Sociological Perspective of Migration, Structural Functionalism and the Four Estates of Society

November 1, 2008




“2,300 Filipinos leaving the country everyday” –this is what this writer has reiterated in the papers he’s done during the course of his masteral studies in economics regarding the migration phenomenon. The statistics taken from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE-2004) does not include undocumented departures. In his neighborhood compound of about 15 households, each has a member of the family working in countries such as the United States, Japan, China and Canada.

The perception of better opportunities and the experience in their job salaries here in the Philippines are the most basic reasons for these young professionals to migrate. Going with the logical flow of these factors it can be simplistically concluded that the jobs in the Philippines do not provide a sufficient salary to meet the basic needs of a middle class family.

The point is that functionalism in a simplistic point of view means if one does not fit in the grand schema of things in the society… one needs to disappear or move somewhere else. From the perspective of the migrant, if the Filipino society with its government and business structure does not fit his family’s needs he has to move some country where he or she can have a peaceful and productive life.

Structural Functionalism Theory

Structural Functionalism is defined as “the view of society as a system made up of interrelated parts, all interacting on the basis of a common value system or consensus about basic values and common goals. Every social custom and institution is seen as having a function in ensuring that society works efficiently. Deviance and crime are seen as forms of social sickness.”

The article on Microsoft Encarta further elaborates that “Functionalists often describe society as an organism with a life of its own, above and beyond the sum of its parts. French sociologists Auguste Comte and Émile Durkheim and American Talcott Parsons assumed functionalist approaches for their studies.”

Emile Durkheim a pioneer in the development in the development of modern sociology and a French social theorist was “interested in religions across cultures. But he was not interested in the evolution of religion. Durkheim instead proposed that religious beliefs and rituals functioned to integrate people in groups and to maintain the smooth functioning of societies.” Durkheim made a great influence on anthropology by developing a theory of culture. His proposition was that religious beliefs “functioned to reinforce social solidarity. An interest in the relationship between the function of society and culture—known as functionalism—became a major theme in European, and especially British, anthropology. Functionalists viewed culture as a collection of integrated parts that work together to keep a society functioning.”

Parsons Talcott, an American sociologist theorized about mechanisms of society and the organizational principles behind societal structures. Talcott “regarded society as tending toward a self-regulating, self-maintaining entity with certain basic needs, including the preservation of the social order, the delivery of goods and services, and the care of children. According to functional theory, society is an organism, and each part serves a purpose or maintains a function; members of society cooperate to fulfill society’s needs because they share common goals and values.” In 1937, he introduced the ideas of Durkheim, Weber and Wilfredo Pareto in his major work The Structure of Social Action. This eventually overcame the narrow and limited outlook of American sociology.

Societal Analysis of the Philippines

In an economic perspective, according to the Harris-Todaro model and the research conducted by this writer, the phenomenon of migration is bought about evidently by the non-production from the endogenous resources. If a locality fails to produce products from the local resources they have at hand they would buy from the without… either buy from the neighboring town or import from another country. Failure to produce from within also means failure to produce jobs. Failure to produce products from raw materials that can be generated from the locality or even failure to sell these raw materials at a competitive price is a failure to create business enterprises. Or rather make existing business enterprise operations sustainable.

From the Philippines societal perspective, the moneyed and landed class failed to provide their resources such as land and capital to put up business enterprises to optimize the use of said resources. The evidence from this fact stems out not only from a sociological viewpoint but from an economic viewpoint as well. Volume of imported products from electronic products, motor vehicles to wheat and rice proves this functional failure of the aristocratic Filipinos to utilize their resources for the benefit of the national common good. Blame this on the not taking any risk of the moneyed and landed class to utilize their land and capital to produce products that would meet the supply demanded by the economy.

The government functionally, failed to address the needs of delivering the basic needs and services from efficient mass transportation system, expanded roads and bridges, agricultural subsidies to farmers to peace and order. The Philippine government system is subservient to the moneyed and landed class. Their clan members are installed through either political appointments or electoral process in its key positions. In the tri-media the Filipino citizenry would regularly encounter scandals and scams of government officials who belong to these influential clans as senators, congressmen, department secretaries, as President and as First Gentleman. Among these issues are the most recent ZTE scandal, the Joc-joc Bolante case and the bribery of congressmen to oust the form Speaker of the House, Joe de Venecia.
Media conglomerates on the other hand failed to motivate the psyche of the Filipinos to be more a little more nationalistic. Instead of featuring shows that would provide the right mindset to converge the Filipino society to be productively nationalists, it brandishes mediocre soap operas, noontime shows and advertisements of foreign products. National tabloids are even engaged in the white wash of scandals and showbiz sensationalism.

