Readers' Submissions

Philippines – The Wild West of South-East Asia



Yes I know – it’s all been done before, a comparison between Thailand and the Philippines is not a new phenomenon. As a matter of fact, this submission is inspired partly by Bangkok Byron’s Feb.18 2020 piece, “The Philippines Alternative“.   It covered topics such as Visas, Employment, Cost of Living, Travel, Healthcare, Language and had some good advice for anyone thinking about travelling there.

My intent is to cover entirely different areas and avoid any overlap if possible. Here is my list:

Law and Order

Telecommunications

Music

National Sports

Religion

I should mention that I have never been to Angeles or Soi Cowboy, although I have frequented a few nightspots around town.  This article is not really about those places.

 

LAW AND ORDER

There is no shortage of hired guns in the Philippines. Each and every supermarket, drugstore, bank, hotel or business establishment has armed guards and they have real guns with real bullets. It truly is the Wild West in this respect and so many others!  (You can think Thailand – but very rough around the edges and without all the rules.*

*Except when it comes to bureaucracy, where endless rules are made up, revised, reversed, rescinded, and reissued – same same same as Thailand.)

One might think that all this firepower would be indicative of a lawless society, with outbreaks of random violence to be expected at any time. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  Considering the huge disparities of wealth (same as Thailand) there is surprisingly little crime. The private armies are but a deterrent, and businesses are expected to hire as much security staff as possible to keep unemployment and crime down on the list of social ills.

Police presence is not as emphasized as in Thailand, other than in the somewhat specialized area of traffic control (which has lately expanded into the area of quarantined people control).  The laws in the Philippines are not designed to incriminate every unsuspecting business/citizen/tourist and thus provide an additional source of income to the constabulary.  A candy wrapper or cigarette butt does not mean arrest, and vaping here is  encouraged by many local small businesses.  (Less smell, no butts, no ashtrays to empty, win-win).

The net result is no checkpoints, fewer police, less police corruption, fewer foreigner arrests and cops following you.

 

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TELECOMMUNICATIONS

This section should not be necessary, but it is.

One would think that any telecommunications company would be in the business of communicating with every other telecommunications company, right?  Well it just does not work that way in the Philippines.

The two major carriers are Globe and Smart and they do not like to talk to each other.  If you have one SIM chip and call someone with a different chip there are penalties involved.  Most cell phones sold in the Philippines have dual SIM capability that allows the user to load chips from both Globe and Smart simultaneously. That is why some people will ask you what chip you are using and they will give you the corresponding number for your chip. Many people and almost all businesses have 2 phone numbers active at all times. They have to buy and register load for both chips to maintain those numbers.

Cellphone infrastructure is nowhere near as advanced as in Thailand. Cell towers do not always provide overlapping or extensive coverage. Sometimes only one chip will work or signal strength favors one company over the other.  Most of the islands have mountainous interiors with spotty signal strengths.

Talking on the phone costs much more, and texting is almost free.  I have found Globe to be the best chip of the two, less troublesome and more flexible plans.

Personally I carry 2 loaded cellphones with 2 loaded chips.  (One on each hip.  See you at sundown…)

 

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MUSIC

Who wouldn’t want to step into a time machine and be transported back to the glory days of their youth?  Well, the girls in either Thailand or the Philippines can help out in the romance department, but in the Philippines you can transport back musically to some of the best music of the 80s.  Power love ballads are the preferred staple, so you can expect to hear bands like Journey, Air Supply (ugh), Bee Gees, Brian Adams, Reo Speedwagon, Scorpions and Abba.

Singing is central to the Philippine psyche since church is pretty much mandatory from an early age.  Everyone sings Videoke in bars and birthdays, and the language split is approximately 50% English for all of it (bars/church/am radio).  I have seen some of the best cover bands in the Philippines (and jump up to sing on occasion!)

There are two downsides to this Karaoke/Videoke (KTV) obsession.

  1. If you are looking for some choreographed Gogo girl dancing it can be a little hard to find. Often the girls would rather just pass the mike around than try to entertain you with a good dance routine.
  2. There are some really bad Karaoke singers out there and no one has told them yet. You can hear some of the best and worst Karaoke imaginable in the Philippines.

