Friendship: How Filipinos Do It Best

friends01Sometimes it is difficult to get into words the finer points of our cultural doings. They are subtle, rather like Rembrandt brush strokes that, ever so finely add a touch of shadow to represent a darkness of spirit, or a touch of light to represent God’s heart flowing through the scene, or love between mother and child.

Filipino friendships differ from American friendships in ways that are barely noticeable unless you stand as if at the museum, pictures side by side in front of you, and scan the two canvases with a microscope to reveal the artists’ finer strokes.

As I study the scenes before me, I observe that more Filipino friendships seem to last a lifetime than do those of Americans. Friendships formed during the school years last until death do the partners part.


You don’t hear that term in America. It has a fondness to it. A batch of mates. A collective, as if lives were mixed together as richly as ingredients in a hearty stew, each imparting something to the others, and receiving a gift of flavor in return.

Maybe that is why Filipino foods are generally not separate items, a pile of vegetables and a slab or stake and a glop of mashed potatoes arranged in their assigned places on the plate, but are mixes of meats and sauces and vegetables, flavors blending as delicately or unexpectedly, ready for tasty appreciation. And the rice? That is the common persistence that is traditional, the steady hand, the anchor post, the hard work, the thankless task of laboring for a lifetime with precious little help from the economy or government.

The only help comes from friends, the ties that bind, every day.

Friendships in the Philippines are a bond built on the commonality of survival. Surviving stern teachers demanding a line-up in front of the flag pole at seven o’gawdawful thirty in the morning. Surviving poverty, or eking out a mere existence. Together. Moving on to the next scrap or scrape or hope . . . perhaps apart, physically, but always joined at heart.

You also don’t have many fiesta’s in the United States. Oh, some farming communities still celebrate the harvest with a jazzy street carnival and parade. Throw softballs at the bottles, ride the clattering Ferris wheel, see the fat lady in a tent do things you’d be wise not to try at home.

Or maybe that’s the circus, I get a little confused on that point.

But Americans don’t get together specifically for the purpose of celebrating getting together. Filipinos do.

American holidays have a different reason for being. Valentine’s Day to celebrate love, Halloween to celebrate goblins, Thanksgiving day to celebrate the good life given us by some brave pilgrims who landed here in 1620 and chowed down with the Indians. Christmas is for the celebration of Christ or gifts, depending on your faith. New years is actually dedicated to saying good-bye to the old one with a hearty “thank God, got through another of those sumbitches”, and “on to the next!”.friends02

The Filipino fiesta is a celebration of community, of family, of that special bond of “being from here”, from this place, from these people. It is a wild and woolly and colorful, drum thumping, street prancing, tuba imbibing, pig eating cheer to us all. Even outsiders are invited to visit “here” to see us on our radiant, gluttonous happy day in the warm tropical sun.

I love fiestas as much as you do. The good Filipino character shines as brightly – and as warmly – as the sun’s rays.

But . . .

but . . .

but . . . the opposite of friendship in the Philippines also seems more intense, too. More deadly.

Bitterness is deep when friends turn against one another. Or family. It is betrayal of the lowest order to go against the grain of allegiance and respect. Frankly, there’s a lot of bickering in the Philippines, families in conflict, neighbors fighting. Envy runs riot.

Watch Senator Enrile dealing with his spitemates, Santiago, Cayetano, Trillanes and anybody else who stares at him when they are supposed to blink, in subjugation and respect. Woe to anyone who questions what he is doing.

That is the other side of Filipino friendship. A hostile snarl and a chippy insult whenever the microphone is close enough. In the provinces, objection is registered with backbiting or fists or guns.

Going against the grain is not advisable in the conservative, by the rules, Philippines. Respect for elders and the powerful comes with the territory, even if it is granted with some degree of dislike. Servility or respect? I have yet to figure that out.

But back to the positive side, the dominant side.

We also have the friendship of utility. It exists both in America and in the Philippines, but it is deeper and broader in the Philippines. We see this utility everywhere in the granting and receiving of favors. Give the LTO clerk P100, and a certain knowing warmth emerges, a camaraderie of people in cahoots, people who know without speaking how tough it is to make it in a low-paid job. How tough it is to get anything done in the paper-bound, officious rat’s nest called government services. It is the giving and receiving of favors that allows the individual to succeed in a world that is dead set against him.

And, finally, we have friendships of defense, of protection and belonging for the safety of it. Clans and warlords. Super-families that have clawed their way to power and know others are out there trying to take them down. Clans are a bond of life and death. The most intense of friendships. Even dynasties are a form of security, more economic than physical, perhaps. If you belong to a dynasty, doors open for you, paths to success are straight and short. It is good to belong. Even if it is built on practicalities rather than heart.

But even those without name or wealth have family connections far and wide, and people are generous in helping. People do what they can do, even if it is a little favor. Have an uncle in Manila? You can go crash at his house while seeking work. Need P150 to get to the big city? Ask around, it will pop up from somewhere? Need the kids cared for? Lean on mama, or a good friend.

