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Traditional families and other social systems are highly authoritarian. Age, power, prestige, and wealth are the chief sources of authority (Santos, 1983, p. 140). Within the family, age determines a hierarchical system of authority that flows downward from oldest to youngest. Outside the family, other factors such as social class, professional status or official government affiliation, and ecclesiastical positions may supersede age as determining factors in the locus of authority.
The relationship between those in authority and those subject to it is further permeated by utang na loob. Authority figures enjoy many privileges and prerogatives such as obedience; respect; adulation; and gifts in the form of money, material items, and personal services. These gifts are given to seek or return favors or to acknowledge a person's position of authority (Santos, 1983). Those in authority must, in turn, ensure that this reciprocity is created in a socially acceptable manner; one that conveys mutual respect and achieves the overall objective (for both the authority figure and the subordinates) of maintaining group harmony. Thus, individuals are subservient to parents, elders, leaders, and officials but look to them for support and assistance (Harper and Fullerton, 1994).
Throughout this ongoing exchange process, the accent is on the personalized aspect of the relationship. The authority that allows some avenue of communication is presumably more trustworthy. Trust (ti-wala) is a key element of camaraderie. Moreover, Filipino's perceive authority to be ultimately personal and thus subject to influence, affiliation, and patronage. The corresponding presumption is that whatever the law or the rules might say, someone in authority is making decisions based on personal motivations. The arbitrary use of authority and privilege is thus expected. In essence, within the larger social context, authority typically may be viewed as something to be dealt with personally as best one can by alternately placating it, keeping it at a distance, or using it to one's advantage when possible. Unfortunately, this personalized approach often leads to nepotism, cronyism, and favoritism in business and politics; ability and merit are often secondary (Gochenour, 1990; Harper and Fullerton, 1994).
Among family and friends, Filipino's tend to find authority for action in group consensus. The preference is for decision making within the group or for solicitation of advice from someone senior. When individual, personal decisions must be made, there is often a need to have further confirmation. The Filipino's tendency to enlist the options of others is again consistent with a more collectivist orientation and primary affiliation with the groups or contexts in which they live; these include family, neighbors, the barkada (group of close sworn, loyal, lifetime friends), work associates, and other larger loyalties and identifications. Filipinos or Pilipinos are defined by, and linked to, the identity of groups to which they belong and their shared past experiences (Gochenour, 1990). This also translates into a communal spirit (bayanihan) that enables Filipinos to come together and help each other at a moment's notice (Harper and Fullerton, 1994).