Category Archives: Manila

Transporting Metro Manila Forward

It’s good to be able to focus on some positive things. I’m not going to overstate anything as there is still a long way to go. All you can do with a bad situation is to attempt to improve it. After small improvements have been made then go through it again and improve further. I think the same theory applies to many things from politics to improving your home.

The case in point for the purposes of this discussion is transportation. The topic here is train travel in Metro Manila. With public transportation, there have been some improvements of late. It may be a reflection of general improvements affecting other aspects of the Philippines or not. Transportation is a crucial aspect in how well a nation fares and how much it is progressing. If the small improvements being made in transportation are any indicators as to how well the country is progressing, then the summary would be slowly. It’s getting there, but at a snail’s pace. It could be fair to say that that is the current state of the Philippines but for purposes of this piece, let’s stick to train travel.

It’s still not there yet but better and in a country where a few years ago I had no hope, I will say now I see these small improvements making a small difference and sincerely hope that the usual attitude of giving up does not come back and that they persevere.

Somehow, I think that if I’m still blogging in the next few years, train transportation in Metro Manila is something I will be returning to. It may not be a reflection on all aspects of the Philippines but it does seem to me that there is a will to improve the quality of life. My hope is, every time I return to pieces I’ve previously written about, that I shall be reporting improvements. In some areas, I can say that’s happening, and in others, it’s not.

The Common Sense Factor

No, the service hasn’t been vamped up. There are not masses of extra trains and it’s still very far from perfect. Still, it’s good to see that some rare common sense is being used by the train company authorities. Common sense is not much in abundance in the Philippines so when you see it happening, it just gives you a little hope. Discipline and the lack of it has been something I was very quickly made aware of when I first came here. It continued over many of the years I had been spending time being in the Philippines and I was of the mind that thought nothing will change as it sometimes appeared that the simple lack of common sense was killing any hope of any general improvements.

I used to find myself saying that it will never change as, if you can’t master basic common sense then where can you go, how can you improve things generally.

I intend to go through previously discussed topics and measure things against how I spoke at the time of writing them previously. Basically, I’m using my own observations and sentiments as a very loose barometer. The focus here is on MRT/LRT systems, or in short, trains. Nothing much has happened other than some enforced common sense. I really felt the all-round lack of it was probably the main reason train travel was such a stressful experience in the past.

It’s my belief that the cure for many ills in this country is the introduction of common sense. Without it, how can anything develop?

Start thinking before you start acting. The changes and improvements in train travel are purely down to the application of a little common sense. It’s something that an outsider would observe in a very short time. Common sense has never been taught. People just don’t have it. I feel the people badly want things to improve.

Common sense is missing from the everyday culture here in the Philippines. Generation to generation nobody gets taught it. That’s been a huge feature of my time here knowing that it’s so missing with Filipinos. I came to realise that if it’s never taught, nobody will have it. It’s the first step towards improving the Philippines.

It’s hard to define exactly what I’m saying but it really needs to come from the top. When I say top I mean authorities in general. It seemed that authorities didn’t possess much common sense either so I wasn’t hopeful at times. When common sense is enforced as it has been at the LRT/MRT stations, then you detect that people embrace it. I don’t hear moaning when they wait in long queues. It’s as if they realise that a long queue is better than a daily stampede. They are craving to be led by some common sense.

MRT Queue North Avenue Station

Long queues outside North Avenue MRT station but people accepted the need for order without too much complaint. (Photo courtesy of Connie Diegor)

It was surprising just how people readily accepted it and the simple fact that they accepted it so quietly told me they possibly had some sense of common sense after all. Train authorities showing the way is a small part of introducing a little common sense into Filipino everyday life.

When I last wrote about train travel in Metro Manila in a piece called Train Trials, I reported that some changes were being introduced. It consisted of implementing obvious basics as the first thing they needed to do was make the platforms safe and enforce some general courtesy. It was so sadly lacking in the past. So much pushing and shoving, ill manners and selfishness were totally out of hand. The minority set the standard and the majority had little choice but to behave just as badly or they would be left behind. It’s something you see in so many aspects of Filipino life. The lack of common sense even if from a significant minority influences how people who know better will behave. It becomes a domino effect of insanity. It blights so many aspects of Filipino life.

It may not be because everyone wants to behave as the significant minority do; it’s just that they end up with having no choice. If people simply barge in front you and refuse to form lines and exercise no patience whatsoever, you end up permanently at the back of the queue. The only way in the end is to join in with the bumping and barging.

I often wondered how people would respond by being forced to show some common sense. By all accounts they are mostly getting it on the MRT/LRT. There are still some arseholes that haven’t got the message yet but the majority is starting to have things how they probably wanted things to be all along. It needed some enforced order so badly and for many years I saw no signs of it and had no hope. The MRT/LRT is actually implementing some common sense practices. It’s helping a lot.


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Filed under Impressions, Manila, Philippine Transportation



One of the reasons I have been introducing snippets from the music scene of the Philippines is to show that there has been a quiet revolution brewing in the music industry over many years now. I’ve learnt that things don’t operate in the same way as the music scene I grew up with back in my own country and things are a little prone to over commercialization drowned out in what seems to be all too important sponsorship deals and many talents sell their souls to the industry for fame.

It’s also fair to say that there is a whole crop of working bands that choose to not go down that road and stick to doing what they love whether it makes them famous or not. I think it’s fair to say that Kjwan fits into that bracket.

I’m sure they would embrace a little public adoration naturally but I don’t get the impression that fame is what they are exclusively seeking; they just seem to me to be having a good time.

I get a special buzz in introducing these guys from Kjwan for a slightly silly reason, I know them. They are great lads and I’m sure they won’t mind me saying very ordinary lads at that.

In my usual lazy amateur journalistic way, I will allow the existing online material to educate you further about this band that are not exactly what I would call rising stars. They have been around awhile and their efforts are being taken notice of even outside of the Philippines.


I’ve never seen them playing a big gig personally. I’ve watched them playing small bars and to audiences of a few hundred at best. Don’t let that have you thinking they are not known or popular. That’s the way it is for a working band that are just enjoying themselves in the Philippines and all the more credit to them for that.

They soldier on and these lads love each other’s company, know each other well and that comes across to me strongly when I’ve watched them play. The consequence of that is they are a tight, non-pretentious, talented and unique band whose music I genuinely enjoy.

Just a personal view here from me when I say that I see a lot of decent bands and some excellent levels of musicianship. My comment though is often the same when I watch these working bands as I go around. I tend to end up saying that most of these bands are good, some a little better than good but always I end up further commenting that they are good but nothing special.

I doubt very much any world beaters are going to take the world by storm from the Philippines. Originality is still in short supply all too often. It’s not always important whether you have something new to offer or not. Kjwan just plays. For me, that’s what music is about.

I’ve never listened to one of their cd’s. I’ve listened to them through the usual online sources of YouTube but above all I’ve watched them play live many times and never failed to enjoy watching their set.

