Corruption and the Filipino family-A A +A
Wrapped in Grey
Friday, October 4, 2013
IN PHILIPPINE society, there is perhaps no social institution more important, one whose influence is far-reaching and comprehensive as the Filipino family. Any serious attempt to understand where we are and where we are headed as a nation must take into account the role of this social institution in our past and present.
In the context of the periodic failures of our political institutions as revealed by the corruption scandals that currently rock government, what role does the Filipino family play as a social institution?
Our roots as a people can be traced to the baranganic societies whose membership was organized along familial lines. Given the context of a small population made up of a handful of families and the relative abundance of resources in these riverside settlements, the subsistence economy of old thrived.
But with the arrival of the Spaniards, colonialism imposed a great burden to the local economy through the reorganization of the settlements further inland in the pueblos and their extractive schemes of direct taxation. The colonial demands to indigenous society and economy were so great that in the first hundred years of Spanish occupation, almost a fourth of the local population was decimated according to historical accounts. In order to survive, the communitarian baranganic societies of old had to disassemble and assume their core social formation -- the family.
And this is where a distinction was established. Some families particularly coming from the datu or elite class coalesced with the interests of the colonial rulers in order to survive. They were provided rights to own land and property and became the agents of colonial interests and their taxation goals.
The common folk were transformed into peasant families whose labor was the primary means by which private wealth was accumulated by the local elite class and their colonial patrons. Under the heavy yoke of debt peonage and colonial taxation, the peasant class managed by relying on their respective families’ seemingly inexhaustible resources of resilience for their survival.
Thus, at the onset of colonialism and the crisis brought about by its demands to the local economy, the cultural code of the indigenous Filipino family has been that of survival in the midst of adversity. But the impulse to survive was manifested through two distinct social responses -- survival of one’s family at the expense of others as the elite class had practiced and the survival of one’s family through loyalty and patronage or resilience which was resorted to by the peasant families.
The social imprint of the Filipino family for survival, shaped by the crisis of colonialism a few centuries ago -- one predatory and the other through patronage or resilience, would shape the evolution of our other social institutions even after the departure of our colonial rulers. It is particularly useful in understanding the deep and pervasive reality of corruption that currently mire our political institutions and the general social malaise that accompanies it. And often, there is social dissonance or a kind of unawareness because the ethics involved in corruption is filtered through the sentimentality of familial love.
What is, after all, the affective motivation for corruption? The predatory elite class masks their activities to us and themselves by justifying their corrupt actions for the love and pride of their own families. Just remember baby girl Jeane Napoles and her lavish lifestyle afforded to her by her loving parents. Elective positions and the public money that comes with it are treated as birth rights like land to be inherited and made use of for private gain. Just note the few families that sit in Congress and the Senate.
The poor, on the other hand, either resort to patronage or resilience for their families to survive. They sell their votes and loyalty for that government scholarship for their son or daughter. Many, particularly the middle class, have resorted to working abroad as a resilient response to the unchanging state of affairs under elite rule.
The Filipino family lies at the core among our social institutions and it has proven itself to be a reliable institution in the context of crisis. In a manner of speaking, it has been our fail-safe social institution throughout various critical periods in our nation’s tumultuous history. No doubt it is a source of strength. Be that as it may, the resilient character of the Filipino family is also one of the reasons why matters remain as they are.
However, unless we re-imagine our sentimentalities to our own families to go beyond what is actually a backward kind of resilience, one that in effect abets and tolerates the given state of affairs, then the predatory elite class and their brand of family loyalty will continue to wreak havoc to our political institutions. What needs to be engendered is a redefinition of the Filipino family from one that is oriented only for survival to one that realizes the necessity of social transformation.
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on October 04, 2013.