By Tessa Choong
Having spent nearly three weeks in the rural province of the Philippines, I was able to glean some insights about the economic situation of the Pearl of the Orient Seas. Notwithstanding the similarities between the Philippines and my own home country, Mauritius, I have come to understand better about the paradoxical effects of economic development.
Classified as a developing country, the Philippines as any other country has its fair share of issues ranging from government corruption and income inequality to natural disasters. Bohol once considered as a first-income island is now economically stagnant as the island struggles to recover from the devastating outcome of the earthquake that struck the region three years ago. With small-scale enterprises spread across the island and vast unoccupied forestry terrains, the economic horizon of Bohol presents a stark contrast from the concrete jungle and compacted streets of Hong Kong.
It would be unreasonable if not unfair to compare a small island province of the Philippines with the burgeoning city of Hong Kong backed by the economic powerhouse of China. However, in an attempt to differentiate between the two regions, I can’t help but wonder whether life in Hong Kong is better than in the Philippines or vice-versa. The Philippines indeed suffers from the crippling unemployment rate, corruption, drug abuse and a soaring birth rate unlike the law-abiding and bustling city of Hong Kong, yet, the people are happy here and seemingly contented. Without faith and religion, however, I believe that many would be devoid of warmth and generosity when living in rustic living conditions with no hope of betterment. Yet, they do say that the most generous people on earth are the ones who have less. Is it because they know the feeling of destitution or are they simply endowed with selflessness as they are born in a close-knit community where sharing is customary to them? Perhaps it is a little bit of both. Is life better in the Philippines then? I suppose there is more to this question than GDP and living standard indexes. After all the happiest people on earth come from Bhutan. However, reality is never as we expect it to be.
While religion provides a safe haven to commune with oneself, I personally believe that it can also act as a major detriment to social progress as in the case of the Philippines where Catholicism is deeply entrenched in the life of the people to the point that condom usage is often stigmatized and shamed by the Church. This has contributed to the spread of HIV and the economical burden of raising several children. Furthermore, I am a strong proponent of female empowerment and I believe that the choice to abort or not relies primarily on the woman’s decision. The fact that abortion is illegal in the Philippines does not honor a woman’s freedom of choice as controversial as it may be.
Nevertheless, living in the Philippines has been an eye-opening experience and there is no better way to realize the issues of a developing country than to live with the locals in the rural suburbs. Natural wonders are common in this picturesque province and while there is a definite resemblance to Mauritius, the Philippines hold its own charm. Clean air, gushing waterfalls, delightful landscape, white sandy beaches and friendly Filipinos are the highly sought after interests of the country as thousands of tourists from all over the world flock the island to get some time off the incessant hustle of city life.
During the last two weeks, I had the opportunity to visit the magnificent sights of the waterfalls in Dimiao and engage in a 2-hour trip in a rattling jeepney to visit the Chocolate hills. The journey at the waterfalls was extremely entertaining as I gathered my courage to jump off the cliff and dive into the deep waters. However, I believe that the Chocolate hills are overrated but I suppose that 19 years of living in Mauritius has rendered me oblivious to the beauty of nature. Nonetheless, I can confidently say that I feel more at home in the Philippines than in Hong Kong and that these three weeks have been the highlight of the year. I will forever cherish these memories.