Enough said so let me introduce to you Kjwan.

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Filed under Culture, Manila, Philippine Music, Uncategorized


Rivermaya4Whilst the mainstream of the Filipino music scene continued to suck throughout the 90’s, an innovation called Rivermaya was happening. Speaking as someone who just got to know them by hearing a few tracks, I’m not qualified to describe the complex changing of members. Over the years they have had more ins and outs than the pre-season transfer market in the premier league.

However, the information is out there so you can keep track of the comings and goings if you care enough. I tried to follow it; I had to lie down after as it appears that they have kept going in various formats to the extent that many believe it’s time to stop. Later day Rivermaya sadly seem to be as much a tribute to the name Rivermaya but the substance has gone long before.

However, their most formative years were the earlier days. I’m here to introduce to outsiders another side of the Philippines which of course includes Filipino music and I really can’t be bothered to be a rock journalist.

Rivermaya3I will just leave it to other sources to map out the history of Rivermaya for you. Discover them for yourselves with a few suggestions from a time when they had Rico Blanco, who was the chief composer and possibly the most relevant member.

I think of all the Filipino bands I’ve come to hear in my time exploring local music in this country, Rivermaya has caught my ear as among the most original. I hear the British influence very clearly but I always found they had enough of themselves in the music to still call it unique.

The brilliance of Rico Blanco is obvious and I shall be featuring his marvelous solo work in another piece.

The musical revolution is still slowly moving forward. Bands like Rivermaya helped to set it on course. Of all the bands I’ve heard here, Rivermaya is among my favourites.

Many say that without Rico Blanco or Bamboo Mañalac, it isn’t Rivermaya anymore. They are nothing like as big now as they were in the mid 90’s up to mid 2000’s. Maybe it is time to stop now as the era highlighted here has left its stamp as being Rivermaya and no later line up using the name was ever going to make much of an impression following them.


Photo Credit:

You’ll be Safe Here

241 (My Favorite Song)


A Love to Share

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Filed under Manila, Philippine Music

Cracking My Shell Open

CrackedI’ve been back in Manila from Mindanao for a few weeks now. I was forced into a shell even after I got back because of circumstances, but now my egg is hatching. Disheartening episodes continued and became worse than what I told you about in Bubble Bursting.

Eventually, a tiny bit of financial relief came along, enough to get myself up and running with a computer and got back online. I had really missed writing. I had tried continuing in an internet café on my return, but I couldn’t focus with ten screaming youths around me and keypads where I have to punch the space bar to make it work. I’m not complaining though, it’s damned cheap!

Injury Time

Then, to further compound my writing return, I was beset with illness. My poor health was a hangover from an injury I got in a tomato field. Don’t ask but in short, a nylon rope had cut into my leg, a fly had a nibble on the injury when I wasn’t looking which resulted in a very yucky pus-ridden swollen and infected lower leg which made my last few weeks in Mindanao very uncomfortable. I returned to the capital and fully recovered, or so I thought. Apparently not, my leg decided to start rotting from the inside out. It swelled like an elephant’s leg and was so painful, I struggled to walk. I had serious fever for a few days and a course of antibiotics later; now, I am in recovery mode.

All these enthusiasm-dampening events have made it difficult to continue where I left off. I’ve hardly written a thing since December. It wasn’t losing the will; it was more about the means. I had many months away without a computer or internet connection.

Well, I now have the tools (computer and connection), I just need to wake up the brain and get some energy. It really is difficult picking up something you started after putting it down for such a long while. I had the desire, but the lack of means really did throw me off course.

In Bubble Bursting, I played with footballer analogies. The reason for that is because mentally I do feel rusty. No money and illness has left me feeling that I really need to ease myself back into writing. So as I’m still in football analogy mode, I will describe it as not feeling match fit. I need a few warm up games in the reserves. I guess this article could be such described as my warm up game.

I went well overboard with the football analogies in my last piece so it best ends here.

Losing Touch

Being away from a computer and internet meant I hadn’t had much to do with social media. I would visit a café a couple of times a month and keeping up with events wasn’t a priority. I did feel cut off from knowing what was going on but it wasn’t exactly a hardship.

I would make a point of checking on the fate of my beloved Blues spend 30 minutes realizing I was bored with Facebook and then log out to go back to a simple existence all of which I’m due to tell you about. I learnt a lot on my travels. I lost touch with the world and it was fine.

Something for Everyone

My absence from writing gave me the time to think about the future direction for this blog. I still have no idea exactly where I’m going with it though.

I’ve been spending my time since getting back online familiarizing myself with events, news and observing the usual Facebook chatter in an attempt to get the old brain working again. I’m hardly Mr. Metro so I don’t go out and find out much first hand. On occasions I have ventured out, I have had some great nights out, seen some excellent local bands and discovered many places which have gone a little under the radar. One thing I know is whether you like Facebook or not, social media and the internet in general really make it easy to find out what’s going on and where.

This blog is for those that can afford a good night but not forgetting those that can’t. Having less cash may be limiting in some ways, but the other side of not having a lot of money on your stay here means your limitations make you more informed and more adventurous. Lack of cash takes you into situations which other visitors seldom see. Your condo or hotel can be a little too safe. I love those that can step out of their comfort zones and explore the real Philippines and real Filipinos.

I’ve spoken of it before but there are many different ways of being accommodated if you’re coming on a visit. If you’re coming with a view to settle here, you need to know even more. You can save yourself a lot of time and money by simply educating yourself and taking guidance from someone that knows what may take you years to find out for yourself.

Metro Manila or tourist spots will always be more expensive when it comes to everyday living and accommodation. In short, these lessons are something you could really do with being fully aware of before you come with a vague plan. The actuality would mean having to rethink whatever you intended. Wouldn’t it be better to educate yourself long before you even got here?

It’s never easy, but this country has endless possibilities if you’re prepared to grasp them. I’m aware that for good reasons, people want to stay in their comfort zone. You’re not in your own country; you play it safe, very wise. Not everyone wants to be intrepid but the reality is if you only see a country from the safety of a hotel room, you are going to go home having learnt little about the real Philippines.

However, you don’t need a hotel to live comfortably. There are apartelles, motels, home-stays or rented condos and houses or a simple unfurnished or furnished room. With many of the options, you can get the same services you get in a hotel for a lot less cost. If you’re prepared to move away from the standard you’re possibly used to, then you can live amazingly cheaply. I will try and guide you enabling you to hold on to your cash and therefore prolonging your time here safely.

Everyone has different needs from the next. Whatever you want from the Philippines, it’s here. I’m hoping I can help tailor your stay within your budget. It’s most likely a vacation so you may want a little comfort. It really depends on you. Whatever you want, it’s doable; it’s the Philippines.