 

NATIONAL SPORT

The national sport of a country can tell you a great deal about how people like to spend their time.

The unofficial national sport of the Philippines is Unplanned Teenage Pregnancy.  Almost everyone participates at some point in their lives (or knows someone who has), it has the sanction of both the church and state, and like any other sport there is usually quite a bit of cheating going on.

Sponsorship support remains high, with the State legislated age of consent pegged at 12,  the Church banning all forms of birth control, and abortion is illegal.

Competition can be quite aggressive, with many women having 3 children before the age of twenty with different fathers.  One problem is the teams are changing so fast it is difficult to tell who is getting ahead. And since neither the parents, school system nor the church actually sit down and explain the joys of responsible family planning to the participants, it often just ends up being a free for all.

This sport has resulted in a huge demographics shift in comparison to Thailand, where the birth-rate has been falling rapidly for the past several decades. As we enter the semi- finals, the Philippines is ahead by a large margin and looks like things will remain that way.  Let’s look at the statistics.

In 1970 the average birth-rate for the Philippines was just over 6 children per female. Since then it has been steadily dropping  towards the latest 2017 census figure of 2.64.

In comparison, Thailand in 1970 also starts out with nearly 6 children per woman, in 1980 it was 3.39, in 1995 is was 1.87, and in 2016 it was 1.44 (about the same as Japan, Malaysia running about 2.02).

These demographic shifts have huge implications for tourists, punters, and the way these countries will develop in the future. Many keen observers of the bargirl scene in Thailand have commented on its deterioration over the last 20 years. Based solely on demographics, they are correct.  Today we have half the girls, half the pretty girls, and the barfines are double.  (Yes, the girls are bigger too but that is not due to demographics. It is because their sugar/fructose intake has doubled during the last 20 years)

The Philippines has roughly twice the number of young people than Thailand. Stepping off the plane in the Philippines means you are stepping into the demographics profile of where Thailand was, at around 1995.

Runners up for the National Sport of the Philippines were: Cock Fighting, Basketball, and of course – Karaoke.

 

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RELIGIOUS BELIEFS (SIN vs. KARMA)

Where to begin?

I write this section as an outsider who personally believes in freedom from religion.

Thailand and the Philippines have both largely evolved with singular religions that are central to their cultural identity.  Buddhist beliefs came from India to Thailand centuries ago, as did the Roman Catholic biblical beliefs come from Spain to the Philippines during the Spanish Occupation.

The early introduction of western religion in conjunction with the western occupations that followed have arguably made the Philippines the most westernized country in S.E. Asia. (Significant others being Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea)  Biblical references are everywhere.  They are painted on walls, buildings, on tricycles, public transportation vehicles and of course, churches (which are also everywhere).  Think of it as some sort of Southern U.S. Bible Belt shaming contest where everyone is trying to be more Devout than Thou.  Much of the outward appearances are an illusion.  A church may be the most beautiful building in the village, surrounded by bamboo houses with no electricity. Marriage is not that common and divorce expensive, so families tend to be quite mixed up.  The traditional nuclear family is held out as a desirable but largely unattainable ideal, partly due to proliferation of the National Sport.

There are remarkable similarities in how both countries/cultures handle their religious beliefs.  For example, accumulated sin or bad karma can be offset by other more open displays of religious adherence. This can be in the form of temple/shrine/wat ceremonial worship, donations to monks (or using their services), attending church regularly, offering up children for baptism, and giving a portion of your weekly income to the church (the recommended amount being 20 percent of your income – quite a lot if you are poor).  Like every other Asian country, the concept of saving face is respected in the Philippines and allows anyone to dodge criticism and confrontation for transgressions from acceptable behavior.  (Which means if you loan money to people including your girlfriend or her family, do not expect to get paid back.  This is not a warning. It is simply a statement of fact).

Other similarities include the usual array of religious deities, spirits, ghosts, ghouls and saints in different forms, the concept of a soul and pie in the sky when you die.

 

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PART 2 (work in progress)

This self-inflicted assignment is not yet complete.  It is my intention to issue a Part 2 to cover the following additional topics.

Art

Traffic, Taxis and Air Quality

Recreation

Family Values

Relationships

Thank you for your patience, and thanks for reading! – Ron

Ron can be contacted at : [email protected]