Naga City, October 2016
By doing my trip to the Philippines I am able to experience the people and their daily life, their culture, their behaviour and their religion.
Upon my arrival I noticed that the way I get treated by strangers is very different than in Germany. One reason for that may be my look: my blonde hair, my height and my white skin. When I am walking through the streets everybody is staring at me. I was asking myself what is separating me from them? It might be my wealth. The average BIP per person here is under 3000. And most people are even more poor, since there is a large inequality of wealth in the Philippines. You can see this in the streets.
For Example, there are many fast food restaurants here but many can’t afford the prices even if it is still cheaper than in Germany. One meal there cost around 200 pesos (is equal to 4 euro). But when you walk to the next corner, you can find the eateries where you can buy a full meal for about 30 pesos.
There is also a big difference in the homes here, most of the people live in very simple little houses while others live in big houses or villas side by side.
Another point that is showing the inequality of wealth is the way of transport. You can see a few cars in the streets, but the majority of the population cannot afford it. So most of them take a so called tricycle where one ride costs only 10 pesos per person.
Also the religion is separating me from them. The Filipinos practice religious traditions frequently. Many Filipinos do not only pray all together before their meals, but also in the morning before breakfast and in the evening they are praying the rosary.
As you can see there are lots of reasons why I am so different here and even after four weeks I feel of course very welcomed but strange. But in the end, if you think about it, we are all just humans, no matter how we look like, how much money we have or what we believe in.
You can also discover a big contrast in food from the beginning. The essential ingredient here is definitely rice. Rice is a side dish for every meal, no matter if it is breakfast, lunch or even dinner. The Filipinos prefer rice over every other side dish like noodles or potatoes. Even fast food restaurants serve rice instead of fries. You eat it here in combination with fish and meat and a lot of things are fried here. So you can say that the food here is unhealthier than in Germany, they do not eat salad and they do not even have any salted bread. The bread in the bakeries is normally sweet as everything here.
Of course also the climate is very different. It is not just hot here but also is the air very wet. This causes a feeling as if you are in a sauna and you have to sweat all the time. Because of that most of the people are moving and working very slowly. So the climate is the reason why things take longer and people are not that productive. This may also be the reason why Filipinos are normally arriving later. You have to add half an hour or more to the time you have told them till they arrive, this is called the “Filipino time”.
Even if the weather is incredible hot, the Filipinos are very sporty. Because of the American influence in the past they play a lot of basketball here. Sports like handball or soccer are not common here. But imagine that: Basketball is that kind of sport you need very tall people for. But the Filipino population is very small, so their play style is completely different.
The people here sometimes have nothing more but the necessary things they need. But they are just grateful for what they have, for their family and friends, for a roof over their head and something to eat. They are happy and enjoy their life as much as possible. That is what impressed me the most and is also a lesson I learned here in this short time: Do not take things for granted and no matter how hard life can get, just go to bed and be grateful for all the things you have.
The topic for my article is religion. I had chosen this topic because I never thought much about religion in Germany, for me it was at no point of my life a big deal which kind of religion other people belong to or what they believe in. But here in the Philippines it is different and the reason therefore is their history.
In the 14th century, the Islam started in the South of the Philippines and spread all over the country. This process ended with the arrival of the Spanish people in the 16th century, because they forced the Philippine population the adapt to Christianity. This part of the history caused that the Philippines are today the country with the most people with catholic believe in whole Asia. In percentage it means that 90 percent of the population are catholic. The Islam only takes place in west Mindanao, in the South of the Philippines.
Since the beginning 20th century the freedom of religion exists here. This basically only means that the subject religion is not taught in the schools. The exception are of course all the catholic schools here and there are a lot of them. These schools are private, not public, and this causes that the catholic schools are much better than the public schools. Religion here is seen as a tradition and especially the young people here get to know the religion very well. For example, in catholic schools the children attend every morning before school in front of their classrooms the so called morning rituals. Then they pray together and sing the national anthem. They call it the flag ceremony and it happens every day.
From the day when the children enter school and start nursery classes they get taught what the catholic values are all about, they attend mass every Sunday and also learn how to behave. They hardly learn about other religions or other ways of believing, for them only the Christian religion exists.