In future articles, I shall be offering you the guidance you need. You simply need to ask yourself a few questions as to what it is you want to achieve. If you’re visiting only, what is it that you want to do here? Do you want to sit in your room and only relax around the pool or do you want to see everything, do everything, and taste everything whilst you are here? To do that you need to plan. I’m more than happy to help you make that plan.

OK, I will leave you with one more football analogy as its World Cup year. This post was my playing just the first half of a friendly behind closed doors. A few more run outs, a full game and I’m ready for the league. Be patient with me and no more football analogies, I promise.

I’m back writing, still rusty, but I’m coming back to see where this takes me. I have decided to just put out posts as they come to me. No regular pattern, I think it will be all the better for it. So this is my warm up post. Normal writing will resume as soon as possible. This old chicken is coming out of his shell.

(Photo courtesy of Kay Smith Brushworks)

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Filed under Impressions, Manila, Philippines, Travel


I am no professor in Filipino music studies. I simply came across this band by listening to local radio. I would hear good music from time to time and ask whoever I was with, “who’s this?” The answer often came back, “Eraserheads.”

Curiosity aroused, I explored the usual medium of YouTube and found they were too good a band to ignore. In their early days, they were doing covers to get work, and then went their own way. That’s how it was in those times, do covers or get ignored by the industry. They stepped out of that mould and throughout the nineties, they paved the way for what is now a vibrant OPM scene, truly fresh and innovative.

If bands like Eraserheads had not knocked down some doors, it’s doubtful Filipino music would be progressing as it is today with original compositions and an array of new talent coming through with their own material and doing their own thing.

This band could stand anywhere and was a sad loss to the OPM scene when they eventually quit in the early 2000’s.

However, it wasn’t quite the end of the story. After the split, they have done reunion gigs: Taguig in 2008, Pasay City in 2009, and then moved forward to gigs in North America in 2012. In 2013, they re-emerged again and did Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Singapore.

But it doesn’t stop there. As of the time of this writing, they are in London, so the Eraserhead story goes on. Many are screaming out for them to get back together and cut another album.

These guys had and still have a huge following and the current wave of OPM bands can thank the Eraserheads for sticking to their own sound and own songs, something that wasn’t done much when they came on the scene.

Who knows what the next chapter of the Eraserheads story will be?


With A Smile

Ang Huling El Bimbo
Huwag Mo Nang Itanong

More about the band here:

Radio Republic

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Filed under Culture, Manila, Philippine Music, Philippines


Philippine flag
I have given so much thought as to what to do with this next post. Like so many, there is so much I want to say, but I’m going to resist the temptation for now as I like to think energy is better spent in encouraging donations and encouraging the good things that are happening. What I will say I shall keep fairly brief and it’s not intended to stir up any hornet’s nests, just encourage reflection.

As for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda all I can say is I cannot begin to really imagine what you have gone through. Words are cheap I know so if I may, I will just say I’m so sorry for all that has happened to you people. Grieve your losses and after the tears have faded, I just pray that out of this something good can come. I know not what and you have been treated awfully by nature and let down by many, but the people, not just here but worldwide are wishing to help. Let’s hope out of this tragedy, you start to get treated with the due respect you deserve and never be put in a hell you just came from again. I do believe after all that has happened, something good has to come from it eventually. Just my hope, saying much else is just a speech and I’m just hoping.

Like I said, I thought a lot about how to write this. Well, I’ve come to the conclusion right now that this isn’t the time to go over some well-aired failings. I understand that this was mammoth. I understand that in no way could tragedy have been prevented for the most part. I do feel that after everyone is safe and the worse is over, then a serious inquest is needed. Really, something has to be done and measures put in place that will eventually mean that the authorities are able to do a better job.

If the failings were budget, lack of equipment, lack of a plan, lack of logistical support, then it’s time to make sure that it never happens again and to get serious about actually doing what needs to be done to prevent the problems with the relief in the future. We can’t stop the storms I know. I’m sure that many were overawed and I accept human failings, I know those that could do their best have given it their best shot. People are still fighting for you and people are wishing to help and above all, people want change. Let’s just keep hoping.

From a personal point of view, it’s just left me shocked and bewildered, angry and confused, God only knows how those that were in the path of the storm must be feeling. That’s why I would not attempt to be any kind of spokesman right now. What I want to happen is that everything that has happened has people questioning why. If you’re confused like I am as to why there was a lack of genuine will from some individuals in government, then we really have to put them under the microscope, but at the right time. They must not get away with the inaction, the lies need to be exposed, and if any of the criticisms are unfair, then let that be shown in time. Right now, all I can say is there is a hell of a lot of questions, not too many have been answered honestly up to now. Again, let’s hope some political good can come out of this.

As angry as many of us are, we have to try to simply put down our differences, focus on encouraging the relief, get everyone fed and safe, after that, I don’t even know but that has to be achieved and fast. I’m so grateful for the help that has come from abroad via soldiers, medical teams and relief specialist’s equipment and knowhow and as always, the Red Cross. The many Filipinos who did all they could without the tools or help; they need a special mention, too.

Nearly one week later, I’m at last feeling that things are starting to improve. Overdue or not, let’s just be happy that that is the case. Anger just makes everything worse, but it’s completely understandable. I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to use lame defences of “stop complaining and just help.” That’s too convenient a way to hide the failings, but yes I do agree the focus must be on helping. I think enough has already been said by many angry people. I really can’t blame them. Please ensure that everything that went wrong with the relief operation in the early days never happens again. Stop finding scapegoats and continuing with vendetta politics because frankly, that’s not helping much either.

I hope the foreign media from now on wakes up to realising that there is more to report in the Philippines other than the smiling and friendly people. Things are very wrong here on so many levels. The people are not bad people; they are just misled and disregarded. I just hope the world media has noticed that and looks a little deeper into what is really behind all that. Just because it’s an alleged democracy, it does not mean that many wrongs don’t exist. They get away with much because the outside world has been disinterested. I cannot say why. Resources maybe I don’t know, but I hope the world re-evaluates what is really happening here as they really have no idea.

So for now, well done to all those who have donated. Everyone involved in the relief efforts and the help from overseas too are like a light in the dark. World media, please don’t forget the Philippines when there is a bigger story somewhere else to move on to. I don’t want to see guillotines or gallows for the failures; I just want things to really get better here. I want the ones holding this country back to either reform or get out of office. Long way to go I know, but again, let’s see.

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Filed under Impressions, Manila, Philippines, Typhoon Yolanda

Should You Start a Business in the Philippines?

Business in the PhilippinesBack to more ordinary matters. My target reader is someone considering a visit here to the Philippines. The first thing that needs to be pointed out to someone considering staying here more permanently is that Metro Manila is Metro Manila and everywhere else is a completely different kettle of fish. It is quite possible to have a good life here and succeed in business. This post is not just related to Metro Manila but most of my experiences here have been there. If you have the opportunity to consider a life away from the capital, then I imagine it would be easier. Things are cheaper away from the capital and depending where you are, there are many local opportunities. The way of life in the provinces is considerably better, less stressful and more idyllic but people are often poorer. The advice I am going to give though is largely general and completely unqualified so take it for what it is, just an Englishman’s impression.