The church with all its bishops and priests may have advocacies for the marginalized poor in a technical sense. On the other hand, the question is have they done enough? The writer being an ex-seminarian has witnessed the former bishop of the Diocese of Laguna erecting a PHP 20 million worth of a palace near the Cathedral of San Pablo City, Laguna. San Pablo City having about 54 barrios named after Roman Catholic saints is living in poverty. During his apostolate in one of the barrios in the said city he’s witnessed a family eating rice with only toyo and sugar as the viands to go along with the meal. After bantering the axiom of “the church of the poor”, the functional question is “is it the Roman Catholic Church function to erect aristocratic structures?” The long list of these irreconcilable function and reality could go on but let the faithful laity be the judge of these hypocrisies.

The military and the police is another structure that can be an area of scrutiny as far as the theory of functionality is concerned. How can a Filipino feel secured when one would read in the tabloids everyday of military and police personnel being involved in election scandals, drug trafficking, extortion and even salvaging and murder of journalists and political activists?

Over and above the four estates of society (government, military, church and media) is the aristocratic moneyed and landed class.


When the four estates have failed to function, the individual citizen has no option but the leave and move elsewhere. Migration is the ultimate process of the citizen when the structure of society he’s into failed to meet his basic needs. In some readings there are only two things that make the citizen to migrate:

  1. Threat on human life with reference to peace and order in a locality.
  2. No means to make both ends meet

The Filipino Muslims of Mindanao for almost four decades have gone through the process of living a threatened existence. Filipino Muslim Citizens who have been caught in the crossfire between the military and the Muslim separatists have migrated in the Luzon areas particularly in Metro-Manila. Most of them have found lucrative livelihood by engaging in selling jewelries and RTWs in malls and even selling pirated DVDs in the sidewalks of Quiapo and Pasay. What is left worst off is their fellow Muslims who have been running from the crossfire brought about by merely politics. The failure of the government to solve this four decade long conflict might make them either leave the land of Promise or stay running until it’s resolved.

Out migration or migration to other countries can be classified into two: permanent and temporary migration. The later is where the OFWs have opted to work under contract. These are Filipino migrants whose professions are entertainers, engineers, construction workers, seamen and factory workers. They are deployed in countries such as Singapore, Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea. They have left their families in the Philippines and come back to them once their contract is finished. If they still can be employable they get a chance to renew their contracts and work for another period of productivity. Since their immediate families, their spouse, sons and daughters are still in the Philippines they are obligated to remit their salary.

Permanent Migration on the other hand is the worst kind that in the future will leave the Philippines worst off. These are OFWs who have left their homeland with their immediate families. The United States, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and other European Countries are their countries of preference. They may have remitted some for their aging parents but once they are dead, there is no else to remit to.


The functionalist sociological theory is not in conflict with the economic theory of the Harris-Todaro migration model. Work or job as a function of each citizen in a society is a truism in itself. The International Labor Organization has listed several notes on the dignity of labor in its agenda sometime 2006.

From a Christian perspective and the writer being a Christian, structures are there to guide the citizens of the society. If the four estates of society are subservient to the greed of the aristocratic moneyed and landed class, they will fail to function properly for the citizenry. The Philippines at this time is a dysfunctional society on the context that the structures that should have been distributing wealth equitably to ALL citizens but on the other hand are the same structures that oppress the citizenry to the point of poverty, hunger and fear. Lest, the Filipino society is now experiencing migration in all forms… the last resort of the majority of the citizens.

If the society is dysfunctional, citizens will only have limited options to put things in the equilibrium:

  1. Kill the oligarchs
  2. Educate the oligarchs

At this time, the society should have already learned from history that bloody revolutions have been made by the majority of the marginalized citizenry to put balance in the distribution of wealth. The French citizenry stormed the Bastille to strip down the aristocratic regime of Louise XIV and Marie Antoinette. The American Revolution is an uprising against taxation. Russian revolution is the Bolsheviks uprising against aristocratic czar. People’s Republic of China is a communist resurgence against the imperial dynasty who has reached its obsolescence. In the Philippines we have several “major” revolutions or revolts. On the other hand, in the Philippines, none of them seems to have a genuine call to sustainability of the reforms that the revolutionists are clamoring for. When the illustrados propagandists triumvirate of Jose Rizal, Graciano Lopez Jaena and Marcelo H. del Pilar, have clamored for reforms before the Spaniards to re-engineer the educational system, the clamors have been redirected to Bonifacio’s cry to revolt. Unfortunately, the Americans have taken us for a spin by purchasing the Las Islas Filipinas from spain amounting to x number of dollars. Too bad it should have been one helluva real revolution!

Functionalism (social sciences).” Microsoft® Student 2007 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2006.

Ibid 1

Bodley, John H. “Anthropology.” Microsoft® Student 2007 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2006.

Bodley, John H. “Culture.” Microsoft® Student 2007 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2006.

“Talcott Parsons.” Microsoft® Student 2007 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2006.
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2007. ©


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