Why is the Peso getting weaker? (For the common tao)

The Philippine peso (PHP) exchange rate with the United States dollar (USD) has weakened at historical levels recently. The first week of September 2022 saw the lowest, least competitive rate of nearly PHP57.00 to a USD, something that will be etched on the history books.

Immediate effects of this may not be felt by any typical Filipino who does their grocery shopping or casual dining at a fast food chain. Anyway, the current prices are already leaping due to the externally-induced inflation. Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) may also be unfazed by the exchange rate because on a non-technical point-of-view, higher exchange rates mean more money in PHP for their families. However, the weaker peso will worsen inflation and cause local prices of commodities, especially imported items to become more expensive. If you have been a fan of eating spam, then you might want to set aside that desire as these may be costing more.

The last record low exchange rates was in 2004 when the USD was worth PHP56.45.

The simplest reason behind this is that the USD which is the default global currency is becoming stronger which generally lowers the values of all other currencies. The US Federal Reserve (which functions similarly with our own Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas), strategized to battle out the inflation that is going on in the United States. They did this by increasing the interest rates which attracts American investments that guarantee a higher rate of return. In addition, they want Americans to keep their money instead of spending it as it caused inflation.

Inflation in the US

Many experts believe that the US is currently experiencing a demand-pull inflation. It means that there are so much money in circulation with so little goods and services available to spend it on. In economics, there is what we call the law of supply and demand. And one of the principles is that when there is low supply and a high demand, the price increases. As the price increases, inflation is accelerated.

Inflation itself has also taken its toll in the international market given that rapid globalization has made all economies interconnected. Therefore, whatever the US suffers, or any large economy for that matter, would generally affect others.

Among the many technical reasons why inflation has gone up at uncontrollable rates is because the stimulus that the US provided in the later part of the pandemic allowed Americans to purchase more things with their increased disposable income. However, due to revenge-spending, local supply of goods have diminished in higher rates with the increased demand. International tensions in Europe brought about by the Russian invasion of Ukraine also disrupted the global supply chain and made things costlier to produce.

With that, the US is in a tricky situation given that any decision they make that affects their economic standing would domino to all the countries of the world.

Increase in Fed interest rates

To combat this, the US Federal Reserve increased interest rates with the hope of reducing demand for goods. How does this work? Giving higher rates of return from the interests, it makes American investment more attractive.

Interests also mean higher borrowing cost which will therefore also ease spending. Eventually, the demand for goods and services would lower to normal and manageable levels. With the economic principle shared earlier, it will mean that with the lower demand and ample supply, prices of goods will eventually decrease into normal levels. Inflation is eased, at least everybody hopes.

What lies ahead

With everyone considering the USD as the safeguard for the value of money, investors would stock up on dollars. As mentioned, American investment is also getting more attractive with the higher interest rates. In the investing side, it is advantageous, it earns you money; but on the borrowing side, it makes you lose more money. Investors, big ones, would usually be driven towards investing in the dollar-denominated investments. Financial experts would suggest that this condition builds a stronger dollar than other local currencies.

A report of CNN Business notes that half of the world’s trade are invoiced or charged in USD. This will turn up bills for imports much higher with the stronger dollar.

To illustrate, the iPhone 14 which launched earlier this week now cost PHP56,990 for its baseline model compared with the iPhone 13 which cost about PHP49,990 which at that time, there was a PHP49 to USD on average exchange rate. Although the phone comes with new features, its dollar price range did not increase. But when it hits the shelves in the Philippines, it cost more than it was before.

Will it affect me?

OFWs may rejoice at first with the exchange rates getting more pesos for each dollar or whatever currency for that matter. However, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Goods which generally require materials from abroad would entail more acquisition costs and the Filipinos will need to deal with the price increases. Despite more pesos for now, it projects “more pesos for the same quantity of goods”.

The Philippines already suffers a lot of shortage in basic goods, especially in food items like rice and sugar. As the government plans to import, you know where this is heading with the PHP to USD exchange rate in mind. The country also suffers inflation now and even if the US is battling it out their way, their remedy may mean a heavy blow for other economies like ours.

The best way survive the condition we are in is to spend conservatively at our individual levels. This means spending on the more important things, the “needs”. Set aside the “wants” for now and maximize our limited resource like time to allow us to find secondary or backup sources of income. In that way, the food on our tables might cost more but we have some extra pesos to brave the weakening peso.

Should I Get a Credit Card Part 1: The Advantages

If you have just started working and earning a fixed income from an employer, it is certain that at one point you have been invited by a representative from a financial institution to apply for a credit card. However, you may observe that a lot of advertisements on social media are about these pieces of plastic. It seems that banks are aggressive to get more customers.

In a report in 2017, the World Bank estimated about two percent of Filipinos own credit cards which is much lower than the 22 percent average among its East Asia and Pacific peers. In 2019, just before the pandemic changed everything, 53 percent of Filipinos paid their utility bills in cash.

