Moving out of MANILA?
With Metro Manila bursting at the seams, more and more families are thinking of moving to the province. Here are the stories, struggles, and joys of six families that have done just that.
Life in the bustling
metropolis isn’t what it used to be—or maybe it’s more apt to say it’s a lot more than it used to be. There’s just more of everything: more people, more cars, more shops, more shows, more life. But together with all this growth comes the flip side: more traffic, more crime, more pollution, more stress. It’s enough to make city dwellers seriously consider moving out of the metro in search, literally, of greener pastures. Six families share their stories about what it’s like to make this big move.
Provincial Home: Baguio
When Aleck Maramag-arradaza, 33, and her husband Joeban, 30, decided to move to Baguio with her second son, Crimson Lucien, 5, she knew it was a place where she could escape the oppressive Metro Manila pollution. Her eldest son from a previous relationship, 9-year-old Gael Azure Ilano, remains in Manila with his father. Gael visits regularly, however, and knows that he has two homes: Baguio and Manila.
After living in Baguio for some time, Aleck and her husband discovered the strong sense of culture that permeated the community. “There is an air of helpfulness and respect,” says Aleck. “Cordilleran culture is very much alive.”
As in most provinces, living in Baguio is cheaper than living in Metro Manila. However, it isn’t just about finding cheaper vegetables at the market. For Aleck, what rises above it all are the connections you make with the people in the community.
“When you take the time to genuinely immerse and connect with people and feel the pulse of a place, you will find that a lot of transactions are built on trust and fondness that go well beyond unit prices,” Aleck reveals. “Vegetables, for one, are certainly fresher and more inexpensive straight from the market or farm. Forge real friendships with the people who grow them, and you get to have produce for free from time to time.”
Work and School
Aleck and Joeban have been working from home for a U.s.-based company. “He’s a web programmer/designer, and I work as technical support,” explains Aleck. “However, I do plan to finish my graduate studies and eventually go back to my natural habitat, which is teaching. As for other career opportunities, I would say call centers have gained traction here as well.”
At present, Aleck is homeschooling her son Crimson. “He was diagnosed with mild autism at three, and the reason I’ve chosen to homeschool him is because no one but me and his dad could go near him. He only learned to handle the attention of others earlier this year. I am prepping him to be around other kids, and of course, his teachers, so that I can finally enroll him.”
Aleck notes that special education is available in Baguio. There are regular schools that follow the K-12 program as well. “As for college, universities abound, like UP (University of the Philippines) Baguio, University of the Cordilleras, and St. Louis University, to name a few. There are also numerous international schools.”
Dealing with Tourists
Because Aleck and her husband used to live in hot, humid Manila, they were not prepared for the problems that accompany living in the Philippines’ summer capital.
For instance, there is heavy traffic during peak season. “It has taught us to avoid going out and to stock up on supplies whenever it’s Panagbenga [the annual flower festival], Christmas, or Holy Week,” she says. “Even long weekends create hours of traffic for such a small city.”
In spite of this, Aleck and her husband know they have made the right decision. “I cannot express enough how beneficial it was to our health and well-being to live here. The air is clean, food is fresh, the climate is cool. The culture here is highly admirable.”
Provincial Home: Zambales The reasons that took Ruby Sales, 58, and husband Mario, 57, away from Metro Manila and into the province of Zambales were less than ideal. When their business began to decline and they couldn’t afford the tuition of their five children anymore, they decided to live in Zambales with Mario’s family. Life on the Farm
The move wasn’t easy for Ruby and her family. When they arrived, they had no source of livelihood. “At first, we helped my in-laws tend the farm and raise the hogs,” she shares. “Eventually, my husband entered politics and won a seat as a councilor for two non-consecutive terms. I also worked as a government employee and stayed up to 2011.”
Ruby says living in Zambales is definitely cheaper than in Metro Manila. Because Ruby’s now 91-year-old fatherin-law was a farmer, he planted all the vegetables in the song “Bahay Kubo.” This made it easy to harvest food for their meals. When there wasn’t any money to buy food, Mario would catch one of his hens to feed them.
