I'm told that in a typical Filipina
family one child, usually a daughter, gets lumbered with the final
responsibility for looking after the family. Perhaps some sociologist
has researched this phemonmenon. I know of none. How is this person
chosen? Questioning the few Filipinos that I know well elicited
no clue. Just like leaders of the British Conservative Party of
the past they "emerge." While that no longer applies
to the Conservatives it still seems to apply to the family-responsible
Filipino. It is possibly a combination of an individual's make-up
and, once that person takes some responsibility, the others just
come to expect it and behave quite selfishly.
The others do not normally cease to
participate in contributing to the family's welfare. It is just
that one sibling has ultimate responsibility. It might behove
a man to elicit this information before he commits to a Filipina
because choosing Miss Responsible could have serious implications
for his future. Whereas one sister might take a fairly independent
course to maximise her pleasure the responsible one might be nagged
constantly by conscience. An example!
A friend was courting a Filipina widowed
from an older Australian. She had two children by him. He died
and left her a house and considerable money. So he died hoping
that he had done the responsible thing by his wife and children.
But the widow was still Miss Responsible. She sold the house and
liquidated other assets and sent the lot to her parents. They
had a business in Manila and constantly had asked for cash to
help develop their business. The large sum of money had no string
- no investment nor partnership nor promise of support to, for
example, educate her children. She was a nurse and used this income
to rent a place and raise the kids very modestly by Australian
standards. My friend, a young Norwegian, just could not understand
this. He tried to persuade her that she should keep the house
and use any money willed her to provide for the children's education.
He wanted to marry her but considered that, as the children had
been left provided for, his contribution would be towards their
intended children and enhancement of the standard of living of
all of them. It built such bitterness in him that, in spite of
loving her, he gave her up. To him her action was the peak of
irresponsibility. And, as he kept repeating, "The parents
did not even write to thank her - and she did not mind at all."
There is a reason behind this rough
sociology with my example. Mary WAS Miss Responsible!
Why? She was not the eldest though the
two older siblings were men. One was a splendid, sensitive man
in his late thirties. He had been trained as a teacher but progressive
nerve blindness prevented a career. He prayed a lot. He had built
a tiny two-roomed house no bigger than a children's cubby house
in the West up the mountain behind the barangay. Constructed out
of bamboo, coconut tree, and corrugated iron it was similar to
many such houses of various sizes all over the mountain between
the coconuts, lanzones and bamboo. These residents did not own
the land. They had just asked the landowner's permission to construct
there. As to the implications for squatters' rights I have no
idea. In the West it would be fraught with future problems of
There was an established way of buiding
there. The coconut tree was bought for a standard price and sawed
up using a hired chainsaw. This formed the framework and some
slabs were used to cover up to the window on one side. I suppose
that, in a larger dwelling, it would all be used for the frame
- possibly more than one tree. The roof was iron and the other
walls up to the window-bottom level were of cement sheet. Above
that was split bamboo. The floor was of split bamboo as were the
few little shelves - even the shelf across the small kitchen upon
which the cooking fire was lit between a couple of stones. An
iron pot sat on this to boil his rice. The fire burned on a large
flat stone. Even versatile bamboo is not up to that! There was
no furniture. The house was on a steepish slope with stumps to
front as was the door and the back at ground level. The stumps
were 3 feet high and the depth to the back wall was nearly 2 1/2
yards. The width was 4 yards split into two rooms: kitchen and
bedroom. The door was reached by a plank parallel to the front
wall and it was a feat to enter it.
He did not usually sleep there at night.
He kept chickens for eggs and as an occassional cash sale. Diminutive
birds that I would call bantams with eggs to match. He fed them
a little rice and for the rest they scratted in the litter under
the trees. He propagated them in boxes under the house. He was
a modern-day Francis of Assisi. Very quiet in demeanor and serious
of conversation. Remote from the world yet with a good knowledge
of current world affairs. We had many conversations which demonstrated
this though he was totally non-judgemental. He listened to BBC
World Service and VOA every day on the family's National domestic
radio. It had SW1 and 2. Every morning he would place a half coconut
husk under his foot and vigorously polish the wood floor of the
family house. He helped generally about the house in a quiet,
almost invisible, way.
Mary, being a teacher, had to spend
several days pre-election (Estrada) registering and officiating
at the local polling station - the school. During this time I
accompanied St Francis up to his house and we chatted or, when
I developed flu, I slept on the mat in his bedroom. He would climb
an enormous coconut tree using the notches before throwing down
a few coconuts. After descending he would skillfully slice the
end off with his bolo to make a cup to drink the milk. Then he
made a little shell spoon with which I scraped and ate the succulent
white jelly. He quickly wove me a mat from coconut leaves so that
I could lie outside with my side against a tree to prevent rolling
down the hill. He often quietly disapeared to spend an hour in
prayer. At least Mary said that is what he did. Once a day he
would go off through the woods with his 5 gallon oil drum to fetch
water from a stream a couple of miles away. One learns the value
of recycling water there! A few trees away he visited a woman
with two children and spent time there - innocently I assume because
Mary considered him a virgin. This woman's house was so low that
I could see over the roof. I think that the adults must have moved
around on their knees. There was not far to move! He often visited
in the evening which left Mary and I alone. But he moved so quietly
that one was always apprehensive for his return- nudge, nudge!