The COVID-19 pandemic served as an opportunity for more cashless transactions. These, however, did not necessarily mean credit cards were behind it. Electronic wallets like GCash, Maya, and ShopeePay which had less stringent account application process became more popular. The main difference between the two is that electronic wallets use debit form transactions wherein there are already funds in the account. Meanwhile, credit cards use credit form transactions as the name suggests. A fixed credit limit which financial institutions compute based on your average monthly income serves as the threshold of your allowable expenses. Then, you will be billed on a monthly basis on a specified billing cycle.

Now, what are the advantages of using a credit card? There are several reasons why the more financially literate people have been using them. These include a range of flexiblity, access and perks.

Avoid losses in cash transactions

Merchants or stores where you purchase items are actually charged a specified amount for each transaction done using a credit or debit card (usually two percent). When you visit a gadget store, for example, you will observe they have at least two different rates for those who pay in cash and those who pay in card. This scheme is actually to the advantage of both parties because the merchant avoids fees from the banks with these transactions while you as the buyer also gets an instant “discount” for the cash transaction. This only happens when the store offers two prices; but if the store does not offer two prices, you are losing money when you pay in cash.

The other way merchants avoid paying fees from the banks is to increase their markup when they sell their products. This is to defray any anticipated additional charges in these types of transactions from their side. To put it on an easier concept, whether you pay in cash or card, you pay the same amount. The loss here is because using a credit card for instance has some perks or rewards (depending on the rewards program of your card issuer) while paying in cash gets you nothing for paying extra. In part, you can see that credit cards have potentially caused things to be more expensive and the only way to outsmart this situation is to use the cards.

Get flexibility in finances

In my circle, there is a mixed opinion about installments. “Utang” is something not everyone is proud to talk about. But come to think of the bigger picture, development in our country is facilitated through loans from multinational financial institutions. These incur debt but provide the country some flexibility to use its own resources for other priorities. How will this concept be more applicable to you?

Let’s say you have PHP200,000 in your bank account and you always needed to buy a high-end, high spec computer. You decided to purchase a MacBook Pro 14″ which cost PHP120,000. Basically, you can buy it in cash and it will leave you PHP80,000. Still a good deal right? But it makes your financial health vulnerable. The following month, a typhoon damaged your house and you needed PHP100,000 for immediate house repairs. Assuming you will get all of the money from your bank account, you still lack PHP20,000. Even if you have PHP20,000 monthly income, it will seem difficult to manage.

This is where installment comes in. With the same reference figures, let us say you bought the MacBook for PHP120,000 in a 24-month installment at zero percent interest. That will mean PHP5,000 per month charge. This means you only spend PHP5,000 on the first month leaving PHP195,000 in your bank account and you also have enough money left for the damage in your house the following month. This leaves you PHP95,000 in your bank account. With the monthly income you have at PHP20,000, the Macbook is still within budget and will not leave you in debt after the second month.

Credit card transaction also has several perks such as cashbacks that saves you extra depending on your bank issuer’s promotions. More discussion on this below.

Earn cashbacks and other perks

Each credit card has its own rewards system which is seen to entice customers. From extravagant new cardholder cashbacks to free Airpods, banks are obsessed in getting new customers. This is one reason why banks charge those fees to merchants (the stores where we buy things) because ultimately, they have to find ways to fund these promotions.

Now it may be counterintuitive given that these financial institutions are making a lot of money and enslaving merchants and even ourselves. But that is just the way it is. Our choices have been decided. Thus, this is also the main reason to get a credit card to ensure we make the most of our hard-earned money.

For a newbie, there are a lot of perks awaiting that usually requires a minimum spend for a specific period of time. Thus, when considering to apply for a credit card, it is best to apply within the timeframe of a promotion giving huge cashback rewards upon attaining a minimum spend and at the same time, you are planning to buy an expensive essential item like an appliance or a gadget.

To illustrate, you need to buy an inverter-type air conditioning unit worth PHP20,000. You also want to get a credit card to take advantage of its rewards program and sign-in perks. Let us say Bank X is offering a PHP5,000 cashback to new cardholders for a minimum spend of PHP20,000 within the month of card approval and receipt. Thus, this situation with Bank X is an opportunity for you to get the most of your money. Not only do you get your much needed item, you also get PHP5,000 cashback. It potentially gave you a 25 percent “discount” on your AC or an instant PHP5,000, whatever your mentality dictates.

Final say

While several reasons to have a credit card have been laid out, it still boils down to your own personal preference. Whether you pay in cash or via a card, there is always an advantage and a disadvantage. The most important factor is to ensure that you have a healthy financial standing indicated by having a steady budget, remaining debt-free, and keeping a ready emergency fund.

There are two types of credit cardholders in general, the transactor and the debtor. The transactor maintains good fiscal management by making sure that all monthly dues are paid in full which in turn does not get burdened by interests if any. The debtor, on the other hand, is something we should avoid becoming as this means that the credit card is taking more advantage of us than the other way around. These cardholders are burdened by unhealthy financial decisions which end up burdening them with interests for not paying the monthly dues in full. The only middle ground of debt with a credit card is having zero interest.

So, use your credit card wisely. It is not as disadvantageous as you think. It is a matter of learning life skills in financial management either theoretically or by experience. When you master the art of credit cards, you will be steps ahead from those who pay in cash.

