You gotta love the Philippines

You gotta love the Philippines

‘Cause if you don’t you’ll be arrested

Let me preface this essay by saying that I love the Philippines and, for the most part, I love Filipinos. But there are some things that need to be said. So read on in the context that bad news is best delivered by friends.

It is a sad fact of life that the Philippines is becoming increasingly hostile toward foreigners - especially those that choose to take Filipinas as their partners.

I have no issue with crackdowns on sex trafficking or with action against underage porn and all that goes with it but what is happening at present – the mindset of some ‘influential’ Filipinos – goes well beyond legitimate scores and is appearing to affect all of those who enjoy what might be termed ‘the warmth of the Filipinas.’

Let’s face it – much of the Philippines is sub standard even by third world standards – and only the Filipinos and their exploitative mentality can be blamed.

Why does Thailand outrank the Philippines when it comes to tourism time and time again? I would suggest there is one reason above all. In Thailand, tourism is under the control of the central government; in the Philippines it is under local control – governors and mayors own the hotels and control much of the infrastructure and it is substandard by any yardstick. There is no national clamour to make the Philippines the best it can be; rather the attitude is to throw a bone for local officials to exploit.

A trip to Hundred Islands and a sojourn in the ‘provincial hotel’ – managed by the provincial government; we payed Pattaya prices but we did not get Pattaya quality; no bath towels provided (we did get hand towels) – probably because there was no hot water; a cistern that did not flush and instead of sending in the plumber they sent us a bucket to fill with water. Lovely swimming pool, but the gate to it was locked and you had to pay an extra P100 per person every time you wanted to swim. Thanks but no thanks.

Then there was our trip to Tagaytay and our visit to Taal volcano; foolishly we bought our tickets in the main village and paid around $50 per person. Tour bus? Where was the fucking tour bus? “No tour bus, Sir, but we can take a cab”. So our guide flagged down a cab, handily waiting nearby – you guessed it; no meter and we had to pay extra for it. The cab cost us the same fare as had we gone from Manila to Angeles.

We eventually got across to the Island – having refused the offer of a ‘genuine Filipino meal’ while we waited; we had had enough of dried fish and bagaoong – and the moment our feet touched the sand we were hit up to take donkeys to the top. Thanks, but no thanks – we were fit and wanted exercise. Disappointed that he would not rake in yet another kickback, our guide refused to go further and abandoned us. So we made the trek by ourselves; tiring yes but a lot of fun.

When we got back down, no guide to be found so we had to negotiate a boat back to the village.

It could have been such a wonderful experience, the views were fantastic but yet again we left angry at the way we had been gipped.
I could go on and on, but you get the drift. Rorts are everywhere and nobody cares.

Now resident foreigners are in another league. You would think we would learn but there is always somebody to rip you off. Often it hits you unexpectedly.

When I first arrived, I was living singly in Makati in a 2-bedroom condo and hired a cleaning lady to come in for three hours a week to tidy the place. Then a friend moved in with me and she (the cleaner) started charging me double. Why? I asked; you still only spend three hours there? Well, she replied, there are now two of you?

What fucking logic is that? I refused to pay double. Next thing, I have a case before the Labor Department for unfair treatment of a Filipino worker! I won – but do you know why I won? The silly bitch had been double dipping anyway and while I had been paying her cash for her work, she had gone straight around to my office around the corner and collected a second payment from my accountant. I won because I filed a case of estafa against her.

My business prospered for a while and I was employing 12 staff in a web design company. My secretary however was fucking awful and before her six-month probationary period was up I decided to terminate her. I followed procedure with due notice; she signed her quitclaim and was then paid out.

Next thing, I have another case before the Labor department. What was I accused of? Well although she had been with my company only five months, she was working in a similar position before – and therefore it could be considered continuity of employment. But… But… I reasoned, she was with a different company and has signed a quit claim. Ah, but that was signed under duress. What the fuck? What do you mean under duress? Well, Sir, if she had not signed the claim you would not have given her the money – therefore she was under duress. I was fined $800,000 for unfair treatment of a Filipina. I closed all my bank accounts and kept my cash in a safe; She did not get any of it, the fucking bitch.

When I first arrived in Manila I rented a furnished apartment for six months before deciding to relocate permanently. (Yes, dear readers, I ACTUALLY liked the place despite finding some of its ways to be rather quaint.) So I shipped in my furniture and started looking for an unfurnished place. My landlord quickly got wind of it and urged me to stay because I was such a good tenant. By which I think he meant that I was one of the few that paid their rent on time.

