Sinulog Festival

Philippines – Cultural Guidance 2020

The Filipinos are known for their hospitality, warmth, and many unique traits, developed and cultivated by centuries of colonial rule, and influenced by a rich culture and traditions passed down from generation to generation.

Residents in key regional cities all the way to far flung rural areas can understand and speak English, though people less practiced in using English may be hesitant to speak it with foreigners.

Whether you’re in the Philippines for business or leisure, the following will help you to leave a positive lasting impression:


Although most Filipinos will have a basic understanding of English and will try their best to converse with you, some might be too shy to carry on an entire conversation in English and may just smile and move away. If you need assistance but feel you are not being understood, be patient and polite and ask for somebody else to help you.

Filipino, sometimes referred to as “Tagalog”, is the most widely used language in the country and is understood throughout the Philippines. Below are some useful words and phrases in Tagalog.


Filipino/Tagalog words are pronounced exactly as they are spelled. Each vowel represents one separate syllable. For example, “puno ” is pronounced “pu-no,”and the word “panahon ” is pronounced “pa-na-hon “.

How to pronounce Tagalog vowels:
A – short “A” sound as in “Papa” or “Tart”
E – short “E” as in “Bed”
I – a long “ee” sound as in “Tweet”
O – as in the “au” sound in “Pauper”
U – a long “oo” sound as in “Pool”


How are you?Kamusta/Kumusta ka?
I’m fineMabuti naman
Thank youSalamat
Thank you very muchMaraming salamat
You’re welcomeWalang anuman
Good/Beautiful day/lifeMagandang araw/buhay
Good MorningMagandang umaga
Good noon/afternoonMagandang tanghali/hapon
Good eveningMagandang gabi
Welcome/Cheers/Good HealthMabuhay! (“Mabuhay  is a positive term that can be used rather widely)

Important: As a form of respect to elders or people you have just met, it is recommended to add the word “po” to sentences. For example: Salamat po.


My name is…..Ang pangalan ko ay…/Ako po si…..
What is your name?Ano ang pangalan ninyo?
Who’s with you?Sino ang kasama mo?


Sorry, please bear with me/Pardon mePasensya ka na
Excuse meMakikiraan po
Where is the washroom/restroom?Nasaan po ang C.R.?
Just a moment/Wait or Hold on pleaseSandali lang
What is this?Ano po ito?
May I ask for your help?Maari pong humingi ng tulong?
I want/I likeGusto ko (informal) / Gusto ko po ng (formal)
I don’t want, I don’t likeAyaw ko (informal) / Hindi ko po gusto (formal)
How much?Magkano?
I am lostNawawala ako
I love youMahal/Iniibig kita


Straight aheadDiretso
In frontSa harap
BehindSa Likod
Upstairs/AboveSa itaas
Downstairs/BelowSa ibaba


Earlier/A While AgoKanina
TodayNgayong araw
Last nightKagabi




Doing business in the Philippines relies heavily on personal relationships.

Ideally, introductions should be arranged through a third party. One must allot a significant amount of time for socializing to build rapport and familiarity.

Activity / SituationAppropriate Behavior
Setting up Appointments
  • Appointments should be made at least 2 to 3 weeks in advance and you must be open for optional dates.
  • Kindly re-confirm your appointment a few days or a day before.
  • On the meeting date, it is advisable to call the other party when you are on your way and constantly update your location, especially if there are unavoidable situations on the way (e.g. traffic, re-routing scheme, etc).
  • Common regular office hours, especially for government offices (with exception to  Senate, Congress or other government owned and controlled corporations which adhere to a compressed or 4-day work week) are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. English is the main business language.
Arriving Late
  • Punctuality is expected.
  • It is acceptable to be up to 15 minutes late for meetings but it is best to be punctual even when others are not.  It will be appreciated if you can advise by phone early on if arriving late is a possibility.
Business Attire
  • Normal business attire for men is a formal suit and tie, or the local-style long-sleeved shirt.
  • For women, a modest suit or dress.
Addressing People
  • Address people by their title, such as:

a) Professional individuals: e.g. Dr., Architect or Attorney or for their positions

b) Private Companies: by their position in the company

c) Government Officials:

c.1 for civilians: e.g. Secretary, Undersecretary, Assistant Secretary, Director

c.2 for uniformed personnel: e.g. General, Lt. Col, etc

  • First name terms, or the nicknames often used by Filipinos, will follow soon after, especially if they are at ease with you.
Normal Greetings
  • Normal greetings include a handshake with a smile. Refrain from intense eye contact as this is considered rude and confrontational.
  • Business cards are exchanged following initial greetings, and should be inspected subtly. Unlike in other Asian countries, the exchange of business cards is not overly formalized, but it is still of importance.
  • Present and receive business cards with both hands. Your title and position should be reflected on the card as this indicates the influence and status you may have.
Business Negotiation and Decision Making
  • Initial meetings are mainly to get to know one another. Formal negotiations rarely occur during the first meeting. Some small talk is expected. Be prepared to be asked a lot of (harmless) personal questions about your marital status or even about business endeavors. You may, of course, politely side-step these questions.
  • Communication styles are courteous, reserved, and most often indirect. Filipinos will try to avoid a direct refusal or confrontation as this may cause someone to “lose face”, which is unacceptable. To raise your voice, show impatience, or to interrupt your business partner is considered terribly disrespectful.
  • Business culture is hierarchical with decisions being made at the top of the organization. Decision-makers may not be present at meetings but will be briefed afterwards. Negotiations are often held outside the office in social venues or on the golf course. Be prepared for a lengthy decision-making and, in some instances, accreditation process.
  • It is advisable to remain for the period of social conversation at the end of the meeting.  It is, likewise, best to apportion time for such between appointments.
Lunches and Dinners and Official Parties and Events
  • It is polite to offer refreshments during a meeting.  If the meeting is held in a social venue, the bill is paid by the party who initiated the meeting.  This must be pre-arranged when setting up the meeting, to ask for the number of pax in the meeting, and inform your host if you need to arrange for more attendees.
  • If you are visiting an office, a simple box of “goodies to share” will be considered thoughtful.
  • For lunches, dinners, and other special events, the host/inviter pays for the cost.  Guests are not expected to foot the bill, unless they insist on sharing.  Because of this arrangement, it is polite that guests do not order the most expensive items on the menu, unless it is the host who offered/ordered them for you to sample.
  • Acknowledge invitations even though Filipinos are lax on RSVP.  Telephone follow-ups must be done a day or two before the event (if hosting, ask your assistant to chase each of your guests for confirmation).


Activity / SituationAppropriate Behavior
Calling one’s attention among a group
  • Reprimand employees privately.
  • Be gentle but firm.
  • Show personal concern for his/her family at the end so the employee will feel they are still part of the team and that the criticism is not personal.
Unintentional snubbing
  • Filipinos like to greet one another but are shy about it with management.
  • A simple “good morning, Anne” will go a long way for you.
Afternoon break
  • The 15-minute coffee break or merienda at about 3:30pm is part of Filipino culture and is expected.
  • For a job well done, treating the team to a simple box of chocolates will show your appreciation.

Last update: 13 March 2020

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