Monday, June 16, 2008

Utang Na Loob

Fourth in a series of Articles on Philippine Culture

Social organization in the Philippines generally follows a single pattern reflecting the influence of local traditions. Among many provincial Filipinos, social organization continues to be marked primarily by personal alliance systems, that is, groupings composed of kin (real and by association), grantors and recipients of favors, and friends.

Philippine personal alliance systems are anchored by kinship, beginning with the nuclear family. A Filipino's loyalty goes first to the immediate family and personal identity is deeply embedded in the matrix of kinship. It is normal that one owes support, loyalty, and trust to one's close kin and, because kinship is structured bilaterally among relatives, one's kin can include quite a large number of people. With respect to kin beyond this nuclear family, closeness in relationship depends very much on physical proximity.

A bond between two individuals may be formed based on the concept of utang na loob. Another way of saying obligation to repay a loan or debt. Although it is expected that the debtor will attempt repayment, it is widely recognized that the debt, as in one's obligation to a parent, can never be fully repaid and the obligation can last for generations.

Saving someones life, providing employment, or making it possible for another to become educated are "gifts" that incur utang na loob. Moreover, such gifts initiate a long-term reciprocal interdependency in which the grantor of the favor can expect help from the debtor whenever the need arises and the debtor can, in turn, ask other favors. Such reciprocal personal alliances have had obvious implications for the society in general and the political system in particular.

It is why if a family member has a Sari Sari store near their relatives, it is hard to make any money. "Utang" is often exploited to get credit for which repayment may be slow in coming. To a foreigner it is often puzzling why this is so.

In today's modern urban Philippines this concept of indebtedness is less prevalent than in the provincial areas. To know the fundemental principles governing the behavior of Filipinos, one can begin to understand how and why people act the in the way they do. Empathy and tolerance follows.

See also:
Amor Propio

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