to get the maid in trouble. It seems that this conflict was confrontational on the mother’s part. She used competing to win the argument. It was a win/lose style of conflict management and she used her power and rank at the expense of her lower class maid to win the argument and come out as correct. The maid on the other hand used withdrawal as she had no power. She accommodated the mother and was cooperative and yielded to her point of view as she obeyed her order to never borrow money from a guest again.
Another small example I had was a situation where a salesman for water sports in Boracay was soliciting me. He saw I had a Mixed Martial Arts shirt on and told me he was a fan of the sport. We talked about all kinds of things and he eventually asked me why I was in the Philippines besides for the beach of Boracay. I told him I was doing missionary work and we discussed religion for a short period of time. I told him about Jesus Christ and His free grace that does not come by works, as the man earlier told me he was a Catholic. He completely avoided the discussion any further about religion. He felt like it was a conflict between me and him and changed the subject by stating, “Hey, let’s talk about Martial Arts again.” The man withdrew from the discussion on religion completely side stepping the issue.
The small amount of conflict situations I observed showed me that Filipinos are much like Americans in how they manage conflicts. I definitely need to make more observations of conflicts in order to more accurately describe Filipino conflict management styles, but one thing I came out learning was that Filipinos do not like to argue a lot. This is not much different than the typical situation in the United States in our postmodern age where a conversation that confronts other people’s world views would not be approved of. Yet, in some cases Filipinos will argue if they feel dishonored, and it will never end until the person either wins or walks away in shame from what I have heard from word of mouth. I have heard stories of people acting irrational and committing violent acts in order to prove their point. This would be a very extreme situation.
Section III: Globalization (Change)
Globalization definitely has its effect on Filipino culture. I have seen countless examples of American products advertised in the Philippines, and all of the movies and music in the stores are virtually all artists and films that are popular in the U.S. with a small amount being Filipino films and artists. Practically every single American brand of fast food is in Metro Manila as well. Filipinos also want to wear Nike and Addidas shoes because it is seen as prestigious to own them.
When it comes to movie stars and other celebrities, Filipinos idolize American stars (the only major exception being Manny Pacquiao). Billboards depict famous basketball players such as Kobe Bryant and his new Nikes named after himself. Americans in general are given prestige and lots of respect. They are treated many times better than average Filipinos.
The internet is huge in the Philippines as well as cell phones. Information travels fast here. Poverty does not keep Filipinos from using technology as many internet cafes exist with inexpensive rates as well as cheap cell phone plans. Virtually every Filipino owns a cell phone, even many people living in squatter communities as well as street youth.
Filipinos also try their best to dress in the latest styles of clothing in American culture. If a person goes to the Philippines they can expect to see hip hop clothing, emo dress, punk fashion, and the latest high end fashions. Though, most of the time with the poverty level so high many wear whatever they can get their hands on more often than not.
Filipino culture has changed a lot with the times, and the traditional culture is fading away. Dating relationships are much like what American youth go through and men and women’s roles are becoming more equal. The media highly influences Filipinos as even their own movies and soap operas depict similar life styles as American soap operas and movies do. They have a woman president, and many women have high paying jobs. Some older Filipinos see the changes as negative, but there is nothing they can do about it so they just flow with it. I did not observe resistance to such change; only mild criticisms of how people dress such as the time a grandpa questioned the hole in his grandson’s jeans and talked about how in his day he would be embarrassed to wear such a thing. He described how ridiculous it is for people to buy clothes with holes already in them for fashion; although, his grandson did not buy them that way.
Another example of cultural change due to globalization is that many Filipinos are trying to adopt the American sense of time. An example of this was what happened at a mega church I attended one Sunday that the American missionary I stayed with goes to. The preacher was giving examples about unity in the church and following rules. Two kids came in late and sat in the balcony and the preacher looked up and said, “and people are coming in late” in a joking, but serious way. This showed that the preacher had a sense of Western time orientation as he thought it was wrong that people came in late. Many Christian Filipinos have adopted the term “Christian time” to refer to showing up at church before the service starts. I think that most of the high end, mega church attendees think this way, whereas the urban poor and people in the provinces are more relaxed about time.
Filipino culture has many Westernized aspects as well as Asian ways of life. It is a unique culture that is far different than any Asian country. The Philippines is a great example of globalization and the basic values of Filipinos have a wide range. Their conflict management styles also vary. More insights could be made about the culture if I had more than six weeks to spend in this country. A person should experience this culture for themselves to get the best insight. Filipino culture is truly fascinating.
S.G. Lingenfelter and M.K. Mayers. (2003). Ministering Cross
Culturally. Ada, MI: Baker Academic.
M.K. Mayers. (1987). Christianity Confronts Culture. Grand Rapids,
MI: Zondervan Publishing.