When I look at other blogs, I find dozens also written by foreigners and very often on the same subjects. My version is only how I see it. It would pay to read as many blogs as possible and seek opinion from all over before you make any final decisions. Some will say don’t do it, others will encourage you. Neither is wrong as you do need to be careful and even wary, but not so much as to let anything put you off. Just be aware.

I’m really not going to bother listing down all the requirements you need to start a business. The obvious concern is the 40/60 ownership clause which means you are going to need to put your trust into people. I’m not saying don’t, but I am saying that that could leave you vulnerable. This being all the more reason to be cautious.

It’s all very complex and understanding the laws and requirements can be incredibly confusing. Not only that but everyone’s circumstances are different, so it would be pointless listing everything down. If you want to know something, send me an e-mail and I will do my best to point you towards the right places to find out. Be warned though. Starting a business here can be an expense and not easy with quite a lot of bureaucracy. However, it’s a case of getting the relevant information related to your need. Too much information isn’t helpful as each person has a different circumstance so only focus on your own needs and don’t let the tidal wave of advice from other expats mislead you.

It is possible to do it yourself, but not being overly familiar with the bureaucracy of the Philippines can make it seem very difficult. It may be wise to have a lawyer assist you but of course this is additional expense but one worth considering. I won’t say any more other than get it done properly and find out where you stand in every worst case scenario imaginable. Starting a business in the Philippines is not something you should rush into.

So even though everything has been said before, I will just give you my take on some things you may not have considered. I really suggest you read every piece of information available and keep an open mind when you read other people’s accounts. Many have bad experiences in business here, but a good many do okay so again, just take in as much as you can relating to others experiences. What’s noticeable is that for far too many expats investing in a business in the Philippines the reports are negative. Yes, it could be overstated by some, but the sheer volume of stories from people who have lost fortunes suggests that negatives need to be taken very seriously. If your careful and take time to learn about the business culture and the staff culture, you stand a much better chance of succeeding.

Learn The Culture

Only owning 40% of a business can be a major put off factor for many not surprisingly. Naturally many get round all this by putting their trust into a partner. Well that’s something I would not say don’t do, but be aware that should things not go as well as expected with your relationship, you will be at a disadvantage. However, I’m not a marriage guidance counsellor but as always, don’t rush into setting up a business.

Wait until you have been living here for at least one year. I would really suggest even more than that if at all possible. Okay, many don’t have the resources to survive that long without income, but I will say that until you are fully aware of the culture of not just business here, but of life, then you are highly likely to make some bad decisions.

Simple Made Complex

By taking your time and spending a long time learning about the culture here, you will come across some things that will make you realize that the way you are used to how things should be done do not always apply here. I can guarantee in many of these things that you will think its nuts. I will cite you some examples.

Something as simple like hiring a car and driver, I’m sure you would expect to be able to enquire how much for how long etc. and think you will get an answer that you can understand. Well, you would think it shouldn’t matter where you want to go, as long as you cover the driver’s time agree an hourly rate which has a minimum amount of hours for a fee you agree. Then of course all you need to do is pay the amount of hours you have used him for nice and simple huh. You have no chance as everything is… “um, it depends.”

First off, they price it by area and not time which makes a simple understanding of what you are getting for your money impossible. Then meals are expected by the driver. Fine, everyone has to eat, but as a customer you must be thinking what kind of meal? How much? All they need to do is work out a simple hourly rate plus fuel and then naturally you have to pay for his time to drive back and include fuel with that, too. It’s very difficult to know in advance what you are actually paying. His meals you would think are simply taken into consideration when he sets an hourly rate but it could never be that simple here.


The other thing to watch for generally is the untold add-ons. Such as a builder will set you a price for a job, but halfway through the project he is likely to come back at you requiring extras for things he should have pencilled in from the start. In other words, 20,000 PHP ends up being 30,000 PHP but they have you at a disadvantage as without the extra funding, the project will not go ahead even though you have already laid out your cash. They are far from direct here and it’s often part of the business culture. You have to keep hold of your cash and pay out only when needed and ignore any requests for advance money. In fact its best you purchase materials yourself as and when required as it’s the only way to control the add-on culture. If the builder is insane then you can get in another one to continue. You really have to be hands on here as leaving things to others can be a nightmare and always get a second opinion. Substandard materials are usual even though you paid for quality. Some here find many ways of getting extra for themselves.

Don’t Expect Adventurous Customers

Good ideas from home may not transport well. Now, it’s tempting to think that people will love something different. I personally love Indian food. It seems much of the UK now loves Indian food too. It was imported to the UK via Indian restaurants and over the years the British people’s taste for something different meant it was a huge success and it’s very popular in Britain.

So the temptation is to think that as your own people are prepared to try different things and like it that that tendency would be international. In the Philippines, no.

Filipinos are quite negative when it comes to new things and are simply reluctant to try it. So as an outsider, you may be thinking, yum Indian food, everyone loves it; lets open an Indian restaurant as once they taste it they will love it. Wrong; they won’t try it and you will be out of business in a year. These are the reasons you need to know more about the Filipino before you start investing cash into anything. It won’t take you long to realize they are not an adventurous people.

Staff Headaches

There are plenty of decent people here and many of them are crying out for a job. What I am about to say does not mean it is anything like impossible to find good staff. It is quite possible especially if you pay the legal minimum wage as they will value the job all the more. However though, you do need to be aware of some attitudes here, and it’s just possible you will be as frustrated as hell with some of the people you give an opportunity too.

Customer relations are an area the Philippines really needs to work on. Big companies seem to regard their customers as nothing more than cash cows and once they have your cash and your signed up to a contract, example internet providers, then they won’t give you even half of what you signed up to. Well, this attitude seems to have rubbed off on some of the people, too and your staff could destroy your business if you let them.

I notice many businesses here leave the running of it to a young manager who is not aware of the need to satisfy customers. They have young staff and they seem to think the place they work is for them and customers are secondary.

Example, I’ve been in restaurants and the staff all seem to be having a very nice time. They play their own awful music which is not something the average eater wants to hear at high volume. It isn’t because that they believe what they are doing is adding to the ambience; it’s simply because the staff like it and they go to work to have a good time regardless of the customer. I’ve even been in McDonald’s (yes McDonald’s, the family fast food chain) and listened to god awful American rap of the worst kind, listened to lyrics about “my bitch, fuck you fuck you” as part of the lyrics and even worse. The staff takes control and they don’t give a damn about the customer. If you are not present all the time, this can all too easily happen. Having the wrong staff and not monitoring them can mean half your stock will disappear, they will ignore customers and sit there texting and some have the right manner when they speak to you, others make you feel you are inconveniencing them. You need to choose your staff very carefully and monitor them daily, failure to do so will result in you having no business left. This includes your wife’s relatives.

