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Filipinos and their obligation to parents is something very much expected by their society. This is often a direct contrast to Australian society and not always easy to understand and to accept by an Australian man romantically involved with a Filipina lady. I’ll attempt to explain this to help those in Australian Filipina relationships. Not only to understand how it works, but also to explain the cultural differences between Australia and Philippines when it comes to parents and the obligation to parents to provide support.

And I will state this right from the start for anyone who thinks I’m making judgements about who is right and who is wrong that I am most definitely not doing this! My opinion is that there will be two different viewpoints and two different cultural backgrounds in an Australian Filipina relationship, and that both viewpoints should be respected.


Filipino obligation to parents to provide support in their old age


Australian and Filipino obligation to parents

Philippines society is made up of complex family and kingship-group obligations based on “who owes who”, ie who has been kind to you or done you favours and therefore whom you “owe”. A debt of gratitude is known as utang na loob (“lo-ob”…..not like “lube”). Australians can relate to this very well. An Aussie who forgets those whom he “owes” is a “bit of a mug” or a few choice expletives. In Philippines, he is walang hiya (or “shameless”). Our old-style values are basically the same in this area.

The main difference between the cultures is that whilst we generally (not always!) love our parents and will help them out when they get old, we don’t feel that we “owe” our parents for raising us and our parents agree with this. BIG difference!

Allow me to expose my well-rounded side and quote something from Kahlil Gibran:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.


Whilst your average Aussie many not have read The Prophet, that is pretty much what we all think. We parents made the decision to make babies, and it’s our job to help them through life and not the other way around. Life moves forwards and not backwards. Most Australians are reluctant to take charity full-stop, and even less likely from our kids and an obligation to parents to provide support simply doesn’t exist. For myself, I’d be off to buy a rope and a rickety stool before I took a handout from my children. My mother was exactly the same.

However, Filipinos look at it differently. And they grow up being reminded constantly of how a good kid grows up and can’t wait for the time when they can start working and sending money back to their parents. The more they give, the more they are admired by Filipino society. And many a Filipino looks to their kids as the answer to their financial woes.

And this starts from a young age. Kids of school age are told how they must study hard so that one day they can have a good job and can take good care of their parents. They are told of their parents sacrifice, and they are told stories of virtuous young people who did the right thing by their similarly-virtuous parents. When they have success, they are reminded constantly that it only happened because of their parents sacrifice. And by contrast there are the stories of the irresponsible and selfish kids who grew up, maybe dropped out of college because they got pregnant and then went on to become a further burden to their parents. Or otherwise they went on to become successful and then forgot all about the old folks.


The Family Tambay and the Family Saint

Many large families have at least one of the above, in addition to those who do their bit to help the parents. I wonder if the kids all get together and draw straws?

One of them becomes the family lay-about. The tambay! That’s the one who never gets a job ever, apart from the occasional odd job where the money goes on booze. You can easily recognize them because they are fond of napping during the day after a long tiring morning of doing nothing.

And one becomes the family saint! They end up working overseas as an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW), and they will effectively spend their entire working life earning money and sending it back to support the family and the parents in particular. And they will keep this up until they retire, often with no husband or kids. Yes, it’s usually a girl who does this.


Reality of Life in the Philippines

I will always be an Australian in my thinking about this. I’ve told my kids that I want them all having great lives, and that this is reward in itself for me. I won’t change my view.

And I will always look with disdain when I see those families (NOT all of them!) who stop working …. sometimes when still in their thirties or early forties and still capable of working …. and stick their hands out to their children who are struggling to raise young families themselves.

And I will always feel sorry for the “family saint” who lives their life for others. We have a (deceased) older sister in our family who did just that. Spent her childhood taking care of her younger siblings (including my wife Mila) and her adult life working overseas in Saudi and Hong Kong. Died young in her late forties with no kids or husband. Yes, I think they should have all said “Enough, thank you!” to her and let her have her own life when there was still time.

However, there are still some harsh realities of life here for many people. Not everyone has the opportunity to put aside a healthy nest egg for their retirement. Many people spend their entire working lives barely making it to the next pay packet, and having to do without so many things. And people can age pretty early when they’ve led a hard life! Untreated medical conditions like hypertension (“high blood”), diabetes and poor nutrition can take their toll.

And whilst there is a Social Security System (SSS) in Philippines, it’s like superannuation in Australia. The more you put in during your working life, the more you get to take out in your retirement. If you contributed nothing because you had none to spare, there is nothing available at the end. It is possible in some extreme cases to get a small amount (eg P1,500.00 per month) via the local Barangay if you can show hardship, but we all know that’s not very much.

Under those circumstances it would be a fairly hard-hearted adult who would do nothing to help out their parents, and I could find no fault in reasonable support being provided. Even P10,000 a month is only AUD$250.00, at that can make a huge difference. Don’t think I’m heart-hearted. We do a LOT for our relatives when needed, and we have a house full of kids of poorer relatives so we can give them a better start in life. But I do not pay to keep tambay in sedentary existence, and I’ll always put my wife and kids first!

What I have difficulty with are those who simply take advantage of the kindness of their kids and use emotional blackmail and the threat of public condemnation if they don’t. Kids growing up with this constant pressure on them to know what is expected in the future. Guilt being piled on over the years. Encouraging girls to lie to their husbands, and to sneak money out of the family bank accounts. Families in Australia doing it tough and ending up at retirement age themselves with nothing but a pension. That’s not right, and that is and will remain my view!


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  1. Jeff Williams

    Something I’ve never of. My experience has been the other way round, the kids constantly have their hands out. Yes there is the bludger, but the others aren’t, and are all working. However, they have no sense of responsibility, having the idea that money is to be spent on a good time and we’ll worry bout tomorrow when it comes. Oh no we won’t worry we’ll ask the parents. Much the same as in Australia.

    • Jeff Harvie

      Wow! Seriously? I’ve seen plenty of lazy kids here, but not when the parents are old. I’m guessing maybe they’re not in-need? The parents? The issue in Australia is that us baby-boomers (who were brought up having to work for what we gained) became affluent, and decided stupidly to spare our kids from the hard life we had. Mila and myself fall into that trap sometimes, despite trying not to. I don’t think any of our in-need rellies do that. More likely to send them to visit us with hardly any clothes with them so we’re inclined to take them shopping! Great when an 8 year old tells you that mama said to only pack 3 of everything! Mama got a serve over that one!!

  2. Giovanni Fiorito

    hello Jeff,
    you are spot on as far the
    Pension in Australia don’t
    get very far with high cost
    if living ,is very hard to cope
    unless we budget day by day
    thanks Jeff for your clear
    picture of both Australian
    and Filippino culture !.
    regards Giovanni &Connie .

    • Jeff Harvie

      Our pleasure, Giovanni. Anyone on fixed incomes needs to be particularly careful.

  3. david pascoe

    hi Jeff,
    I totally agree with your comments.
    Lived there for a number of years and saw it all before my eyes. There always seems to be one layabout (usually male) that makes it worst for the rest. Don’t know if it will ever change but it could as families are getting smaller. They need proper education on diet ,money management and family planning.Too many one day millionaires its sad to say.

    • Stirling

      Absolutely correct. Same here the son who’s supposed to be the family provider turns out to be a no hoper. Lazy and greedy. Mum and the girls do all the work and provide. Asian values are changing.

      • Jeff Harvie

        “Asian values” is like saying “European values”. Germans and Italians and Frenchmen are all Europeans. Japanese, Indonesians and Filipinos are all Asians, but their cultures are very different. I don’t think this has ever been a patriarchal society.


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