And so these extended family networks circle back around to where we started. People in it together, under circumstances that are generally difficult. Getting along fine.

No, no. Better than fine.

Happily. Rich, for the dearness of friendships.

Friendships are something special in the Philippines.

21 Responses to “Friendship: How Filipinos Do It Best”
  1. The Mouse says:

    Another common thing in the Philippines are “batch reunions”. My elementary and HS “batchmates” had some reunions in the past and boy am I jealous. Maybe, your ordinary Filipino has his Facebook where 75% are “batchmates”. Social ties in the Philippines are just more… “intricate”. Could it be that the busier lifestyle in the US has sort of like made friendship less intricate. I’ve met an old lady, perhaps a boomer, who said she was visiting her childhood best friend in Arizona.

    • Joe America says:

      That’s a good point. I think the independence that American teens strive for, and parents encourage – “outta the house” at 18 – replaces childhood friendships with new friendships. A few childhood friends might make it through the filters of new opportunities and friendships, but a lot drop away. Perhaps those Filipinos who leave home to attend college in Manila are more of the American mold. But tight family bonds bring them home again, for fiestas and holidays.

      Family ties are evident in America at Thanksgiving and Christmas. But it is more intimate, for the family. It is not the grand way that the fiesta brings crowds of friends and family home.

  2. Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

    That is why Napoles hob nobs with senators, congressmen, bureaucrats, cabinet members and no less Benigno Aquino who feigned “I do not have relationship with that woman, Janet Napoles, see? No pictures!” They are her friends. Friends circule their wagon for her. They have to, she got pictures! In the Philippines as promoted by Rappler and the Philippine Media if anyone is in the picture with Napoles they are guilty! Guilty in big bold letters like this: GUILTY!

    This is what makes the crime investigation in the PHilippines so easy compared to Americans: Just drag some unknown witnesses who got ax to grind and let them write an Affidavit or better still pictures. Easy pissy. No problem.

    In the September 21 anniversary of Martial Law, CAMERAS WILL NOT BE ALLOWED! Seriously! Because the administration cannot allow blackmail from Napoles-alikes. Anyone taking pictures from smartphones will be confiscated. My friends do not want pictures taken with me nor I want my pictures taken with them. I can never know if my friends are thieves or if they are they might blackmail me like that poor gardener in godforsaken place of Koronadal in Cotabato who got subpoenaed by the Senators because he had picture taken with Napoles while pulling grasses from PDAF funded project.

    Something goot came out of Napoles. I am so tired of pa-piktyur-piktyur and selfies posted on Facebook. Oh, by the way my life is FACEBOOK-FREE ! I did not get cold sweat or shaking. I just stop Facebooking cold turkey.

    Friendship in the Philippines is thicker than water. Friends cover up for Friends. What is Friend for? Friends 4 Ever.

    • Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

      In America, Blago has picture of Obama with him. Obama is not found guilty. Bill has pictures of Marc Rich, of course, Bill let March Rich go. Maddoff got plenty of pictures of dignitaries but those around him are not guilty. ONLY IN THE PHILIPPINES where pictures has become another source of evidence on top of affidavits.

      • Joe America says:

        Actually, Obama got a lot of heat during the election campaigns for some of his prior associations. But they were, like many of the photos with Napoles, not significent. That’s the trick, I think. Discovering which are significant. Like if she’s sitting on your lap or something, might not look the best . . .

    • Joe America says:

      Well, until one of them gets arrested. Then they pull a Gigi Reyes and head for Macao, or wherever she ran to.

  3. andrew lim says:

    Just want to share this post by Jim Paredes (former APO singer) on the news report “Plunder Charges vs. Estrada, JPE, Revilla”:


    “They’ll get a bomba star to say Jinggoy is not sexy, a beauty expert to say Bong is not pogi (handsome) & a 120yr old man who’ll say Tanda (old) is young.”

    My reply:

    “Just to add, i have this suspicion “nazareno” is actually a code word for Binay. Remember the report that the nazareno was being brought to Napoles’ house.” LOL

  4. manuel buencamino says:

    It is a safety net that can also net you.

  5. andrew lim says:

    I want to road-test this argument here before rolling out to a larger audience:

    Atty Baligod has been quoted as follows: “The next president will have a crucial role to see to it that justice is done,” Baligod said. “Delikado kung Napoles-friendly, sigurado walang mangyayari dito sa kaso na na-file natin (it’s dangerous if [the next president] is Napoles-friendly, I’m sure nothing will happen to this case we have filed),” Baligod said. Inquirer, Sept 16, 2013.

    If Binay wins in 2016, the likelihood of this happening is huge. So we should be campaigning against Binay. But that puts us up against a perennial problem: the poor masses. They are the main source of votes of the likes of Enrile, Estrada, Revilla, etc. A voter’s info drive can be used, but that will not be enough. We should think of other means.

