Does Filipino Society treat Children Poorly?


Many were outraged when Willie Revillame goaded a child named Jan-Jan to dance in a macho dancer style. Even while he was already crying, he was still goaded to dance. Needless to say, it already caused a Net Rage and it revived initiatives to permanently censure the long-notorious Revillame, who had smears on his name after the MTB incident and the Wowowee stampede, plus more.

But this brings me to a topic I have long thought about: Does Filipino culture really treat children poorly? This is what the National Statistical Coordinating Board asked in a 2011 article. The treatment of Jan Jan in the show may actually be a barometer of the way Philippine society as a whole treats their children.

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I often traced the way children are treated to the family system. Truly, treatment of children in the family may explain how children have been treated in the rest of society. I would suggest that parenting in the Philippines has undergone a deterioration thanks to the deteriorating situation in the country in terms of economy and education. Most parents in the parents stick to the “parents are always right” paradigm, basically an authoritarian approach.

The authoritarian parenting style is likely to evoke rebellion and disobedience in children. Then, when the children go awry, the parents will blame the children, or TV or other adults – anyone except themselves. For me, the parents will always have the biggest share of responsibility for what happens to their children. Thus, like I said in my article about dancing girls, when parents watch Wowowee and Willing Willie and let their children watch, it is already a failure of parental guidance.

Even within families, children are used for adults’ pleasure. At parties, they are sometimes made to dance the Ocho-Ocho, Spaghetti Dance or other funny dances just to make the adults laugh. I find that rather unkind. Adults like these only treat children as a source of entertainment, and not as the future. Thus, the disrespect that media shows in children may or may not be a reflection of treatment in the family.

Media Treatment

Media however remains one of the most influential factors in treatment of children. And media has often been disrespectful to children, no matter how positively they tried to portray such on TV.

One children’s advocate before, I believe it was Ms. Feny Angeles Bautista, said that media representation of children was always unkind. Children have always been seen as abused, as “slaves of the adults” or as a source of laughter. Filipino media likes to poke fun at kids, and barely treat them with any sort of equality. She said this in 1997 or 1998. It seems very true today.

The Jan-Jan incident is perhaps only the latest in a long history of poor treatment and portrayal of children in the local mass media. When media releases a “children’s” show, it has be something like Goin’ Bulilit – where children are again the subject of entertainment for adults. Even the old series May Bukas Pa does not show children in a positive light. Barely are children given good treatment in local media, and it helps enforce the idea that children are there for the adults to use as they see fit.

Views of Children

I also believe that according to the old paradigms, children are considered property of their parents, almost is the same sense as chattel. I remember an old documentary in the late 1980s about child labor in the Philippines. One example is when children are made to carry large sacks of cement from the ship down to the harbor. Aside from the physical effects of carrying a heavy load, the child workers are exposed to the hazards of breathing cement dust.

When interviewed on why the children are being made to labor like this, one of the men in charge said that the children are “under their parents.” Thus, whatever the adults tell them to do, the children must obey. Basically, according to this traditional view in Filipino culture, children have no rights. The adults are considered to have the right to make the children do whatever they want. It is like the children are nothing more than slaves of the adults.

We also know that this is prevalent among the poor countries. Go to any country with poverty, there is certainly poor treatment of children. Unfortunately, some wish to gloss over this problem in our own society when this is raised. We have poverty, and we have child exploitation. It is a reality in this country, and deflecting attention to other countries only serves as refusal to address the problems at home. Media mistreatment of children is analogous to how children are treated in real life.

“I’m not a Kid Anymore”

Another observation I have of Filipino culture is that it is contemptuous towards the culture of children. We see it when some Filipinos see an adult who collects toys. Some people may see this adult collector and say, “Ang tanda-tanda mo na, bumibili ka pa ng laruan! Napaka immature mo! (You’re so old, but you still buy toys! You’re so immature!)”

