Sunday, September 17, 2006


It seems that everyone has a cell phone here in the Philippines, and I don’t mind that in the least, BECAUSE of the WAY most Filipinos use them.

In the States, and in much of the rest of the “cell having world,” people irritatingly yammer, squawk, giggle and laugh into their cells all around me in public places. Used to be I could wait in an airport terminal, or in any communal place, and contemplate the world quietly even among a crowd of strangers, ESPECIALLY among a crowd of strangers. There might be conversation around me, but for the most part it would be reasonably quiet, maybe a “dull roar,” just loud enough for each conversant to hear each other as they spoke. Not anymore.

Now, people on cell phones back home feel as if they have to blare out their words, and forgetting themselves, many use vile language they might only use in private company, and they do this all while talking about personal matters, and ALMOST ALWAYS at the top of their voice. It makes me want to grab their little instruments of auditory torture and beat some sense into them, hopefully destroying the dastardly little devices in the process. This public thoughtlessness happens everywhere back there, and every time I return it seems only to get worse.

Ahhh, but in the Philippines the verbal blasting into the air of personal affairs is virtually nonexistent. Although yesterday I had a nasty flashback when I entered my local locker room and was waylaid by a one-sided conversation between a doctor and his unseen patient. That sort of annoyance is very unusual here, thank God! Just the same, I soon learned that a Mr. Ferreras is scheduled for hip surgery starting next Wednesday as room comes available on the hospital’s docket. Oh, and I learned a whole host of other things that I really didn’t want to know at all. It was certainly a case of “TMI” for sure! Are you sensing my aggravation? (TMI = too much information)

In 1998, when I came here for a short visit, cell phones were nowhere to be found, but by 2002 when I returned to stay, they were seemingly everywhere. Today, even the children of families with relatively meager incomes have found someway to acquire a cell, even though the cheapest cost around $50 new. I suppose though, that used ones are available at much cheaper prices—they must be, since no one DOESN’T have one. These days, cells are considered by even relatively deprived Filipinos as anything BUT an extravagance. Such is the modern culture of the cell phone in the Philippines – it has become a “must have” item. Probably the only families without cellphones now are the squatters living under bridges or sleeping in the streets.

The fact that so few Filipinos can afford to speak into their phones is wonderful, at least to me it is. Here’s some interesting reasons and background behind the Filipino popularity of the cell text excerpted from the Internet:

"Talk isn't cheap in the Philippines; there are only about 3.3 million wired phone circuits in this country of about 80 million people. There are another 10 million cellphones here (obviously dated information!), but companies don't offer the large baskets of 'free' minutes that Americans take for granted. So SMS (short message service) is the least expensive way to chat, popular with everybody from cab drivers to corporate executives…”

Industry estimates put the number of cell-phone owners at 20 million (even this number is probably now an obsolete figure) and the number of text messages sent daily at 100 million (I’m sure its more!)—that in a population of more than 76,000,000. Texting has become a natural campaigning (and advertising) tool because it is cheap (at P1 to P2 per message that's from 2 to 4 US cents), its relay is nearly immediate and Filipinos have adopted it as a familiar, even beloved, mode of communication. What began as an operator service through which carriers could inform their customers of network glitches, has become, a common way of keeping in touch and keeping tabs. Texting has become so popular, in fact, that the Catholic Church explicitly had to ban confessions by text.”

The cell phone, now deemed indispensable by most Filipinos, should be called something else—perhaps they should rename it a “mobile-texter,” or “cell messenger.” I say this because most folks here rarely if ever make calls from their cells, and seldom speak on them unless someone else in a splurging mood decides to give them a call.

What’s interesting is that even those of us who CAN afford to make calls on our cells usually choose NOT to. Even the very rich are more likely to text here instead of yapping into them like most Westerners do. One of the reasons this might be so (I’ve been told mind you) is the Filipino penchant to gossip and spread rumors—they love the secrecy and privacy that texting offers. It’s easier to ask for or proliferate the “latest lowdown” on someone by sending a text, which can be reused and saved and forwarded as many times as one wants, than it is to spend the time, money and effort required to “scandalize” in talk mode to one person at a time. The "beauty" of it is that texting can even be done with THE subject of the gossip sitting right there next to you—how satisfying is that to a rumor monger? (Sounds a bit like back-stabbing though, doesn’t it?)

