By Lalaine Chu-Benitez

Infidelity is widely acknowledged as part of the social cost of the Filipino diaspora; the by-product of “sheer loneliness” Overseas Filipinos (OFs) need to contend with.  Former Ambassador to the UAE Roy Señeres calls it “another kind of calamity that has been causing more havoc upon the lives of millions of Filipinos both here and abroad than the natural calamities that visit the Philippines regularly.”

But while it is recognized that the OF situation, particularly for those who have to live away from their families, may be less than ideal for spouses, it is highly debatable to conclude that being an OF correlates to a predisposition towards being unfaithful.  Is infidelity really a curse of the Filipino diaspora?  Or are we just making excuses?

Single, separated or cheating?

An overwhelming 96% of Filipinos disapprove of extramarital relations (*Daylo-Laylo and Montelibano, 2000). However, most of us would know of someone who has an unfaithful spouse, or who is involved in some kind of an affair – sometime or the other.  We’ve all heard the stories of multiple partners and multiple families and of ‘separated’ but not really ‘separated’ kababayans propositioning single women.  No statistics are available, but it is safe to say that the phenomenon is widespread enough for it to be considered part of our reality.  Many blame the OF situation, where some spouses are forced to live separately, for the rise in broken marriages and families in the Philippines, citing “kalungkutan” (loneliness) as one of the main causes of unfaithfulness.

Still, infidelity is not an exclusive domain of the OF. It is part, albeit a taboo one, of our culture since time immemorial.  According to a release from the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women in 2009, marital infidelity is a major stressor among Filipino couples, with about 36% of men and 2% of women engaging in extra-marital affairs in the country.

In comparison, in the USA it is estimated that roughly 30% to 60% of all married individuals will engage in infidelity at some point (*Susceptibility to Infidelity in the First Year of Marriage – Buss, D. M. and Shackelford T. K., Journal of Research in Personality, 31, 193-221. 1997).  In other countries where sex research and infidelity statistics are unavailable, indicators provide clues as to the incidence of unfaithfulness. “Lust in Translation: Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee” (Penguin Books, 2007), by Pamela Druckerman states, “Hints of Japan’s infidelity levels come only from the enormous size of the country’s paid-sex industry, which is famously frequented by married businessmen.”

Another excerpt from the book goes, “In the tiny West African nation of Togo, with a population of less than six million, 37 percent of married or cohabiting men said they’ve had more than one sex partner in the last year (the figure includes polygamists). Trailing just behind the Togolese were men in Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Mozambique and Tanzania. In South Africa, even the AIDS educator at a Cape Town metal company told me that of course he had a girlfriend as well as a wife.”

Extenuating factors v/s the truth about ourselves

Separate lives and more individual time provide OF spouses more opportunities to find themselves tempted into and eventually entangled in affairs.  However, it is also a fact that infidelity exists even when couples stay together.  Furthermore, today’s fast paced life has also given rise to even more factors contributing to the phenomenon. With the feminization of the OF demographic, more and more females find themselves spending more time  work, with co-workers, travelling on business and getting dangerously ‘close’ with people other than their spouses.  Furthermore, the popularity of the internet, social networking, chatting, video conferencing, emailing, etc., has made it convenient for both men and women to ‘hook up’ with strangers even without the intention of having a ‘full on’ relationship, only to find out that things can escalate very quickly.

All contributing factors considered, we need to understand that these are merely external elements.  And although they provide the opportunity to commit indiscretions, these are not the root cause of the problem, and therefore cannot be used as the excuse to one’s unfaithfulness.

There are many reasons, and alibis, for why people cheat and it is often deeper than an OF merely yielding to available temptation because of “kalungkutan.”  Some people resort to infidelity because of marital conflicts, dissatisfaction or to escape from an unfavorable situation, as well as unresolved issues.  A case in point is Dubai-based Jerry dela Cruz (not his real name) who shares “I was in love with my childhood sweetheart, but unfortunately we broke up because of some rumor that she only wanted me because of my family’s wealth.  Twelve years passed and I got married. Then she shows up one day and tells our friends that she still has the same feelings for me.  I went out with her and the sparks flew.”  Jerry admits that he had an affair with his old flame, “I was still in love with her and realized she had so many things that my wife did not have – looks, charm, brains.”

Gina Arellano (not her real name) who is based in Bahrain had a rude awakening, after going home briefly. She recounts, “My husband had an affair with a lady for five months while we were miles apart – I was in the Philippines to give birth to our child.”  Gina adds, “It ruined our relationship and I totally lost my trust in him.”  The reason for the husband’s indiscretion is unclear; but simply put, an opportunity presented itself and he took it.

Infidelity is not exclusive to males and could have a more specific motivation like revenge.  Such was the case of Angie Fuentes (not her real name).  She recalls, “I felt betrayed because my husband was unfaithful, so I felt that I had to ‘fight fire with fire. Last year as I was returning to Dubai from an emergency leave in Manila, a friend told me that my husband was having an affair with his officemate’s wife.  I was so angry that I felt the need for revenge.  I did everything (discreetly of course) to get closer to his officemate and enticed him to have an affair so that both of us could get even.”

Whatever the reason, whether simple or complex, the root cause of infidelity, clearly, does not lie in the environmental factors that come with being an OF. It has more to do with a person’s intentions and attitude, inclusive of his or her fundamental values, views about sex and sense of entitlement, which oftentimes is driven by cultural upbringing.

Consider Filipino culture where male infidelity is still, sadly, seen by some as a sign of virility and female domination, a study by Jocano (1994), indicates that, “to most (Filipino) men, many of their flings or affairs are just pastimes and should not be taken seriously. They mean nothing. But not to women; they all mean very much to them.” This is echoed by a study of court cases to nullify marriages undertaken by Dayan and Samonte (1998) which showed that “adultery for males seemed more blatant, almost natural, where males courted and sought out their female partners. Female petitioners, however, tended to feel more guilty, keeping their affairs a secret.”

Evidently, it is this kind of attitude that drives unfaithful behavior and determines the fateful consequences for spouses and their families.  Asked whether being in a different country made it more conducive for her to get into an illicit relationship, Angie Fuentes reveals, “I do not really agree with that, because infidelity begins within yourself wherever you may be.”

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