I think anybody who knows me reasonably well knows that is completely untrue, but thanks to the Philippine Peso (PHP)–U.S. Dollar (USD) exchange rate, it holds a little more truth in the Philippines.
While the majority of my trip is paid for by various Rotary clubs and organizations, I did bring some money for incidental expenses, including any souvenirs that my sisters force me to buy.
Although varying with market, one USD was worth 48.5 PHP when we arrived. I had 110 USD exchanged to an astonishing 5,300 PHP (approximately. This is only an approximate value since I had changed 10 USD early in the trip for a lower exchange rate of 45 PHP, and I’m not sure if there were any fees incurred with the rest.)
What is even more astonishing than the sheer amount of pesos that I received for a relatively small amount of U.S. currency, is the fact that everything is cheap in the Philippines. With such a high exchange rate, you might think that everything would be inflated but that’s simply not the case. You can buy most everyday things (especially food) for a relatively cheap amount, in fact if you use a bill higher than 100 PHP the locals usually balk at accepting it (for low amounts of course.)
One thing that I have noticed is a weird balance in price. At some places sodas were 50 PHP or more (a little over one USD), but around the same place you could get a full meal for less than 500 PHP (about 10 USD.) Of course the big difference was the location. More expensive items are found in touristy areas or hotels, while local restaurants or shops are much cheaper. This same trend can be seen in different areas in the U.S., but it is weird to pay ~$1.05 and then pay $.25 for the same thing in a different location.
We spent a little time in SM City Lucena, a large mall in Lucena City, Quezon, and clothes were much cheaper than their U.S. equivalents. Hopefully before we leave we’ll be able to inject a little money into the Philippine economy by doing some more shopping.
This is conversion rate is good for tourists, but is obviously bad for Filipinos. It’s not necessarily bad that everything is relatively cheap in the Philippines, but it does mean that the Philippines is a very poor country. A presentation that we saw about Mariduque said the average daily wage for its residents was 70-110 PHP – I don’t think many Americans (including myself) could even fathom living on less than three USD per day, let alone supporting a family with such a low income.
There are so many things that I love about the Philippines, but it is impossible to ignore the poverty that envelopes this beautiful country.
My GSE team members and I are lucky that we are surrounded by some of the upper-echelon of Filipino society that are a part of Rotary, but it also allows us a glimpse into the despair of the rest of the country. The majority of the Rotary projects that we have seen have made tremendous strides in helping the impoverished Filipino people, and it really makes me want to help as well.
Disclaimer: The title of this post is from a sketch comedy show (The Chappelle Show) and is not meant to offend or sound boastful. It’s simply meant to be cheeky.