We moved to the Philippines just a few months ago, after planning and preparing for years. I’m no stranger here. I’ve been visiting since the mid-1990’s, usually every other year. That gave me the chance to observe things and get something of a feel for the place. My last visit, however, was in late 2013. That made for about a 3-year absence. Seems a lot can happen in three years.
One of the first things I noticed was that there are quite a few transportation and infrastructure projects going on. Roads are being widened. Bridges are being rebuilt. Drainage and flood control systems are being built or enlarged. In years past, it seemed that many of the laborers on these road construction projects were foreigners, mostly Indonesian in my observation. I may be mistaken in this, but many of them were doing hard hat road construction work in tsinellas (flip flops) and a wraparound sari. Today, these laborers seem to be Filipinos. Naturally, with all this construction, there are attendant traffic delays. But, I’ve also noticed that many of these projects are being seen to completion in a reasonable amount of time.
That brings me to another transportation related observation. There seems to be more, and larger, SUVs, pickup trucks, and vans on the road. I can’t say for sure, but that may be related to the increased number of new houses of modern construction I see springing up all over the place. These houses, with brightly colored roofs and walls, decorative stone and tile work, and neatly landscaped lawns used to be the exception here in rural Nueva Vizcaya. The old houses of hollow blocks, scavenged materials, and rusty sheet metal roofs still dominate, but the newer ones are a common sight now.
Before we arrived, I was discussing grocery stores with a fellow expat whom I met on a previous trip. The local chain hereabouts is Savemore. I had understood that they were renovating the small one in Solano that we had been patronizing. He told me no. They had left it as is and built a new, larger one in the center of town. He also mentioned a plan to build a Savemore every 10 kilometers or so. I didn’t see how there could be a customer base to support such a plan. Maybe there isn’t, but there are two operating in the town of Solano, a new one in the adjoining town of Bayombong, and yet another under construction in the agriculture centered town of Bambang, a little south of us. Time will tell if they get enough business to stay open.
The changes I’ve noticed are not limited to the roadways and towns. Farm work is changing as well. I was surprised to see mechanized reaping machines and large tractors in the rice fields. There are not enough of them to replace the big walk behind tillers and the carabao, but they are now a common sight. Not only that, they are often moved from one field to another on a trailer pulled by a big wheeled, decorated off road pickup truck.
For all of that, there are still plenty of familiar sights. The Filipino attitude of doing what needs to be done with whatever is at hand is still very much in evidence. The other day a neighbor was digging a drainage ditch alongside the concrete roadway with only a garden trowel. The carabao, the walk behind Kubota, and the new reapers can be seen working in adjacent fields. Harvested rice is still dried in the roadway. There are still places inaccessible to wheeled vehicles. From there, the trusty carabao still pulls the produce laden sled down from the mountain to the trucks and jeeps waiting on the road. And the bolo is still the Swiss army knife of the rural Filipino.
It remains to be seen how the mechanization of farm labor will affect the lower tier of farm workers here. No place stays the same forever. Still, the major changes seem to be a good thing to me.