Text Text Will Kill Your Business

I have been in so many places, whether it be a store, bar, eatery or customer service department, where you are dealing with someone so pre-occupied with texting that they will leave you waiting while they text important things like “have you had your lunch”. Simple word of advice. Make it a rule that cellphones are not allowed at work time. Tell staff to give family your number in case they need contacting in an emergency. If certain staff members have their cellphone with them at work, they will think they are at work to text and your customers will be secondary to texting. Filipinos are not good at following rules. They will make you feel that you are a dictator but if you let them decide for you, you will no longer have a business. You really have to be hands on, strict and immune to bullshit.

Best Businesses and Competition

Well, I don’t feel fully qualified to act as a business consultant, but I do know food is a good bet as Filipinos cannot stop feeding their face. Some eat 5 times a day, and it’s frightening how much of it they put down there cakehole. Competition is a real liability as very few will have any business ethics and if you sell socks, someone next door will sell socks too.

First thing that is likely to happen, within a year, someone will set up over the road doing exactly the same as what you’re doing. It seems sometimes that a Filipino business plan sometimes consists of opening the door of your business, looking inside and saying to themselves “hmmmmm busy”… business plan done; let’s set up. They don’t seem to consider that if you set up where a competitor is active, then it’s going to be hard. This, of course, impacts massively on your business.

I once had a local friend that owned an internet café. She bought an existing café and the only competitor at that time was one other café in a very busy area. Within 4 years, it went from two cafes to 5 all on the same road. Then they try to outdo you with promos and if you do something, they will match you. The impact is everyone struggles and it seems like one of those local insanities.

Of course, you cannot stop a competitor setting up over the road, but you need to be very mindful of the possibility of it happening and consider whether you could weather the storm or not. It’s a constant problem here and can put many off.

Also, thanks to police corruption which is rampant, you will have to compete with people who set up right outside your store. If you sell fruit and veg, some arse will set up a stall right outside your shop selling fruit and veg also. He will not be paying any of the fees you pay, such as business permits or taxes, so he can undercut you, and if you complain, you will discover he is protected by the local police who he pays around 20 peso a day which empowers him to trade illegally with full police protection. This is very common and it is known locally as Tong.

So in short, business can be done here, but you really need to be firm and be prepared to be beaten by corruption and a total lack of business ethics of Filipinos. Never give credit as you will not get paid and I think I have given you more than enough to think about.

These problems are totally unaddressed by the authorities and you really need to think long and hard before you entrust your business to anyone. In fact, if you are not prepared to be totally hands on, then don’t bother.

You can make a success of a business but it will never be easy. Trusting your money and business to others could well be your downfall. I hate to sound so despondent, and it’s not meant to put you off. If you are aware, you can succeed; if you are not, expect to lose everything. Your wife or girlfriend and her relatives will try to convince you that it is all good business. In my experience, Filipinos are not good at all in business and I would not listen too much to any advice from anyone that stands to gain.
I will be happy to advise and help anyone who is thinking of setting up, but don’t expect everything to be easy and expect some negative advice from me. However, if you’re hard, you can succeed.
Learn for yourself and don’t take others’ word for anything. A partner or perhaps family of the partner will be very eager to start a business. They will bombard you with bad advice. You really cannot take anyone’s word for anything. Many locals, possibly your partner, will be very keen on the idea of having a business. That’s natural, and Filipinos are experts at making money from little enterprises, so don’t disregard everything you hear, but in general there is as much bad advice as there is good. Again, taking your time is extremely necessary.

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Filed under Culture, Impressions, Manila, Philippines

RH BILL: A Hot Bed of Contention

It’s possibly not wise for me to over indulge in private opinion too much, but as I am in fact human (or rumour has it), then I naturally cannot keep myself out of my own posts too much. Besides I’m vain and conceited as all of us foreigners are 🙂 so what the heck.

As everyone is talking about Janet Napoles at the Senate enquiry, I thought I would raise a now out of date and almost forgotten discussion, the RH Bill.

Well for outsiders, I will give you a little idea of the topic matter. It may surprise some to know that contraception at one time was not at all allowed here. In the time I’ve been here, it is available but expensive. Condoms are in most pharmacies so I think the issue was more about a family planning programme.

Pro RH Bill

You may ask why I am touching on this topic at all. Well part of my mission is to get into the underbelly of the culture here and attempt to define it to outsiders. Not always easy when I’m still working it out for myself, but the issue of overpopulation is a very relevant one here.

I think that the controversy that has come about due to the passing of the RH Bill in December of 2012 has opened some very deep divisions within this society and has opened some very old wounds. Although, “the Supreme Court delayed implementation of the law since March 2013 in response to challenges. As of August 18, this delay was still in force “until further orders”.” Source: Wikipedia

Unbelievable, if you ask me that it’s been delayed yet again.

My position in as much as I understand the topic matter is possibly best explained in a Facebook exchange I had with a friend. I hasten to add that she is a dear friend whose beliefs I don’t always agree with, but always respect and on many topics, we are of like mind. When it comes to the RH Bill though, I fail to agree with her.

It all began when she posted this article by a respected journalist here by the name of Carmen Pedrosa. I beg your patience and to understand the exchange between myself and my friend, you need to read the article.

Rightly or wrongly, I was a little overwhelmed with what I felt was misinformation, and proceeded to comment on my friends post a response. Due to the controversial nature of the topic, I withdrew my comments soon after and we had this exchange in private. I publish it because it sets out some of the thinking here as represented by my friend and is worthy of trying to fathom out the opposition to it.

As I do not wish to cause my good friend any discomfort and open her up to possible attacks as can easily happen with this topic matter, I have protected her identity by changing her name to Maria (why not).

From Maria:
My friend James, this is the way I see this RH thing. Our population rate is going down from 1960 to the present without this RH bill passing into law. The fertility rate of our women is also going down as provided by statistical data procured from studies. Although the longevity of life of Filipinos slightly increased, the overall picture given by such studies (the links are with me and I have read them but for purposes of swift discussion, I beg your indulgence to bear with me). We have the resources to care for our population, but our government is not prioritizing health, education, and creation of jobs for our people. I and my like-minded FB friends looked at the foreigners to benefit from our depopulation because they are the ones pressuring our government to do so. It was no secret that the American pharmaceutical companies will sell us the pills, sexual devices (includes condoms and IUD), sex education paraphernalia for early sex education of our children, this would encourage sex practices outside of marriage, abortion, destruction of the sacredness of family unit, destruction of the moral fiber of our society. I’m sorry if I cannot satisfactorily convey my beliefs to you my friend. The shortcoming is mine, but I believe we do not need this RH bill into law, because other laws similar into this that are already in place are not being fully implemented by our government. We asked ourselves, and the answer pointed into the funding. Money to be given to the legislators by the foreign pharma co in exchange for the passing of the bill. Then they will recover the bribe money from the sale of the drugs, condoms, everything related to this legislated RH from the taxpayers money collected by our government forever and ever. That is how I take this RH bill. We do not need to legislate procreation of our people. We are relatively ok despite the wrong priorities of our government in managing our resources. But with the passage of this bill, the more we will be screwed up.