Is an adult who collects toys and watches cartoons really immature? What about those who abuse children? What about those who love seeing sexy dancers on Wowowee and Willing Willie? Thanks to this, the concept of immaturity is twisted, and even useful members of society, just because they have “childish” pursuits, are put down.

Thus, Filipino society seems to have a bad view of childhood. It is seen as foolish and stupid, and thus people want to “grow up” and join a world of hypocritical and sanctimonious adult self-righteousness. They perhaps forgot that they were once children. What they were as children is what they become as adults. That is why treatment of our children is so important; what we make of our children is what we make of the future. If we treat children badly, then no wonder our future is bleak.

Cruel Culture to Children

Is the Filipino culture generally unkind to children? It may seem that way in the case of Jan Jan. He was made fun of by the adults, adults who are supposed to guide children and be good examples. Instead, the adults were corrupt and exploited a child, bringing him to tears for their own personal enjoyment. Very cruel and exploitative.

I consider this to have deep-seated roots in both the authoritarian culture of the Philippines and the view of children in media. Filipino culture, with its poverty and poor education, is likely to be cruel to children, or at least disrespectful of them. I always thought that one of the best measures of a society is the way it treats its children. A society which respects and considers the needs of children as important as adults’ needs is a healthy society. But one which puts down children is backward and decrepit. Unfortunately, the latter seems more true about our culture.

(Additional paragraph – Feb. 9, 2013) What I observe about Philippine culture is that it treats children as objects. Some Filipinos may see children as equal to animals, simply because of their less developed (as compared to adults) state. Thus, the adults would bark commands or expect children to obey them, similar to ordering a dog. This is a dehumanizing aspect of Philippine culture. Or even people who think children are cute may unknowingly treat children as objects. They may find a child cute, and pinch, overdress, bother or do something that reflects their fancies over the child, but puts the child in discomfort. This should be avoided at all costs.

We certainly need to improve our view of children beyond what tradition and convention tell us. Of course, what we need now is to improve our economic situation. Poverty is a strong factor in poor treatment of children. Because of poverty, we have other problems like street children and out-of-school youth. To alleviate this, improving our economy is a necessity. And this may include constitutional reform, because poverty may be related to flaws in our laws, as well as our personal and social beliefs. Hopefully, with a better economy, there will be less poverty and better treatment of children.

But of course, media reform is necessary to improve treatment of children. In fact, this Willing Willie episode, more people see it as a problem of the whole media industry than just Willie’s problem. And as a reason to return to better programming. I miss shows like Sesame Street and The Electric Company, and even local shows like Batibot. that was more respectful of children and helps educates them. The likes of Bodgie Pascua and Feny Angeles Bautista promote kindness to children, and we certainly need more people like them on TV. We also need to return the kind of shows that see children in a more respectful manner and also emphasize that its the adults that should give more to the children, and not the other way around.

39 Replies to “Does Filipino Society treat Children Poorly?”

  1. Superb article. Three thoughts creep into my brain this breezy Sunday morning.

    One, treating children like property is a facet of a bigger problem, the big “E” of Philippine society, Ego, where power is the underlying motive to all behavior. Children have no power, so they are treated poorly. The motto seems to be “if I have one iota of power, I will take advantage . . .” Thus we see corruption, pollution (who cares about the neighbor?), rude behavior behind government desks or even from retail merchants (the opposite of customer service), inconsiderate behavior at the ATM and on the roads, and on and on.

    Two, not only have schools failed (they, like most parents, follow the authoritarian power-model), so has the Catholic Church, which has such tremendous sway in the Philippines but has no idea how to instill the graciousness of the Golden Rule in Philippine society.

    Three, I don’t think there is anything wrong with children dancing or making parents laugh as long as parents are giving them books and teaching them the joy of learning. When dancing is the only reason for being, it is guaranteed to produce a lot of little brainless, Ego-bound Willies.

    Thanks for the good read.

