An Updated Perspective!
Before I begin, please know that this is just one perspective of an ex-pat and his wife who lives in the Province of Samar. My experience is subjective and this post does not represent the voices of all the ex-pats in the Philippines. For the life of this blog, I have normally put a positive spin on things when discussing the reasons why we chose to retire in the Philippines and in general, some of the things that we find good about living there. Over the last year or so, I have taken a back-seat in promoting the Philippines as the place to be, and for varying reasons.
After four years of experiencing the “province life,” we relocated to Guam. After living here for three years now (we travel back and forth), we observe life in the Philippines from an arm’s length – through our own eyes, testimonials from friends, and documented online experiences of other ex-pats. While figures are hard to come by, signs of an ex-pat shift are starting to emerge. The current hard lock-down policies of the Philippines government is beginning to take its toll on ex-pats. Recently, I’ve been contacted about 2 times per week on average from ex-pats who are considering leaving the Philippines. With all that said, we have updated our conclusion that the good doesn’t outweigh the bad anymore… not for us anyway. We will continue to treat our home in Samar as our second home.
While it is easy to justify moving to the Philippines based upon all the good things that can be said about this country, here are some reasons why you might want to reconsider moving to the Philippines.
The government of the Philippines governs as a unitary state under a presidential representative and democratic and a constitutional republic. The President functions as both the head of state and the head of government of the country with a pluriform multi-party system. With more than four years of Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency, the record of governance has been mixed with change, continuity, and regression. The Duterte government’s track record on human rights and democracy is undoubtedly disturbing. It has run roughshod over human rights, political opponents, and many of the country’s democratic institutions. The direction that this government has moved has prompted more robust U.S. support for democracy. Duterte’s latest decision (3 July 2020) was to sign into law a contentious anti-terrorism bill aimed at combating Islamic militancy in the south, a measure that many in-country experts say could lead to more widespread human rights abuses. Human and civil rights considerations should play the most important role in choosing a retirement location. In my opinion, the Philippines is moving in the wrong direction.
During the COVID pandemic, the Philippines has implemented different levels of lockdown, with the strictest of lockdowns known as “Enhanced Community Quarantine.” There has been an inconsistent implementation of higher government mandates by confused Local Government Units (LGU). Measures have been applied to varying degrees that fit an LGU’s own understanding, and without coordinated guidance between LGU’s in some cases. Most places though have locked down all minors and seniors where no-one aged below 21 or over 60 years was allowed out at all. There have been 10 pm – 5 am curfews, and all offices, transports, and schools were closed. As a general rule, only one family member is allowed out at specified times to shop for essential food and medicine. The country’s hardline President Rodrigo Duterte warned that anyone caught violating the restrictions would be shot. Some people we know have become prisoners in their own homes. The elderly are treated differently and discriminated against as well during this crisis. While there are many claims that human and civil rights are being overly violated, there has been no public uprisings to speak of. Living in the Philippines today, you are truly just a subject living in a kingdom.
On its surface, the culture of the Philippines is warm and inviting. There are many good things I love about the culture. After all, I’ve been married to it for nearly 36 years. The culture is quite a tricky one to navigate as Filipino ways are increasingly being subjected to scrutiny now more than ever for their supposed shortcomings. There is the commonly used phrase “toxic Filipino culture” which is used to describe everything from shared preconceptions and modes of conditioned thinking to discrimination. Another drawback is that the culture is overly sympathetic and forgiving, even of those undeserving of forgiveness or leniency (although not applied equally to foreigners who might be permanent residents).
There is the downside of unsavory and deeply embedded traits – from drinking, gambling, and domestic violence, to living on “Filipino Time.” The Filipino calendar is filled with “official” holidays and amended regionally and locally for other celebrations and events as deemed necessary. Elementary education always seems to take a back seat to everything else (where the children are out of school more than they are in attendance). This society is one who struggles to evolve because of many coexisting practices. There is a dark side to the culture that you really need to experience for yourself and I recommend visiting and spending some time there, not in some hotel or tourist destination, but rather rent an AirB&B or apartment for a couple of months or so to get the “real feel” of everyday life. There are many things about the culture that will torment you over time.
During this Coronavirus pandemic, it is abundantly clear that the common cultural practice of looking after the elderly has encroached upon the freedoms of many older citizens, including ex-pats (a good cultural trait turned bad). As mentioned earlier, in many areas of the country, anyone over the age of 60 has been placed into a heavy-handed, forced quarantine category, where they have not been allowed to move about like the general population.