How to outsmart the fuel price hike

Who could not recall the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic? We experienced the heaviest lockdowns in our lifetime (I hope) and everything went to a standstill. I could recall enduring the heat of the sun walking home with two bags of groceries. Despite it being very impractical to walk, there was simply no means of transport in my case. I did not have a bicycle and even so, it would be more of a hassle with the two bags I was carrying.

At this period, major fuel consumers such as the aviation industry and the land transport and logistics industry were also at a standstill. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) highlighted that the community-wide quarantine restrictions during the early stage of the pandemic led to significant economic disruptions. This in turn slowed down production and mobility worldwide which gave a substantial drop in the global oil demand.

Two years after, we have a polar opposite of the situation. Oil prices rose to horrific levels past pre-pandemic figures. In a report of Philstar Global,  gasoline prices have increased by more or less PHP7.95 per liter: diesel at PHP10.20 per liter and kerosene at PHP9.10 per liter. Among the factors identified to affect the oil prices include:

  1. Supply chain disruption due to the conditions brought by the special military operation of Russia in Ukraine
  2. Declining reserves of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries Plus (OPEC+)
  3. Lack of crude and refined products inventories

While the government employed several measures to mitigate the rise in oil prices, it is still expected that such fuel price hikes would have general effects on the entirety of the Philippine economy, especially in food production, logistics and transportation.

Here are some ways we could survive the effects of the oil price hike as well as lend a helping hand to the sectors that would experience its ill effects significantly:

  1. Use a bicycle for short-distance travel. It has been ages since people wished for bike lanes. Iloilo City is gifted with these. In my previous rapid study, it found that the development of bike lanes had direct effects in increasing the cyclist population in the city. Using a bicycle not only saves costs on transport but it also provides health benefits physically and mentally. This option has been advocated by several groups and even the country’s National Economic and Development Authority has promoted this means of transport to mitigate the effects of fuel price hikes. This would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Photo by Enzo Santos on Pexels.com
  1. Park your cars and use public transport. The heaviest effect in fuel price hikes is felt by transport groups. The reduced number of commuters due to alternative work arrangements as well as online learning has significantly affected jeepney drivers’ pockets. With the rise of fuel prices and the status quo on fare prices prescribed by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, it is best to artificially increase commuter activity to also increase the drivers’ incomes. It is a win-win situation for car owners to save up on their fuel expenses while jeepney drivers’ would also be able to cope with the situation.
Oops, dont’t text and drive. Photo by SplitShire on Pexels.com
  1. Explore carpooling. If you want the comfort of an airconditioned car or if you want to maintain that lifestyle back when fuel prices were still within your budget, then carpooling can be the last option. The COVID-19 virus is still present but with compliance with minimum public health standards like wearing facemasks, it may be a good option to split the fuel bill with a few friends or colleagues. If you are hosting the car, also expect to chip in some amount. And if you are the passenger, cooperate and contribute to the fuel. This option will generally also reduce cars on the road making it free-flowing and safer for those on bikes.

Several lessons and solutions were discovered by humanity during the hardest times. The COVID-19 pandemic made several things we never thought of becoming possible, possible. Transaction in banks and government entities embraced digital technology. Despite being disconnected physically, we became more connected beyond what we could reach pre-pandemic. More people learned to use gadgets in solving their day-to-day inconveniences. Let us embrace and find the silver lining of the global fuel price increase and discover ways how this problem could become a solution to preserve our economy, our planet and our humanity.

To Infinitea and beyond

Milk tea. These are two words which bring joy to anybody. For Filipinos, it has become a staple for various activities across different venues. According to Driftstories.com, milk tea shops in the Philippines started its roots in 2008 in San Juan City in Metro Manila. In Iloilo, I’m very sure you also remember pioneering brands such as Dakasi and Moonleaf which also opened its doors a few years later.

Basically a concoction of milk and freshly brewed tea, this drink could find its way into our study groups, all-nighters and overtime work. I could not simply count the number of times I ordered milk tea so I could get fueled to pull off a good working day. The silky smooth drink with sweet and chewy tapioca pearls almost end up as a meal replacement to get that sugar rush to beat office deadlines.

The milk tea business is simply booming these days. One after the other, stores mushroom all over Iloilo City be it a franchise or a home-grown brand. Just this January, another brand that already gained steady patronage in other cities in the Philippines opened its doors for the Ilonggos. I am referring to Infinitea which tags itself as one of the country’s top milk tea shop chain. In 2014, it was awarded as the Best Tea Shop Chain in the Philippines during the Golden Globe Annual Awards for Business Excellence.

Over 100 Drinks to choose from!

Infinitea serves a wide variety of tasty and refreshing authentic pearl milk tea drinks. These are guaranteed made from 100 percent freshly brewed loose-leaf teas of high quality. They also serve variety of coffees, Frappes, Fruit Teas and more.

My favorite drink in Infinitea.