  2. Well I’ve always noticed some young kids living in our neighborhood which is a slum saying bad words like putang ina so yeah. Another thing is those retarded parents who rides Jack Thompson’s boat for blaming violent games like Grand Theft Auto which will make their daughter/son become a criminal from playing it.
    Oh and from your latter, are you talking about the likes of Uncle Bob’s Lucky 7 Club? Actually Batibot was my childhood show (the new Batibot in TV5 doesn’t look like Batibot at all without Pong Pagong and Kiko Matsing) but yes those kind of shows must return and show more. They show great values for a child to learn.

    1. Yeah. Seeing the little squatter kids curse that loudly, and even say the F word makes me wonder, what are the parents doing?

      Thanks for reminding me of Uncle Bob’s Lucky 7 club. Yeah, we really need those kind of shows back.

  3. I, an anime fan, keep it to myself. Even my attempts to learn japanese language. So I won’t be called a weaboo. It hurts.

    Shows focus on instant gratification. Nakita ninyo yung jovit baldovino mmk story? Naku, for sure, madaming mangangarap na mag showbiz nyan.

    Showbiz country. Wtf.

    1. You got it. Puking showbiz country. Instant gratification even on things like gossip! WTF (Walang Thinking ang mga Filipinos) indeed.

  4. I also noticed in tragedies involving young people, the parents’ expression of grief on the matter usually revolves around the child being a source of “hope” for the parents’ upliftment from poverty and that said tragedy is a huge setback for the parents’ and child’s siblings aspirations to extricate themselves from poverty. It’s as if the personal aspirations of the child comes secondary to the personal aspirations of his/her parents and this underlying attitude towards kids comes out most clearly in tragedies.

    1. Yes, the very pattern in a poverty-stricken society that has closed family values. It really steals from the children their own lives, in a way.

    2. Nurturing is not a concept that comes easily to those instilled with values of personal advantage over consideration. A kid is about the most powerless of humans, so it is easy to play the cold power punch against them. It is abuse by western standards to birth again and again simply to have tools for the field, to care not for the development of the child. It is child labor in the mines, sanctioned by society. And the Church, I might add.

    3. I noticed the same thing wherein these parents seemed to just have a child in order for it to raise them out of poverty…it, is the only way or hope of a parent, the child, who did not have any say in the matter why he or she was borne and now has to take care of the parents that insulted him/her all the way to adulthood but expected to be taken care of by the same child anyway. To them, the child did not have any other choice, it’s ingrained and expected!

  5. We have to look deeply into ourselves…what has gone wrong in our society…we have: drug mules; OFW prostitutes; OFW go-go dancers; etc…now we have Children Chippendale Dancers; gyrating in a sexually disgusting way…
    Filipino Psychologists and PhschoAnalysts…please give your views and solutions…

  6. nice article ChinoF. kudos to you!

    and yes, we do treat children poorly. not just in Willie’s (same old) case. we have child labor which seems never reduced but it simply is irreversible. hope we can change it.

    1. Thanks. Yes, the Jan-Jan case actually opens a can of worms. Which it should, so we can address other important problems.

  7. Parents do not own their children but mere stewards of a life entrusted to them. Self-sufficiency, hard-work, excellence and intellectualism are hard finds in a population drowning in commercialism, consumerism and mediocrity.

    Most Filipino parents if not uninvolved or passive are authoritarian producing arrogant smart asses or irresponsible wimps. It is no wonder the country is churning out manpower who can’t fare well locally even abroad. The very foundation of a person is corrupted.

    I am a product of the authoritative parenting model and this is what I also employ as my parenting style. I can leave my children to themselves with full confidence that they are responsible and would rarely or never get into trouble. I allow them to defend themselves when they get reprimanded and this makes them realize that their reasoning is out of logic. Democracy should be well practiced at home and should start at home.

    1. Thanks for sharing that bit, Mike. It goes to show that popular modes of parenting in the country leave a lot to be desired. I hope more people learn from and adopt what we’ve written about here.