The religion here has a very strong effective force, not only for the peoples own believe, but also in politics and society. Especially in rural areas, the religion influences the other business. Some examples therefore are that divorce and abortion are forbidden by law. That causes for example when people here get married and want to separate they just stay away from each other or even get married again to another woman without any papers. Another big problem is that when the father separates from a family, he in fact does not have to pay anything for his kid at home and so the mother is left alone with her children and has to provide for them.
You can also discover the Christianity in the Philippines in cultural aspects. For example, some typical behaviour has a religious background. For them it is very important to show respect against older people, as sign therefore they do the so called blessing or „mano“. Normally they do it when they talk to people in a higher position, like priest. They take the hand of the older one and place it on their forehead, to show respectful behaviour.
You have to be very careful when it comes to the religion topic. It is not a good idea to give your own opinion in public especially when you want to criticize the values of their believe. The people here feel immediately affront and it can cause a big misunderstanding. So what I experienced is to just behave like everybody else, in mass or in a school for example, just to show them that you accept their religion. It does not mean that you have to believe it, but just that you try to understand them.
For me it seems like some of the people here, especially the poor ones, practice their faith as fatalism. They understand that their way of life, their poverty and that they have no work is what God wants for them. They don’t engage changes because they think it is Gods will that they are given this life.
But for them a life without religion would mean a life without faith and hope. So the people here have their religion to hold on to, given the very hard times.
Meaning of family in the Philippines:
If you ask the Filipinos about the meaning of family in their country, all of them will probably give you the same answer: the Filipinos are family orientated. To understand what that means I want to start with Germany, there family is also very important, but the very first focus for Germans is probably to finish school successfully, get a good paid job and start a career. After this the family planning begins and planning here is really planning. You discuss with your partner about the future of getting children and everything involved there, like building a house, saving money and so on.
Here in the Philippines it is more like the opposite. It is not called family planning but more something like family planting. In the life of a Filipino family is the first thing they think about. Mostly the families are very big and they can have up to ten children. Especially in the poor regions up in the mountains or in rural areas the families have a lot of members. But what is the reason for that family concept in the Philippines? Does it really make sense to have such a big family if you do not even have enough money or enough space? The most valuable reason therefore is probably that there is no sufficient provision for old age. So, the children are basically there to care about their parents when they get old and sick. You can say that the parents depend on their children, that is the reason why it is even better to have a lot of them.
The extended families increase more and more from time to time and that will cause a lot of problems in the future if the Philippine government will not manage that problem. More people will cause a lack of space in the cities and huge supply and resource problems. The government already tries to stop this increase with policies but the catholic church remains to strongly oppose to permit abortion and contraception.
But even the government shows somehow the meaning of family in the Philippines. The Philippine government is a so-called oligarchy, what basically means that the country ruled by forty clans. This clans are consisted of the most powerful families in the Philippines.
My experiences here when it comes to family are especially the respect shown from the children towards the elders. Since the earliest age the children use words like “po” or “opo” to treat their parents or older family members with respect.
What I also observed is how much the older siblings care for the younger ones. I was talking to a boy in college and he told me he has nine siblings and they do not have enough money to send them all to school because otherwise they would not have enough food. So, he told me that he is just studying to make money soon for the family and to give his younger siblings opportunities for the future.
The families here are very close what also influences the moving out from home and start their own independent life. Unlike in Germany where the children move out from home after completing school, get their own flat and own life, the Filipinos stay at home with their families, even if they are adults already. That is also the reason why the parents have such a power over their children even if they reached adulthood. A lot of people here are not allowed to go out at the weekend even if they are older than twenty-three, so the parents are very strict.
Another big problem is the case when the mother and the father are separated, the father is not forced to support his child and the mother. In this case the mother has to take care of her child alone, make money and provide for it. You can say as a conclusion that it is even harder here to be a single mom.
But at this time right now it seems like the families get separated more and more, because a lot of young adults grab the opportunity to go abroad and get jobs there. The times for families in the Philippines get harder because there are no future perspectives for extended families.
Climate in the Philippines
When you look at a world map, the Philippines are somewhere in between China and Australia in southeast Asia. East of the country is nothing more than the Pacific Ocean. So geographically the Philippines are an archipelago made of 7107 islands, including very small islands or the three big ones like Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. The Philippines is described as a tropical country and has around the size of Germany, but includes 100 Million people. Tropical country means that they have high average temperatures and also extreme humidity. That is also how you can describe the Philippines: very hot, humid and rainy. If you talk about a lot of rain than you have to experience the tropical rain here. Unlike in Germany where it turns cold immediately when it starts to rain, it is still very hot when it rains and there is so much water coming down that it feels like you are taking a shower.
