Everyday, 7 days per week, I get literally hundreds of emails. Mostly they have questions about life in the Philippines, maybe they need help is solving some kind of problem that is facing them here in the Philippines. Usually, I just answer the question and go on with my day. Sometimes, I take a day or so to think the situation over and come up with what I feel is the proper answer.
Yesterday, I got an email from a fellow from Europe, and I have decided to share his question, and my answer. Why did I decide to share this particular question and answer? Well, because the question is so common, and I hear it all the time. I hear a lot of people complaining incessantly about this particular problem, it is just non-stop.
The thing is, I never experience this problem anymore, although I used to. I can’t remember when I last experienced this, I mean it is many, many years now. What problem am I talking about?
The Skin Tax
What is the Skin Tax? Well, that is what some people call it when Filipinos overcharge them for products or services, simply because they are from outside the Philippines. I think that “skin tax” is a misnomer, because it denotes racism. This overcharging is not based on race, it is based on the fact that you are a foreigner. In fact, Filipinos are even charged extra if they have lived out of the Philippines for a long time. I know Feyma got hit with this when we moved back to the Philippines, and I did too. So, it is not really based on the color of your skin, it is just because it is figured that you can afford to pay more than a local person.
A note from “John”
I got a note from “John” (not his real name, I want to protect his anonymity). Here is what he said:
My name is John and I am from Europe. I am foreigner living here in the Philippines just recently moved to Davao city from up north. I came here with my filipina wife, her aunt, her aunt’s husband and their baby.
We are living in the Southern part of Davao, you probably know where it is. We are now living here in Davao for about 2 months and I like it very much except for one thing and that is reason I am writing you.
It’s tricycle drivers. They keep charging us “foreigner” price. 50% or even 100% more than usual price for Filipinos. I even talked to them (drivers) in my broken cebuano and I thought if I talk to them and not my wife they would stop, but no it is the same.
Last time, few days ago when 4 of us took tricycle for a short distance, maybe 1 km or less driver wanted to charge us 100% more than usual price. Husband of my wife’s aunt was talking to him about 5 min about price and pointed at me while I was standing and waiting for him.
I approached them and understood a little bit whats going on. Driver keep asking for one price and my friend said its because of puti (white). He is from here so he knows price and obvious thing was driver saw piso sign on my forehead.
My friend was very upset by driver wanting more money that he was ready to call 911 to check price and to tell them that driver is basically trying to rob us by keep asking for more money and lying about price. Eventually when my friend typed 911 and got ready to call driver just left.
It made me sad that I am reason for that. My friend from US said that sounds like racism. Do you know the way how can we stop this from happening in the future? Is it legal for them (drivers) just to charge any price they want? If he really called police can they do something about it?
Thank you in advance, looking forward to your answer, John
Nice to hear from you. I am sorry that you have experienced this problem, but I also think that it is a problem that you can put to rest. I do commend you, though, for keeping your cool and for trying to talk to the driver in a calm way. Feeling embarrassed that this has happened is something that most foreigner would not do, most would just get mad, and it would lead to more problems. So, I feel that you are trying to solve the issue in a good way. I hope that I can help you to put this to rest.
I feel, John, that there are two different types of solutions for you.. the long term solution and the short term solution.
The short term solution is what you need now, so that you can put this to an end and live a quiet and peaceful life without the hassles of being expected to pay extra for no good reason. The calling of 911 is a possible solution, however, to me it is not the right solution. In my opinion, 911 is reserved for more emergency type situations. Somebody is injured, there is a fire or a traffic accident, that sort of problem. However, I will say that I have been told of people in Davao calling 911 for such annoyances, and it seems to be a normal thing to do, but I feel that there is a better solution for you.
If I were in your position, what I would do is to go to the Barangay Hall for the Barangay where you live. A Barangay is the most local government unit in the Philippines. It is sort of the “neighborhood” although generally encompasses several neighborhoods. The Barangay Captain is the highest “neighborhood” government official. He (or she, of course) is in charge of keeping peace between neighbors, handling situations in the Barangay, etc. If you go file a complaint at the Barangay Office, a hearing will be set up between you and the tricycle drivers. It is rather informal, but is understood to be serious.
If you go and meet with the Barangay Captain, be nice! Be nice to the tricycle drivers, and especially to the Captain himself. Show him respect. Don’t speak out of turn, let the other speak, and wait until they are finished talking before speaking up. Be very respectful to all. If the tricycle drivers get mad or say bad things, keep your calm and don’t follow their example. I have been to two Barangay meetings in my 16 years in the Philippines, and keeping my cool and being kind paid off big time for me!
Explain to the Barangay Captain what is going on with you and your family being overcharged. I am sure that he will explain to the drivers that they are not allowed to do this. And, I also believe that the drivers will take it seriously, and follow the instructions of the Barangay Captain.
Now, the long term solution.
You said that your spoke to the drivers one time in your broken Cebuano. I think that was a good move. However, I would encourage you to study Cebuano and become fluent in the language. I speak Cebuano myself, and I try to use Cebuano 100% if I am out in public, unless I am with other foreigners. If you can become fluent in the language, I think you will find that these “overcharging” problems will not happen to you anymore, at least very rarely if they do. That is my experience anyway.
Good luck to you, John! It sounds to me like you have the right attitude, and I believe that you will work this out. I wish you the best. If you see me when you are out and about in Davao City, please say hello! I would enjoy meeting you!