  8. I still love toys (particularly Transformers and Gundam) and animes even if I am now 18 (going 19 actually). I just hate ‘pag sinasabihan akong ang immature ko dahil dun. Excuse me, what of them? Okay, para fair, pareho kaming immature.

    And it’s a really big mystery to me ba’t bigla na lang nawala yung mga favorite kong kid shows dati like Teletubbies, Sesame Street, etc. Can anyone tell me why?

  9. You’re kidding right? You’ve raised so many interesting points in your article, but I don’t know any child who was treated this way by his or her parents while growing up. I am a Filipino and my parents have been amazing, and I could say the same for my friends’ parents.

    1. It’s good to hear this from you. Sadly, there are cases of cruelty from parents to their children. Have you heard of parents to refuse to care for their children, and want a sibling or relative to do it instead? That’s another way children are disrespected. I hope more parents are like yours.

      1. My girlfriend is Filipina, I am American. I have seen so much abuse in her household and in the household of her other relatives. I have too many stories to recount. I remember one time when me and my gf lived on opposite sides of the country here in America, I literally sat there in horror as my girlfriend was repetitively slapped in the face and had her hair pulled harshly multiple times because she “caught” her on facebook. She took a break from the 12 hours of studying that she is required to do every day. She was never allowed to go to bed before 11pm, as her mother thought that sleep was a waste of time.

        My girlfriend is an amazing artist! She could easily be the next Di’Vinci! But yet her whole life she has been allowed to do nothing but science, because her mother wants her to be a doctor. Something that my gf has never wanted to be. But her mother would put down her art, or yell at her for drawing instead of reading her text books.
        Her mother has said things to her like “I should have aborted you” or “I should have thrown you in the dumpster, you are such a disgrace.” All because my gf got a B on her report card. Not a day goes by in which my gf doesn’t get called stupid or fat by her mother.
        Her parents will quite often pull horrible pranks on her. She was born with a weak heart, and one day she had to undergo so checkups on her heart. The test results got sent to her via the mail and her parents got to it first. Opened it up even though it was in my gf’s name and then when my gf got home they told her that they saw the results and that they had bad news. They told her that she only had a few months left to live. My gf began to weep inconsolably. Then her parents began to laugh hysterically, showed her the results, and then told her that they were only playing. The results were normal.
        To this day my gf is terrified of her parents. She is afraid to confront them when they are wrong, or even talk back and defend herself from them. Even when her mother tells a straight up lie, she is still too afraid to point it out. My gf is in college now, and still this continues. The only thing that has stopped is the physical abuse. I only gave you one example of that out of the many more that actually happened. But the emotional abuse continues. The controlling, dictating, and demoralizing abuse still continues. In fact it has gotten so bad that it leaks out to me, and our roommates. Her parents got it in their heads that they own our house and everyone in it. They feel that they have the right to not only violate her privacy, but the privacy of everyone we live with.
        Being the person that I am, after 3 years of dealing with this, I had had enough. I voiced my opinions of them and their abuse quite vocally. And I let her parents know that if they ever put their hands on her again I would personally see them rot in jail. This did not have the desired result, as now I have to move out of our house or her parents will “make her move out”. To them I am now the disrespectful bad American for defending my gf.
        I bring this up because you mention that poverty and media have a role to play in how children are treated. I don’t believe that is the only issue. Though I am no psychologist, so I have no real title to attach to it. My gf has spent most of her life in America. Her mother is rich. And her father pulls in above what the average American does. And still the treat her has if she is insignificant and worthless. They care not for her as a person, as a daughter. They only care about her grades and her classes. Whenever she gets a refund check from her financial aid, her parents take the entirety of the check to us on themselves and claim that she is not responsible enough to handle the money.
        I have found myself at a point where I don’t know what to do. She is terrified of her parents and I am not. But protecting her is no longer an option, it only makes them more controlling and manipulative. But yet my gf will not defend herself from them either.
        Any suggestions?