Since its opening in January 2022, I have not yet repeated any of my drink orders in Infinitea. There is simply a lot to choose from. They have eight main lines of beverages:

  1. Milk Tea – 29 drinks
  2. Original Tea – 5 drinks
  3. Fruit Tea – 14 drinks
  4. Frappe – 20 drinks
  5. Iced Series – 9 drinks
  6. Lemonade – 8 drinks
  7. Soda Pops – 7 drinks
  8. Coffee Selection – 10 hot/iced coffee drinks and 5 coffee-based frappe

Among these, my favorites (so far) include the Strawberry Oreo Frappe, Green Apple Soda Pop and Okinawa Milk Tea.

Applicable to some drink items, you can choose your sweetness level at 0, 25, 50, 75 or 100 percent sugar level. For the sinkers, Infinitea also has a handful which you can mix and match for your drink such as pearls, nata de coco, assorted jelly, basil seed, chocolate or caramel topping, coffee jelly, brown sugar jelly, egg pudding, whipped cream and salted cream.

Meals and Snacks

If you think the drinks are not enough, Infinitea is also developing several menu items to meet your dining demands. They offer full meals such as chicken adobo flakes, tapa flakes, crispy chicken or crispy pork chop with rice. For some casual snacking, to complement their delicious drinks, you can have nachos, chicken pops, hamburger, lumpiang shanghai, siomai, onion rings, or seasoned fries.

To fully meet your all-day meal demands, they also recently launched their All-Day Breakfast line which embraces the typical Pinoy breakfast paying tribute to its title as No. 1 Tea Shop in the Philippines. Paired with pickled veggies, rice and egg, you can choose from Spam, pork tocino, beef tapa, longganisa, daing na bangus, spicy Spanish sardines or hotdog.

Among my favorites that you must try out include the nachos, chicken pops and onion rings. I am yet to try out their latest all-day breakfast line.

Ambiance and Staff

The store is open from 8:00 AM to 9:00 PM under normal conditions (taking into account the LGU-prescribed curfews and proclamations). The store is airconditioned and is very comfortable for short visits such as dining or casually meeting someone for a quick catch up. Peak hours are usually at around 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM. If you have a car that needs some washing, there is a carwash just beside it. So you can practically drop off your car and have a sip of Infinitea’s great drinks.

The store is simple but the lighting and the minimalist Nordic vibe make it an Instagram-worthy place when the proper angles are done. Don’t be afraid to ask any of their staff if you’re alone and you need that great photo. They’d be happy to take a photo of you. As a token of appreciation, tag them in your next IG story at @infiniteailo2.

Final Word and Promotion

As part of their loyalty program, Infinitea offers a loyalty card which can get you a free sinker on your fifth order, a free drink on your 10th, another free sinker your 15th and another free drink on your 20th. This promotion, however, is limited to large size drinks. You can ask for a card from the cashier when you order your 1st large size drink. (Subject to change without prior notice. Information was acquired as of this writing)

Infinitea Iloilo is one milk tea shop you should not miss and is definitely worth a visit. It provides a wide variety of drinks and a great selection of meals and snacks to choose from. If I were to rate it, I can give it a 4 out of 5 with the only recommendation to also invest in delivery so more Ilonggos could try them out. I am very sure there will be a lot of repeat orders.

There’s the rest, and there’s Apple

The coffee shop is a great working space for completing impromptu urgent tasks. After spending a few hundred pesos for a 20-ounce coffee, you find a great spot and then open your laptop to get that job done. Then suddenly, you realize that there is no power outlet and you are on 20 percent battery, giving you a quick window of merely 30 minutes to work.

You realize that you need a photo from your mobile phone to wrap up the report you are trying to complete. You scrambled upon your backpack only to realize that you have no cable with you. With the urgency, you lost the common sense to send it through the internet via the cloud. But who understands the cloud? As Filipinos, we are mostly acquainted with the usual flash drives and cables to move files between our mobile phone and computer.

You lost it. The deadline, the confidence, everything.

Photo by ATC Comm Photo on Pexels.com

As a number one doubter of Apple products due to their unattractive pricetags and Western origin, I also jumped from one brand to another including Samsung and Huawei. However, when I finally gave in and entered the so-called “Apple Ecosystem,” I doubt ever leaving Apple products in my digital needs. Here are some reasons why:

Everybody seems to get along

Are you familiar with AirDrop? It’s been with Apple for the longest time. AirDrop is a proprietary ad hoc service in Apple. It was introduced in Mac OS X Lion and iOS 7, which could transfer files among supported Apple computers and iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad using close-range wireless communication.

The technology uses Transport Layer Security (TLS) encryption over a direct Apple-created peer-to-peer Wi-Fi connection for the transmission of documents. For simplicity, the Wi-Fi radios of the source and target devices communicate directly without using an Internet connection or Wi-Fi Access Point.

Compared with the usual third-party transfers which could enable exchange between Android and iOS devices, AirDrop file transfers have unprecedented speeds and do not harm your device from heating up when large or voluminous files are transferred.

Powerful built-in applications

Apple hosts a handful of proprietary software which are free to use for any of its devices. Something very common and very useful for content creators is iMovie. It is a video editor available in iOS, iPadOS and Mac OS and is readily available upon unboxing your Apple device. It has a very convenient and straightforward user interface. Upon completing your video editing, it also renders the videos at shorter periods versus PCs with lower specifications. To illustrate, the entry-level MacBook Air can already do justice in video editing producing high-quality renders while saving your precious time; compared with PCs whose entry levels would heat while rendering and consume longer periods.