3. Health Care
Outside of Manila or Cebu, quality medical care and health care options decline significantly. And without good insurance or major medical coverage, any major medical event can get expensive, even on a cash basis. There has been much written on this topic and those articles should be visited and researched thoroughly. The bottom line here is this: If you plan on aging in the Philippines, you should have a good medical plan AND a good exit plan in place. Overall, the Philippines is NOT a healthy environment for anyone with comorbidities. It is definitely a place where you do not want to fall seriously ill. And the farther you locate from Manila or Cebu, the more difficult it is to reach decent facilities when you might be in desperate need of good doctoring. It’s like playing Russian roulette with your well being.
4. Telecoms and Free Speech
A recent move by the Philippines National Telecommunications Commission (5 May 2020), who issued a cease and desist order to temporarily stop ABS-CBN’s network broadcast, comes as a big blow to Freedom of Speech and communication. ABS-CBN is the oldest television broadcaster in Southeast Asia and is the leading television network in the Philippines. There are allegations that the NTC’s refusal to renew the broadcast franchise was based on the network’s critical news coverage of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration and other political leaders. This temporary cease and desist order has since been made permanent just in the last few days. Can you day dictatorship?
There are new laws that have been enacted or updated in recent years that pertain to oral defamation, slander, and libel. Remember when you used to say “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?” Well, that doesn’t apply very well in the Philippines. When a person becomes a victim to the throes of another person’s anger, deciphering the intricacies of laws concerning violation of freedom of speech and expression can be quite puzzling. As a foreigner, you can be jailed or deported (or worse), and it’s not a choice that you’ll be involved in! Many westerners are accustomed to speaking their minds without repercussions. Not here.
In addition to the curtailment of free speech, the Philippines is also prone to other communications and technical issues such as the internet. According to a recent We Are Social report, internet penetration in ASEAN has reached 65 percent and this number is only growing. Because penetration equates to equality, there are obvious differences in connectivity speeds between different regions. The slow but expensive internet connection in the Philippines is a result of a confluence of problems—from the lack of infrastructure investment to inadequate government funding and the absence of sustainable peering among providers. So in essence, the slowest speeds present in the Philippines are in the Visayas and Mindanao, and it’s clear that the poorest continue to suffer the most in this arena as it seems to be usually those who are better off who are provided a better stream of opportunities… and better internet.
And I swear that some days if my internet got any slower (Samar), it would be going backward!
5. You’ll Sweat. A lot.
I’ll put this right upfront. Most people choose an actual retirement location that goes hand in hand with one’s degree of perspiration. In the Philippines, you’re at risk of breaking a sweat year-round, where even in the dead of winter temperatures can crack 90 degrees (32C). Then throw in some humidity and it can get downright miserable. As a rule of thumb in most countries, it’s true that the farther north you travel, the more temperate the climate becomes, but in the Philippines, not so much. From top to bottom, this archipelago is firmly situated in the tropics. The only relief from the heat and humidity you will find in the Philippines will typically be at higher elevations on the island of Luzon like in Baguio, Banaue, or Sagada. Or you might consider Tagaytay… if you have money. There are a few municipalities located at higher elevations in other locations in the Philippines such as Don Salvador Benedicto on Negros Island, or Lantapan in Bukidnon province in Mindanao. You will just have to visit some of these places to discover which one is right for you. Then again, it might be your wife or girlfriend who will dictate your location because of family.
And don’t forget this is the tropics where the intense sun can take a toll on your skin. Too much sun causes premature wrinkling, uneven skin coloring, and other skin issues. The sun can also cause brown, red, yellow, or gray spots in the skin called “sun spots” and prolonged sun exposure and frequent sunburns can also increase your risk of skin cancer.
The Western Pacific typhoon season is a long one. Officially it runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 – fully half the year – but in actuality, it never really ends. Some of the worst typhoons in history have arrived in late December (Haiyan/Yolanda, 2013) and storms can likely form at any time of the year. Unlike in the U.S., when living on an island there really isn’t anyplace to evacuate to so you’ll have to just hunker down and ride the storm out. While the Filipino people are super resilient when it comes to carrying on after a disaster, it sucks not having power or water or internet for days, weeks, or even months after a devastating super typhoon. To live here means learning to be somewhat of a prepper. It’s not a matter of if it happens, it’s a matter of when (and how often).
