Wages, Getting Around And Honest Drivers in Iloilo, central Philippines

Posted By on Apr 4, 2017 in Columns |

In David Hulme’s Country Rambles column (https://thedelphinetwork.com/beastly-problems/) about his experiences in Okutama reviving a wasabi patch, he made the comment “in the hardscrabble times of Taisho and early Showa, a few extra coins meant a great deal to those in the lower layers of society”, and something rang a bell.

Except over here in the Central Philippines (and I am sure, most of the country), those hardscrabble times are still here and a few extra coins really do mean a great deal to most of the population.

When I was in Japan, I often wondered how the average “sarariman” could make ends meet. Here, there would seem to be even more of a challenge, but then the threshold for survival is, perhaps, much lower – the tropical climate does not demand protection against a winter season for either housing or clothing.

Remember, average GDP per head in the Philippines is one eighth of Japan.

Let’s start with the minimum wage. In Japan, it is of the order of ¥800 per hour, a bit more in the major cities. Over here? ₱275 (currently ¥615) per DAY. That works out at about ¥12,300 per month (compared to ¥120,000 for a 150 hour month in Japan).

I could find a lady-wot-does to help with domestic chores – part-time ₱3,000 (¥7,000) per month; daily ₱6,000 (¥14,000) per month.

I met a young lady the other day who has just graduated with a degree in elementary education and received her teaching certificate – she told me her starting salary, if she is lucky enough to find a job, will be about that same ₱6,000 (¥13,000) per month.

₱6,000 per month is not enough to live on, by the way, in case you were wondering. Basic clerical jobs are in the range ₱15-20,000 (¥33,000-44,000) per month, and I know some online teachers (teaching English to, yes, Japanese students) who are managing to pull in ₱40,000 (¥88,000).

I was told when I arrived that ₱30,000 (¥66,000) plus rent would provide me with a comfortable standard of living and after a couple of months I can see that it would be doable but without many frills.

Getting back to that minimum wage, it wouldn’t even buy me a JR season ticket from Yokohama to Tokyo.

Ah yes, transport!! Here in Iloilo, inside the city, apart from walking and private cars, you can take a pedicab (pedal tricycle), a motor tricycle, a jeepney or a taxi (there are buses that move people to other towns on the island of Panay but these are not allowed in the city centre). There is a light railway system in Manila with tickets in the range ₱13-28 (¥29-63) but all that is left of the old Panay Railway that ran up the eastern coast of the island are streets called “Old Railway Line”, although there is some talking of rebuilding it which would be really helpful for getting up to the diving resort of Boracay.

I will gloss over the idea of a pedicab – I just can’t see exposing myself to the undoubted safety risks or expecting someone to somehow move someone my size on pedal power alone.

And so far, I have avoided the motor tricycles like the plague. My one solitary experience of riding in one confirming the wisdom of that decision – sitting too close to the ground experiencing go kart-like sensations. Although the handful of peso for the experience means that thrill seekers could ride one of these all day without too much damage to their wallets (except for the potential medical bills that might result).

Taxis start at ₱40 (¥90) and my average ride is ₱80-120 (¥180-270).

Jeepneys were originally extended wheelbase jeeps that were turned into minibuses. Now they are usually based on Toyotas etc). They carry about twenty people who squeeze in (more if you count those brave souls who sometimes cling to the outside of one). They are privately owned and licensed (although their condition sometimes makes you wonder what the licensing requirements are). They follow routes (often quite convoluted to maximise the number of passengers), are basically flag-down and will stop wherever you wish (almost literally). The fares start at ₱6.50 (always rounded up) (¥15) and the longest journey inside the city I can take costs me ₱11 (¥25).

There is, of course, a downside or two. They are very often packed. They were also not built for my size. I have to squeeze myself in with totally inadequate (read barely possible) headroom). The other passengers do help me but it really is a tight fit. I often decline to get on if it is too crowded – like a London bus (well not really), there is always another one close behind.

This leads me to my “only in Japan” story which happened, well, not in Japan.

Last week, I squeezed myself out of a jeepney to stagger (cramp, you understand) the last few steps home but before I got there, I heard a loud “tooting” and there behind me was the same jeepney with the driver holding out …… my mobile phone which had slipped out of my pocket. Someone had noticed and he immediately turned around and gave chase. That inconvenienced not only the other passengers but also the users of the street where the driver now caused a major disruption which he completed a seven-point turn.

Another welcome blow to the stereotype that may be true elsewhere in the Philippines but not, it seems in Iloilo.