Unlike PC laptops with Windows, MacBooks and even iPads have a built-in word processor, spreadsheet and presentation applications. Apple has Pages which turns out to be the counterpart for Microsoft Word, Numbers for Microsoft Excel and Keynote for Microsoft PowerPoint.

And apparently, Apple does not stop there, most of its apps are available on various devices and could be synchronized through the cloud. It just requires some understanding of how the cloud works and which data needs to be in sync. Personally, I sync my calendar, contacts, notes and reminders. This ensures that the most important things are within reach through any Apple device I have. Pro tip: Don’t sync photos as this might consume so much of the memory. Instead, use AirDrop when you need the photo on another Apple device.

Sophisticated minimalist designs

Let’s be totally honest about it. Apple products pay so much attention to detail. The name itself has been linked as a luxury. While some consider its devices a bit too over-the-top, it remains to be a signature accessory and to some extent a status symbol. Come to think of it, though, Apple does not impose a high price tag unless you want the latest model. In fact, as of this writing, iPhone 11 is still actively being manufactured and is on the market at lower prices.

Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.

STEVE JOBS

Apple devices are known to be with the highest material grade compared with its competitors. For example, some flagship models of Android brands boast aluminum chassis. This means they could be produced much cheaper than Apple, which uses surgical grade stainless steel for its flagship Pro models.

Come to think of it, we do get what we pay for even in terms of aesthetics and the actual build of the phone when we patronize Apple products. With the positioning of speakers, the cameras, you see its Apple vibe. What I am a bit excited about is their upcoming Macbooks which are rumored to showcase various colors just like the iMacs released last year.

Efficient and enabling hardware

I remember back in the day when computer build enthusiasts would criticize people who would buy Apple computers for gaming. I mean it is indeed embarrassing. But now that Apple has begun producing its silicon chips, not only has their computers become much cheaper, they are many folds faster than older third-party chips they once used.

After a successful deployment of the M1 chip in their Macbooks and iPads, M1 Pro and M1 Max are putting the impossible possible in the latest MacBook Pro line with unprecedented speeds.

The main secret of Apple as to why they are successful in what they do is simply because they build and develop products across their own built and designed ecosystem. Unlike Android which runs across many brands of devices and has to mix and match with the hardware, Apple simply puts its focus on their products whether software or hardware. Android, while it provides the ultimate flexibility, is put on a double-edged sword as it tries to fit on every device of a multitude of brands, ending up in unsustainable promises of quality and longevity.

So the next time you choose to buy your hard-earned gadget, consider how much you are getting for a certain price point. While Apple and others have many pros and cons, it entirely lies in your preference, budget, and perception of value for money.

Fast and convenient YouTube download

Scrambling for ways to download YouTube videos has been a regular hobby especially for those who want to consume videos offline or simply downloading material. For a content creator like me, I sometimes prefer skipping steps in downloading my YouTube videos by simply opening a specific application and going for it.

Nothing has been more convenient than 4K Video Downloader where I can simply download things fast in three steps. Here’s how I do it:

Step 1: Open the video

Open your web browser in your laptop and go to YouTube.com. On the search bar, type the title or keywords of the video you wish to view and download.

There are a bunch of ways you can get the link of the video. The most familiar but sometimes ineffective is directly getting the URL on the address bar of your browser. For a slowly but surely acquisition of the video link, take a look at the lower right corner of the video. Just below it is a “share” button. Click it and a link will conveniently appear for you to copy.

Step 3: Paste and go!

This step is the best and most convenient there is. In your 4K Video Downloader, just click “paste link”. It does all the work for you. It is found on the top left corner of the app so you will not miss it.

Pasting and having a go is now made in one click with 4K Video Downloader. That’s the “Paste Link” button’s magic.

After successfully locating the video, it will lead you to another window where you can customize your download. You can immediately choose any resolution of the video or even rip out just the audio from the video. What is better is you can anticipate the file size as it is already presented.

Could the app be any more convenient?

Just a fair warning

With 4K Video Downloader, you can simply download anything on YouTube. Even some websites also work with the downloader so the possibilities are endless. Just be sure to do good and not infringe any copyright.

GetGo to GoRewards: My ‘bad’ experience with their transition

Traveling was a major part of my work back in the days when there was no pandemic. It got almost so frequent that I just come home to Iloilo over the weekend only to find that I need to come back to Manila immediately by Sunday afternoon or early morning by Monday. This meant that flight tickets are much higher than usual.

I am proud to say that the Union Bank GetGo Credit Card was among my first credit cards which I use up to now. It gave me so many rewards or GetGo points which earned me cheaper flight costs for leisure travel. I banked up more or less 40,000 points before the pandemic caused a collapse in the aviation industry.