What Ruby loves most is being close to nature. “You are surrounded by trees, mountains, sea, fresh air, fresh food, and space! People around you are friendly,” she enthuses. “I told my husband that we are lucky living in the province for people in Manila have to wait for vacation to enjoy the things we enjoy every day. Now that both of us are out of government service, we continue to raise hogs, plant rice, and breed and sell fighting cocks.”
Another Day in Paradise
Among the many delights in Zambales, Ruby lists her favorites: “Candelaria, where we live in Zambales, is where Potipot Island can be found. This island is dubbed Little Boracay. There are also places of interest around this quaint town. We have caves, a clean river, and a handful of resorts. Every year, we celebrate the Laruk Laruk Festival, [where locals show] the process of pounding rice to turn it into pinipig or rice crisps.” Ruby adds that if you miss the mall, “Olongapo City is just a two-hour drive away.”
Because she lives a quiet life, Ruby has time for projects she enjoys. “I made my granddaughter a dollhouse out of a shoebox with furniture made of paper clips,” she shares. “I also make copper wire bracelets, rings, and earrings.”
There are drawbacks to living in paradise, though. Because her children Kats, 35, Nunik, 32, Miks, 28, Osky, 25, and Dion, 23 are now grown up, they no longer live with them and that can be lonely. But Ruby says, “Aside from cheap living, the best part of this paradise is the simplicity and the peace and quiet it offers. If you’re a lover of the hustle and bustle of the city life, this is not the place for you. But this is the place for me! What more can I ask for?”
Provincial Home: Bacolod
Though Ninay Ledesma, 37, didn’t grow up in Bacolod, she and her husband Bacchus, 41, chose the Visayan province as their new home. They first visited in 2009, when Bacchus’s uncle passed away. The idea of making the move appealed to them, but it only became real when Bacchus’s dad asked him to help out at their farm. They, along with their two children (Jacobo, now 10, Andres, now 6) finally moved in 2012. Their daughter Isabella, now 2, was born in Manila because Ninay’s OB-GYN was there, but has lived in Bacolod all her life.
Making a Living
Ninay and Bacchus already had their own careers in Manila. Ninay, a medical doctor, was in the midst of completing her residency in dermatology and Bacchus was working for an information technology (IT) company. “Career-wise, for me, it seemed logical to move because dermatologists, board-certified and nonboard-certified alike, are everywhere in Manila,” Ninay shares.
Now, she has her own clinic in Bacolod. “I am a practicing dermatologist and I have clinic six days a week. I like that it’s my own practice and I stay put in one clinic. I don’t have to run around with different schedules on different days.”
Before moving to Bacolod, Bacchus had arranged with his company to work remotely. However, he resigned in 2015 from his Manila-based IT job. Now he focuses on running his family’s sugar farm as well as his other business ventures. “He put up an LED company that supplies and installs lights in the Visayas, and just recently partnered to start up a small IT outfit that does outsourced and intellectual property work,” shares Ninay.
According to Ninay, Bacolod is beginning to boom with the emergence of start-up companies, not only in the food industry, but also in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) and service sectors. With plenty of opportunities, now is a good time to start a new life in Bacolod.
Great for the Kids
Ninay and her husband believe it isn’t just safer to raise their three kids in Bacolod, but it’s also more fun. “There’s more space for the kids to move around and play in, more greens, open spaces, and fresh air,” she says. “It’s easy to set up play dates for the kids, even a few minutes before. When we’re in Manila and try to set up play dates there, we normally have to set them weeks before because of schedules, traffic, and so on. Here, it’s easy to go out of town, play outdoors, or set up get-togethers on a whim. After school, the kids can go swimming or play in the park or just walk or bike around the village. We also have more time to spend with our kids.”
Many Manila-based parents worry about the the quality of education in
the provinces, but Ninay says this is not a problem. “Our kids go to a small, progressive school which costs a little bit more than traditional schools but is still a lot cheaper than Manila,” she shares. “I am happy to say it is at par. We like the small number of students and that the teachers know all the students and vice versa.”
