Rich and poor in the Philippines

July 25, 2013

Manila, Philippines

By Erik De Castro

Taking photos of poor people is nothing unusual for me, as the poor comprise more than a fourth of the Philippine population of nearly 97 million. They are also the most vulnerable during disasters such as typhoons, landslides and fires that frequently dominate the headlines in the country.

Late last month, the Secretary General of the state agency National Statistical Coordination Board wrote in an article that the gap between the country’s rich and poor is widening, with the country’s strong growth, the fastest in Asia so far this year, benefiting high-income earners more than those from the middle- and low-income classes. The article said the rich were enjoying significantly faster growth in incomes compared with people from lower income classes.

That helped me build the idea to juxtapose the lifestyles of the rich and poor in the country through images. I thought in the beginning that it was easy to document the rich and poor divide, but I found out as I was doing my picture story that it was a complex matter. I spent more than three weeks doing a picture story concentrating on two families with similar age brackets but from different income classes. I followed each of the two families as they went about doing their daily activities, spending lots of time with them even during ungodly hours of the day.

I first observed the family of Arnold Bolata, a 38-year-old father of four who works as a driver of a motorcycle taxi or tricycle and his 33-year-old wife Nancy, a street food vendor and a part-time cook at a small soft drinks company. They own a two-bedroom shanty at a squatter colony in suburban Quezon city, north of the capital Manila. Arnold and Nancy met in the same neighborhood 11 years ago. All their four children study at a public school, where they pay only 100 pesos ($2.3) for each child annually as a required school contribution. Arnold works 16 hours a day with only Sunday as his rest day, and plies the streets even during rainy days. Nancy sells sweet banana snack which she herself cooks. They earn a combined income of about 20,000 pesos a month ($462), just enough to put food on the table three times a day and pay for their household expenses.

I immediately noticed upon entering the house of the Bolato family that at least more than a dozen school achievement medals of their children were prominently displayed on their plywood walls. “We live a hand-to-mouth existence daily,” Arnold said, “I only pray my wife and I don’t get sick.” Arnold said he is looking forward to finally paying off the loan he got for the motorcycle he is using, as that would lift a big burden on his family’s finances. “That is progress for us,” he said. “We are still not losing hope.”

To relax after a week of peddling food in the streets and walking five kilometers (three miles) a day to fetch their children from school, Nancy gets her nails done on the sidewalk of a busy highway. “I’m having a manicure and pedicure as a form of relaxation, this frees me from stress,” she says.

I next observed the family of Aaron Kasilag, a 35-year-old father of four who works as a senior marketing consultant in a multinational company dealing with e-commerce. His wife of seven years Pia, a 39-year-old former corporate manager in an international airline company, has decided to become a full-time mother while occasionally dabbling in the food catering business. Their two-story house in an upscale subdivision south of Manila has five bedrooms and five bathrooms. They have five housemaids and three cars. They pay a combined annual tuition fee and other school expenses of 250,000 pesos ($6000) for their two older children who go to a private, exclusive school. Their third child, a three-year old boy, is enrolled in a private day-care center inside the subdivision, while their youngest child is a toddler. The three young children both speak to me in fluent English, and have manners like grown-ups.

“Our combined income is six-digits and I am saving 10-percent of that every month,” Aaron said. “I was able to buy a car after two years in my present job, I think that’s progress and I’m saving more now for my next car.” “I share my dream in life with my wife, which is to give a comfortable life to our children,” he said.

To relax after a busy day, Pia often goes to the supermarket with her three-year-old son. They are followed by two housemaids who push another shopping cart with groceries. “This is my way of relaxation,” she says.

One common thing among rich and poor families is the goal to provide a good future for their children. Parents, whether rich or poor, want to spend quality time with their children, and instill good values in them. But the path to getting to those goals are paved differently for the high-income and low-income classes. The government must provide more opportunities for the poor to benefit from the country’s rapid growth.


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Great article however you compared a middle income family to a poor family, as oppose to trying to “juxtapose the lifestyles of the rich and poor”.

This is not to brag but I went and my three siblings went to international schools in Manila and our tuition was $25,000 or (1 million pesos) each, yearly. Aside from luxury cars and multiple homes, we don’t save just 10% a year of our income, that would be too little. We also can donate hundreds of thousands of pesos to our respective charities, probably equivalent to the six figure income of this middle class family. Just putting things in perspective that there is a divide, a much bigger divide than what is shown in the story.

But great article nevertheless!

Posted by anonph | Report as abusive

The difference between the rich and the poor in the Phillipines and the U.S. is by degree.

Posted by chekovmerlin | Report as abusive

@chekovmerlin: That should read “Philippines.” Sorry for the typo.

Posted by chekovmerlin | Report as abusive

20,000 peso’s a month is a poor family in the Philippines? To most Filipino’s that’s a LOT. Many Filipino’s are working for 5-6k peso’s a month ($150) per person and many for less then that closer to 4k ($100). The country keeps talking of how well its growing but the poor never move up, just down, even the working poor. The government doesn’t give a damn as its fully controlled by the rich for rich interests. Its made certain that poor families can’t get a good education for their children to rise out of it because costs are kept well above what they could ever afford.

Maybe this article writer should have taken a look at a city NOT Manila. Just as you can’t go to NY and use it as a good example for the US same for Manila.

Also the best paying jobs for poor oddly enough is generally working for a westerner who owns a business (generally through a Filipina wife). Filipino’s love paying horrible wages. Hence why a middle class family can afford 2 near slave helpers. Pay them $50 a month and cover food and hygeine and they can never afford to leave.

Posted by Syanis | Report as abusive

You can’t blame rich people for being rich if they work hard for what they have (though not all of them), and we can’t blame poor people for being always where they were even if they work as hard. The thing is for me,if you think you can’t afford to provide for lots of children, just have one or two. The difference is poor people live for the day, lay down at night and think of how to survive again the next day, while rich people have their plans for the rest of the days ahead of them.

-I still pray for the best.

Posted by julz0790 | Report as abusive