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My Life in Cebu: Money and Happiness

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I wonder a lot about the connection between money and happiness in my adopted home of the Philippines. Like many of us who read and write for Live in the Philippines, I have found Filipino people to be an outwardly happy and acceptant culture. Most Filipinos are poor, but the combination of family, faith, a desire for the simple life and the attitude of “Bahala na,” which Filipina writer Rosalinda R. Morgan defines as meaning “come what may,” “whatever will be, will be,” ‘leave it to God,’ offer some insight into how Filipinos cope with the realities of their lives. Some scholars, however, see the use of Bahala Na in a negative light. It is a sort of “writing off” of any action and seeing oneself with no locus of control. These same scholars consider it as a fatalistic submission or a form of avoidance of responsibility. They point out that Instead of a positive, laid-back attitude, it can be seen as an excuse of lazy people for getting away from their personal responsibility. So hmm… I wonder? I can see examples of both here, hard work and laziness, but then I’ve seen these in other places too.

This aside, most Filipinos want to have money, work for what money is available to them and make do with what comes their way, all under an umbrella of acceptance and even happiness for the life they have. But as the world speeds by in Makati and Cebu and the television ads and internet show more and more people with wealth and experience, bright glittery things and modern stuff, it’s easy to want more and it is this that makes me wonder about the connection between money and happiness here.

49 Ways to Make a Living in the Philippines

After I know one of my Filipino friends long enough I usually ask him about his salary. I’m just curious and slightly in disbelief about how Filipinos live on such paltry wages. Of course, the cheapness of living here is one of the things we expats like, but I sometimes I catch myself saying, “Whoa.” Of course none of this relates to the millions of people who live on no wages, the ones who sort of piece together money and staples to get through the month, or just rely on others to get it for them, but for now I am curious about the people here who get up each day, go to their jobs and work for a salary.

Guilermo, our maintenance man in the housing project, has worked here for 16 years; he fixes everything, electrical, plumbing, holes in the wall. When there is nothing to fix he landscapes, does pool maintenance and whatever is needed. 6 days a week, 11 hours a day. He is honest, reliable and hard working. He is a skilled handyman for sure, and if he can’t fix it, he knows someone who can. And he follows up. He has a wife and three kids; he tells me they take Phil Health, Social Security, Pag- ibig and taxes out of this paycheck. We are in the city, of course. He makes 16000 php per month, about $306 USD.

Margo is the Office Manager of the housing project. She literally runs the place with perhaps 100 housing units. This includes collecting fees, scheduling maintenance, trouble shooting answering every possible tenant question, collecting from delinquent tenants, doing the payroll, keeping the books and all relevant paperwork. She has worked here for 9 years, has two kids and a Filipino father who, “He ran away Sir.” In a larger business, she would require a degree in Human Resource Management. She works 6 days a week and is paid 15,000 php a month. As little as it seems, these two workers are better off than many.

For others not so fortunate to have these salaried jobs, the Philippines Inquirer reports that workers in the private sector in Cebu have been granted a 13 peso (25 cent) per day wage increase, from 353p to 366p per day. 366 pesos equals $7.01 USD. Working 25 days, one day off per week, which is typical in the Philippines, the monthly wage would total 9150 php or $175 per month, before any deductions such as Phil Health or Social Security.

In addition, according to the National Wages and Productivity Commission, the minimum pay of housemaids in Region VII has also been increased from P2,500 monthly to P3,000 in Cebu City. The rates for other areas have yet to be determined.

We pay our housekeeper 3000p a month, but she does 2 other houses too. And, she has a husband who is a painter, and a family business selling banana que that her mother runs. There are 5 in her household. The provincial wage doesn’t apply to anything this family does; they piece together income from various sources with even some money from a sister in the US, earmarked for the utilities and internet.

The government HAS changed the amount in employees take home paycheck by changes to the tax structure for 2018. It is significant especially in households where every peso counts.

Still, all of these changes and realties affect only a certain type of salaried worker, I do know people in Cebu who go to work each day, work in the private sector and don’t get paid close to the Provincial minimum.