Again, forgive my opinion being such a feature of this article as it’s really not for me to make decisions on this, but I’m curious as to readers’ views and as much reacting to Carmen Pedrosa’s article as my friend’s comments, I said this in reply:

From Me:
Maria, I’ve read your comments and I know we can respectfully debate this between us and I will remove my comments and bring them here instead.
Maria, I love you dearly but I have to ask, how unsustainable population growth in a country that cannot even feed itself benefits the Philippines or Filipinos, and how exactly do foreigners benefit from the RH bill.
(I had not taken in her first comment at this point and yes I know she explained her view already.)

Isn’t the opposition to RH bill mostly from the Catholic Church, which was a foreign religion, imposed on the Philippines anyway?

Just saying, as I’m struggling with this.

I’m replying to parts of this article as I read it so excuse it being broken up. First, the lady who wrote the article seems concerned that it’s an issue of sovereignty. This has no bearing on the rights or wrongs. It is simply bizarre that this is being cited as any kind of reason to oppose it. It’s just logical advice from the world that has seen much benefit from population control. Please note all the wealthiest countries in the world practice family planning options for their benefit and they don’t have to use a contraceptive if they don’t want to; nobody forces them.

Same applies here, nobody is forcing a Catholic to defy his beliefs but anti-RH politicians and the Catholic Church have been imposing their belief on everyone in this country by denying them the right to family planning.

I quote from the article which uses this quote:

“But come to think of it, is overpopulation really bad when China and India are the envy of everybody these days? Is it not, in fact, partly because of their huge population of conspicuous consumers that investments are pouring in?”

Well, it seems to have escaped the writer’s notice that China for one, rightly or wrongly, had a huge problem with population control and 30 years ago, they introduced a one-child-only policy and that is much of the reason why China is now a major economic player. If that was not done, then it would be a totally different story.

India has family planning options I believe already in place, (I may be mistaken.)

Also, please note as the writer again failed to state it, India especially has massive poverty despite its growth. It may eventually trickle down to the poor, but as of now, there are still many living in desperate poverty. Not saying it’s entirely population related, but I am saying that it’s wrong for the writer to make much of the growth and not mention that the growth is benefiting the elite but still isn’t trickling down to the poorest of the poor.

Again, I quote from the article:

“But what are the facts on the Philippines?

“According to data culled from reliable statistics, population growth rate decreased from 3.0% to 1.8%, for the period from 1960 to 2009; birth rate decreased from 26.3% to 25.68%, for the period from 2003 to 2010; Death rate went down from 5.6% to 5.06%, for the period from 2003 to 2010; fertility rate went down from 7% to 3.1%, for the period from 1960 to 2008; life expectancy at birth increased for the period from 2003 to 2010.

“The data shows that the population KPIs are consistently trending down and not going up as previously claimed. All these happened via fund realignment and without increased funding for health.”

Well to that, I have to say that that are hardly figures to be proud of, it’s tiny and the apparent trending down is so small, it’s virtually insignificant.

From me yet again, my god I really do talk too much on Facebook!

As regards your own comments, I will just say that people will always have sex and not being able to obtain contraceptives doesn’t stop it. Maybe I’m not too moral myself, in fact in some ways I know I’m not so in some respects perhaps it qualifies me to say that from my own experiences, when the moment has been there, lack of a condom has rarely stopped me being naughty. I have many kids. Something I’m not proud of apart from being a proud dad of course but I don’t think contraception or the lack of it is any key to making people behave in a more moral fashion. I believe more damage on that level is done by TV companies and media in general who sexualize everything rather consciously or subconsciously.

At which point Maria interceded with:
Supposing, my friend, that the RH bill passes into law today. Does it mean that our poor people with 4 children and more will be able to study, and their parents will be given jobs immediately? In our thinking, it does not matter if you have 1 or 10 children. You can provide for the health and education of your children if the parents are gainfully employed, no matter if you have 10 children. But you cannot provide for the health and education of your only one child if you do not have a job that will sustain your own and your family’s needs. The reason why the Philippines is managing to stay alive is because of our people who are seeking employment abroad. If we depopulate, our people will grow old, the next generation should we dwindle in population will not be able to sustain our existence as a people, who will take care of our old people, who will work for us to sustain our race’s survival? We are intelligent, industrious, peace-loving people (also beautiful, artistic people). The world is a better place with Filipinos around. I hope you agree with me, my friend James.

Yes, big mouth is back. This is from me yet again:

I would have to say that worrying over profits that med companies make is a poor reason to inflict the lack of right to family planning.

I also despair at the weak argument that contraception is some form of abortion. Contraception simply prevent a sperm and an egg from being fertilized, it does not kill any embryo (is that the right word?)

I’m done now forgive my opposition to this viewpoint.

Maria, tomorrow it will make no difference whatsoever, but in 30 years the impact will be massive. I think it’s obvious this is a long-term solution and not a quick fix. There are no quick fixes and a long-term plan is what was always required.

Will nothing shut this opinionated foreigner up? Me again:

Also, I fail to understand how people believe that good family values is promoting slavery via OFWs and sees its people as potential earners for the country by breaking up homes and making the population slaves so the elite can prosper. The elite of this nation are home wreckers and criminals and enemies of the people in my eyes, and this whole debate has been perverted into something else. The winners would be the elite who keep their monopolies and continue to enslave their people by shipping them abroad. Only the elite benefit from this system (meaning the old system before the passing of the Bill). The poor suffer and mom goes to Dubai and dad drinks himself silly here and can’t get a job because the elite owners of this country maintain a monopoly that only benefits them.

Okay, debate over, and I’m sorry that it’s so full of my own thoughts and sentiments, but I want to get some reactions from pro and anti RH Bill people to have their say. I also wanted to use this exchange to present a small part of what my friend and other anti-RH bill advocates believe.

This post and this conversation between Maria and I is only really scratching at the surface and I’m already on nearly 2000 words, to report the whole issue would be a book.

Well, I will leave it here, and I simply ask what your thoughts are. This is an emotive subject for many and I ask contributors to keep their emotions under control so we can exchange civilly. I disagree with Maria, but she is not someone who deserves abuse even if she is anonymous here, so kindly keep to the topic matter and agree with either party or disagree, but please no abuse. Maria represents what many think and that’s the only reason I have used this exchange.

What I have noticed is that many on the anti-RH side have altered their views. It was all about religion at one time. Some here have much misunderstanding of many things including sex education. I have no idea why but I’ve seen eruptions from many when the topic is raised. It seems that some believe it means teaching sexual technique and I really don’t see how they have come to that conclusion, but some do. The media don’t do much of a good job in pointing out facts, they seem to enjoy controversies so they just let them ride as it gives them more to write about and more stories come out of the misunderstandings, so they don’t bother to explain.