You can explain the rainy days with the two seasons in the Philippines. The so called rainy season takes place from July to November. During this time, it nearly rains daily for a long-time period. After that follows the dry season, which can be separated in the cold and the hot part. From December to March the temperatures are around 25 degrees, what is kind of cold for the Filipinos. During that time period and up to June the rain is less. From April to June is finally the hot and dry season with rare rain, without wind and constant sun. The temperatures can rise up to 40 degrees.
This structure is just coarse and not very reliable, because the climate is different up to the area. For example, in the city like in Manila the heat is unbearable because there is no fresh air and a lot of pollution because of the traffic. So, 35 degrees feel like you are moving around in a sauna. In other areas, especially in the north up in the mountains the temperature is much more pleasant. In the city Baguio it has mostly only 15 degrees.
But what makes this tropical heat so much different than our heat in Europe? Mostly it is the humidity. This can also change from months to months, in March the humidity is around 70 percent while in September it is 85 percent because of the rain. The humid air causes the feeling of sweating all the time, even when you do not do anything at all. But there is also an advantage. If you compare the heat with countries like Spain, where the enormous heat burns the grass and plants, it is way more beautiful here, because the plants are green the whole year. That causes the amazing colourful landscape in the Philippines.
The climate brings a lot of problems for the Filipinos which they have to handle daily. A lot of natural disasters like typhoons, floods or earthquakes happen here in the Philippines. The people here cannot rely on the weather and have to fear catastrophes every day. For example, the last typhoon Nina in December was so strong, that it destroyed millions of homes, especially of the poor people. But not only the place the live was gone but also the food, because the typhoon destroyed a lot of plants. The rice fields are always suffering from typhoons, also plants like banana trees or other grown fruits. If there is no harvest once, it can cost lives in a poor family.
Other problems caused by the humid air are that everything is always wet and that brings mould. The clothes suffer from that because it is not easy to dry them after washing during the rainy season. Another thing are the wooden huts where mostly the poor people live. Wet wood is never a good idea and is the reason for unstable constructions. Because of big amounts of waste in the streets, heat and rain, the smell in the cities is often disgusting.
The tropical climate has at least one big advantage: it is very attractive for tourists. Especially at the seaside and at the beaches the climate is perfect for vacation and is a common destiny for tourists and backpackers. The country is also very good for vacation because of the contrast between the white sand beaches and the jungle side in the interior.
Traffic in the philippines
The traffic in southeast Asia and especially in the Philippines is very confusing and appears uncoordinated when you are used to the driving in Europe.
There everything makes sense, there are no misunderstandings and for every situation exists a rule what makes it clear what to do. We have driving lessons and there is really someone who teaches us how to drive, so everyone who is driving on the streets has a license and it is not even allowed to drive without. Driving is much easier there also because of the quality of the roads. They get checked constantly and they are mostly perfectly flat.
Here everything is different. First of all, to clear it up, there are also rules but the problem is that just no one seems to follow them. So, there is no right before left rule like in Germany, instead it is always a new discussion about the right of way. No matter if they use hand signs, screaming or they blow the horn, in the end it is always clear and they decided peacefully. The horn itself is used constantly in the Philippine streets and makes out the biggest noise. It is used to inform everyone about your own location, especially to inform the pedestrians and also if you want to overtake someone you just blow your horn. On the big and important intersections, mostly traffic lights handle the traffic and sometimes they got supported by the traffic police, who give hand signs in a more dancing way and with a big smile on their faces.
So, if no one follows the rules you could think that there happen a lot of accidents. But that is not exactly true and to explain that I want to explain the different kinds of transportation we have here in the Philippines.
First of all, it is good to know that the Filipinos never walk, even if it is just some hundred meters, they never walk and that is simply because it is way too hot. A lot of people wear uniforms for school or work and because they do not want to sweat in their clothes they usually do not walk under the sun. For very small distances like up to 400 meters we have the so called padyaks. It is a bicycle with an assessor which can carry around four persons and costs five pesos (10 cent) only.
Next is the most common vehicle called tricycle. It is a motorcycle and also has an assessor on the side, mostly they are colourful designed with religious quotes like “God bless”. All in all, there can fit five Filipinos comfortably but often it can carry up to ten persons. The fare is normally 8 pesos with a special price for students and seniors of only 6 pesos.