R. Ashley

R. Ashley

One of my wife’s cousins took a job on Colon Street here in Cebu operating a copy machine. 7 days a week for 12 hours. The guy wanted to pay her 100 php a day; she lasted 4 days until the owner felt her boobs between copy jobs; she never got the 400 pesos he owed her.

Another group of cousins work in Angeles City at a construction site. They are paid 500 php a day, mostly for digging and carrying cement sacks. At best, they have an 8th grade education; the job is over when it’s over and there are no such things as taxes, Pag-Ibig, Social Security and Phil Health for these people. Money that would go toward those things goes to Red Horse Beer. “Benefits” are not ideas in the lives of workers from deep in the provinces. Even if these things are available, many Filipinos don’t know how to access them, and they are programs based upon “planning for the future.” This “future planning,” is a foreign idea to many people here. But for now, working hard every day, they have 15,000 php per month and it will last at least until the end of September. This is good; both have babies on the way with their young, 19 year old “wives,”

R. Ashley

R. Ashley

So again, I wonder a lot about the connection between money and happiness in my adopted home of the Philippines. It’s a complex story filled with regional differences and similarities, personal stories and observations, and certainly opportunity and personal drive in the 13th largest country in the world.

R. Ashley

R. Ashley

I wonder what your thoughts and experiences are about these aspects of the world we have chosen to live in? I don’t for a minute think that any of us could (or should) have any answers to these things, but your observations, your insights, your ways of understanding and what you see, are important to our dialogue here as Expats, or as Bob Martin prefers to call himself, and me too I guess, Immigrants.

This also makes me think about the movie Forrest Gump. At the end of the film, Forrest speaks to his Jenny, the love of his life, already in her premature grave. He tells her of his day and about the life of their child and how much he misses her, and then says something quite deep. Forrest’s simple way of stating his take on the ancient question about Destiny and Free Will.

“Jenny, I don’t know if Momma was right or if, if it’s Lieutenant Dan. I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.

I wonder then. Is it family, faith, a desire for the simple life and the attitude of “Bahala na, that make the wheels roll here, or does life just keep rolling along on its own? I’d love to know your thoughts and stories, as diverse and free flowing as they may be, about such a wide set of topics.

Rob Ashley

After travelling to the Philippines and SE Asia perhaps 15 times between 2007-2011, I decided to retire in Cebu and moved here in August 2011. Things changed fast. A month after I was here I met my wife Rachel; In 6 months I decided I was bored after having taught high school English and in a graduate school of education at a Portland, Oregon university for 30+ years; I looked around; I was hired as the Head of the English Department at a Cebu international school. Rachel and I got married; we bought a condo in Cebu City; we got two cats. After 3 years here I was offered a similar position at a Japanese international school, so we went to Japan. After two years there I was offered another position of Coordinator of Languages at a Vienna, Austria international school. Living in Europe was nice, but Rachel said, “It’s too cold here.” So, finally last August, we returned to Cebu for good, and I really am retired. I have learned that you pretty much take your life with you wherever you go. I have a PhD from the University of Oregon and I’m a diehard Oregon Ducks fan. Likewise an NBA Portland Trailblazers fan, so I am often up at 3 am on Sundays or Mondays to watch football and basketball games. Cebu is home now and many thanks to Bob Martin for LIP and the services and opportunities he offers us Expats.

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LeRoy
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LeRoy

Very good article. It gives a lot of food for thought.

In the village where my family lives, they all are doing whatever they can find for work. It pains me to see how little the families are living on.

I’m looking forward to more posts in the future.

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

LeRoy: Thank you for your comments and observations. Yes, I do know that all of us have had these similar questions and thoughts no matter what part of the Phils we live in, and as you get involved with families and friends here who live these realities, it brings up a personal set of feelings. Sort of a “shake my head” sadness. It does for me anyway. Be well. -Rob

Jason Weiland
Guest

Wow, Rob! I can tell much thought went into this article. I too struggle with the same questions when I see the cross-section of people here in Iloilo City. I see people who work all day selling brooms so they can have rice for their family that night, then I see lawyers, driving an Everest, living life much like a Westerner. I love the attitude of the people here. Something else that I see in the Filipino people is they are grateful. No matter what they have, they are grateful, and some of that has rubbed off on me in… Read more »