I cannot understand more though the views in the article from Carmen Pedrosa. Strangely, she doesn’t seem to be aware that China has a one child policy. Did she miss that?

Also, I notice that people who used to quite rightly attack the whole notion of breaking up families and in a culture of no work people having to go overseas to work, when they debated RH Bill, they would completely change their view, and as a way of attacking the bill, would suddenly claim they were a benefit to the country. That’s how fickle people’s viewpoints can be sometimes here.

It’s a big turning point for the Philippines, and my views apart, it’s worth trying to see how others see it. I know it’s a lot to read taking Carmen Pedrosa’s article into consideration too but I think some of the thinking here is represented by her article. It’s only my view that what she said in the article is wrong. I know this isn’t my usual type of post but I really would like to hear varying viewpoints, respectfully of course.

In truth, it would appear that the fuss and delays in getting this bill passed as it took many, many years seems to be a little futile as I really don’t see much difference at this moment in time. I don’t know why people are so upset about pharmaceutical companies making a profit. Don’t they anyway every time you take a headache pill?

If you read this, you may or may not agree that some of the anti-RH advocates are bordering on the insane. Sorry to inject my opinion again, but it is becoming increasingly unbelievable that such ridiculous claims and stalling tactics can be applied to such an important issue.

I’m not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree and I’m sure I may have some details wrong here and there, but it is interesting to reopen a topic that seems to have gone down the interest ladder with the current pork barrel scam dominating all the news lately. So I’m just reopening it and why is it that it can be delayed further by nonsensical arguments. Kind of makes you lose belief in the democratic process when religious doctrine can be politicked with such outrageous arguments.

This issue has been dragging on long enough. How long are these zealots going to continue with their insane ramblings whilst at the same time the population continues to grow and prevents the progress of the fight against poverty?


Filed under Culture, Impressions, Manila, Philippines, Politics

The Critical and Acceptive Thinking Clash

Critical thinkingI’ve spent the most part of 7 years here in the Philippines and my Tagalog is pathetic. Why is it pathetic? Well (and this is where I go into excuse mode), I just can’t get it. I had French lessons as was the norm in England way back in the 17th century when I was young. I have little idea of how to speak French despite it being on the school curriculum.

I am far from alone as many in England don’t speak much French. Is it laziness? Is it arrogance? Is it bad teaching? Well, if I’m honest I don’t really know. All I know is that not only me but the majority of British people don’t speak other languages. Correct me if I’m wrong but I suspect the same applies in most other English-speaking countries. The overwhelming majority of people from English-speaking countries simply don’t learn other languages. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, but in general, I think it’s fair enough comment.

When it comes to Filipinos they generally speak the National Language of Filipino, which is basically the Tagalog dialect, along with their own local dialect, and almost everyone having at least some grasp of English. To me, that is something that is not credited enough and I don’t know much about the school system in the Philippines, but it seems when it comes to language training, they are well ahead of us.

Why is it we westerners cannot learn something you can’t change such as a language and Filipinos cannot make any inroads when it comes to making the country a better place? Both are significant failings in both of us.

Why do people with such ability and such resourcefulness along with the ability to learn, lack something we have such as common sense? Well, this is just me trying to work it out, no research just sharing my own thoughts.

It is my belief that it is linked to critical thinking. I do believe this is what lies behind much of the difference between us (westerners) and (Asians).

Critical thinking is something central to western thinking and attitudes whereas in most Asian cultures, it is missing. I really believe this is central to much of any divide between us.

Critical thinking is effective in so much as it helps to bring on positive changes, but it’s a hindrance when it comes to learning and understanding. We critical thinkers tend to be condemning of what we are learning meaning we are not always listening or learning. Languages we cannot change so we shun them.

Time and again I’ve come across foreigners here that are frustrated with people who are so happy to accept and as a consequence, things don’t improve. As a westerner, I have critical thinking. I don’t pretend to know the origins of it but in short it means I’m questioning whereas a Filipino is accepting. This is a fundamental difference between us and I don’t think it’s a matter of who is right or wrong, it’s a simple case of understanding it and how it makes us different.

It’s the reason why Filipinos don’t fight for change and us, as westerners, are never happy with the improvements. Both attitudes, whether it’s critical thinking or that of acceptance have their negatives. Acceptance hampers improvement whereas critical thinking possibly hampers our ability to understand as we don’t simply look at what’s there, we always seek to change it. That’s not always helpful either.

Back to the language ability issue then it could be that westerners are so busy saying French is stupid or difficult, and not getting our heads around the masculine and feminine in the language that we don’t have the ability to learn. A Filipino would not think in terms of why it can’t be easier, they would just learn it. Sometimes, I think we westerners can ask why a little too much but that’s the way we are.

It would appear neither way is ideal whether critically inclined or acceptive, but it makes us who we are. Understanding this difference is very important when learning how to interact with each other.

East West Mix

As per usual though it’s not a straightforward matter of how Filipinos are or how foreigners are as there are many exceptions to this theory. Due to western influences whether historical or cultural, there are some here with more critical thinking ability than others. I cannot say if that is something that has developed more over recent years or not, but it is noticeable
The culture here is basically Asian with much western thinking interjected. For the purposes of this article let’s not go over history and say where the western influence of the Filipino come from, I think we all know that. But despite the western influence and many willing to take on aspects of western culture, I would say the mind-set is still that of acceptance in general; critical thinking is really not the norm here.

Divided thinking

Again, this is only my belief for what it is worth, but here lies some division among Filipinos themselves. I always see foreigners berating Filipinos for not acting against the wrongs and even guaranteeing it by voting obvious monsters. It’s not just foreigners though. Some Filipinos with critical thinking get more annoyed than anyone at some of the apathy and over acceptance within the culture. We have what would appear to be 2 kinds of Filipino, and a little conflict does seem to be apparent.

I have made efforts within myself and in my writing to be understanding of the acceptance way of thinking. In fact, it has helped me over time with understanding, but naturally I have retained much of my critical thinking. The idea of a combination of these 2 ways of looking at things sounds good, but they don’t blend as they are very different. Here lies much of the division between Filipinos and definitely an area where westerners and many Filipinos clash.

It is my belief though that critical thinking is becoming more and more a part of the Filipino. Maybe again related to advances in technology which means more information dissemination. People or at least many of them are not prepared to not question things anymore and many are even shouting for change whereas once it was more a polite request.

Is the Filipino changing? Well, on some levels yes for reasons I’ve just stated but it is not a wholesale change. Many still retain the non-complaining non-action head in the sand approach. It’s not all bad and I have come to understand this way of thinking more and more over the years I’ve been here. It has even helped me with my personal development and in some respects, inner peace. I was never one to accept. I wouldn’t say I’ve become acceptive, but it has calmed me down and made me feel that my shouting and frustrations don’t serve as much purpose as I thought and I only hurt myself.

