Greg B. Macabenta
Business World Online
April 14, 2015
If your age is past three-fourths of a century, it’s probably time to consider your retirement options. My wife and I have decided to spend most of what remains of our lives in the land of our birth.
We’ve lived in America for nearly 30 years. America is a great country. The subway is efficient. Traffic is disciplined. You don’t have to line up for government services like renewing your driver’s license (they’ll mail you a reminder and you can just send them a check). For government documents, there are no “autographs” to be signed by multiple bureaucrats who expect some “gratitude money.”
We have a nice home in Pinole in the San Francisco Bay Area. Our children are all living independent and fruitful lives of their own. And four grandchildren all born in the US, plus two more coming, are enough reason to believe that our roots are firmly planted in American soil.
But we also have roots in the Philippines. In Manila. In Albay. And in Leyte. I acknowledged that when I joined the very first batch of Fil-Ams to avail themselves of the benefits of the Dual Citizenship Law. In fact, I was among those who actively lobbied Congress and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for its passage.
But, you may ask: Why retire in the Philippines? Why go back to a country that many have severely criticized for every imaginable flaw? Why go back to where EDSA traffic is a mess, the MRT and LRT are like sardine cans (except you don’t risk your life with a can of sardines), you are threatened with apprehension for not having license plates on your car, even while the blasted Land Transportation Office makes you wait months to get the blasted plates? And the airport stinks?
The answer is simple. This country is home. And my friend, Tourism Secretary Mon Jimenez, is right. It’s more fun in the Philippines. This is not to say that it’s not fun in America. But my social security pension and that of my wife go a much longer way in Manila, and wherever we choose to travel in the islands.
Ever since our eldest son decided to work in an ad agency in Manila, my wife and I have had reason to come home often. We have thus seen how much farther our funds can go and how much more fun our money can buy.
Some years back, my wife had to pay for minor dental works in Daly City. To say that it nearly cost an arm and a leg, as well as all her molars, is no exaggeration. We soon found out from some in-laws that a trip to Manila for the same kind of services would not only cost so much less, there would still be money left over, even if we added on the cost of air fare. Last year, my wife confirmed it -- savings and excellent dental works and all.
By the way, many of the dentists (as well as doctors and nurses) in America are Pinoys. So, you can expect good dental care and health care from those still practicing in the Philippines.
Of course, health maintenance is superior in the US, especially for those of us who are already on Medicare. But if the Fil-Am community successfully lobbies the US Congress to allow Medicare portability, that could mean enjoying the same benefits we get from Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco from any accredited health facility in the Philippines like St. Luke’s Hospital.
But that’s not the fun part. It’s the lifestyle and it’s enjoying that lifestyle with friends.
On a recent trip to Manila, we treated several friends to dinner at a restaurant at Serendra in Bonifacio Global City. Some of the most delectable Filipino dishes were laid out before us and bottles of fine wine kept pouring endlessly, not to mention great dessert.
For eight people, the bill was less than $200, before our 20% senior citizens’ discount. I immediately recalled how our youngest son and his wife treated us to dinner in downtown San Francisco a month earlier. For the four us, the bill was almost $500 -- and no senior discount, either.
But the most priceless part of all was the company. Being with friends of many years, talking about your youth and sharing corny jokes -- what can be better than that when you are all past 70?
I once wrote a piece entitled, “SM, SL -- So Much for So Little,” which was about how I couldn’t use up $100 at the SM mall in Sucat, Parañaque, after paying for a jeepney ride, buying lunch and snacks, a session at the Internet café, calling on my Smart phone, and a movie. SM’s Tessie Sy-Coson liked the article so much, she asked for it to be reprinted.
For Tessie’s information, I have gone a few times to the new SM City at BF Homes in Sucat. The dining places are excellent. I had lunch at Savory for P130, after the senior citizens’ discount. For comparison, you can’t buy a decent meal at Serramonte Mall in Daly City with $1.50. The only Pinoy restaurant in the mall charges upwards of $7 for a “combo.”
In Manila, with our social security pension, we can afford live-in help and a laundry woman who comes once a week. My shirts and pants are actually pressed and so are my boxer shorts and handkerchiefs! We wake up in the morning to a ready breakfast of sinangag, itlog and daing. There’s fresh fish (still alive and wriggling) to be bought at the nearby palengke, along with fresh fruits and newly butchered meat. And for merienda, there are all sorts of kakanin, plus halo-halo at Chowking. And, oh yes, the magtataho drops by regularly.
While I’m not about to lavish praise on the charges of the utility providers in Manila, for someone like us who are used to paying over $800 a month for electricity, cable, phone and Internet access, as well as water and garbage collection, I must say that our social security pensions can well afford PLDT, Meralco and Maynilad Water.
But the most important reason for coming home is because we owe a debt of gratitude to our Motherland. And we would like to spend the last years of our lives trying to pay her back.
For the Global Summit of Filipinos in the Diaspora held in Manila in September 2011, Commission on Filipinos Overseas Chairman Mely Nicolas asked me to write a response of overseas Filipinos to the call of the Motherland (expressed in “A Gathering of Heroes -- Pagbabalik ng mga Bayani”, a poem I had also written). Allow me to share that response with you, entitled “We Hear Our Motherland Calling”:
Yes, here we are, your children, the fruits of all your dreams.
We have come home from distant lands, from deserts, fields and streams.
We are your daughters and your sons, we hearken to your call.
We are the youth you scarce have known. We offer you our all.
We cannot boast of honors won nor celebrate our wealth,
When you to whom we owe our lives must suffer failing health.
How can we talk of how we walk the high and might road
When many of our siblings live like serfs and slaves abroad?
Yes, we have heard you calling us, beloved Motherland.
With gratitude we come to you to humbly kiss your hand.
You cared for us, you nurtured us, you bore us in your womb,
And you will love us selflessly, from cradle to the tomb.
But from your arms we sailed away, in foreign lands to toil;
Unsure that we could grow our dreams upon our native soil.
Yet, there is something lacking from the honors that we gain.
How can we savor our success while you are wracked with pain?
We solemnly commit today, our treasures, talent, time;
And we the youth before you stand to make this vow sublime.
The fruits of all our labors and the prize of blood and sweat,
We offer at your altar, though they hardly pay our debt.
For anywhere our path may lead, wherever we may roam,
‘Tis only in your bossom that we’ll feel the warmth of home.
When age sets in and health has gone and stripped our spirits bare,
We know that you will welcome us, when no one else will care.
And in the winter of our lives, when mournful bells will ring,
The Philippines will always be our summer and our spring.
Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.
Greg B. Macabenta
Business World Online
April 14, 2015