The COVID-19 pandemic was already bad news for my travel plans. But then came an email informing that GetGo will be transitioning into a new program with the Robinsons GoRewards. Those points that I earned were converted. A few thousands which was earned before January 1, 2020 was converted to Cebu Pacific Travel Fund (PhP0.30 = 1 GetGo point). Those earned by 2020, in general, was converted into Robinsons GoRewards points (0.30 GoRewards point = 1 GetGo point). To illustrate how much I earned all in all, I earned about PhP7,000 worth of Cebu Pacific Travel Fund valid until 2023 and about 3,600 Robinsons GoRewards points. Note that the latter is also equivalent to PhP1.00 per point.

Everything went smoothly in the first half of 2021. However, I noticed that by August, the supposed Robinsons GoRewards points that I am supposed to earn as reported in my credit card statements were no longer credited to my Robinsons GoRewards account. To date, it accumulated to more or less 1,000.

I reached out to Union Bank regarding this concern given that they are the card issuers. However, after several emails, I only received a referral email instructing me to go after and email the GoRewards customer care representatives instead. (So much for effective and efficient customer service experience) Nevertheless, I want to get my hard-earned points back so I did reach out to them.

As of this writing, I am waiting for another email from the GoRewards customer care representative. I was asked so much information which I complied. These included: account numbers for both my GetGo Account and GoRewards Account. These were used to verify my claim. I was also asked for the credit card statements and luckily, even screenshots worked for them. While these are personal information, I do recommend that if you also have the same problems and have reached out to customer service, never provide your credit card number as well as the security number of your credit card. Banks always remind us to secure these numbers and that their agents or any third party would never ask for them.

To summarize, here are some tips to ensure your hard-earned points are alive and kicking:

  1. Open an online account to actively monitor the points you earn. Remember that if your points also come from a credit card (such as my case), always check if the one in your card statement tallies or somewhat matches the information logged in your online account for GoRewards. They have an app for that and it is very useful.
  2. Reach out to the right people. Based on my experience, points-related issues are no longer dealt with by Union Bank (Boo, customer service. LOL). These have to be coordinated with the Robinsons GoRewards Customer Service. Also, NEVER go to social media and comment your issues and problems; you become an easy target for scammers and phishers.
  3. Regularly check your email linked to the loyalty program and issuing bank. Rewards systems before the pandemic were pretty stable but now, they served almost similarly like digital banks. With the markets struggling to remain afloat and recovering, most loyalty programs have consistently been revising their terms and conditions, so read the fine print and determine whether the program is still to your advantage or if you’re better off without it.

So, how are your GetGo points turned Robinsons GoRewards going? Remember, you earned it. Nothing is free, especially now.

Infrastructure is the key: Lessons from Iloilo City’s Bike Lanes

In the Philippine mobility landscape, people have been reliant on motorized transport. This may be evident as in the long-term vision (Ambisyon Natin 2040) formulated by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) where a typical Filipino would want to have a car of their own. The Land Transportation Office (LTO), in addition, noted that over the past years, motorized vehicles have continued to rise in number. This increase has direct implications for road congestion. To combat traffic problems in Metro Manila and to be proactive in other metropolitan and developing centers, the government through its various instrumentalities including the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) invested in infrastructure through road widening programs and construction of new roads and bridges. At present, infrastructure spending at nominal values reached as high as PhP1.05 trillion in 2019, thrice the annual average of the immediate past administration.

With this amount of investment in roads, there is an impending threat of induced demand. Several studies have shown that new road capacity would be fully absorbed or utilized by induced traffic at 50 to 100 percent in as early as three years. Considering the direct relationship between motorized vehicles and road capacity, congestion may reach a point where it could no longer be solvable. Thus, alternative transport modes fostered by specific infrastructure should be considered. Notwithstanding, motorized transport with the current types of vehicles in the Philippines generates greenhouse gases. It means that the development aspect of transport at the moment is contrary to the direction of its peers in achieving environmental and urban development indicators in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Iloilo City has been regarded as the Most Bike-Friendly City in the PhilBike Awards 2018. These were attributed primarily to the completion of the first and the longest dedicated and traffic-segregated bike lane in the country as early as 2014 coupled with local policies to support its use. Iloilo City has two bike-related ordinances: one which requires government and non-government buildings with existing parking spaces to provide a safe bicycle parking zone and one specific to bike lanes. Just recently it also won back-to-back as Bike-Friendly City by the Mobility Awards and the Bike Friendly City Awards.

In my independent study, I found that there is a direct link on how infrastructure for cycling has influenced the increase of cyclists in Iloilo City. Through historical data review and stakeholder surveys, I structured how the cycling culture developed in Iloilo City. These were then subjected to several analyses by introducing cycling infrastructure expenditure and GIS data to verify how the infrastructure component has influenced bike use over time and its potentials.

Similar to the evidence found on increasing road capacity which induces traffic, results have shown that a significant investment in cycling infrastructure fortified by local policies and legislation would directly influence the increase of bike use in Iloilo City. Through a timeline analysis, it showed that the number of cyclists rose at increasing rates as the city nearly completes its cycling infrastructure network.

Infrastructure, indeed, attracts. What we build for people, they use it. I guess it is time for the government to take extra caution in their infrastructure priorities. If we build more roads, there will be more cars and congestion is just around the corner. If we build more cycling infrastructure, we can influence people to use their bikes more – be it for work, for school or for leisure.

