its not about the Pesos

when is it exactly considered a rip-off?

“we charge Php550 going there.” the cab driver said in a nonchalantly. i didn’t notice him plugging the meter down when we got inside his cab at the departure area. it was a long day for both of us, zsolt and me. and it didn’t help that not only the check in counters at the international airport opens only two hours before departure time, there was nowhere at the area where people can sit comfortably while waiting for the counter to open. it was close to midnight then; zsolt’s flight wasn’t going to be in the next seven hours.

the plan was for him to check his stuff in and then we go out and kill time then he comes back an hour before his flight. in the end, we have to drag all his stuff back into the cab and into my apartment. manila airports sucks. cebu’s way much better.

“can’t do that. that’s too much.”

“that’s the standard rate.” he insisted.

standard rate, my ass. his cab isn’t one of the airport taxi. by the looks of it, it wouldn’t even pass. “don’t give me that crap. stop the car, we are going out.” i was tired of people- my own Filipino people- ripping us off the entire time. and by the looks of zsolt, he was ready to pass out of exhaustion any minute.

instead of stopping the car, he continued driving. as if he didn’t hear me. “but that is our standard rate. it is a long way to pick passengers up.”

“you dropped passengers at the departure area a while ago, you cannot get in there empty. i am not paying that much.”

“Php 450.”

“stop the car, please.”

“Php400. that is already cheap. we pay entrance fees there. i am already losing money.” he kept saying, not slowing down.

“we were from makati a few hours ago, manong. it was just Php130. don’t give me that shit. you do not pick up passenger, not turn the meter on, and then demand a ridiculously flat rate and give a lousy justification for it.” i was now angry. “now, its Php250 or you stop this car.”

“Php300.”

he kept on bargaining down to Php300. midway the trip, i shut up my mouth. i was too angry it was best not to say anything anymore. besides, i have made up my mind with Php250. i was angry by the ugliness of it all. it was one thing to inform passengers about your demand before they get inside your car; it is another to surprise them about flat rate when you are already running at 70km/h on the highway.

“is he trying to get more? he’s not turning on the meter.” zsolt whispered to me. i nodded. “they’re ripping off their own people?” he was quite shocked when he asked it.

that was what i was so angry about. it wasn’t about the Php50 difference between our bargains. i have wasted far more pesos than that on other things. it was about the fact that some people would always jumped into the opportunity to rip off somebody where there is a chance.

it wasn’t just him. it happens in boracay, in cebu, in bohol, in a little island called malapascua even. they see you with someone with skin a little fairer than yours and they started hounding you like hungry dogs, offering anything from a fake rolex to a pail of silly shells.

i remember father saying once what does a couple of hundred pesos matter to me, compared to what it means to them. i remember arguing that it wasn’t about the money, it was about principles. i don’t care about doing away a hundred pesos more, but let me give it to you extra. do not rip it off me simply because you live in your little island and i hailed from somewhere bigger, or worse, because i have some caucasian on a holiday with me.

“does it bother you so much because you knew you were paying for your holiday but they thought otherwise?” a friend of mine asked me recently when i recounted the experience.

“that’s not even the issue.”

“but that is exactly why they were trying to give you higher prices. you were with a caucasian. what do you expect? what’s Php300 pesos for them? US$7? what’s US$7 during a holiday?” he said. “never would have happened if you were traveling with us.”

“we were backpacking! we hauled two large bags, our dive gears and everything up into a public non-airconditioned bus for a four-hour bumpy ride! we weren’t in a luxury holiday, otherwise, we would have had private transports and packages all throughout.”

“and what? you pay, a thousand and a few hundred pesos per dive?” i can see him grinning now.

“oh, we got ripped off with that, too.” i told him. “it just makes me sad. this double standard. it is making me sad.”

he told me he knows. it makes him sad too.

this is not my first time experience. but it is something i do not think i can get used to ever. the awful thing about the whole thing is that no matter how many tourist some locals have ripped off, they were still in no better state than before. because the people who are always doing this spent most of the money they earned from overpricing buying drinks for themselves and their friends, talking about how good the day was for them, hoping for the same luck in the few days to come.

what’s Php300 worth anyway, you ask? i say, its too low an amount to mold one’s impression of.

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