Is Bicol Rich or Poor?

Sometimes I wonder if there is a nobler reason why I chose to work in Bicol despite having been educated in Manila. A lot of people who’ve learned I studied in UP would ask me why I went back to Bicol to work. Their faces are lined with disbelief at what they think is a waste of education and opportunities on my part.

I would usually answer this people the most basic reason why I left Manila – I am sick and tired of living there. I have no intentions of facing the Manila rush hour traffic, of cramming myself in the sardine-pack railways just to get to work or of subjecting myself to the daily air and noise pollution of the Metro. For me the laid-back life of the province – the apparent ease of travel and the pristine atmosphere – outweighs far more the several thousand pesos difference in salary of an urban and rural job. This is my initial and heard of answer.


Naga City Public Market (source:
Naga City Public Market (source:



My unheard of answer is one which might be bordering into the mean side. Most people who feign indignation at my by-passing opportunities of a Manila job are people who had never experienced life in Manila. To them, success equates living and working in the nation’s capital. They think highly of those who have been to Manila – those who’ve studied and worked there. Yet they themselves have had no experience of the hardships and turmoils behind the apparent prestige. They have no idea what it entails to work and reside in Manila. They have no idea that in order to get to work in time, one has to wake up really early in order to be travelling two hours before the supposed shift starts – and that travel involves several transfers of modes of transportation, committed in an atmosphere of exagerrated noise and stiffling smog. Exagerrated? Manila yuppies living far from their workplaces would agree with me. Why not live near the workplace, you may ask. Compare the rate of living spaces near your work location, say Makati, and a little bit farther, say UP Diliman, and you’d rather risk the commute than let all your hard earned salary go to your landlady. But then we all have our own priorities.

So in short, I do not want to face any of those circumstances when I have a much more appealing alternative here in the province. My workplace, admittedly is two towns and a city away from where I live, and sometimes I do have to ride four modes of transportation just to get there but then I am not exposed to excessive noise and stiffling smog. And thanks to our shuttle, the transportation is made so much more easier. Also travelling to work amidst a highway bordered with rice fields makes the full splendor of the star-filled skies a treat to the eyes – something I know I would never be able to witness if I live and work in Manila.


Plaza Rizal
Plaza Rizal



I’ve come to realize all this things way back when I made the seemingly abrupt decision to uproot my urban life in exchange for a rural one. Today, I came across an article that also brought to mind another reason I have considered, though not so seriously, as to why I decided to spend the first years of my yuppie life in Bicol.

That article is Ms. Carmen N. Pedrosa’s Sunday column in the Philippine Star (publised May 24, 2009) entitled Bicolanos ask: What now for greater autonomy? In it she confirmed what I’ve known since high school, that my hometown belongs to the poorest regions in the country. According to the article, 5M or more than 60% of the population barely manage a sustainable lifestyle. What I learned new though was the reason why.

I thought before that Bicol was poor because most of its work force goes out of the province and work in other more prestigious regions. Of course I cannot blame them because the work opportunities then in Bicol were really scarce. Economy was at a standstill and there seems to be no improvement or growth for any of the establishments in the area. Investors also seemed hard to get by. I believe I was already in middle elementary years when Jollibee opened and it was a long time after that before McDonalds opened. I’m 22 so you do the math when those fast food chains, which are said to be the indicators of development, came to Naga.The First McDo in Naga


The First McDonald's in Naga
The First McDonald's in Naga




Yet Ms. Pedrosa’s article said that Bicol is indeed rich in resources, and by that standard alone, is a wealthy province. It afterall, powers the Luzon grid with electricity from the Tiwi and Bacon-Manito geothermal plants. Lamentable though is the fact that Bicolanos are charged some of the highest rates for electricity. Apparently the geothermal plants in Bicol feeds first the other parts of Luzon before servicing its local constituents and by that time, exorbitant rates are being charged already. Apparently, the public officials (here we go again) are not doing enough for the people they have vowed to serve.

