Minimum wage, maximum woes

Published by reposted only Date posted on April 30, 2017

Earning P400 a day for 17 hours of work means an endless cycle of loans for this barangay watchman, whose wife also takes in laundry to make ends meet

By: Sara Isabelle Pacia, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Apr 30, 2017

On the 30th of every month, Leo Cabigting gets his pay as head of the volunteer watchmen in his village. But hardly has the money touched his palm before creditors take a hold of it. The creditors regularly loan Cabigting the cash he needs to manage his household expenses as he waits for his salary at month’s end.

Cabigting (not his real name) heads a 97-member Barangay Public Safety Office (BPSO) in Quezon City. He works seven days a week, from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

For the 63-year-old father of 10 and grandfather of three, getting loans to get by and paying them back promptly is the only option he has, given his meager pay.

“When I get my salary, I immediately pay my loans so I can get another loan,” said Cabigting. He needs the fresh infusion of loans to augment the salary that barely covers their expenses, he added.

Most of his P12,000 monthly pay go to food, utilities, and his children’s allowances and jeepney fare for school. When the Inquirer interviewed him in January, Cabigting said he had an outstanding loan of between P20,000 to P25,000, not counting the interest piled on it.

“There’s nothing left at the end of the month,” he added. His wage isn’t enough. “It’s really, really lacking,” the village watchman said.

Poverty threshold

Cabigting is one of millions of Filipinos living below the country’s poverty threshold. His salary is well below the Metro Manila standard of P14,730 for 30 days of work.

As of June 2, 2016, the National Wages and Productivity Commission pegged the minimum wage for nonagriculture workers in Metro Manila at P491 for an average workday of eight hours, or 40 hours a week.

In comparison, Cabigting earns only P400 a day for 17 hours of work. To make ends meet, his wife washes their neighbors’ clothes for P60 per kilogram. The family also rents out a videoke machine gifted by the barangay chair for P500 to P700 a night.

The barangay chair, who appointed Cabigting because of his excellent work ethic, also gives him cash assistance when it comes time to pay the tuition of five of his children still in school.

Unlike some parents, Cabigting does not rely on his children for financial help. He doesn’t even ask how much they’re making, preferring instead to ask their mother’s help in handling their expenses. One daughter works at a call center, another earns P3,000 a month as his secretary at BPSO. His other grown-up children, on the other hand, work odd jobs.

Responsibilities

“I have to provide for my kids until they finish schooling, while I still have the strength,” he said. “That’s my responsibility as a parent.”

Cabigting’s job means he has to be on call at all hours and ready to serve the community he has lived in for close to 27 years.

On any given day, the head of the village watchmen starts his day at 5 a.m. After getting ready for work, he’s off by 6 a.m. to the barangay outpost where he eats a free breakfast of bread and coffee at his desk, before checking the previous night’s blotter.

“I let my children finish our breakfast at home,” he said. Sharing it would mean less food for everybody, he added.

On slow days, Cabigting would spend his time writing reports on petty crimes that he submits to the Quezon City Hall at the end of the month. “Everything I have to do, including the paperwork, have to be finished so I can submit them in the morning. What’s left to do the next morning is the next day’s work,” he said.

Most days, however, aren’t slow.

The morning after the Inquirer spent the night at his home, Cabigting rose from bed an hour earlier to oversee the demolition of illegal shanties in the barangay. The months prior to the demolition have been busy, what with the current administration’s war on drugs.

“Our drive now with the barangay captain—like that with addicts—is to give them a new life, to let them know that what they’re doing is wrong, to give them a new direction in life. (Also, to let them know) they won’t be punished, that they’re saved,” he said. “We’ve just started so we don’t know if we’d be successful. But we’ve had a good start and the people are receptive.”

Other jobs

After work hours, it’s not uncommon for him to hear the crackle of the office walkie-talkie by his bed, whether early in the morning or late at night.

“My radio stays open so I know what’s happening at all times,” he said. If his men arrested a suspected drug pusher or if any work needed to be finished, Cabigting was always on call.

Cabigting held other jobs in the past, among them being a security guard and later, a personal bodyguard for several politicians. But while the pay was good, he admitted to doing things he now wish he hadn’t.

“I was not a good person before,” he said. “And that’s why I have to pay for my actions and give back to society.” No matter if the pay was low, he added.

He wished though that President Duterte would also increase the salary of BPSO members, just like he promised the police.

“If you compare the (number of) people that police here have caught to the number that we (in BPSO) did, there’s no match. Most of the petty criminals were caught by us,” Cabigting said.

“(The police) may be ahead because they’re degree holders and they passed the civil service (examinations), but when it comes to service to the community, we’re equals,” he added.

This story is part of the Inquirer’s contribution to the minimum wage special report by members of the Asia News Network.

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