PEOPLE around the globe know us as a family-oriented nation. We are proud of it. Many foreigners praise us for this attitude because not all culture put high regard on family. While we thought strong family-orientation is all that good, we must be wary that this trait is also dangerous if not properly use in context. Perhaps this virtue we are so proud of having is also where our greatest weakness lies as a people.
Fr. Lode Wostyn wrote that Filipino life is centered on the family. I strongly agree. He added that because of this family-focused behavior, the basic attitude of Filipino family becomes inner-directed. The picture is that parents work hard in order to provide for the needs of their children. Children accept the fact that they should work for the honor and prestige of the family. Everybody sacrifices for the family. This is why we have a lot of Filipinos working overseas and we have older brothers and sisters supporting financially their younger siblings before they set their own savings.
This is the reason why we do not see anything wrong when adult children stay in their parents’ house. Even married, many, me included, would live with their parents and would not hear anything negative from others. People with different culture would smirk on this practice and would make it the subject of jokes. Also, distant relatives are welcome to stay in the house of their relatives when in town. During election period, the family name becomes one of big deciding factors for voters in choosing who to vote.
Perhaps, we ask what is wrong with it. It is all about sacrifice, love, and self-giving. These are all ideal virtues. Not all people possess them because these are difficult to acquire and practice. The problem, however, is that we tend to direct all these virtues towards a few number of people, our family members. We tend to ignore the majority because we only focus on the few, our family members. This attitude implies that most Filipinos seem to disregard the common good. When we look only a side of a room, we fail to see the rest of it. Fr. Wostyn said that on the reverse of this generosity towards our family is a lack of concern for the common good. Our family centeredness has hindered nation building. Families pursue only their own socio-economic security, at the expense of the wider community. Small-centeredness has resulted in political dynasties, family monopolies, the protection of erring family members, and nepotism. This led to the amassing of wealth by the few, while the majority has hardly enough to survive. They are condemned to poverty and, therefore, having feelings of isolation, loneliness, and cynicism.
Oftentimes, we ignore programs of the government when they do not benefit our own families. I have to say I am guilty with this attitude to some extent. The Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) of the government is one best example that shows the negative side of family-centeredness. The program aims to alleviate poverty by providing social assistance, giving monetary support to extremely poor families to respond to their immediate needs, and social development, breaking the intergenerational poverty cycle by investing in the health and education of poor children through various programs. Funny thing is, the assigned administration and implementers of the program prioritize members of their families as beneficiaries. Even family members who are not qualified to be given financial assistance are enrolled to this program. The poorest of the poor to whom the program are intended to hardly get accepted. In other areas, the program does not even reach other barangays because it is contained only in some places where the implementers’ families and other relatives reside. In many local governments’ programs and projects, one would notice that most of the beneficiaries and grantees are relatives of the government employees. My goodness! How can nation-building materialize if the practice remains like this?
The political system presents another best example of the danger of family-centeredness. I do not have to elaborate. Just look at the family names of government officials. Good thing, in Baguio, this is not prevalent. The sports development programs of the government also suffer the same sickness. Athletes are accepted even others deserve more just because they are part of the family circle of the coaches or the administration. They stay on the program even if they should be out just because they are the sons or daughters of a known relative. This is killing us all. The country cannot move forward. There is no real development and the common good is nothing but a two-word concept.
How then can we check this family-centeredness attitude so that the common good is not sacrificed despite our strong family orientation? We can do it by being just. Does my son or daughter deserve to be in the program? In the name of justice and fairness, even if they are your family members, check if they deserve it or not? The most difficult thing to do is choosing a side between an erring family member and a stranger. When we stick to the principle of family first, we fail to give justice to the other and the common good again suffers. Justice is siding with the deserving one even they are not our own family members. Do not be envy when the other family is progressing while ours remain struggling. When we succeed, we make sure to help others even they are outside our family circle because this is for the common good.
Between the family and the common good, the latter should prevail. Common good means nation building. The family should come second. When the family and country asks for our service at the same time, we must answer the call of the country first because it is for the common good. As long as we remain stuck with the concept of family first, progress is always far.