7. Traffic and Commuting
Manila and Cebu are traffic nightmares. As the middle-class in the Philippines continues to grow, more people are choosing to own their own vehicle. The roads here were crowded enough before, but now it is even more of a nightmare. Even in smaller municipalities, heavy traffic can be a headache and consume a lot of one’s time. If you drive, you will experience some of the most unsafe driving practices anywhere. Many drivers in the province have no proper instruction on operating a motorized vehicle. let alone possess a license. We know of some locals that attained “Professional” level operator’s licenses with absolutely zero experience, training, or testing. Are there “Rules of the Road” you might ask? Yes, but most are ignored and are not enforced.
8. You Will Miss Things Back Home
While the Philippines has made much progress in bringing Western-style shopping and restaurants to the archipelago, the country as a whole falls short in many ways. There are a few areas that can really make any westerner feel more at home. Just because you might find your favorite franchised restaurant (such as a TGIF, Hard Rock Cafe, or McDonald’s), that doesn’t mean that the same quality food and customer service that you might be used to are available. Meal substitutes and poor quality customer service permeate the restaurant industry throughout the Philippines. While you might find an establishment in some places that might meet your dining standards, it will be rare to find any consistency or continuity when traveling about anywhere else in the country. When it comes to menu choices, “Out of stock” is a commonly heard phrase here. And polite and courteous servants do not always equate to good customer service. When I finally make it to a Shakey’s Pizza, I still have to fight for pizza sauce on my pizza!
You will miss the little things that you always took for granted back in your home country. Things like TV programming, sports, space, privacy, and peace, and quiet. Other things like shopping for clothes is always a challenge as it is hard to find western sizes. Frequent brown-outs, poor cell phone service, and slow internet service will all seem significantly substandard to what you might be used to in your home country. The large cities though do fare better with more reliable electricity service, but the provincial areas… not so much. Keep in mind that the electrical delivery system is in such fragile condition that the power companies will secure the power with almost any approaching storm, just to prevent any potential damage to their system. Nevermind that thousands of businesses will be affected by the loss of millions worth of perishable goods.
I do miss being able to pick up the phone and call for service, like a plumber, carpenter, electrician, or air conditioning repair. That is a real challenge. Where we live, it’s more reliable to just jump in the car and hunt that someone down in person. In most cases though, you just hire the local guy around the corner who is a “master of all trades, expert in none.” In my experience, it has been a rare occasion to have an appointment made by phone come to fruition… unless it is for a manicure or something menial.
The first point I will make here is that most photos and videos you see of the Philippines are usually sanitized, meaning you will not see much litter or trash. Basically, it is simply sensationalized videography and photography. Who in their right mind will tell someone to stand next to a pile of trash for a photo? Over the years, I’ve been guilty of this on all counts.
From the inner cities to the rivers, streams, and provincial beaches… it’s mostly all polluted and trashed. A lack of education and the use of single-use products has taken its toll on the natural beauty of the islands. In our barangay, we took it upon ourselves to help push the idea of placing small trash containers outside every sari-sari store in the village, only to watch the kids purchase their candy and toss the wrappings on the ground right next to the trash receptacle… and only to watch the store owner say nothing or some old women sweep it up later.
Public urination is always a problem. The smell of urine can permeate the air some days before a good rain washes away the stench. There are NO public restrooms (comfort rooms as they are called) in most areas and when you do find one, there will be NO toilet paper or hand towels, and many times no running water in the sink. “Filthy” is the most accurate term that describes most “comfort rooms” in the Philippines. Local barangay beaches are a favorite place for poor local residents to take the kids for a good washing in the morning… and a pee and a poop. Many poor residents still do not have running water or proper plumbing.
10. Crawling with critters
Because this is the tropics, there are bugs. Plenty of bugs. Roaches, ants, flies, wasps, bees, giant spiders, and MOSQUITOES. Dengue carrying mosquitoes. Then there are cobras, pythons, and pit vipers. There are big and little lizards and there are shrews and rats. Unless you live in a highrise condo in Manila or Cebu, plan on having invading houseguests from time to time. Well actually… most of the time.
These are just a few reasons to take into consideration when laying plans to retire and move to “paradise.” They are also not the only considerations. There still are some really good reasons to make the move, and everyone should weigh the good and bad for themselves. It is easy though to confuse the simple life with the easy life, as living in the Philippines can be like work. It can also be challenging to anyone who pictures themselves relaxing “comfortably” in their retirement. “Comfort” is not compatible with a low cost-of-living. For us, we learned that being comfortable in our retirement has become our top priority.
Check out these earlier posts about adapting to living in the Philippines –
The Simple Life… or is it?
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