The Covid-19 pandemic also catalyzed the preference for bike use. Data has shown that most cyclist respondents have started using bikes on a regular basis in 2020 and 2021. In 2020 alone, the cyclist number increased by 41.89 percent. From this annual figure, it further increased by 12.38 percent in the first four months of 2021.

The pandemic was a catalyst. However, we do not expect the habit of cyclists to decline. The pandemic was primarily a motivational factor and since they invested in their bikes and we have the infrastructure, they will stay.

The cyclists share optimism in the cycling infrastructure with 97.46 percent of them being certain of continuing their bike habit in the post-pandemic world. They, however, also closed by rating the current infrastructure for cycling a 3.49 out of 5 which means they are slightly satisfied with what Iloilo City has provided for them but there must be some areas they can improve on.

While the bike lane network of the city continues to grow, cyclists also need protection. This includes complementing policies on road sharing not only with motorized vehicles but also pedestrians. They should be in harmony and policies can definitely foster that.

The case of Iloilo City tells a story of how public spending on infrastructure can greatly influence how people choose their mode of transport – the one which increases carbon footprint, the one which temporarily eases congestion but induces demand over time, and the one that is new, at least for a developing city. While several facts dictate the laws of nature such as the ongoing climate crisis, the government is highly instrumental in dictating what people can do next, what people can contribute, and how they can be part of the change.

Does ‘Build Build Build’ really exist?

If you haven’t heard of Build Build Build, then at a high rate, you must be missing out. The Build Build Build (BBB) Program is just the most ambitious infrastructure spending spree of the current administration. As economic managers of the Philippines suggest, it fosters big promises in the overall development of the country in achieving its target of becoming a high-middle income country. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, infrastructure still was at the altar, worshiped as one of the country’s hope toward economic recovery.

In a news item of the state-managed Philippine News Agency, the BBB program listed 212 airport projects, 446 seaport projects, 10,376 flood mitigation structures, 26,494 kilometers of road, and 5,555 bridges being among the completed projects. Meanwhile, a total of 102 airport projects, 117 seaport projects, 1,090.30 kilometers of railway, 2,587 flood mitigation structures, 2,515 kilometers of road, and 1,020 bridges are currently under construction.

On a fiscal sense, infrastructure disbursement amounted to PhP869.5 billion last year, equivalent to 4.8 percent of GDP, despite construction delays due to Covid-19. While lower than PHP1 trillion worth of infrastructure disbursements in 2019, it is highly comparable to the PhP100 billion average spending (based on obligations) per year from 2001 to 2010 (1.6 percent of GDP).

While the spending part has been fulfilled, it begs us to question. What next? One of the highlights of the BBB program is to generate jobs. In fact, even in pandemic time, it is expected to provide opportunities to Filipinos both from within and those displaced overseas. In the latest labor force survey of the Philippine Statistics Authority, current estimates indicate that unemployment is 7.7 percent (as of May 2021) or a one percent improvement from 8.7 in the previous month. Much of the jobs have been recovered as the country is easing its quarantine restrictions. Last year, unemployment dove to 17.7 percent in April and improved in July to only 10.0 percent. Figures also show that pre-BBB program, unemployment was at 6.5 percent in the same period in 2015; by 2019, annual figures showed 5.1 percent unemployment. So it seems, whether directly or indirectly, the program has generated jobs.

The BBB program has created a brand of its own. It is true to its promise to increase public investment on infrastructure and generate jobs. However, is it really the program that did this? Or is it just a label for something.

In a report by Philippine Institute for Development Studies Research Fellow Janet S. Cuenca last December 2020, the BBB program seemed to be lost in translation. Cuenca pointed out that the program lacked information on what it really is and what it covers. The National Economic and Development Authority said it covers priority infrastructure programs, projects and activities in the public investment program as well as infrastructure flagship programs which include major capital project undertakings. One major finding of the report actually called out that the full potential of the economic benefits of the BBB program has not been realized quoting the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF ultimately meant that our country needs to improve on efficiency in public investment and making sure returns outweigh the capital investment.

The program could be just a fancy name of where we are spending all of our money. It goes with several nicknames, including “The Golden Age of Infrastructure”.

The program could be just a fancy name of where we are spending all of our money. It goes with several nicknames, including “The Golden Age of Infrastructure”. But with the turn of events, it can actually be the country maxing out all of its credit cards and not being able to be back in a good financial position.

Popping the bubble of the promises of the BBB program, why does it have to exist with this label when it is in deep identity crisis?

Browsing over social media, the BBB seems synonymous to the name of a cabinet secretary. From his controversial “Ang ganda mo, Pilipinas” post which drew flak among transport planners and sustainability advocates to many other posts glorifying and taking credit of the country’s infrastructure boom, it seemed that the name of the program is being used for a political aspiration.

People have become creative in finding their own spotlight; sometimes at the public’s expense including our hard-earned taxes. The country could have done away with the branding and just do its thing with “priority projects under the public investment program” and “infrastructure flagship projects” which are perfectly the same. Without the fancy name, who could take credit of it? After all, it is our money, not just theirs.

