The Philippines is the only predominantly Christian nation in Asia. Roughly four-fifths of the population belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, and another tenth belongs to the Philippine Independent Church or other Christian churches. The Muslim people, called Moros, comprise a minority of the population and live mainly on the southern islands, particularly Mindanao. In the highlands and more remote islands, the indigenous groups are heavily influenced by traditional beliefs and worship a variety of gods.
Initial greetings are friendly and informal, and are usually accompanied by a handshake. If people shake hands and wish to show additional respect or enthusiasm, they place the free hand on top of the handshake or use it to pat the other person’s shoulder.
Most people marry before they are 30 years old. The groom and his family pay for the wedding ceremony and reception. The bride often does not see her bridal gown until the day she is married. Grooms often wear a “barong”, an embroidered shirt that hangs over the trousers, made of pineapple fiber. At the reception, during the newlyweds’ first dance, relatives may take turns clipping money to the groom’s shirt or the bride’s gown.
Loyalty to the extended family is fundamental, as is the concept of mutual support and self-sacrifice when the family or a member of it needs help. The close-knit network of relationships even extends to honorary kinships, usually referred to as godparenthood. Particular respect is shown to more senior members of the family. Traditionally, the nuclear family has been large, often with four or more children, but today, particularly in urban areas, people are having fewer children. Many Filipinos work overseas to earn money for the extended family at home.
Filipinos enjoy visiting as often as possible, especially in the barrios, which are small villages or suburbs. Guests do not typically take gifts, since the visit itself is considered a gift. However, a guest who has been away for a long time is expected to bring a small, inexpensive gift called “pasalubong” to the family.
Although socializing in the home is most popular, people also enjoy gathering in public areas. Urban neighborhoods often have a central area where people socialize. Villages nearly always have a plaza where political events, dances, meetings, and socializing occur and basketball can be played nearby.
Women hold some important positions in government, business, and industry and in rural areas, work alongside their husbands in the fields. Many also manage the family finances. However, women still suffer from male dominance in economy and society, and violence against women remains an important social problem.
Homes built from cement and hardwood are preferred, although bamboo structures are used by the poor in rural areas. Most rich businessmen live in exclusive residential subdivisions and villages. Standards of housing range significantly, but squatter areas with substandard housing still persist in most cities.
Lucena “Nini” Jaramillo