Filipino Sense of Space

In the Filipino sense of space, physical boundaries are nearly taken for granted. One possible reason is that in the barrio (bukid) the regular Filipino abode is often located in an unfenced open space, surrounded by nature and the vast skies. Often, a Pinoy's notion of the boundaries between his sitio and the next is a tree (pagdating sa may balete-when you reach the balete tree), a bridge (pagdating sa tulay-when you reach the bridge), a river crossing (pagkatawid ng ilog-when you reach the river), a waiting shed (pagdating sa shade-when you reach the waiting shed) or a sari-sari store (pagdating sa tindahan-when you reach the store). His neighbors are his relatives up to the fourth cousins or even beyond that, or people he has known all his life. So he views the whole area – not just the house he lives in – as his home.

Furthermore, in the rural areas where most Filipinos come from, physical distance, expressed simply by the words dito, diyan, dine (here, there), is not measured using meters or kilometres (although these numbers may be found posted along the highways), but in relation to how much effort and time one needs to be “there” or in a location. This Filipino sense of space manifests in the urban areas in sometimes funny and sometimes exasperating ways – it depends on how you look at them. 

Filipino sense of space in the City

When a rural settler finds a small home in the city (bayan), she considers all usable space as her space. Used to having so much space in the province, she now needs to adapt to the small living area, or the area needs to be adjusted to meet her need for functional spaces. She will set up another place outside her house or adjacent to it as dining area, bath area, laundry space or sala. Generally, she will not ask permission to do her laundry on the sidewalk. She just goes ahead and makes it her wash area. Nobody among her neighbors will dare complain, since probably, they will have their own extensions at the same sidewalk. And besides, they need to makisama so that there will be harmonious relations in the neigborhood.

In many low-cost houses, fences will extend up to the sidewalk as owners maximize garage space. Houses extend upward, sideward or forward, most probably with or without a building permit, but depending on the budget, and nobody will make a fuss even if the sidewalks will have turned into jutted walkways. Each home is inevitably going to take its own shape beyond borders, and the resulting landscape will not be “clean” or “manicured,” even if in the beginning, the homebuilders envisioned an area with a well-planned, uniformed look.

Making Sense of the Filipino Sense of Space

In Metro Manila, the MMDA has set up steel barriers on the sidewalks to enforce the rules for pedestrians. In spite of the traffic lights, pedestrian lanes, yellow and red and blue street signs, huge billboards had to be put up on strategic crossings:

    Huwag Tatawid, Nakamamatay” (No Pedestrian Crossing here or you will die); 
    Bawal maglakad dito, Doon po ang Sakayan” (No Pedestrian walkway here, Please proceed to Bus Stop).

The authorities must be strict, unbending, and incorruptible in the enforcement of all traffic rules or things will just go as many ways as the Filipino sense of space dictates. The resulting actions are often perceived as a lack of discipline. On the other hand, they could also be a manifestation of the Filipino's lack of appreciation of physical boundaries (or restrictions on space), since most Pinoys have come from areas where only natural boundaries exist.

Tell us about your surroundings, your Filipino sense of space.