At this point, what is BBB anyway? It probably is a multi-year plan or a bunch of infrastructure projects or it can be something that solemnizes a candidacy of a would-be politician as his name became almost synonymous to the infrastructure program of the government. I just thought that as public servants we should do things not to get noticed but rather do things because these were the right things to do. While the BBB is there, I just wonder how necessary it is to also flash ones face in all the project billboards with some getting 50 percent of the space for the face and the other half for a list of projects you can barely read.

Giving civil service a chance

President Benigno S. Aquino III receives a copy of a framed ISO 9001:2008 Registration Certificate of DPWH’s Quality Management System (QMS) presented by Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson during the 117th anniversary of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) at the DPWH Quadrangle of the Central Office in Bonifacio Drive Port Area, Manila City on Monday (June 22, 2015). This year’s theme: “DPWH: Sa Daang Matuwid, Para Sa Diyos at Bayan”. (Photo by Lauro Montellano, Jr. / Malacañang Photo Bureau)

Who is embarrassed of the government? I guess we all had a fair share ever since our lives began of how terrible the government is. Sharing a few memorable moments, I could remember my first time to vote when I registered in a Commission on Elections office where I literally threw a tantrum because more than 1,000 people are piled up in a narrow alley of Iloilo Terminal Market. It was chaos. Nobody was really helping at all. It was a disappointment. Come 2014, I became a civil engineer and I had to endure a not so systematic process in the Professional Regulations Commission.

Today, things are not as terrible. There has been a lot of improvement. Voter’s registration can be done online and so are some numerous transactions in the government. I remember renewing my professional license in a brief 15 minutes.

As someone who had several traumatic experiences with the services of the government, I always had the idea of entering civil service myself at the back of my head. But never did I expect that I am now in service for more than six years with the dream of becoming a cabinet secretary someday. I never knew that someone like the late President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino would be that enabler. I never attributed him as a reason of my being in the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) where my story all began. But it was really him who started it all.

While I already had a handful of companies in mind, a little opportunity came which I was very much ready to decline – a job order position in DPWH. I did not like the idea to join the organization. As some folks would call it in Hiligaynon, DPWH is synonymous to “Damo Project, Wala Human” (Many projects, nothing completed). I considered what other people would say if I joined DPWH. I did not want to be judged prematurely. But I gave it a chance.

Months have passed and I began to enjoy the job. But the salary and the employment status has kept me hanging. I became part of the organization in February and by May, I was tempted of a teaching position with a scholarship in Manila. Then, here came the announcement which gave me some hope. Thousands of permanent positions in DPWH were approved nationwide. This was part of P-Noy’s unsung efforts in upgrading the DPWH as a competitive and corruption-free organization. Through his appointed Secretary Rogelio Singson, 1,391 positions were created. This effectively increased DPWH’s capital outlay by 202 percent from a mere ₱90.8 Billion in 2011 to ₱273.9 Billion in 2015. I settled as a part-time junior instructor when June came. And come October 2015, I’m officially a civil servant with an Engineer II permanent position in the Planning and Design Division of DPWH Regional Office VI. I thanked my superiors for their trust but I failed to realize that it was all possible because of the people up there – P-Noy and his highly committed Secretary of Public Works and Highways.

Rumors even had it that those with endorsements from congressmen and other influential people were automatically rejected and to some point, blacklisted. It was really a “cleansing” for the organization.

Interestingly, these newly created positions were not for everyone. It gave the younger generation an advantage and a chance of a lifetime. It was only open to engineers aged 30 and below. Considerations were made for highly exceptional job order employees who did not fit the minimum criteria but had been an asset in the organization. Selections did not have a “padrino system”. It was purely based on merit and scholastic achievement. Rumors even had it that those with endorsements from congressmen and other influential people were automatically rejected and to some point, blacklisted. It was really a “cleansing” for the organization.

Prior to this, several hardworking people also leveled up with their career in DPWH in the time of Sec. Singson. He assured the top management and the middle-managers who got promoted (based on merit) that he has their back. All that he wants from them is to uphold the quality policy of the Department – to implement the RIGHT PROJECTS at the RIGHT COST determined through transparent and competitive bidding; with the RIGHT QUALITY, according to international standards; delivered RIGHT ON TIME through close monitoring of project implementation; and carried out by the RIGHT PEOPLE who are competent and committed to uphold the values of public service, integrity, professionalism, excellence, and teamwork.

So if I am to think of the bigger picture, it is not just the people I got acquainted with who are the reasons behind my career and my passion as an Ilonggo engineer. I can safely say that it came from P-Noy’s minute, under-praised, somehow forgotten and unsung effort and support in appointing a very driven, passionate and steadfast DPWH Secretary in the person of Sec. Singson that we, young engineers, have become catalysts in the overall direction of the infrastructure boom that this country is experiencing now. I may not be in the same organization at present but my heart to civil service was able to grow because I was given the chance. Thank you, P-Noy.

If I were to earn a cabinet position someday, I will leave a space for your name in my speech – not for political interests but simply because you were the enabler for many of us young Filipinos to become civil servants and to be the change we want our country to be. Thank you for making me realize that I can give civil service a chance.