The Island of Cebu

The Philippines

May 1999


While in the Philippines, we took a few days off and flew to the neighboring island of Cebu, in the southern central Philippine Islands.

Cebu City is one of the oldest cities in the Philippines, with beautiful Spanish and Chinese architecture. It is the second largest city in the country outside of Manila, with a population estimated to be about 1.4 million. Cebu has large modern malls, complete with movie theaters and fast food restaurants, and lovely beaches and mountains.

But it is a city of contrast, as is much of the Philippines, with squatter slums dotting the city, and the majority of people living in abject, crushing poverty. There is currently very little affordable health care available to the poor…no government programs, no welfare system, no food stamps, no government housing….no money to support these programs.

Local 7-11

Even in the slums, one can find a scaled down version of the open market, called a sari-sari, where a wide variety of products can be purchased: brooms, rice cakes, paper flowers, fruit, chickens, knives, kettles, feather dusters and much more.

Family Bath Time

While in Cebu, we went to Lorega. Lorega has about 13,000 residents located in an area of about 76 acres…about 1/10 of a square mile. The area is densely populated, with most of the residents being squatters. Lorega is where the poorest of the poor in Cebu live.

This vehicle is called a tricycle: a motorcycle with a sidecar and a roof that shields passengers from the sun and rain. Up to 12 passengers can ride on a tricycle at one time. Since many Filipinos cannot afford cars or trucks, tricycles are used to carry just about anything that will fit.

Although we saw a few horsecarts, such as this one, a more popular form of transportation in the Philippines is the pedicab. A pedicab is a bicycle with a carriage attached to it, much like the tricycle, only with a bicycle instead of a motorcycle. Often teenagers pedal the pedicabs to earn money.

Unemployment is extremely high in the Philippines. We saw many men passing their time playing cards or chatting with friends. Even those fortunate enough to own a jeepney made little money. On a good day, a jeepney driver can earn 100 pesos (about $5.50). Jeepney driving is better than other jobs that only pay of minimum wage of 1,500 pesos a month…about $82. Even if factory work can be found, it only pays a bit more than 6 pesos an hour, or nearly $2.75 for an 8-hour day.

For a couple where both are fortunate enough to have a job, they can earn about 90 pesos a day (about $5) and from this they spend about 13 pesos on rice and 20 pesos on meat every day. They have to shop every day because the cannot afford to stock anything and have no refrigeration. Another 15 pesos goes on other daily needs like laundry, sugar, lard, salt, vinegar and matches. They usually go without breakfast and just drink a cup of rice coffee with sugar. And they must buy water at a private tap and carry it home in buckets.

Village Well

Many Filipinos, particularly women and children, spend lots of time and energy carrying water. A barrio family may carry bucketfuls daily for bathing, cooking, washing and cleaning. A 5-gallon bucket of water weighs about 40 pounds. Sometimes the well or river is several miles away. No wonder washing and bathing are done in the stream if one is nearby. In the slums, women sit in line for hours at the public faucet to get water.

These children lived in a building that appeared to be a slaughterhouse. There were lots of flies and the stench was terrible! A really fortunate family would have to pay 90 pesos a month in rent for such a home. They must gather the firewood themselves for their cooking fires - when they are not too tired - or they must buy it. It costs them 24 pesos a day to get themselves and their children to work and school, but when there’s no money, the children have to miss school.

Laundry Day

Notice the rooster, or cock, in the foreground of this picture. Many families had their own cock tethered on a string in front of their homes. Cockfighting is banned in many countries today, but it is very popular in the Philippines. Every town has a cockpit and excited crowds gather on Sundays and public holidays to watch and bet on fights between two cocks. Not for the squeamish, cockfights involve a lot of pecking, clawing and flying feathers until one cock subdues the other.

This man is fortunate to have his own jeepney. This is how he makes his living. Notice the women using umbrellas to protect them from the hot sun. This is also done to keep their skin lighter…a desirable feature.

We saw many men just hanging out…because they had no jobs…and there were no jobs to be had. The main occupations for the squatters are washing clothes, selling lottery tickets or boiled ducks’ eggs. Some paste together paper bags made from old telephone directories for market stallholders. For each 1,000 bags they make, they are paid about 38 cents.

Big cities have supermarkets, but many Filipinos buy their food in traditional open markets…like a Farmer’s Market or Mall, only it is on the sidewalk. Everything you can imagine is sold here. Different streets specialize in different things. One street will specialize in baskets, another in flowers, clothing or shoes; while yet another sells musical instruments, radios and tape recorders, amid deafening noise.

These open and friendly children are occupying themselves while their parents are working in the open market. Many children start helping the family earn money at an early age. Boys and girls assist at market stalls. They walk around markets hawking garlic or plastic bags.

Wood carvings of animals, birds, and other objects, and wood furniture-making are important native arts. Moros carve marvelous wooden grave markers and houses. This craftsman was making simple wooden cabinets that he sold at the open market.

They shop frequently because they cannot afford to stock food and rarely have refrigeration. Main markets in town are never empty. Crowds start coming about 5:30 in the morning and increase until 9:30 or so. Another crowd comes late in the afternoon. In smaller towns, the market may be open only one or two days a week.

The open market is the place to buy meat, mainly pork, freshly butchered; fish still flopping; and chickens recently plucked or still alive. Nearby are stalls that sell vegetables, seasonings, fruits, dried fish, and rice. Rice is a main staple in their diet and is grown locally. Often these families live in their open market stalls.

The children also mind their mother’s sari-sari store (a tiny shop that sells everything from canned milk to soft drinks to notebooks and cigarettes). Boys are on the streets before daylight peddling newspapers, cigarettes, and candles. Girls string and sell jasmine flowers.

Some stalls sell medicinal herbs, making 20-25 pesos (or about $1.25) per day. Most of the customers are those people who cannot afford to buy bottled drugs from a druggist. For a few cents they can buy some medicinal leaves, flowers, buds, succulents, seeds or roots, oils or powders. They also sell instructions on how to make them into decoctions, infusions, liniments, vinegars, poultices, ointments, washes and baths…and they have a cure for just about everything: high blood pressure, worms, malaria, dog bites, snake bites, despondency, rheumatism, gallstones, nose bleeds, pimples, deafness, nervousness, lice, carbuncles, dizzy spells, ulcers and body odor! There are baths for the newborn and its mother, rock crystals for diagnosing witchcraft, beaten bark to make into shampoo and cactus for use as a hair conditioner.

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