The CuriousPages Sketchbook

A jar of pasta sauce costs a whole day’s wages

In the whole of Tagaytay, there is a single supermarket, a branch of Robinsons, which is probably the largest supermarket chain in the Philippines.


I was puzzled by the prices. When converting the peso prices to GB pounds, the prices all seemed to be either equivalent to the prices I would pay in a UK supermarket, or in some cases even more expensive. But what’s puzzling about this is that the average Filipino earns around 18 times less the income that a low paid British worker might earn, and many Filipinos earn much less than this.

For instance, during our stay, we hired a driver, Roger, whom we had discovered by chatting to a parking attendant at Robinsons; the driver was a friend of his. I paid Roger the going rate, which was 1500 pesos per day, plus his fuel and refreshment costs. He told us that for his usual work, he would expect to earn 265 pesos for an 8 hour day, working for Robinsons. I noticed when looking at the prices in Robinsons that a jar of pasta sauce costs around 250 pesos, which equates to £3.33 GBP, which is expensive for a jar of pasta sauce in the UK, but this comparison is typical; the prices are often slightly more than I would expect to pay in a UK supermarket for the same item. So, this means that if an average Filipino, or even an above-average Filipino, were to shop in the supermarket, then it would cost them a whole day’s wages to buy a jar of pasta sauce.

This has puzzled me. Obviously, most Filipinos cannot afford the supermarket prices, so where do they buy their food? Also, how on earth can such prices be justified?


To take another example, we were used to paying 106 pesos for a loaf of bread in Robinsons, which equates to £1.41 GB pound. This is expensive for a loaf of white bread in a supermarket, though if bought from a local bakery in the UK, a loaf of bread may well cost this amount.

Rhyan tells me that in Cebu, his home island, a similar loaf of bread might cost around 60 pesos, but that in local bakeries, it is possible to buy a loaf of bread for around 10 pesos (which is around £0.14 GBP), though it is of much poorer quality. This would be an extremely good price in the west, but this does not take into account that an average Filipino earns much less than we do.

For instance, the “Robinsons” loaf of bread costs 106 pesos, which is £1.41, but adjusting this price to allow for the fact that an average Filipino earns around 20 times less than an average Westerner, if this loaf of bread were sold in a UK supermarket at a comparable rate, then it would cost a British customer around £28.27 GB pounds to buy a loaf of bread from their local supermarket, which is around $44.81 US dollars for a customer in the USA. Clearly no average Filipino could ever justify buying a loaf of bread from a supermarket chain such as Robinsons.

Even the poorer quality 10 peso loaf equates to around £2.70 GBP. So even when a Filipino shops in the cheapest way possible, from thier local store, their cost of living is still around two or three times that of an average Westerner.


These figures puzzle me; how do people here afford to live? But one thing is for sure, these figures can only mean that a large portion of the Philippine people are trapped in poverty, with no immediate, or even long-term, hope of ever escaping their plight.


24 December 2009



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