Multicultural exchange #5

The Filipino Custom “BAYANIHAN” and the SDGs

Loren Chloe Denna, BALAOING 


Hello everyone, Loren here. The weather is getting warmer, and the hydrangeas are starting to bloom. I hope everyone is having a good school year so far. Today, it was my turn to report about the Filipino norm and the SDGs, particularly bayanihan.

Bayanihan is a voluntary effort of mobilizing people to work on a specific goal. It is a Filipino custom originating from the word “bayan” which means town, but others also say that it comes from “bayani” which mean hero. This custom dates back from the tradition where townspeople assist families who want to relocate. Traditional Filipino houses, called “bahay kubo” or nipa huts, made of bamboo wood and nipa husks, are easy to move. Men carry the bahay kubo to a new location, and women and children help by carrying lighter objects. This scene is the most common example of bayanihan, but it also extends from moving houses to repairing homes and building communal infrastructure. Of course, this custom continued with the changing times, and aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 11 and 16, which focus on sustainable cities and communities, and peace, justice, and strong institutions.

According to PAGASA, the weather authority in the Philippines, twenty tropical cyclones enter the country yearly. As a result, bayanihan comes in times of natural disasters and emergencies. Local government officials organize teams to assist with evacuations, especially during severe weather like typhoons and flooding. Residents also contribute by managing traffic, clearing roads, and guiding vehicles when external support cannot reach them. Residents and volunteers also help during search and rescue operations after landslides. Recently, bayanihan is not only for emergencies and disasters. An example is when youth organizations organized a bayanihan summit in 2019 to encourage all sectors to incorporate SDGs into their projects and initiatives. The summit also addressed issues like fighting fake news and disinformation (SDG 4), promoting responsible consumerism (SDG 12), and creating livable, human-centered cities (SDG 11). Another example is when the past president signed a law called the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act” (Republic Act 11469) to reallocate the national budget to address the impacts of COVID-19 and provide more aid to families in need.

However, there are times of exploitation and the essence of bayanihan may lose its meaning. Examples of bayanihan misuse are instances of political opportunism, where politicians solicit funds for public projects or campaigns. Public school leaders have also faced criticism for soliciting funds for basic equipment and classroom necessities, which should already have funding. While some schools may lack sufficient funds for these basic facilities, local officials should prioritize these needs. Additionally, parents and students are often asked to help fix chairs and clean facilities before schools reopen, sometimes requiring them to bring their own cleaning materials.



  1. How do people share information about disaster and the need for people for help during bayanihan?

After disasters, social media or SNS is usually not an effective avenue to ask for assistance in rural areas. Radio or TV announcements, as well as text messaging between officials are more effective than posting in social media. Although posting through social media is also effective in areas with stable internet and electricity.

  1. Is bayanihan only practiced in the rural areas? How is it practiced in cities like Metro Manila?

Physical help is seen more often in rural areas, where the residents within the community and the neighboring community would give their help. People living in large cities can extend their help by donating money, clothes, or food for the affected residents. Usually, celebrities lead in asking for donations and giving them to the affected communities.


  1. Although bayanihan is a cultural norm in the Philippines, it is not unique to the country. Other countries also have their forms of bayanihan. In Malaysia, there are small volunteer units called “rela.” Their activities vary, but they typically patrol at night to ensure safety and function as first responders during disasters or accidents. In China, a one-to-one system exists where a neighboring city donates money to help rebuild structures in a city affected by a disaster. In Indonesia, there used to be a tradition in rural areas where townspeople would build houses together. However, this practice has declined as construction work has become more common. In Laos, young people are often encouraged to participate in activities during festivals to help monks and engage in religious activities and festival preparations. In Japan, however, volunteering practices can be observed more in rural areas. In rural farming communities, residents share their harvests with each other, and the youth often help with harvesting. People in these provinces usually communicate more with one another. People tend to communicate less with their neighbors in urban areas. In France, there are fewer volunteer activities during disasters or emergencies, partly because such events happen less often. People tend to be more independent and prefer to spend their time on self-improvement and work. The concept of volunteering is also evident in religious activities. One student joined their host family in volunteering for their church, assisting in construction projects. Another student enrolled in a religious university, where the motto “for others, with others” emphasizes using one’s talents for the benefit of others, which leads to personal growth.


  1. Exploitation of volunteering and generosity of others can be experienced in other countries as well. In Malaysia, for example, local assembly officials often encourage donations during disasters, but there have been reports of corrupt practices and misuse of these donated funds. In China, gender inequality affects the distribution of donations and humanitarian aid, with men receiving preferential treatment from local governments. Donations intended for basic feminine needs, such as pads and toiletries, often fail to reach their intended beneficiaries as the funds are redirected to other purposes. Similarly, misuse of donations can happen more often within religious institutions. In Thailand, for example, it is quite common for monks to use donations for personal gain rather than for the temple.





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