Rob Ashley
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Rob Ashley

Jason: You are right…the genuine gratefulness of people when you help or even hire them is pretty amazing. It has rubbed off on me. You read stuff about foreigners complaining about the Phils and the Filipino people, and I have heard it it, but really, this gratefulness and humbleness (some would call it shyness) affects my behavior too. I think I am more tolerant here, kinder here, because of the Filipino people. So “thank you” Philippines. -Rob

Luke Tynan
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Luke Tynan

Rob, Great article, and very insightful. From time to time I look at my neighbours and I am surprised by their happiness and joy that they show the world. But then I think back to my younger years in California, when my kids were preschool and I was just starting out after getting out of the Navy and how happy I was then. After bills I had less than $75 for food and other necessities, with no insurance at all. People make due and find what joy they can in life. Human nature, we all want better but settle for… Read more »

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

Luke: This too is insightful. When you play back the tapes of your own life and when you were happy and when you were overwhelmed, having a lot of money doesn’t really seem to affect it. The more money I had as my career grew, the more problems I had, and bills. My life is easier here in the Phils and in retirement. I know exactly how much money I have each month; I have a certain amount of expenses and I probably have more “unbudgeted” money each month than I ever had. My expectations are in line with my… Read more »

Gary
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Gary

Let’s not fool ourselves. we like to think that Filipinos are somehow “different”, that they have some natural innate philosophy of life that enables them to endure hardships with hardly any notice and tiptoe through life with a perpetual smile on their faces. Untrue! They have the same hopes and desires as anyone else. They want a better life for their children, they want decent homes, healthy foods, healthcare, education. Twelve million Filipinos work overseas, millions have moved to other countries to improve their lives. I would guess that if given the choice eighty percent oh Filipinos would leave the… Read more »

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

Gary: Good thoughts and you are probably right. I have teacher friend who was paid 20,000 php a month teaching here. His wife was a nurse and made 15000. They are both now at a school in Japan, he as a teacher and she as the school nurse, and they each are paid $4000 USD about 415,000 php monthly total. You might say Japan is more expensive, but this is not Tokyo…it is rural Japan and there’s nothing to buy. They rent a nice place, have a car and their kids go to English Immersion school for free. There is… Read more »

John Reyes
Guest
John Reyes

True. All you have to do is take a look at the long lines of hundreds of Filipino hopefuls wanting to get out of the country lined up all day, every weekday, at the U.S. Embassy applying for visas and at the DFA applying for passports, while, ironically, signs of affluence and prosperity are all around. With that said, I have only respect and admiration for Filipinos because of their tenacity and resiliency in dealing with the worst of circumstances with the meager resources they have. Despite economic deprivation and natural calamities, somehow they pull through consistently. Like the bamboo,… Read more »

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

John: Very nice “take” on this complicated set of topics. tenacity and resiliency are really parts of the Filipino character and I like your bamboo comparison. There is a quiet strength of character here that many of us could learn from. Thank you, Rob

Jay
Guest
Jay

Hi Rob,

This was a very good and interesting article! Thanks for sharing it! I prefer not to make any substantive comment at least at this time, but I think it is good that you addressed the subject even though it is a hard one.

Peace

Jay

Mike
Guest
Mike

There is no simple answer, unless we say that life is unfair, which it is. Many years ago, in my middle age, a friend brought me up when I was talking about things being unfair (as I had done many times before) – he said to me “You think life is supposed to be fair, but it is not”. Seems simple and obvious, but I had spent most of my life trying to avoid thinking that way. Now that I am in the Philippine I see the truth in a huge way and I feel so very sorry for those… Read more »

PapaDuck
Guest
PapaDuck

We do our best to help my wife’s family. Not monetarily mostly, but helping them better themselves by education and by getting them better employment. We tell the younger ones to work on there English so they can get a better job, but they use the alibi “shyness” as an excuse not to. Yes, most Filipino’s seem to be happy on the outside, but really a lot of them are sad and hurting on the inside. We preach to them to be more independent and not to rely on us or anyone else. They are slowly trying to do that,… Read more »

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