Why retire in the Philippines by Greg Macabenta

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. 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 is no exaggeration. We soon found out 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 in America are Pinoys. So, you can expect good dental 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 in San Francisco from any accredited health facility in the Philippines like St. Luke’s Hospital.

The fun part is the lifestyle.

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.

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” [meal].

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 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.

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.

(Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives. He and Philippine Sentinel columnist Benjie de Ubago worked together at a leading advertising agency in the Philippines.)