How Christianity shaped the Filipino family culture

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 8) — Spanish missionaries introduced Christianity to the Philippines 500 years ago, and the religion has since changed many aspects of Filipinos' lives, including the definition of a family, a Church historian said Thursday.

“When Christianity came, the fuzzy boundaries of what the family was, were defined. And that is what we have now - sa labas at iyong nasa loob (legitimate and illegitimate family),” Dr. Paul Dumol, who is a full professor at the University of Asia and the Pacific’s Department of History, told CNN Philippines’ New Day.

Prior to the Spanish colonization period, there was no restriction on how many women a man can have a relationship with, Dr. Dumol said. At the time, a Filipino man had one official wife, but also “had access” to other women, who are “almost certainly” his relatives, he added, noting they all lived under the same roof.

“In my research about the pre-Hispanic family, the family was not defined by parents but rather by the male, the father, and it did not matter how many women he had because the family was his progeny,” Dumol explained.

Historic significance

Before Christianity, Dumol said there were no municipalities or cities, only villages and each of them was inhabited by people who are related to one another.

But in the process of evangelizing Filipinos, missionaries grouped together villages, which they later called pueblos and are now known as municipalities or cities, he explained.

“Pueblo is the first community — where you have various families interacting with each other,” Dumol said, adding missionaries had founded around 850 to 900 pueblos.

He also believed another importance of Christianity is its successful campaign against abuses during the Spanish colonial rule by what was called the Synod of Manila, which started in 1582. Discussions of the assembly of church leaders, religious persons and most eminent members of the communities included the teaching of catechism in the native dialect and the declaration of human rights of both native Christians and non-Christians, according to a post on the Manila Cathedral’s website. 

“This campaign of the synod, which was led by missionaries — mostly Augustinians and Franciscans — was so successful that to them I trace the concept of hustisya or katarungan (justice) that we have in the Philippines,” he added.