Juan Time Confessions of The Late


One minute. The morning shuttle bus here arrives at 9:39 to pick up passengers and exactly leaves at 9:40. I sometimes arrive a minute after, and I get to painfully see the bus leave despite hurrying to catch it. Our house is just five minutes away from the bus stop.

Five minutes. On my first few weeks in Taiwan, I received a call from my American co-worker, at exactly one o'clock in the afternoon, to inform me that everyone was already in the meeting room. They're just waiting for me to start. No thanks to the newbie, the meeting began five minutes late.

One hour. I can't stop my tears from rolling down my cheeks. My then-fiance (now husband) and I had to fly back to the Philippines to attend a pastoral interview a month before our wedding. An hour has passed after our scheduled time, and he was nowhere in sight. I thought he changed his mind. It turned out that he was caught in heavy traffic.

Always. After college, I never had weekday mornings with a well-combed hair or a full stomach.

I know my tardiness is a chronic problem. And as much as I would like to convince the rest of the world that it's just me, I think most Filipinos (not all especially my lola who's always ready two hours before an event) think the same way as I do. "I'm on the way" means I just finished dressing up for a meeting. "Heavy traffic" may mean I ignored my alarm clock and dozed off some more minutes. (Traffic excuses are most often true, see how much money it's costing our country here.)

Here in Taiwan, time is money. Being on time is giving respect to the person. None from the Always-Late Anonymous can say it's not helping Taiwan as a nation. As of 2010, Taiwan's GDP per capita is more than $30,000 USD (whoppin' 90% higher than ours).

I recently came across the Juan Time initiative by the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) that will happen on September 30. It hopes to change our idea of punctuality by promoting to use the "Philippine Standard Time" (PST). For me, it may be a far cry but it's a start. Being a bad tomato for so long, I'm willing to try to change. It won't be easy but it's time for our country to value time.

Starting September 30, I'm up for the challenge of absolving my Juan time crimes. Wish me luck!

Financial Literacy and the OFW Family


On my count, I have at least 24 blood relatives living and working overseas. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, first cousins—they have relocated to the United States, Canada, Britain, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in search of the proverbial greener pasture.

If for anything, what they found were higher salaries, better social services, and colder climates. Extra money they do have—and these they send back to the Philippines in more ways than one: helping to put up a small business, paying for their nephew’s tuition, or rebuilding the ancestral house in the province. And sometimes, even to remit dollars monthly to feed, shelter, and clothe an entire family with no bread winners. From knowing relatives in the Philippines who solely rely on remittances to go about their daily lives, I understand the need for financial literacy and how it should be extended to OFW families.

The Philippine economy hinges greatly on remittances by its OFWs. Inflation and peso appreciation in part are regulated by some $14 billion of inflows from Filipinos working abroad. Local spending power is spurred by foreign currencies disbursed via remittance services. Condominiums, shopping centers, and resorts are built to capture money from this segment of our society.

On the other side of the coin, however, are returning OFWs with nothing to withdraw from their busted bank accounts. Household heads who budget money for the family usually have the penchant for buying things left and right that when the time comes for their OFWs’ contracts to expire, their economic fate also halts.

Pop culture is replete with the social cost of the OFW phenomenon. Broken families, deeper plunge to poverty, lives lost. I recall from childhood how some blockbusters capitalized on horror stories experienced by OFWs: the Flor Contemplacion Story (Singapore-based domestic helper hanged to death as convicted of murdering fellow Filipina) and the Sarah Balabagan Story (under-aged household help raped by her employer but received state-sanctioned beating because of conservative Islamic law).

The glaring statistics tell us that one in 10 Filipinos are out of the country for better opportunities, but with most of them working menial jobs like rendering domestic help and waiting tables (even as they keep college diplomas back home). Some have the fortune of being able to practice their profession, like nursing and engineering. This phenomenon has been touted as warm body exporting. The brain drain of professionals is apparent with the quality of healthcare, teaching, and that the country now has. Amid these concerns, the potential of OFWs as investors should be optimized to help not only the country but also themselves and their families.

Reunions that cycle back to poverty because of unplanned finances and sudden loss of income make going abroad and its toll on the family all the more tragic. Recently returning OFWs who find no other option but to reapply for foreign contracts again should not happen—and should be avoided at all cost. As a start, local government, community media, and schools should partner in educating families of savings and investment options for OFW families.

Traffic Lights, Color Blind: An Exposé


I was diagnosed with minor color blindness and cannot distinguish green, red, and orange when they're mixed together in patterns. This, however, does not bother me at all (at least for now). Let me tell you what bothers me more.

It never fails. Every Sunday, after attending our evening mass, most from our Filipino community, the creme of the crop who supposedly have perfect vision for their work in a handful of factories in Taiwan, swarm out of the Church, and cross the streets to different directions no matter what color the traffic light is.

Since they go in big groups, it really disrupts traffic here. Scooters and cars had to stop in the intersection whenever 20-30 Filipinos cross the streets. The problem is, my husband always want to join the crowd, literally tugging my arms along because, I don't know...it'll be green light for us in a few seconds.

This has always been one of our little irritations as a couple. I don't want to cross the street when it's still red and even if the streets are empty. I didn't want to do it because the locals here follow simple traffic rules. Sure, I've witnessed some Taiwanese cut traffic, but never did I see a big crowd of pedestrians claim their turn to cross. Most locals patiently wait and count the seconds until it's their time to walk.

Of course, I really didn't start out following the rules back home. I wouldn't be called a true Manileno if I did. My college days had generous times when jeepneys honked because I crossed the street too soon. I didn't care. And to some point, I felt like I outsmarted the law.

What caused me to try to change? The mere fact that nothing in our country did change. From the time that I went abroad to my first visit as a balikbayan, I found the same road puddles, traffic enforcers hiding in the same spot, and the same awful traffic jam. In the end, we may have save three to five seconds of our personal time, but our country stayed right where it was ten years ago. So now, I challenge myself and my husband to resist the adrenaline rush of jay walking. And there were a couple of times when one or two Filipinos stopped to join us as we waited for our turn to walk.

Food for thought: Character is doing the right thing when nobody's looking.  There are too many people who think that the only thing that's right is to get by, and the only thing that's wrong is to get caught.  ~J.C. Watt