I got bored and lethargic one lazy afternoon last week, my boss was on travel and there weren’t much to do on my desk so I went to the pantry in our office and decided to make my own cup of tea. Few minutes later one Indian colleague, Mohammed, came in the pantry and started to make his own tea as well. He just came back from vacation so I welcome him back with a strong grip hand shake.

I asked him how he was and answered he was just fine but too tired and told me that he may have to leave Saudi Arabia next year if he received a very good bonus from his boss.

He is actually the executive secretary of the CEO. He is 50-ish years old with 2 sons and 1 daughter who are still studying. That’s why I was a little surprised that he plans to go home to India which he told me once before that he still has a college student he is supporting.

“So how about your college student and you other children who are still in school?” I asked.

“I have already looked a business opportunity in India, but the problem with I see is on how to handle consumers in India as the local Indians are more experts in dealing with them compared to me who’s been living in GCC for many years already! But I know that wouldn’t be too hard!” says Mohammed.

I told him with my observation about the clothing retail stores here in Saudi Arabia like Centerpoint and Splash that the items are trendy, fashionable with good quality apparels are mostly from India. Then I disclosed to him one of my plans in the future and the idea of starting a business in the Philippines where I would sell imported clothes and apparels from other counties in Asia including India.

I wasn’t prepared with his question when he asked me, “Why should you look in other countries and why not Philippines?”

I didn’t know what to answer but I said it anyway, “I don’t know, maybe I am not sure about the quality?”

“Are there not any clothing manufacturers in the Philippines?” he asked.

“I am sure there are!” I answered. “I’ll make sure to include them in my list once I’ll look for manufacturer.”

“By the way, what happened to the Philippines? Why Philippines still poor?” another question from Mohammed that I am not prepared to answer.

“Because of its political system, lots of government officials in the Philippines are corrupt you know?” I answered.

“Will, India too but we are progressing. You have all the resources in the Philippines, natural and human resources, cheap labor, you know, plenty of companies in America and Europe love to build factories Asia because of its cheap labor. You also have the support of the America but why the Philippines still poor? Millions of Filipinos around the world are sending money to the Philippines but why Philippines still poor?” Mohammed asked.

Our Bangladeshi cleaner came in the pantry to get the garbage.

“Bangladesh is now progressing also because India is helping them and they are now growing compared to Philippines!” another painful statement from Mohammed.

I would like to argue what he said, but thinking deeply about it, it seems his statement made sense to me.

He told me that the only reason why The Philippines is still poor is mainly because of the country’s common people.

“I have few reasons why I think The Philippines is still poor and these are just my observation with you Filipinos. After 26 years of living here in the Kingdom, I have met different kinds of Filipinos and with that; I can tell why Philippines is still poor.”

Here’s what he told me.

Filipinos don’t save. According to him, he has many Filipino friends, they’re really good and really nice people but one bad thing with Filipinos is that, they don’t save. He wonders why his Filipino friends always run out of money a week before their salary and every time he asks where his money is, his Filipino friends will answer him that all the money were sent to the Philippines and that are still not enough for their family and that leads to his second reason.

Filipinos have terrible spending habit. Mohammed gave me an example in relation to this. He told me that if Mohammed an Indian guy and a Filipino guy will be standing and surveying in one store or stall that is selling jewelry, and if the sales man is an Indian guy, he is pretty sure that the Indian salesman’s attention will be given to the Filipino guy. Why? Because that Filipino guy will buy if he really wants it no matter how much the cost. But for him, Mohammed, he has to bargain and stretched the prize the lowest possible before he buys it. He also said that Filipino workers abroad should teach their family back in the Philippines on how to spend their money. All the money sent to the Philippines must not be spend and should save at least part of it. This will somehow help the economy and the family at the same time.

Filipinos are mostly eaten by pride. Most of the Filipinos as he observed are always concern with social status. This is as if Filipinos cannot live without it. Whenever there is something or material thing that could give them a sense of pride, they mostly do whatever it takes just to possess them and this would lead again to a terrible spending habit.

Filipinos are literate and educated but not clever nor wise. According to Mohammed, he knows numerous of Filipino professionals. Engineers, architects, nurses etc, but majorities of them aren’t smart enough on how to manage their own finances. He even compared these Filipino professionals to our Bangladeshi cleaner who, in four years of staying here in the Kingdom has been able to build his four-bedroom house in Bangladesh with earnings of 350 Saudi Riyals only.

While I was listening to him laying down his reasons why the Philippines is still poor, in his own perspective, it only boils down to one, and that is the attitude of the Filipinos towards money. Mohammed’s assessment and observation towards us Filipinos are very painful but who could say that he is wrong?

These are the things that he saw in us within his 26 years of his daily encounter with us. It always upsets us every time we hear unpleasant opinions from other nationalities, but do we really have to be upset? As the cliché phrase says, “reality bites” and indeed it is painful because they’re all true. Let us take this a challenge, let us prove that Mohammed, my Indian colleague is wrong with his observation.

PS: Fyi. The blog post above was published on July 17, 2011 on my blog – thefrugalofw.com