By By Ramonfelipe A. Sarmiento
Sosyudad (Last of five parts)
posted 12-Mar-2010  ·  
1,702 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

(NOTE: The current series is drawn from my Ph.D. dissertation in Anthropology at the University of the Philippines. It is my way of giving back to the community what I had taken the liberty to extract from it, namely its culture – or certain aspects of it. This is the least I can do to reciprocate the generosity.)

In this last part of the series, we address the question: What does the sosyudad tell about the Viracnons? Does it make us special and unique? Answering such questions leads to other questions: Is it something to be proud of? Do we perpetuate or get rid of it? I will tackle only the first set of questions. Hopefully, it will help the readers answer the second set. The sosyudad survives only if people continue to see reasons for giving life to it.

To start with, humans being social animals, practice cooperation as a survival strategy, then as they do now. Various forms of cooperation similar to the sosyudad have been observed all over the world, especially in the so-called "traditional" societies whose economies are agriculture-based. Expectedly then, these small circles of mutual help remain rampant up to now among developing countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia. In Indonesia for example, there are numerous paluwan-type groups called arisan which in India is called chitty. In the Philippines, it is all over the place. The Ilocos has numerous types called in different terms such as zanjeras, kompang, or ammuyo In southern Luzon there are the bataris and the kabisilyahan. In the Visayas and Mindanao there are the minagsoon and komboy.

In Catanduanes, we practice several other traditional forms of cooperation alongside the sosyudad. I have already mentioned the cumbinyu. Then there is the hunglon which is a work gang that does contract work in the field such as the harvesting or planting of rice. There is also the duksoy which is one-day free labor done to build the house of a neighbor. Of course there is the atag which is corvee labor (compulsory free labor) mobilized by local government units for community projects. While the atag remains a regular practice, the three others are seen only in very few places these days. The sosyudad therefore is the most resilient form in the locality.

If the sosyudad is similar to other forms of traditional cooperation found not only in the Philippines but all over the world, is there anything that makes it unique? The answer is yes. First reason is the term itself. I came across one passing mention of sosyudad in the Ilocos but I never found any other information. Apparently, it must have gone into extinction in that area. The sosyudad is something you hear about only in Virac. Second is the centrality of the drinking. Many of the other types were mainly for practical purposes, such as saving-lending and labor exchange. While these other groups do communal partaking of food or drinks, the sosyudad is different because it exists mainly for the harampang facilitated by food and liquor. Which brings us to a third unique feature: the importance of the value of egalitarian camaraderie. I have discussed in part two how the drinking becomes facilitative in concretizing this value. The sosyudad then becomes remarkable because it is devoted to cultivate not only reciprocal care and belongingness but also equality. If you are out to impose yourself on others, the sosyudad is not for you. In my months of fieldwork doing research, this is one aspect that really impressed strongly on me about the sosyudad.

In sum, the sosyudad is evidence of our being collectivists. Being with others is highly valued. We dread being alone. It is better to do things sararo, bakong saro saro. We are not individualists, like people are supposed to be in industrialized countries. One explanation is the fact that our society faces the dual scourge of poverty and natural disasters. Cooperation is a strategy for survival. But over and above its practical advantage, being with others is a good thing in itself. Other forms of cooperation, such as the cumbinyu or paluwagan, may be practiced for their utilitarian function, but in the sosyudad it looks more like belongingness is sought for its own sake. People join not so much to have other people to them in times of dire need but for the sheer enjoyment of their company. In fact, many sosyudad groups suspend their regular operations after a really strong typhoon so that members may use their resources, time and efforts in rehabilitating their respective lives. After all, celebrating camaraderie is something that can best be enjoyed in normalcy and not during times of calamity.