As far as WHY the rest of us non-Filipinos have also become so enthralled with texting; part of it is because we get so darn many texts ourselves, so it just makes sense and is easier to answer in kind. Also, sending a text is like leaving a message on an answering machine, or sending an email—you KNOW that the person will eventually receive it. Then again, many of us here in “Sin City” tend to frequent bars and clubs where it’s just too loud to hear on a cell when using it as a phone, so sending a text is the ONLY way to go in that setting. So, after using text almost exclusively, it becomes natural and the more desirable way to communicate.

Speaking of the “Sin City” portion of Angeles City, whenever I visit that small corner of my local world over on Fields Avenue I notice that virtually EVERY girl, trikedriver, doorman, and every street salesman has a cellphone. In fact, I think I am the ONLY person I know who DOESN’T have one. (I tossed mine about 6 months ago and I’ve never felt more free and unencumbered).

It really is remarkable, the local industry that has grown up to service cell users. There are stalls for cellphone repair, or places where you can buy a new cover, add lights, buy accessories—you name it. Like any other small type of business in the Philippines, however, it is now a completely saturated market so that no one really makes any substantial money from it.

Another thing I've noticed are the increased options now available as far as "loading" cellphones with minutes. When I first got here the smallest cellphone card provided 100 pesos worth of minutes. Now, you can buy loads as small as a few pesos at a time and from ordinary people down the street who get small commissions for selling them to you. You can also "send" small loads from one cell to another, which is why many of us never hand our cells over to anyone, even for a moment, so easy is it for certain deft fingers to send several 15 peso loads to their own cells. Believe me, it happens all the time to many of the drunken foreigners who unwittingly hand their phones over to some comely lass for a minute or two during their barhopping sprees. I hear some of you say, "It's what they deserve...Serves them right! The drunken idiots!" ...and maybe so.

And finally, what I find remarkable is how so many have so handily learned how to text on their cells no matter WHAT they are doing at the time. I’ve seen trike drivers tool down the street with a smoke in one hand while busily texting with the other. Yes, it’s true! And in this same vein, not long ago someone emailed me a naughty photo (Dave, you know who you are!) of one of our local girls, or so I presume, performing a certain style of sex act while SINGLEHANDEDLY still managing to tend to a text on her cellphone. With ALL seriousness aside, it just goes to show you that with practice and determination, a person can indeed effectively multi-task. In fact, there is no limit to the cleverness, acumen and adroitness of certain human beings in these parts, especially when texting is involved. And as I said above, “ALL seriousness aside!”


Nick Ballesteros said...

Now that you mention it, I found it ironic that in a country with lots of phones, it's relatively quiet than in other countries! :-) I sued to own a Motorola V100, a cheap flip phone that needs a headset connected in order to take and make calls. I rarely used the headset.

I have a friend though who sens text messages frequently, and even with more than three people at a time that it makes me wonder how he manages not to send the wrong text message. The exasperating part is, he goes into "phase out" mode. He tries to make conversation with you while he does his texting, and inevitably he doesn't get what you're trying to say and you have to repeat it. Quite irritating really. He's even more attuned to the person not with us than with those around him.

Duane k said...

Hello! I'm going to be catching up on this blog as quickly as I can! I was born at Clark in 78, my Dad was stationed there and we have lots of my mothers family still there.

As a matter of fact my Dad is there overseeing the construction of a new home for my mother's family in Angeles City for another couple of days.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Hello Duane... I take it you are half Filipino then, like all of my children. Welcome to my blog! You were 4 or 5 years old when I first came here in the early 80s. I've wanted to live here ever since, and now I'm living the dream and doing exactly that. A lot of houses are going up in this area, many of them built by Filipinos living outside the Philippines, like your mom, and dad too of course. Not all my entries are about the Phils, as you are finding out about now, but quite a few are. Let me know if you have any specific questions.... phil

Duane k said...

Yup, I'm half Filipino (and I have one sister as well), from my mother's side. Her father died when she was young and I think the story is that he was either half or full Chinese. My mother's skin is very light for a Filipina. As I've gotten older it's becoming less and less apparent that I am of mixed ethniciity.

My Mom and Dad are building a new house in the neighborhood of "Balibago." I think that's right, it's near Angles, and in the proximity of something like "mabalacat" or something simliar (forgive my butchering of the names, the last time I was there was in 1999 after my freshman year in college).

When I was there we lived on Clark, then at the site of the old family home for a while, then we lived on John Hay and outside John Hay in Bagio. What a beautiful place!