Philippines: Salvation and the “Datu Complex” (5)

By Wallace H. Little

Historically, the Datus were the men who were leaders in the communities of the south. In time, these accumulated to themselves power over larger areas than just the barrios where they lived. The development was a natural thing, and evolved over a period of time. Originally, these men were just the unofficial leaders in the sense that others, recognizing their wisdom, would come to them for advice and guidance. In times of disaster or danger, their leadership was sought and accepted. Then in time, their positions gradually changed from an unofficial one to that which was generally accepted as official. They became the law. They maintained their position by virtue of their ability, however, and usually they were not passed from father to son. Thus, the borders of influence of each community with a Datu would expand or shrink depending on the individual ability of the particular Datu governing at the moment. Some were so powerful they were able to stave off the Spanish and all other would-be conquerors. Others compromised with these, and some became satrap rulers under the invaders. But all ruled their own areas, to a greater or lesser extent, and the community was loyal to them.

In matters of family, loyalty is important, and in some cases, critical if we are to understand the situation in the Philippines in spreading the gospel there. We in the U.S., even with the Vietnam-debacle and our subsequent decrying of national patriotism, still sustain and continue to maintain a great degree of affinity with and respect for our nation as a nation. We might expect to find a similar feeling in other nations, including the Philippines. When we do not find it as we know it in the U.S., we are surprised. But that is not the worst effect. The reaction of the Philippine Christian in some situations is largely governed by the matter of family loyalty. It is sort of a chain of power. The closest ties exist between husband and wife. I have known women there to be so loyal to their husbands that even when the husband had been convicted of a crime and sent to jail, they continue to believe he could not possibly be guilty, and that the government, in spite of the evidence, was wrong. I am speaking of Christians. This type of loyalty exists in virtually all cultures there that I am familiar with. It is only slightly diminished toward other members of the family. Hence, when misconduct on the part of a preacher there is discovered, he can often lead off part of or perhaps the entire congregation where he was preaching, convincing them that he is innocent on his word only, and do this in the face of a pile of evidence. If the congregation is partly made up of family and relatives, so much the easier. This loyalty, is centered in the husband and wife relationship, extends only slightly diminished to the immediate family, then to a lesser degree to other relatives, to the tribe, to the barrio or community, to the city, the sub-province, the province and finally, remote now, the nation. At each stage, it weakens and diminishes; by the time it goes beyond the local community, its force is much less. If the transition from the barrio outward also includes a breaking of solidarity of family relationship, its force is weakened even more. The present national leaders are deliberately cultivating a feeling of nationalism, and in time, I believe they will succeed in producing it. But for now, the Filipino sees his loyalty virtually ending when the borders of the barrier or community are crossed.

This feeling of loyalty will cause one to support and urge the recommending of one who shares it, and likewise urge the rejection of one who does not. It will be subtle, but it will be there. The one who enjoys the loyalty will receive a stronger recommendation than the one who does not, regardless of the merits of the two individuals. We might not like this, but we need to face the fact of it, because it is indeed a fact of life there.

The introduction of Tagalog (one of the three major dialects) as the national language, being taught in all schools at all levels is designed, along with other purposes, to produce a national awareness and loyalty. Today, English is the only language common to the entire nation, however well or badly each may handle it. In a generation, the Philippines will be a bi-lingual nation with Tagalog taking its place along side of English as the other major language. But we are dealing with today, and the existing diversity of language, and the need to convert people with what we have available or can get now. While Tagalog will, in time, assist in breakdown of the intense structure of loyalty, today this does create difficulties. It is my conclusion that many if not most of the ever-present preacher-jealousy stems from this family-centered loyalty which excludes those outside its framework. The family-loyalty situation has some interesting and important manifestations. One is the “vendetta.” It is not so prevalent today in its original form (“Death to the one who brought injury to the family!”). While the harshness of its impact may have been reduced, other forms still occur. For example, if a man was preaching the gospel and had obtained support and considered this only a “good job” and if he later loses his support, and he or others in the family suspect this loss happened because another Filipino preacher “blew the whistle on him,” he and his family might go to great lengths to get revenge. These may well include false charges brought against “his enemy,” a whisper campaign to undermine his personal reputation, the writing of letters to his U.S. supporters against him, an attempt to enlist others in both nations against him, plus whatever additional efforts he can think of. By no means all, or even most of the Filipino preachers would do such things; Christianity has taught them their first loyalty is to God. But there have been some who have engaged in these activities, even unto the present time.

The vendetta is not all that far beneath the surface of some there, even in its ultimate form-death. For a man to seduce a woman could very well involve him in the situation where he would become the target of an assassination attempt either personally carried out by another member of the family, or financed by the family. I know of one current situation where a woman’s moral reputation has been openly criticized, where several others in the family had to be persuaded not to go out and themselves kill the man who made the accusations (false ones, incidentally). While it is true, those who wanted to do the killing were not Christians, others in the family were.

Sometimes the vendetta-concept is used when the family believes the wrong done against them or one of its members will not or cannot be righted by the appropriate government. At other times, those within the family feel so strongly, they believe they have a prior right to revenge, and the government ought not to become involved at all.

The family-loyalty-concept has another consequence which bears directly on the support being provided various men there by different U.S. churches of Christ and individual Christians, too. A man might obtain a good (by their standards) job, with an income from it higher than some other members of the family who are living and working elsewhere. One evening, he returns from his job and finds some of these relatives there at the house. They are not there for a visit, but to move in and stay with him Understanding the family-loyalty situation, he often feels he has little choice but to do so. Among the non-Christians, this is of course a problem we are not personally concerned with. But among Christians, and especially where a man is supported in his preaching from the U.S., we are very definitely concerned. I know of more than one instance where a preacher, faced with this situation, has sent a panicked letter to his supporters, and to me and other Americans who have been there, seeking a large increase in support immediately. It took some time to understand what was behind his appeal, and then to understand his reluctance to “throw the bums out.” Fortunately, the more mature and experienced saints there realize they must not permit themselves to be so imposed on. But unfortunately, some other do not. This has resulted in them seeking a level of support far beyond their valid needs. I do not recommend such. 2 Thess. 3:10 applies to their lazy relatives as well as ours.

Another result of the family-loyalty concept is to “rally around” when this seems appropriate. For example, a man may be preaching for a small congregation, and be doing a good job, yet feel dissatisfied with the numerical results. So he tries even harder to convert his relatives, but is unsuccessful. But if an American preacher comes to that congregation on a preaching visit, many of the non-Christian members of the family will attend every service as long as the American is there, to give the impression that the church is numerically larger than is actually the case.

Probably no other area in our relationship with the Filipino brethren has as much confusion and misunderstanding developed as in this one which centers in family loyalty. Consequently, as Americans we need to understand it, to know why certain things happen there, so we be not discouraged and wearied in well-doing (Gal. 6:9). The American tendency to impetuousness and hasty action is often rubbed the wrong way by the consequences of the Filipino family-loyalty. Not understanding it, we fail to understand its effects, and cut off support from a man when we ought not to do so. And at times U.S. churches thus become discouraged about all Filipino preachers, and all work overseas. This ought not to be.

Truth Magazine XXIII: 11, pp. 184-185
March 15, 1979