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  • Martial Law in the Filipino Home: Governance & the Filipino Parent

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    Does socio-political governance seep into the heart of the Filipino home? Did the conclusion of martial law in the Philippines in 1986 released the ordinary Juan into cultural determination not plighted with the manifesto of dictatorship?

    I remember being eight and sitting next to my mother after she had delivered my youngest sister in the hospital. It was 1986. My father was nowhere in sight. The television seemed to be running like an oxygen machine, a lifeline to those in the comforts of their homes (or their hospital care) to the breathtaking phenomenon of the outside world. 

    I was told little but I remember this much when asked about the whereabouts of my father.

     “He’s watching the ballots with his rifle.”

    martial law parenting

    The year 1986 was a steep and agonizing year for Filipinos in the motherland. I don’t remember much except that my parents and us kids would watch betamax tapes of  Benigno Ninoy Aquino and his speeches in our living room. They would have books lying around on martial law and the lives of the Aquinos.

     They were ordinary citizens with extraordinary tenacity of hope for the motherland. Maybe, they hope, I won’t forget….

    They named my youngest sister, Maria Corazon after the widow wife and the 11th president of the Philippines, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino.

    I am bound to remember.



    All of my writings are touched by witnessing and observing the struggle of the ordinary Juan and Maria in the Philippines. I was fortunate to have been provided an environment where I was able to observe the intersection between the privileged and those trodden by the culture of poverty.

    My family was not poor but my father grew up in a humble province in Marinduque. Stories circulated of him as a young boy that he sold coffee on a bilao (woven tray) to help ends meet.

     My mother was disowned initially by her Chinese father for marrying a peasant, poor boy from the province. She came from a mixed ethnicity background, my mother’s great-grandfather was a Scottish man who married my Filipina great- great-lola.

    My mother and my father had an entrepreneurial spirit which  allowed my siblings and I to be afforded attendance in the best schools in Manila.

    I have memories of playing in my tsinelas with the kids I call, kalaro (playmates) in the poorest part of Manila and memories of privileged friends who I continue to have tender connections with. 

    martial law strict filipino parents

    In understanding the psyche of the Filipino including those in diaspora, it is important to get a glimpse of the culture of poverty in the Philippines. 

    From when viewing this lens from a privileged eye, you will miss nuances and find yourself anguished with the so-called toxic Filipino culture.

    They do exist. Any core value taken with extremist dogma becomes the shadow of that culture.



    It seems that the word privilege has taken its own meaning in America, to one that belongs to the upper class, White persona.

    It has left a disdain taste for those whose picture of the word is only derived from the White privilege definition.

    Privilege can be shaped differently in various cultures. In some, it’s through age hierarchy, and in others, by profession, as in a teacher. But overall, privilege is occupying a space where your voice echoes louder than the less privileged. In most cultures, it is influenced with wealth and position.

    But, privilege can also mean a vibrating space to serve….to have the privilege to serve, and change the course of history. Many non-White population usually have to work harder and longer for the same starting point already afforded to the mainstream culture.

    In one form or another, we are all seeking privilege. The space to be counted and heard.

    In other words, it’s not a bad word.

    If you have an instagram account or any platform where you want your voice heard, you are seeking it.

    If you’re educating yourself, school or otherwise, to be able to serve or stir others to a value system you believe in, you are seeking it.

    If you find yourself in spaces where you model a different type of expression, you are seeking it.

    There is a misconception that voice can only mean spoken words. In the American culture, this can’t be discounted, even children learn at a young age that it you snooze (with your words), you lose.

    In the Philippines, speaking in codes and sensing (pakiramdam) allows the Filipino to speak her mind without the ramification of being ostracized. Lean more about Pakiramdam here.

    Martial law has ended but what seeps into the psyche of Filipino parenting is the privilege of safety. In the news, whistleblowers like, “ Jun” Lozada Jr. end up paying a high price for bumping heads with the powerful. Human rights activist and lawyer,  Leila Delima was sent to prison for taking up space in scrutinizing President Duterte.

    The list is long and many names are unaccounted for, for those who rose before they were given the platform to rise, the cost for speaking freely is high.

    Pakiramdam Filipino core value


    Without consciously making connections with all these, the Filipino learns to adopt her parenting to what will keep her children safe.

    Safety is foremost to any mammalian species. A wolf would bite her young to teach her the what-nots of this world lest she be consumed by a beastly predator. 

    The Filipino mother straighten out her child in this way. Sometimes through shaming, through reading the most subtle of her facial movement, and /or through sensing her discrete movements.

    In her heart’s echo , “ this is what will keep my child safe,” said the Filipino mother.