We usually returned down the mountain
track about 7 - 8 pm. Once it had rained heavily and the amazingly
sticky mud rapidly buit up an inch thick on the soles of our thongs.
Then we had to stop to scrape them. I gave up and walked bare-foot
as I do at home anyway. But, to Filipinas, this seems unthinkable.
Probably, in the Third World, the distinction between poverty
and poor is that bit of rubber betwixt the sole and the dirt.
I found Filipinos were unbelieving when I told them that my children
attented primary school bare-foot - in the city! They asked why
they did not have shoes. They have plenty I assured them. This
only increased their mystification. I told them that the children,
generally, only wore shoes when forced. A constant complaint of
parents was that they sent their kids out in shoes only to have
them left somewhere out there often never to be seen again.
The next-oldest brother was married
and they lived in the upstairs room with their toddler. There
was no work locally so he was mostly away working. I only met
him twice. He was more interested in his wife on his rare appearances
home. I did not know him. But I often chatted to his wife who
was charming and well educated. She calmly sat about watching
TV or helping mother or looking after the toddler. One day it
left a little pile on the floor and my, was she embarrassed
Mary had two younger sisters. One about
20 who had gone to Manila to work, fell in love, was promised
marriage and became pregnant. He left her so she came home to
have the baby. She was apparently lazy as she seemed to do little
and posessed a wilful, quick temper. Her mother seemed to do most
of bringing up her baby.
The other sister was 13 and home on
holidays. Good looking like Mary and very shy. She seldom spoke
and was out with friends when not helping with house chores.
Then there was a 12 year boy who seemed
totally spoiled. He came in for meals only and we hardly saw him.
Father was self-employed raising a few
pigs in the back yard where one saw him at 6 am , squatting, stirring
some swill concoction in a large pot on a very smoky fire. He
also acted as a local agent for a banana distributor. He went
around collecting neighbours' bananas which were piled in the
back yard until a large lorry arrived to take them away. I don't
suppose he made a lot out of that. Behind the house was a primitive
trailer. Two long logs tied together in a long "V" and
resting on a wood axle on the ends of which were wood wheels made
out out two slabs of wood. I suppose that, some time in the past,
it was pulled by a cow. I never saw it used and I am sorry now
that I did not ask about it. No one in the house owned a vehicle
- not a moped nor even a bicycle. Dad was a serious type and,
I gathered from St. Francis, severely strict. He certainly had
not spared the rod and Saint said that he was still frightened
of his father because he remembered the beatings as a child.
Father, 56, was some sort of elected
barangay official and seemed much respected. Up to a few years
ago he had been employed picking coconuts until he fell down a
tree and smashed his head on a rock. According to Mary he would
have died had not "his lord" paid for his hospitalisation.
He showed no sign of this late injury though Mary assured me that
he had a bad back and was now incapable of paid employment. Each
morning he would trek down the hill to cross the road and down
the steps to the local spring along with the rest of the barangay.
Mary's biggest desire was to make sufficient money to buy household
equipment and buy him an adjacent plot and provide the capital
for a small piggery business. As she was only a relief teacher
with about half-time employment this was taking time. But she
was now at the top of the list for the next full-time position.
One evening, on some special occasion
, dad had two cronies in for drinks. Tanduay rum! Very cheap and
a swell taste if one likes rum. There are several grades but even
the ordinary is good. One man was about 40 and a bit of a joker
and the other a bit older. Neither spoke much English. They all
smoked - still a fairly universal men's habit around there. They
became very merry and tried to ply me with rum. I like the stuff
but was going through a beer-only phase so I stuck to the good
old San Miguel. I was very familiar with this cerveza as I had
regularly drunk it in Spain. Indeed, I thought it was a Spanish
company and that it was a popular tipple in the RP because they
were the old colonisers. Later I was told that it was the other
way about. Whichever, it is a pleasant drink.
Dad seemed intent on drawing me into
the circle and asked me questions in his difficult English. Even
more difficult because of the slight slurring! He seemed intent
on demonstrating to the others that I was a college teacher and
ex-businessman. He translated for the others. Then the young man
asked how old I was. Dad translated my 66. He seemed surprised
and grinned as he lifted his little finger and then curled it.
Mary was in earshot and I caught her eye. She was absolutely deadpan.
What control! It was a confusing and frustrating exchange with
Dad because he was proud of his little Tanduay- aided English.
But I had to ask him to repeat all the time and I was worried
that might upset him. I was secretly cursing that Mary did not
come to my assistance as my looks were pleading to her. I think
though that this was men's stuff and probably a set piece to "grill"
me. Later, many other Western men said they had undergone a similar
Mother was not yet 50 and quite attractive.
However, her front teeth were missing and they obviously rated
the acquisition of a prosthesis low in the family budget. She
was an industrious woman and Mary was kept infantilised. One evening
we were out having a walk and some fun. At 8.30 Mary became agitated
and wanted to get home. "Give me 5 minutes more...of your
charms". I persuaded her to linger. We eventually arrived
home just before 9.30. Mary received a tongue lashing for being
in so late at might. I could not get over this. Here was an intelligent
and perceptive 32 year old teacher and mother of two bending her
head and receiving humbly the verbal, moralising abuse from her
mother. When I questioned her she said: "That's the way it
is here." - and not resentfully. Her mother - and father
knew very little English so she mostly just smiled at me. My impression
was that she was at least an equal of her husband and the money-handler.
Copyright © Clive Halliday 2001.