Ms. Pedrosa and company went to Bicol to talk about Charter change to the constituents of Sorsogon. They were proposing the autonomy of Bicol. Based on what I understood, Bicol, under a changed constitution, can become an autonomous region, much like ARMM and CAR. Why the need for autonomy, I do not quite understand. Foreign to me still is the idea of federalism. I do know that federalism and autonomy somehow goes hand in hand but I am still at a lost how a federal region or state would indeed function. And again, the question of why? Yet amidst all this talk about federalism and autonomy, they realized that their group had to really hear out the sentiments of the people who were experiencing the poverty first-hand. The people who have more rights to demand what is it the region needs to alleviate poverty.

And I guess amidst all the replies they heard, the most poignat one came from the lady who prepared their food for them. This lady claimed that the best thing to do in the upcoming elections would be to boycott it, since she reasoned that why would she go through all the charade of elections when nothing really happens – we just go through the motions of the elections. We just change the faces in power but nothing really changes anywhere. I guess she has a point although admittedly I must say it is a bit flawed.


Indeed it is true that with the country’s history in bad politics and political reforms, the tendency to get jaded with elections and promise of national reformation is quite rampant. I mean we cannot really blame anyone but the officials who year in year out makes us hope in their empty promises. But then we must still realize that the capacity to change this nation still lies in our hands. If we would all stop believing that the country has a potencial to rise above its current state of despair, then in the end the losers will be just ourselves and our future generation. I say “our” so we could own this coming generation since they would consist our kids and grandkids.

As pathetic as the situation must be, we must still do our best to change it, in whatever ways we can. No matter if we sometimes doubt if the little things we do indeed has any impact to our country. These little things like simply following a NO LITTERING or NO PARKING sign, or crossing the street in the designated place, or waiting for a ride in the apportioned area – seemingly insignificant laws that everyone seems to be breaking without any penalty – if we do them even when no one seems to notice or we become the odd man out, would still carry a significant impact that may be at this point in time is still far fetched from the range of our consciousness.

I remember a favorite quote that runs like this:

When I was young I wanted to change the world.

As I grew older, I realized the world was too large to change so I decided to change my country.

When I got a little bit older, I realized it was hard to change my country so I decided to change my tow

When I grew older still, I realized I cannot change my town so I decided to change my family.

When I got older still I realized that I wasn’t able to change my family.

As I lay in my deathbed, I realized, if I had changed myself first, then I might have been able to change my family, then perhaps my town, then my country and eventually the world.

Bottomline is: change starts from within. If we want something to happen in our country, if we want the trapos to change their approach to public service, wouldn’t it be worhwhile if we examine our own backyard first? If we check our selves first and ascertain for sure that we are in no way similar to this trapos – albeit in a different plane and context.

So that before we poke at the speck in someone else’s eye, we first verify that there is no speck in our eye as well.

And by the way, I just want to mention that I am really proud of all the developments of Naga as a city, and Cam. Sur as a province. In the small time frame since the first Jollibee had been erected in the city of Naga up to the present time, Naga has become a top-rate city and Camarines Sur a favorite destination for tourists and investors a like. Kudos to ALL who made this possible – from the highest official to the humbles aide!

Author: elleica

Jesus Lover. Writer. Blogger. Biologist turned marketer. Child of Learning. Thrill Seeker. I long for my next adventure.

3 thoughts on “Is Bicol Rich or Poor?”

  1. Re:Bicol Rich or Poor??.In the 60’s and 70’s Rizal Park in Naga city is my favorite place in all of Bicol,in the 60’s I hated the place,i was just a little boy when me and my Dad will walk in that white sand that will stick inside my shoes .”I MISSED”it now,the argument “DIBATE” at night and every time me and my Dad will meet it is in this park .That was 40&50 years ago ,My Dad if I recall never mention that there is opportunity in this City that I really-really Missed , reading your article and seeing a young guy like you is the future of our beloved Bicol;MABUHAY and GOD BLESS you and your family…After not seeing Bicol for almost 30 years the last thing I wanna do is stay in Manila.You are right we can make a deference if we start cleaning our own backyard.I am retiring in couple of years and I know exactly were to invest or spent my very hard earned money to my native BICOLANDIA.


    1. Bicol has indeed developed a lot. Especially Naga City. Yet it still has retained much of its rural nature not to become a hectic city like Manila. It has SM already yet by 9PM (or 10PM) at the latest, establishments are already closed. Even in the “night strip” which is Magsaysay Ave. restaurants close at 11PM. Even with a call center located in Pili, things still feel very much rural.


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