In 1990, nearly six out of every ten Filipinos lived in villages or barangays. Each barangay consisted of a number of sitios (neighborhoods), clusters of households that were the basic building blocks of society above the family. Each sitio comprised 15 to 30 households, and most barangays numbered from 150 to 200 households. As a rule, barangays also contained an elementary school, one or two small retail stores, and a small Roman Catholic chapel. They were combined administratively into municipalities.
In the larger center, one could find a much more substantial church and rectory for the resident priest, other non-Roman Catholic churches, a number of retail stores and the weekly marketplace, a full six-year elementary school and probably a high school, a rice and corn mill, a pit for cockfights, and the homes of most landowners and middle-class teachers and professionals living in the municipality. This urban concentration was not only the administrative center but also the social, economic, educational, and recreational locus. This was particularly so where the center was itself a full-scale town, complete with restaurants, cinemas, banks, specialty stores, gas stations, repair shops, bowling alleys, a rural health clinic, and perhaps a hospital and hotel or two. Television sets were found in most homes in such towns, whereas some barangays in remote areas did not even have electricity.
In the rural Philippines, traditional values remained the rule. The family was central to a Filipino's identity, and many sitios were composed mainly of kin. Kin ties formed the basis for most friendships and supranuclear family relationships. Filipinos continued to feel a strong obligation to help their neighbors-- whether in granting a small loan or providing jobs for neighborhood children, or expecting to be included in neighborhood work projects, such as rebuilding or reroofing a house and clearing new land. The recipient of the help was expected to provide tools and food. Membership in the cooperative work group sometimes continued even after a member left the neighborhood. Likewise, the recipient's siblings joined the group even if they lived outside the sitio. In this way, familial and residential ties were intermixed.
Before World War II, when landlords and tenants normally lived in close proximity, patron-client relationships, often infused with mutual affection, frequently grew out of close residential contact. In the early 1990s, patron-client reciprocal ties continued to characterize relations between tenants and those landlords who remained in barangays. Beginning with World War II, however, landlords left the countryside and moved into the larger towns and cities or even to one of the huge metropolitan centers. By the mid-1980s, most large landowners had moved to the larger cities, although, as a rule, they also maintained a residence in their provincial center. Landowners who remained in the municipality itself were usually school teachers, lawyers, and small entrepreneurs who were neither longstanding large landowners (hacenderos) nor owners of more than a few hectares of farmland.
In the urban areas, the landowners had the advantages of better education facilities and more convenient access to banking and business opportunities. This elite exodus from the barangays, however, brought erosion of landlord-tenant and patron-client ties. The exodus of the wealthiest families also caused patronage of local programs and charities to suffer.
The strength of dyadic patterns in Philippine life probably caused farmers to continue to seek new patron-client relationships within their barangays or municipalities. Their personal alliance systems continued to stress the vertical dimension more than the horizontal. Likewise, they sought noninstitutional means for settling disputes, rarely going to court except as a last resort. Just as the local landlord used to be the arbiter of serious disputes, so the barangay head could be called on to perform this function.
The traditional rural village was an isolated settlement, influenced by a set of values that discouraged change. It relied, to a great extent, on subsistence farming. By the 1980s, land reform and leaseholding arrangements had somewhat limited the role of the landlords so that farmers could turn to government credit agencies and merchants as sources of credit. Even the categories of landlord and tenant changed, because one who owned land might also rent additional land and thus become both a landlord and a tenant.
In many barangays, the once peaceful atmosphere of the community was gone, and community cohesion was further complicated by the effects of the New People's Army (NPA) insurgency (see The Communist Insurgency , ch. 5). If residents aided the NPA, they faced punishment from government troops. Government troops could not be everywhere at all times, however, and when they left, those who aided the government faced vengeance from the NPA. One approach that the government took was to organize the villagers into armed vigilante groups. Such groups, however, have often been accused of extortion, intimidation, and even torture (see Civil-Military Relations, ch. 4).
Economic organization of Philippine farmers has been largely ineffective. This fact has worked to the disadvantage of all of the farmers, especially the landless farm workers who were neither owners nor tenants. These landless farmers remained in abject poverty with little opportunity to better their lot or benefit from land reform or welfare programs.
Even in the 1990s, the pace of life was slower in rural than in urban areas. Increased communication and education had brought rural and urban culture closer to a common outlook, however, and the trend toward scientific agriculture and a market economy had brought major changes in the agricultural base (see Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing, ch. 3). Scientific farming on a commercialized basis, land reform programs, and increased access to education and to mass media were all bringing change. In spite of migration to cities, the rural areas continued to grow in population, from about 33 million in 1980 to nearly 38 million in 1985. Rural living conditions also improved significantly, so that by the early 1990s most houses, except in the most remote areas, were built of strong material and equipped with electricity and indoor plumbing.