The third one is the so called Jeepney which is very popular. Those vehicles derive from left over Jeeps used in the second world war, they are called Willy-Jeeps and were left by the US-Army and are made up new here in the Philippines. When you want to get a jeepney, you just look on what is written on the front like for example “Centro”. If you are sure that you want to go there you just give a hand sign and the Jeep will stop on the side. When you get inside now it can be confusing because the people start filling up the space from the back because no one wants to sit near the driver, that is because if you want to pay your seven pesos, you just pass the money to the next person until it reaches the driver. So, if you sit in front you are constantly busy passing the money of the other passengers. If you want to get out at a certain point you say “Para po” and the jeepney will stop.
So why is it now that there are not that much accidents? It is because all the named vehicles are very slow and drive normally only around 30 to 40 kilometres per hour. So even if the streets seem very crowded and the people cross over wherever they can, they still have an eye on the traffic and have the control.
Among the biggest problems about the traffic in the Philippines is mostly the streets. The quality of the streets is often so bad that it is very dangerous to walk there especially when it is dark. There are holes in the streets or sometimes there is just one side of the street available. There is also no pedestrian path so even the people walk on the streets and make the whole traffic situation even more confusing.
When you know how the traffic works out here, it is much fun to use it and we use it nearly every day to roam around or to get to our workplace.
Chances for the future in the Philippines
As we all know, the Philippines are a third world country, which means that many people are very poor and they have to face poverty as a daily struggle. A very important way to escape this vicious circle is of course education. Education is not only important to help people out of poverty but also to gain a higher position in the society. Because of these reasons, a lot of parents try to make it possible for their children to get educated and get the chance to go to school. It makes them unbelievably proud if they could offer them this opportunity to go to school or even to graduate from college. You can observe that everywhere in the Philippines: printed banners are hanged to congratulate the students for their graduation and even in the small huts in rural areas, they have pictures of their kids, wearing their graduating dresses and smiling proudly.
The parents pay ridiculously high amounts of money to send their kids to school, starting from elementary school till college they have to pay for every school year and semester. Additional payment is requested for school supplies, uniforms and books. Because of the high expenses a lot of kids are not even able to go to elementary school because the family cannot handle the money for private schools. Public schools are also existing, but sadly the level is much lower than the level of the private schools. That basically means, if you cannot pay the money you have no chance to go to a valuable school. There is only one rare chance for poor families especially from rural areas if the child gets a scholarship, but this case happens not that often. And here begins the vicious circle: as kids, they do not get a good education, sometimes they only know how to read and write and with this small knowledge they can only do low payed or unskilled work, what often ends up in early marriages and a lot of kids. Sadly, most of the teachers are not the best ones, often they are just as far as the students when it comes to mathematics or science. That is also because the payment is too low so most of the teachers have to do a second job to get enough money.
Most of the Filipinos do not have any chance if they have not been to the better universities like for example Ateneo de Manila to get a good job and a good payment. That means they have to accept the low payed and unqualified jobs.
Because of the parents paying so much money for their children, they mostly feel responsible for them. Mostly the elder siblings use their school education and graduation to get a job and money. They mostly use this to support their families and especially their younger siblings to offer them also the chance to go to school. You can say that the whole family now depends on the oldest son or daughter and their financial support.
Other reasons why it is very difficult to live a good and successful life here in the Philippines are also the political situation. Since president Duterte is the new Philippine president a lot of things changed. He wants to fight against drugs and corruption in particular, he takes this goals very seriously and uses violent methods like killing people to bring it through. Because of this the human rights have to suffer and also the Filipino people.
So, it seems like the chances for the future in the Philippines are not really positive, so the Filipinos try to find another way. Mostly they are trying to find a way out of their country and try to go abroad. If they get the chance to exit the Philippines and go somewhere else for example Dubai, Australia or even Europe they take it immediately. They hope that there might be at least an option to start a new life. But mostly they end up in another country, having struggle with all the differences there when it comes to culture, food, language and people. In the end, they are doing the same unskilled jobs like back in the Philippines just with a higher payment which they have to use for the higher prices for example for rent or food.
That is of course not true for everyone, some Filipinos can make it out of the poverty, get a good job and have a good life. But for most of them it is the opposite and no one knows how long it will take to change the chances for the future in the Philippines.