        1. Can’t your gf move out of her parent’s house if she’s experiencing abuse? If it needs to be, she can cut her parents off completely if they would still treat her badly. But first, I think that she can talk to them and nicely point out specifically the actions that her parents do that she does not like and say that she will not tolerate any longer. If they still would not change their attitudes, she can move out of the house. She can also try supporting herself. You can also try explaining her that what she’s experiencing with her parents is not good and can be considered abuse. She can try to be free from them and be indepent if things are still bad. If you’re gf is still not of legal age, she can emancipate herself.

        2. If she still has problems, she can stay with a friend or any relatives that she has that are nice. She can also talk to a guidance counselor at her school, or if she’s religious, to a priest. I hope that everything will turn out fine for you and your girlfriend.

  10. “I consider this to have deep-seated roots in both the authoritarian culture of the Philippines and the view of children in media. Filipino culture, with its poverty and poor education, is likely to be cruel to children, or at least disrespectful of them. I always thought that one of the best measures of a society is the way it treats its children. A society which respects and considers the needs of children as important as adults’ needs is a healthy society. But one which puts down children is backward and decrepit. Unfortunately, the latter seems more true about our culture.”

    Showed this to a classmate of mine… the guy was all for artificial uteri so that future generations would have, and I paraphrase, “no (authoritarian) parents to owe their lives to.” Raised basically by psychologists, with essentially no attachments… With no family of their own, I can actually see the potential for abuse. No parents, no kin… A cruel leader could easily exploit that one thing which makes them effectively expendable, make them do things that would horrify even the most jaded of spies. It only takes one corrupt psychologist to essentially condition them in such a way that…pawns. At least with most people, they have parents to look up to one way or another. But these people? There is a reason most military leaders are loath to treat their subordinates are expendable assets.

  11. I know that this article is three years old but I felt the need to add something. Don’t you guys notice that in Filipino teleseryes that the children are mistreated SO badly?

    Example, Gary from Mara Clara beat the crap out of Mara to the point where she might die. He also kidnapped Mara and his daughter. He wanted the bomb strapped to Mara so she can get killed. I mean what kind of person would do that to a child? Mara isn’t Gary’s biological child but COME ON. That is too much.

    Another example is Annaliza whereas Stella REALLY wanted Annaliza dead. She starved Annaliza, beats her up, yells at her, and neglects her. Stella also had her kidnapped in the first place. Stella then HIRED her ex’s classmate to POISON Annaliza but instead her own daughter Kathy died from the poisoning.

    Gary and Stella are intended to be villains but it’s still over-the-top. Even villains have a heart. Not all of them are THAT evil.

    This is just too much and yet we wonder why our kids are screwed up. Filipinos shows wrong morals and values. Anyways, I’ll stop rambling now. I just needed to say it.

    1. One year later, your observations are still true. Years after Feny Angeles-Bautista’s observation, children are still being treated like crap on TV.

      And here’s another thing I just learned: The Philippines is not a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. And I thought we were an advanced country. Kuno pala.

    2. Not to mention that Anna made herself a butt monkey even if Arlene was being pretentious if not outright mean and hostile to her. Sure, there are IRL wallflowers out there, but she should’ve stood up and say “I’ve had enough” in the first place without making it too drawn out with all the sappy melodrama and all that.

      Which reminds me… I don’t know if you ever heard of Diana Serra Cary, formerly known as the child actress “Baby” Peggy Montgomery. She became world-famous and had earned well over a million or so dollars during the Roaring Twenties, but at what price? She was deprived of her well-deserved childhood, got blackballed due to her authoritarian parents, and was eventually disillusioned of the Hollywood rat race she was in. Now at an old age, she’s pleading the Motion Picture & Television Fund for assistance, and yet despite her pioneering contributions, she was snubbed at:

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