As proof of our collectivist spirit and as expression of our high value for others, the sosyudad is therefore something that we can regard with pride. But because of the drinking, there are those who feel embarrassed about it. For them, the sosyudad is a stigma of vice, not a badge of virtue. But note that in the second part I have demonstrated that the sosyudad is actually a means to regulate drinking rather than an excessive indulgence. On the other hand, we have also written about a few emerging groups that have altogether gotten rid of drinking. We do not know if they become the rule in the future, but the point is that sosyudad is possible without the resort to the facility of alcohol.

Personally, there are two aspects that intrigue me about the sosyudad. One is the fact that the sosyudad has been confined to Virac. I have documented only five groups outside of Virac. Two of them were at the border barangays, one in Palawig and the other in Cabugao. The three others were outside the province: two in Manila which were composed of Viracnons, and one in Germany which does not anymore exist. But I have never heard of sosyudad groups actively operating in other towns of Catanduanes. This is not easy to explain considering that communication and movement between Virac and other towns is constant. There can only be two reasons for this. One is that there are substitute mechanisms to the sosyudad: what it provides can be pursued by other ways. The other reason could only be a resistance to Viracnon influence by other Catandunganons. While people from all over the province regularly come to Virac, it being the commercial, educational and government center, they manage to ward off purely Viracnon cultural influence. Could it be a manifestation of the dynamics between the north and the south? Perhaps. If ever, I would not impute malice into this, especially if it is an assertion of identity on the part of the taga-norte.

The second intriguing question is about sosyudad vis-à-vis politics. The values that sosyudad upholds, namely camaraderie, cooperation and egalitarianism, are the very same values on which democracy thrives. And considering that the sosyudad is indigenous to the locality, it would seem that democracy is almost part of the Viracnon’s "nature." If so, one wonders why our exercise of local politics is far from the ideal. If ever, ours is a freak brand of democracy. In the elections that we hold, there is blatant disregard of the genuine will of the people because winning means resorting to massive vote-buying. As far as I have observed, vote-buying in Catanduanes has not been matched anywhere else in the country in terms of prevalence and the level of organizational sophistication it is carried out. We have perfected the art of buying votes, we could be the vote-buying capital of the Philippines . Now, this is something that we cannot be proud about.

In short, the democratic values that operate in the very small scope of the sosyudad are not translated into the broader social unit of governance. There is a gap between the small and the large scale community. It looks like after more than a hundred years of membership in an independent state, nationhood, or any political unit larger than the small circle of significant-others, remained a phantom reality. We insist on being personalistic in relating with others. It seems true that we are stuck to the "baranganic." The political concept "nation" is foreign to us; our nationhood having been forced on us by the Spaniards. Furthermore, the democracy that applies to nationhood and anchored on such notions as individual rights and practiced through electoral politics and universalistic laws, is abstract.

As a consequence, we have two kinds of "democracy": one that we carry out on the small circle, such as in the sosyudad, and the other is the abstract western sort that governs politics. The first is the "native" kind and the other a "foreign" one. The problem is that these two have different logics. The first is personalistc and the other is not. When we carry out in the latter, we still insist on logic of the former. This is the reason why we practice vote-buying and see no problem in it. We engage in it as if it is the most normal thing to do.

This is just one illustration that we live according to contradicting systems of practice. Other observers would see this as evidence of our "cracked" or worse "damaged" culture. But these opposing aspects of our culture need not always be incompatible. In the case of the sosyudad and politics, there is a lot of common space since they are supposed to be both governed by democratic values. We simply failed so far to reconcile the two. As for the sosyudad, we need not be embarrassed about it. It is a mirror of our true selves as a people. It represents not only some of our weaknesses but more importantly our strengths. It embodies some of our cherished aspirations. And as I have already pointed out in the previous part of this series, it is getting out of its limited shell and starting to embrace the outside world by adopting civic-oriented causes. In these few groups, the sosyudad is clearly bridging the small to the big scheme. Hopefully, the former is not going to be swallowed by the latter, but that they derive mutual benefit. The sosyudad is evolving, and so are we as a people.

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