So my lift van duly arrived; the landlord’s furniture moved out to another unit upstairs and my stuff duly moved in. Next thing I get a phone call to say that now I was renting an unfurnished unit, the rental contract had to be changed. Not a problem I said, I will come around tomorrow.

Imagine my surprise when presented with the contract, I found that my rent had increased by 10 per cent. Not only that, but my landlord now demanded I pay 12 months in advance rather than the one-month bond and monthly rental I had been paying until now. “Ah” again came the reply, “unfurnished apartments have different conditions to them.” Now dear readers, you can imagine my reply to that one; something along the lines that “pigs may fly before you get me on this” but my expression was more colourful.

I gave one month’s notice to work off my bond and not a cent more. I quickly found a new apartment – almost twice the size – and 10 per cent less than I had been paying. So I moved.

Now all of this within my first six months of arrival.

Now many will protest and say that the Filipinos are in fact the nicest race on earth and God’s gift to humankind. Well, yes and no. Certainly, during my time in the Philippines I met many wonderful people and have made lifelong friends. Indeed after a few trysts with some of the wenches from Angeles, Burgos Street and the infamous Harrison Plaza, I met and married the most wonderful Filipina of them all.

But Filipinos are loyal to their own – right or wrong; it's the ‘pakakisima’ thing and the ‘utang na loob’ – or to those who need the translation, loyalty to your peer group above all else and debt of gratitude which means if someone lends you P1000, you have to turn a blind eye when he rapes the next door neighbours wife and swear blind to the police that he was with you eating dried fish all night.
Foreigners? Well, no matter how hard you might try, you are outside this circle – certainly as far as pakakisima is concerned; at least with regard to any Filipino who is not part of your wife’s family.

For the most part Filipinas will be friendly to foreigners until such time as things go wrong. Get embroiled in a dispute with a Filipino, especially one from the ruling class and see how quickly your friends desert you. Well, not quite – but they certainly don't want to get involved when one of their own is up against you.

And what does being in the wrong entail? Well, it can be as simple as your business is starting to make money. Investing in the Philippines is good. Employing Filipinos is good. Paying (some) tax is good. Making a profit and getting a return on your investment – Fuck no! That implies you are exploiting Filipinos.

In fact as far as foreign investment is concerned, the Philippines has perfected the uni-valve system. Money flows in one direction only. You can bring money in, build a business – but try and take money out – shit, you’re in trouble; the entire system conspires against you.
Once your business starts to be profitable; inevitably there will be a Filipino somewhere who wants to move in and take it over.

Greed and jealousy are ingrained in the Filipino mindset; particularly in its upper echelons. I would suggest that for every self-made man in the Philippines there are ten that are wealthy because they have stolen or exploited the system to take from others. It seems to be standard operating procedure. The legal system is not a justice system; just like the Catholic Church (don’t get me started on that one) it is a tool of the ruling class to keep everybody else in their place and preserve their oligarchical system.

There is a well-known saying: “if you want to make a small fortune in the Philippines, go there with a large one.” You will not be disappointed.

Which brings me almost full circle. Covetousness and resentment of foreigners abounds in the Philippines but foreigners who are seen to embrace Filipino women make themselves particular targets. Even here, there is a target spectrum. The attitude of a Filipino male towards an unknown foreigner will most likely be conditioned by the Filipina attached to him.

Now it is certainly true that many foreigners gravitate to the Philippines and in particular to Angeles City because there they can enjoy a lifestyle they can only dream about back in the back blocks of Minnesota or, for that matter. Manchester.

Many have come out of failed marriages and are facing a somewhat uncertain future – at least sexually – and Filipinas are known as care givers in all its dimensions.

But invariably, when a foreigner takes a Filipina as a partner, she will not be from the upper echelons of Filipino society. It does happen, but for the most part it does not. The ‘A’ class in particular may take mistresses or form trysts with women from a different social group (often a co-worker) but marriage outside the clique is frowned upon. Foreigners in such long-term relationships are tolerated but quite often when invited for an evening with Filipino acquaintances, they will be told to leave their wife at home – the implication being that she would be an embarrassment because of her status (in their eyes).

Those foreigners who take R&R in the Philippines and take up with bar girls – for a night or for a week – are especially vulnerable. Stay within the confines of the Angeles ghetto and most are reasonably safe, provided they keep a low profile, but step outside the local scene – such as taking your new found love to Bangkok for a weekend (Filipinos do not need visas to visit other ASEAN countries so getting a lady to Bangkok, KL or Singapore, is somewhat easier than Australia or China for that matter) and you have the border control authorities to deal with and here is often where the first bite of discrimination kicks in. No matter that the lady is 30 years old, in the mindset of the authorities, you are a trafficker.

