SIR: The Compadre System

Flowers from WowPhilippines

The Compadre System, or the “Extended Family” is the basis of Filipino social structure.  When they say “Extended Family” that doesn’t mean that there is a blood relationship, or even a marital relationship.  Some “family members” are chosen, rather than being truly related.

The Compadre System, or Extended Family is, as I said, the basis of Filipino social structure.  It is a kinship system which extends one’s relationships beyond one’s immediate family to include up to about 400 people.  Can you imagine?  400 people!  One thing that I often hear from foreigners who marry in the Philippines is that their wife (or husband!) has so much family, and they probably will not even meet all of them, much less remember them all.  While it is true, some of these people that are called “cousins” or “uncles or aunts” may not actually be blood relatives at all, but rather “adopted” extended family.

Basically, the way that Filipino society is structured starts out with the individual himself.  Remember, through all of our SIR series, it is quite obvious that the individual person is really not the focus, as the group or barkada is much stronger, and the individual is expected to conform to the others, and not really show individualism like we we westerns do.

SIR: The Compadre System

The next layer of the society, in relation to the individual is the blood relationship.  This would include immediate family (parents, brothers, sisters), and extend out to cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces and such.  Anybody who has a blood relationship with that individual would be part of this layer of that person’s kinship system.  The blood relationship would usually extend out to around 100 people, although that number would certainly vary.

US Citizenship for child

The next layer of this system is the marital relationship.  As one family member marries another person, then the two families join into each other’s kinship system.  In the USA, where I come from, the families of two people who marry generally do not form a relationship with each other, unless they are very, very close to the people who marry.  Of course, the groom would become close with the bride’s family, and vice versa.  Here, though, the ties between families of people who marry become much closer and go much deeper.  This layer of the kinship system extends the “family circle” up to around 200 or 300 pepole.  That extended family is starting to get kind of big, don’t you think?



OK, we still have one more layer to look at.  That layer is the Ritual Kin.  This generally consists of people whom you choose to be kin, instead of them being chooses by blood or by others who decide to marry.  As an example, if a couple has a baby, when the baby is baptised, the couple chooses “Ninongs” and “Ninangs” for the child.  The English equivalent of this would be Godfathers and Godmothers.  In my society, though, usually there is one Godfather and one Godmother.  Here, there can be many of each.  I suppose any number can be chosen, but in general 3 or 4 of each will probably be chosen.  Basically, once you have served as a Ninong, you become a relation to each of the other Ninongs, each of the Ninangs, and the family of the child.  Recently, I served as Ninong for a child of a friend.  The photo you see above in this article was taken at a lunch that we all enjoyed together after the Church service.  The friend who’s child was baptised is a very good friend, and a reader of this site.  I am not going to identify her, because I don’t know if she wants to be publicly identified.  If she wants to, she can do so in the comments.  While we were having lunch, one of the other Ninongs came to me and said “we are Kompare now” which means that we are sort of “family” to each other, or at least very close friends.  Probably more than just friends, though, it’s a special relationship.  Now, this not only includes baptisms, but weddings, and such too.  Imagine how the extended family can grow when these relationships are added!  The Ritual Kin extends the Kinship system of the individual out to around 400 people, although there is not set rule, and it can be more or less than the number I gave.

Well, after this article, we have only one more aspect of SIR to explore, and it is probably the aspect that is most controversial to foreigners like most people reading this.  It is the thing that non-Filipinos rail about most in regards to Filipinos and Philippine society.  Can you guess what it is?  If you can’t, that’s OK, we will look into that one in the next week or so.

Post Author: MindanaoBob (328 Posts)

Bob Martin is the Publisher & Editor in Chief of the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine. Bob is an Internet Entrepreneur who is based in Davao. Bob is an American who has lived permanently in Mindanao since May 2000. Here in Mindanao, Bob has resided in General Santos City, and now in Davao City. Bob is the owner of this website and many others.


  1. Paul says

    Hi Bob – Yes, when one marries a pinay or pinoy, one marries the family! :wink:

    Our barangay back in the province is, more or less, one large family. Most (perhaps as high as 90%) have blood ties, while the remaining few are "adopted." The barangay itself is quite old, having started as a sitio then a barrio in Spanish times, and was comprised of families of the same "clan."

    Tracing geneologies is quite difficult as there are many "double-double" relationships (a brother & sister of one family marry the sister & brother of another family, producing a double bond of families).

    All in all, the whole mix was for the benefit and survival of the family – one of the most important (and worth dying or killing for) layers of society.

  2. Phil n Jess R. says

    Wow and I'm related to a whole barangay too ..Just amazing isn't it .just about everybody in the my community is from the same tribe and I married a tribal chiefs niece .talk about being in the thick of it …hee hee .. Phil N Jess

  3. alan cline says

    Looking forward to the next article in the series . I dare say it should generate considerable comment . :-)

    I would also like to commend you on this series overall . Philippine culture is not easily understood especially by expats . As an American and coming from a culture that tends to throw you to the wolves as soon as possible or at least prepare you for them it has been very informative .

    Based on my experience a large % of expat family issues have to do with the Philippine interdependence on family versus the American concept of induvuality and the missunderstanding that can often translate into . Especially money issues . :-)

  4. says

    Hi Bob! Thank you again for being Cedric's Ninong. I think Milper and I try to deviate from the way most Filipinos baptize their children: getting dozens of ninongs and ninangs. :-) We actually really get ninongs and ninangs who we think will be good examples to our children and not only because we know them.