    The irony is that the child becomes honed in self-control and reading non-verbal cues. She may be successful navigating the outside world safer but she becomes guarded with her own internal emotional process.

    Cory Aquino

    She becomes too careful not to offend others or not to bring shame to the family. 

    It’s a core value of the Filipino to be like pandesal and palaman (bread and jam of choice) to the group she belongs to. To uproot the Filipino from this may cause grave internal conflict. Rather, the hope is NOT that she cares less for her family but that she cares more for herself.


    *Filipino mothers are usually the cultural bearer but fathers and other caregivers can also take on this role. Of course, not all Filipino mothers express in this way. The writings here cannot account for individual differences. The descriptions are a collective expression instead.

    Safety is a privilege when a culture can’t guarantee a negative consequence(s) for voicing an alternative perspective. When the people in power can kidnap a whistleblower to la-la land, the Filipino parent will continue to punish spoken and unspoken rebellion to her house rules.

    At least, the la-la land has an address.


    It’s important to make a distinction that Filipinos and her ancestral root didn’t rely solely on spoken words. The sense of “loob” ( inner self) can be traced back to precolonial times of honoring animals and nature (animism) and thereby, sensing the rhythms of the land and seas as a form of communication and a guide for action (or inaction).

    Sensing is a distinct core value of the Filipino (other Malay culture has a similar term for this). Pakiramdam is attunement to the world. It’s  both beautiful and complex especially through the American cultural lens. If you want to learn more about Pakiramdam: Filipino on Affection Beyond Words. Check out the masterclass here.

    The non-verbal expression that comes from threats and feelings of danger from the outside world activates the core value of pakiramdam- to sense without words. This is the shadow side of this core value.

    Without this threat, pakiramdam and being able to sense another by observing and noting changes in their bodily rhythm can be deeply gratifying, both to the gratifier and the gratified.

    For the most part,the Filipino parent is oblivious towards her feelings of insecurity and threat. Perhaps this has been a way of life or life transition and/or immigration can aggravate these feelings. 

    Can the Filipino parent learn to find feelings of safety in the home and then as a consequence, see the world less threatening?

    This has been my work as a Filipina healer (and other healers) is to support  transforming meanings. This means, softening the meaning and feelings of being “unsafe,” to a place where you will eventually feel more security in your own space. Watch this video to understand how transforming meanings can improve your well-being.


    Self-identified Filipino women  have a knack for this. Even before having children, she becomes aware that she has “stuff” she needs to work through. In my practice, more Filipino women (and men) are accessing mental health support.

    However, you can transform from the inside out starting with awareness and choosing to pivot to new meanings with or without therapy. For example, experiment with putting yourself in situations where you would otherwise not find yourself in. Start small and with higher potential for success to build your confidence. In this way, you are giving yourself a new meaning.

    If you’re anxious speaking a new language, say, Spanish, start with practicing with a friend. Then, you can move to ordering in Spanish at your favorite Mexican restaurant. The meaning you’ve attached to trying something new or looking like a fool would be transformed by your experience.

    The feelings you transform inside doesn’t mean the world will change with you. It’s a decision you make. As they say, things don’t change but how you see the world changes things.

    filipino parenting in america

    Is it safe to speak against the new governance in the Philippines just because you’ve learned safety in your own body?

    Probably not, but those who felt safe or didn’t care much about their safety are those who have propelled movement in history. 

    Their imprints must not be forgotten.

    They spoke up despite the consequences, leaving us, the on-lookers at the edge of our seats. They have done (or doing the internal work) we ought to be doing.

    Interested in learning more about the nuances of the Filipinx culture? Visit the Kalamansi Juice Academy to explore.



    The cost of being under privileged in the Philippines due to poverty and other dictated cultural markers seep into the Filipino psyche.

    Without privilege, the Filipino looses his voice and climbing up the ladder feels like a daunting task. People in power tap into their connections to make climbing a breeze (or at least possible) and those without it ,well, our without.

    The Filipino understands that a child who traverse a path too deviant from the norm can find himself in trouble. The consequence of straying during martial law is indigestible. The appetite to keep everything in place so that those in position can sustain power is hard to stomach. And yet to survive, one has to learn to keep up with it or learn to be under the radar.

    Thereby, the fearful  Filipino parent buys privilege as if doomsday is about to come, and scolds her child like a broken record in the hopes that her litany can propel her to the top, unstepped on and recognized.

    Buying safety is rarely a sustainable act. The Filipino parent must learn safety in her own body.

    This is the true reckoning with martial law. 

    That she has brought herself free before she was even proclaimed free.


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