And if there is a generation or more separating you from the young lady on your arm; your problems multiply.
No matter whether your partner comes out of the Dirty Duck bar or you met her in HSBC, the attractiveness towards Filipinas is because for the most part they are FUN to be with.

The bars are a direct consequence of the poverty in the country; no more and no less. Thirty years ago, Seoul, Taipei and even Hong Kong offered the same scene. What changed? Well, those countries grew their economies and employment opportunities for women and within a short space of time, the bars disappeared. For women it is employment of last resort. You can look on it two ways; some see it as exploitative – foreigners (and Filipinos, it might be noted) exploiting impoverished women; or you can see it as transactional; willing sellers transacting with willing buyers.

When it comes to male Filipinos visiting the Filipino bars that abound in Pasig City and indeed throughout the Philippines; the transactional mentality kicks in; Filipinos transacting with Filipinas is a natural state of things.

Now transfer the scene to a ‘foreigners’ bar; here the attitude can appear to be often quite different. The relationship is no longer transactional but exploitative.

To some degree the same danger exists for those foreigners, who are seen to be enjoying an active sex life with their Filipina partner. Skinny-dipping in a private pool appears to be quite a natural thing to do here in the Philippines and is a near environmental impossibility in Manchester or Minnesota.

I recall an incident a couple of years back when a group of us were enjoying an evening at the Havana Café in Greenbelt; several foreigners each with our wives; upon leaving and walking towards the car park, our wives were ‘arrested’ by the security guards present who wanted the women to accompany them to their office. The men were told to leave. Naturally, we told the guards to ‘fuck off’. “These women are known prostitutes” the guards told us. “Bullshit” came the rejoinder. Ten anxious minutes followed while each group stood their ground. Even the production of an ID card that showed we were married held no sway. “That could be a forgery” the head fuckwit said. We looked at him perplexed; I want to tell him that ‘sure, she must keep 10,000 of these cards on her as a contingency for every foreigner in Makati’ I WANTED to say; but I bit my lip.

Then with a stroke of luck, the problem was solved. The General Manager of Ayala Retail was a friend of mine and although it was past midnight I called him. I handed the phone to the guard and although I could not hear the conversation, his face told the story. Within seconds the problem resolved itself and we were left to go on our way while the guards melted into the night.

Yes, I was fortunate; but what would have happened, had I not had that number to call. I learned later that this was a favoured tactic of the Greenbelt security to extort money from women who were there looking to hook up with foreign guys. Any Filipina with a foreign male on her arm MUST be a prostitute – or at least deserves to be treated like one.

Now despite the crackdown instituted by President Aquino and the accolades his anti-corruption drive is receiving from world leaders; the reality on the ground is somewhat different. The successful impeachment of a Chief Justice is certainly a step in the right direction but it is not yet trickling down to lower levels; indeed the attitude seems to be conditioned by two thoughts – firstly that this war on corrupt practices will be only a temporary thing and it will soon be business as usual; secondly, that if it does eventually permeate down to lower levels, then we had better make as much money as we can while we can. Soaking foreigners is a good way to do it.

The message in all of this is that the attitude to foreigners in the Philippines is difficult to determine, but for certain you have to be on your guard at all times. Publicly, the Philippines is an open and friendly society that welcomes you with open arms. But we all know that there is far more to it than that. It is a layering of attitude much like the proverbial onion – or is it a matrix?

Certainly Filipino men take a different attitude to Filipino women. With regard to the latter, the foreigner is not sought out just because they offer economic security; many women also believe that foreign men are more caring towards women than local men. I challenged my own wife on this when she went to attend her class reunion and was an object of envy among her former classmates who all appeared to be in dysfunctional relationships or no relationship at all. Some had babies to care for and no partner – the boyfriend having pissed off as soon as he found out his girlfriend was pregnant; others had children to look after but an absent husband – he had either gone in search of greener fields as soon as his wife became preoccupied with children and the sexual side of the relationship went onto the back burner or were knowingly having affairs. Others had no partner at all and were working overseas as domestics in Saudi Arabia or some other faraway place.

Men on the other hand, especially men with power or authority, often see foreigners as an opportunity for exploitation.

So while I love the Philippines I also hate aspects of it. What I hate most of all is the attitude of Filipinos to their own people. This is what singles out the Philippines from most other Asian societies. The problem needs to be solved on two fronts: Filipinos need to give up their oligarchical mindset and provide genuine opportunity for all citizens; and Filipino men need to provide genuine opportunities for its womenfolk beyond those of housemaids and bar dancers.

Asia’s only Christian country? What a disgrace.

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