Adapt to survive

So what is any of this saying. Well, only that as always we have to learn from each other. I get frustrated at the attitude of some who see being critical as simply negative or complaining. Of course, if you want changes, you have to demand them and wrongs need to be highlighted and addressed. I do hate it when people seem to think I am impolite for saying the obvious and my wish is only to right wrongs and face things as they are and improve it.

On the other hand, taking on board the acceptance way of thinking I have learnt to listen more and to not just tell which could be perceived as arrogance. In that respect, it has done me a lot of good. I’m more analytical and definitely more understanding.

Many here simply don’t want to hear that things are not as they should be sometimes. What I wish they would understand is that with me at least, it’s not a sense of superiority, it’s a way of thinking which is built-in in many westerners. I accept it’s not all good and we really do need to take on board some of the Asian acceptance mode of thinking mainly because it’s better for your peace of mind.

So on this day that Janet Napoles faces the Senate, I don’t expect a huge readership so I’ve gone ahead with this contemplating my navel post. Forgive me that but I’m sure the critical thinkers among you will be glued to the live coverage and the acceptors will watch it too if only to watch a circus.

With the recent issues involving the pork barrel scam, it could prove to be an interesting test to see which way the Filipino is heading. The next election will be an even bigger test. Changes may be coming but once again I finish with the immortal line, let’s see.


Filed under Culture, Impressions, Manila, Philippines

Statistically Speaking

Asia Conference 2011I’m a lousy researcher and I overcome my inadequacy by skipping matters I have to research deeply. Well, I’m an amateur blogger so what the hell, and if Russell Brand can get away with it, so can I.

I have looked at the stats. I see them, but why am I finding them so difficult to fully believe. Now, all I have to go on is my instinct and that’s hardly scientific I know, but I’m struggling to believe 7.5% unemployment rate and 19.3% underemployment. I’m not saying they are rigged exactly, but I do at the very least find 7.5% to be surprising. The interesting figure is the 19.3% underemployment rate. Does that mean the many I know that are working for 150 peso a day in the capital, and as low as 100 peso a day in the provinces are part of that figure? The word underemployed I took to mean part time or seasonal but apparently not.

My unscientific disbelief of these figures is just an impression. My doubts are fuelled because they are collated by using surveys. It maybe nobody’s fault, as in the Philippines, I can’t think of a better way with so much undeclared information with many individuals here. Many people here have jobs but are off the system and indeed have no legal rights and no benefits such as SSS, Philhealth, and Pag-ibig contributions from the employer on their behalf among other requirements. This also means there is no real way of monitoring this sector so God only knows what the actual figures may be. I won’t even bother to explain the 13th month pay, a mandatory requirement going back as far as 1975. Needless to say the undocumented workforce does not have these rights simply because they are not on the system.

Unintentionally though, the fact that it would appear that these figures are compiled largely through a survey means it clouds the issue. Do they wander into the squatter areas and ask questions or is it at the mall? I think it’s fair to say that the figures would vary hugely between the two locations.

I’m only guessing and I’m far from sure, but how does this survey work? Is it “excuse me sir/madam, are you in work”? Next question,” is it an actual job where you get full entitlements”? I doubt the second question somehow, and I guess if they are working in a shoe shop for 150 peso days, then they are marked as working.

So what constitutes underemployed? Well I was confused by the term but I’m told it means working in jobs they are overqualified for. Does that count those on temporary contracts where they used to often be routinely fired after which another bunch can be employed without the full rights of a normal regular employee? The government is trying to address such issues with rule changes but it’s a confusing picture and actual figures would be near impossible to collate. The figures lose some of their meaning when you take all into consideration.

Well, the unscientific method of using my eyes and ears is all I have and I won’t pretend to know better than what the stats tell me. I did wonder for a while how they put these figures together and on discovering its survey based, it only served to increase my bewilderment about the figures. This is not accusing, I’m more saying the nature of a survey has its weaknesses and accuracy is not something we can overly rely upon.

I base it on that I meet so many unemployed people. It certainly feels like 7.5% could be understating it. In my experience of people I have spoken with, I would say that so many of them are working well below minimum wage and are often not recorded on the system.

To the credit of the government, a framework is in place to protect certain sectors from exploitation. Minimum wage is supposed to be enforced generally and has been in place for many years before this administration came to power. For household workers of which there are many, they have introduced the Kasambahay law, a particularly exploited sector traditionally. Does it solve the problems of exploited household workers? Well in many cases, no but it is well meaning and putting down a framework and implementing rules is a start.

yayaIt’s tempting for someone not here to think it’s down to a miserable and mean rich underpaying servants but that’s not really it. The most exploited household workers are employed by what I call working class people (middle class to Americans and Filipinos). A domestic worker comes so cheaply, they can afford one. They usually come from the poorest regions and despite the incredibly poor pay, they settle for around 1000 peso a week, they get a bed and food but you work as and when they need them which could be a very, very long day.

The good news is that it is now in place in which it states in the National Capital Region, they should have a minimum of 2,500 pesos, in chartered cities and first class municipalities, 2000 pesos, and 1500 pesos elsewhere along with full benefits of SSS, Philhealth, and Pag-ibig. I have no doubts as to the good intentions but it does not always work in practice. Many domestic workers come from poor provinces and are hardly in any position to demand their rights. The end result would most likely mean they lose a job even if underpaid, it’s a job and damned near impossible to find another. So they simply stay quiet and carry on working for the 1000 pesos a week with no rights or protection.

I know the popular call from those who do not understand the makeup of the Philippines is to say that minimum wage is a must and should be strictly enforced. I understand that sentiment and on paper, it sounds easy. But introducing such laws can have another not thought of side for these people at the bottom of the pile. It simply means they go from a bad job to no job. Working class households employ them because they can afford them. Apply the law, and then they simply have to let them go as it is beyond their budget.

So what am I to make of stats and laws that are well intended? For a multitude of reasons, they cannot simply end the problem of exploited workers. It’s as simple as a bad job is better than no job and the cycle goes on. I’m sure over time the issue will be addressed again and improvements made to the existing laws. I’m sure everyone is entitled to a decent living wage, but it’s never that simple.

So again, I’m going to rely more on my instinct than official stats. I do not believe that such figures are manipulated but I am saying that I think sometimes we have to take them with a pinch of salt. I will stick to my guide of judging improvement when it’s noticeable to the eye. I’m not really seeing that as yet. I believe they are trying, the good intentions I do not doubt. But still a long way to go with what is as always something which can never be as simple as it sounds.

To me, it looks like a lot more than 7.5% unemployed. I still know many household workers on 1000 pesos a week. A start has been made to try and improve these people’s lives, which is good. I hope as conditions improve over time, it is not at the expense of others losing jobs because of it, but I think it’s somewhat inevitable.

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