  5. Dale Head says

    Hello Bob,
    I just read your, "Sir Compadre System" and really enjoyed it very much. I am the guy from Tx. that emailed you a while back saying how much I enjoyed your article on your scenery outside of your office window. I read your articles several times a week . Believe it or not what you wrote about it is what I've wanted for a long time is a lot of family and close family friends.
    Like I said before, my plans are to move to the Philippines in the near future and find a new life.
    Also, thank you and your family and friends for helping and passing out the gifts at Christmas for the people. I enjoyed the pictures.
    I hope to meet you someday.
    May God Bless your family and the Philippines,


  6. says

    I have experenced this in some ways. I have been ninong twice at weddings. The first Elena was Ninang too. It was the son of a friend of hers. That did not gain any compadre connections. But the second time, Elena was not asked. The groom was an electrician I had hired and we became friends. At his wedding I met a building General Contractor. I have used him on a project I managed to find me some trades and he took on some of the work too. We call each other Bro.He has offered to do some minor repairs at my house. When I asked the labor free, he siad, no Bro, I cannot charge my bro.
    He then asked me to be Ninong for his baby next March. Of course I accepted.

    Then the Electrician I was Ninong for him asked me to be Ninong for his new baby now too.

    One thing strange is for a child, they will not ask both married members to be Ninong and Ninang.

    In America usually a married couple is asked to be GodParents. Oh well, we are not in America anymore.

  7. says

    I do not know about weddings but we were both major sponser, the first to walk down after the grooms parents. I have heard about it with Baptisms. Well, we broke the mold.

  8. says

    Hi Bob,
    I'm not sur how much influence the presence of major US military in my area effects a lot of thing but on the issue of wedding Ninong/Nanay being couples: it is very common here. We had 12 'sponsors' 6 of each gender, of these 8 were of married couples.

    I would raise this point to your article:
    Whilst there is the utmost sincerity in the way we are treated by our sponsors; as family, another aspect is in play: I am a foreigner.
    I do not choose to just comply with a role here. We are two very different people from two very different cultures. I will always retain my individuality; I don't care if this offends anyone. I like the way I am treated by these adopted family; it's really nice, but they know who I am and that I have limits to my adaptability.

    I am going to be the first to guess at your last point: I don't want to steal your thunder, but you did ask us to guess! (I may be way off!)

    'Selfishness'/ 'Maka-sarili' or 'Sakiim'
    This is the dirty word in the Filipino culture which is understood totally differently by us westerners. At least in the bit I have learned, this is the crux of our social difference. I won't go on and on about it now; but in my opinoin this has to be it!
    (Go on Bob humiliate me!)

  9. Andy Wooldridge says

    Hello Bob,

    Still catching up on your sites. I am a ninong for Josey's cousin little girl. Was asked before I came this time and said ok not knowing so much what it meant. I had met her cousin and husband at pig roast I sponsored the fist time I was there. 30 showed up for that and I just said wow. This time I catered Josey's birthday party at our house in the compound where we rented. Had to rent tables and chairs and told the person I needed 4 tables for serving and 16 chairs. When they arrived with tables and chairs to my surprise the chairs kept coming. They thought I said 60 chairs. Turned out to be a good thing. yes there is still a lot for me to learn so I deep reading. Looking forward to the day I don't read it after the fact but very gald of the misunderstanding between myself and the rental place. hehe

  10. says

    Hi Paul – Maayong buntag to you. Yep, this really brings to light just how many people you do marry into when you "marry the family" it can be a LOT of people, more than a person realizes!

  11. says

    Hi brian – Better watch out, I'm sure we have readers in Tennessee and they might not take to kindly to that. Then again, they might not find it unusual! :lol:

  12. says

    Hi Tom Ramberg – Ha ha… no problem at all! I must say that I agree with you… Rusty has been uncharacteristically quiet lately. Hopefully he is feeling OK. Maybe the fact that you haven't been teasing him has him upset! :shock:

  13. says

    Hi alan cline – Thanks for visiting and commenting. I'm glad to hear that you have found this series of articles helpful! I agree with your analysis of American vs. Filipino culture!

  14. says

    Hi Cathy – It was my pleasure, for certain! Yes, it was a smaller number of Ninangs and Ninongs than normal, and I thought it made for a closer group, more intimate, if you know what I mean. I hope that we get to see Cedric and the whole family often!

  15. says

    Hi Dale Head – Thank you for your kind comment, it is much appreciated. I will also look forward to meeting you, I'm sure our paths will cross at some point.

  16. says

    Hi Bruce – i was kind of surprised when you said that you were Ninong and Elena was Ninang at the wedding, because that is very unusual for a husband and wife to both be sponsors like that. Actually, I never heard of it until now. But, when you are the Ninong, the couple will often call your wife Ninang too, it's sort of an honorary thing, I think. You are right, though, in the States, it is customary for a married couple to both be godparents. You're also right at the end… we're not in America anymore! :lol:

  17. says

    Hi Bruce – I could be wrong, I am not an expert. I just never heard of it before, but apparently it happens sometimes. Maybe somebody who really knows can give us the scoop.

  18. says

    Hi Chris – What you say is much the same as I have said many times – "I am not Filipino, and no matter what I ever do I will not be Filipino." So, I ask that people accept me as I am, and not expect me to fit their mold. I hope that I can be a positive role model for anybody that I stand as a Sponsor for, but I will be different than other Ninongs, because my experience in life is different. That can be good, and it can also be bad. It is certainly different, though.

    Don't worry I have no intention of humiliating you. Your guess is not correct, though. Not even close. It is an aspect of Filipino culture that has been discussed many, many times on this site already, and we will discuss again in my next, and last SIR article.

  19. says

    Hi Andy Wooldridge – Ha ha… that's funny about the chairs. I often find that communicating numbers can be difficult and easily misunderstood. 16 becomes 60. 17 becomes 70, etc. I don't know why, but I find it common.

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