    Now my argument: this is one more compelling reason why the RH law should be upheld and implemented. Though it is not the direct objective of the law, one side effect of it will be the control of the population growth of the poor masses through voluntary contraception. The effect will not be felt until after several years, so it will not impact on the 2016 elections.

    But at least, if you couple this with a pork-free, less corrupt dispensation and real inclusive economic growth, the reduced population of the poor will prevent the re -election of the likes of Enrile, Estrada, Revilla, the future. You will have a stronger middle class, who will be healthier and well-informed.

    • Joe America says:

      Yes, Binay’s appeal among the masses is profound and I share your concerns. I think runaway population growth has contributed mightily to the poverty that dominates people’s thinking and voting. That’s a long-term work-out however.

      If Binay is a hero to the masses because he has a network of supporters at the local level who talk him up, one must consider how to do a better job of talking up his opponent. In that vein, Roxas is probably a loser from the getgo. The LP candidate should have great popular appeal, like a former TV personality or daughter of Fernando Poe.

      If I were the LP strategists, I’d counter Binay through choice of someone honest with popular appeal who can be leveraged to go directly at Binay’s strength. Then I’d sow a great deal of fear over a return to corruption, while promoting pride in how far we’ve come under President Aquino.

  6. Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

    In Washington D.C. carnage the American Media were quick to accept erros and apologize to the public

    But when it comes to Rappler they got plenty of excuses up their slaves. Not only Rappler the whole media industry. Most of the time, no make it all the time, they do not even retract or apologize. It gives the Philippine Media an aura of infallability neck-on-neck with the Pope.

    When can Philippine Media ever learn? No wonder the U.P. journalism graduate working at New York Times is a floor manager hoping, just hoping, that he’d be tapped to do some stringer job.

    • Joe America says:

      I like the term media “hack”, but slave is not bad either. I think Rappler is pretty much consistent with Filipino culture, is it not? Excuses and protection of “face” or esteem?

  7. Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

    I do not indulge in friendship. Friending is exhaustive and financially draining. I prefer to be with myself and my family. I am not a loner. I just treasure privacy, I am a private person. 2ndly, I require my friends to agree with me 🙂 3rdly, my potential friends find me intellectually obnoxious.

    I love the obnoxious part, they keep away from me without me trying hard to put them at arms length. Filipinos agree with me by they just cannot accept the truth what Filipnos are. This is where we always argue. That goes to show that Filipnos just do not want to change. They know what is the problem with them but they do not want to be told their defects AND most of all they are kind of embarassed to change because I said so. They want to stay the way they are to spite me.

    • Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

      My wife is worried about me. She worries that nobody would come to my funeral and she’d be the talk of the barrio that I only very few come to my wake. I tell her to have my carcass cremated. No fanfare. No prayers. If ever I die young, chop up my body harvest my organs the rest thrown to the dogs. I do not know how to convince my wife. She got a lot of friends. She loves to throw parties. She attends class reunions: High-School and Elementary. I cannot even believe she still remember her kindergarten classmates.

      Tell you all what, my wife can make things happens. She pick up the phone, dial a number and voila I get ahead of the line. And the person would look at me like “so, you are the husband” without a smile. They have to deal with me else my wife will raise a tantrum and never invite them again to her parties. She set aside party food for the HOA’s gardeners and guards always without fail.

      The way to friends hearts is food and knowing that my powerful wife have them in her party list. My wife is no Napoles, sure do know who to give t-shirts and calendars at Christmas.

      • Joe America says:

        Ah, wives of strength. I need to do a blog about that. Mine is a cracker-jack boss and manipulator.

        • Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

          Look into your wife eyes and you see the Filipinos. I quit Facebook though it is still out there a Facebook derelict because my wife hates what I have to say. My wife is powerful. She can even make me stop Facebook addiction cold turkey. My son, like, “what happen, Papa?” Our household is spied on like NSA. My wife is NSA. She seems to know something amiss if she sees me tending the yard, or, the house is spic-and-span. “What bad did you do today?” HuH?
          “Sweetheart, honest, I did not sleep with the maid, cross my heart!”
          “I did not open my Facebook account, seriously!”
          Filipino women are very suspicious. She check my cellphone. My camera. And ….. my WALLET ….. !!!! “Baby, you still have your allowance intact of last week! ”

          “Gosh, please, it is your birthday next month I wanted to buy you that bag you keep ogling at” Jeeeesh !!!!!

          • Joe America says:

            Ahahahaha. You are definitely wise to simplify. I’ve not noticed that my wife is that curious about my stuff. She rarely reads these blogs or comments even. Her curiosity runs toward things found at the mall.

        • Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

          Filipinos wives are strong. The husband maybe the chairman of Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas but she is the speaker of the house. She sets up ghost NGOs gives pork barrel to the children and their loyalty to their mother is bought. And, oh, she got pictures, too. Gosh!!!!

          I guess my household is microcosm of what is happening in the PHilippines right now. A training ground for future corrupt Filipino.

    • Joe America says:

      Your technique is impeccable. 🙂

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