Dismantling the ‘kabit’ culture

After the messy public spat involving the Alvarez-Floirendo “partners,” it should now be even more obvious that the ineradicable “kabit” culture has permeated all levels of society and that a divorce law is needed to provide parity and justice.

“Kabit,” “kaulayaw,” “kerida’ are a few of the many terms the Filipino language has to refer to mistresses, or more properly, concubines. If the Inuit have multiple words for snow and its various states and conditions, Filipinos have as many for rice and its permutations—palay, bigas, kanin, tutong.

This shows the importance or significance of those things to those cultures. In the same way, given all the words we have for “mistress,” we can say that concubines occupy a huge role in Philippine society and culture, albeit carrying stigma and negative connotations.

Under the machismo trait of Philippine culture, married males are in fact even expected to have mistresses, or at least it is no surprise if they do. The usual justification for this behavior stems solely from their gender and supposed physical “needs” ­—“Kasi lalaki ako” (Because I am a man).

On the other hand, married women, to be proper and respectable, must conceal or sublimate similar physical urges on their part. “Madonna in the streets and a harlot in the sheets” she must be, perfect wife, mother, daughter-in-law, and all-around upstanding member of society.

Thus, a woman who takes a lover for her own intimate urges is vilified, as Senator Leila de Lima experienced. That a phenomenon as “slut-shaming” exists but there is no counterpart for similar behavior in males points to the patriarchal nature of our society.

And because our culture is patriarchal—a gift of Spanish colonial rule and the Roman Catholic church—the Philippines is the only country in the world that does not have a divorce law.

This was not always the case. In pre-Spanish times, Filipinos had a readiness to “divorce and marry again, according to the custom of the country,” said Pedro Chirino (1604), while “marriages were annulled and dissolved for slight cause,” noted Antonio de Morga (1609). Women had greater freedom over their persons and property, for the most part.

In the present, the stubborn clinging to tradition and religious dogma prevents open-mindedness on the part of many politicians, particularly those who belong to the older generations. As a former politico told me about his brother, an incumbent and elderly congressman who opposed the Reproductive Health bill: “Jenny, he’s anak ng simbahan.”

But infidelity is a fact of life in Philippine society, and by all accounts, more prevalent on the part of married males. The Roman Catholic and other Christian churches’ attempts to make their congregations take seriously the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery” has failed miserably.

The mistress culture is hypocrisy made manifest. For the Speaker of the House to say, “Who doesn’t have a girlfriend?” not only highlights the misogyny in society but also condones, fosters, and propagates it.

A divorce law will give freedom to women shackled to unfaithful men such as Alvarez and Floirendo, and allow them to receive their share of the conjugal property besides, as well as alimony and child support as deserved.

It’s time to redress the cruelty, inequality, and outright boorishness of the double standard in our society. If Alvarez and Floirendo can take lovers, then so can their wives, De Lima, and any other woman for that matter—it’s called reciprocity. To have one law for males and another for females is unfair and stupid, because gender roles are constructed, not inborn.

If reciprocity of behavior sounds unpalatable, then pass the divorce bill so that bygones can be bygones and everyone involved in such dramas can begin their lives anew, and the kabit culture pass away.

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Call for entries: The Palanca Foundation reminds writers that this is a Novel/Nobela year for the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. These categories are included only every other year. Submissions will be accepted until April 30. Details and entry forms are on the official website ( will be announced Sept. 1 at the awards ceremony.

Dr. Ortuoste is a California-based writer. FB: Jenny Ortuoste / Twitter: @jennyortuoste, @gogirlracing (sports) / IG:@jensdecember, @artuoste (artworks)

Topics: Jenny Ortuoste , ‘kabit’ culture , mistress , Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez , Rep. Tonyboy Floirendo
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