The Chill Life
According to Ninay, “Life in Bacolod is so much simpler, less complicated.” This can be a good thing or a bad thing. “The pace of life is much slower than in Manila so if you are used to a fast pace, it can be either welcoming or can make you want to bang your head on the wall. You will need to get used to the general lack of urgency.”
One way this manifests is in the field of customer service. “Although there are exceptions, most sales people are not too attentive and not too knowledgeable about their stuff,” she says. “Hopefully, that will improve as there are a lot of new stores and restaurants, so the competition will make everyone work harder and for the better.”
The cost of living in the province of Negros Occidental, where Bacolod is located, is also relatively low. In fact, whenever Ninay visits Manila, she is shocked by how much things cost. “A meal for us as a couple in Manila would feed our family of five plus two yayas in Bacolod. With change!” She laughs. “On one of my mom’s first visits to Bacolod, she was so shocked by how cheap the resto bills were, she collected them to show my sister!”
Another big plus is how much time they have to just live. “There is so much time to do other things as our time is not wasted in traffic,” she says. “Traffic is starting to get bad, but I’ll take it any day over Manila traffic.”
Though Ninay admits she wants her children to go to college in Manila, she and her family continue to be very happy where they are for the time being.
Provincial Home: Davao
Marissa Tionko, 46, knew she was going to move to Davao eventually because her husband Toffee, 49, was from there. “The original plan was to move when the kids started high school,” she says. “But as fate would have it, Toffee moved much earlier in 2003 upon the request of his father.”
Toffee was asked to help out in the family business. In 2006, Marissa followed with the kids: JB, now 18, Anette, now 16, and Vince, now 13. “Toffee built us a house to ensure we would move right into our own home,” she says.
The People: Davao’s Greatest Treasure
When Marissa first moved, she told herself she wasn’t going to complain. “Like any newcomer, one must be open to possibilities and not be close-minded about a new place,” she explains.
She realized, however, that Davaoeños were not just friendly, they also went out of their way to make her feel comfortable. “It was a big help that every time I encountered a new relative or friend, they would welcome me into the fold and share their experiences of when their family had just moved,” she shares. “That is another precious fact about Davao—its people. Whereas other towns have a closely knit circle of friends that makes a newcomer feel out of place, the Davaoeños will open their arms and make you feel at home.”
Best of Both Worlds
When you live in Metro Manila, the nearest beach resort is hours away by car. Marissa says that living in Davao means experiencing “moderate urban life with our many malls, as well as easy access to Samal Island, which is a 10-minute boat ride or 15-minute RORO (roll-on/roll-off) ride to a huge, charming, white sand island with many beach resorts. If you want to cool off, you can take a 30-minute drive to different mountainhaven resorts offering outdoor ziplines and a spectacular view of Davao Gulf.”
Davao’s city life has been growing. Marissa says, “With this comes the traffic, crowded groceries, and new faces in the malls. There are many restaurants of different cuisines popping up in every corner, wellness spas to soothe tired folks, and buildings rising everywhere.”
However, prices remain low. “The fruits are all sold very cheap in season,” shares Marissa. “The same goes for vegetables which are easily accessed through the central markets in every part of the city. Freshly caught fish and seafood are probably thirty percent cheaper than the market price in Manila, that is to say forty percent cheaper compared to the groceries. Electricity is also cheaper as the main electrical source of Davao comes from both the hydro source of Maria Cristina Falls and the coal plants surrounding the city. But fuel such as gasoline and diesel are a few pesos more expensive than Manila due to transporting cargo costs.”
When it comes to education, Marissa says, “My children are blessed to be attending Ateneo de Davao, which has the quality education and modern school amenities the Jesuits pride themselves in, yet we are billed about twenty-five to thirty percent cheaper than their Manila counterpart.”
The Luxury of Time
Above all, living in Davao has given Marissa more time for leisure. “Ten years after moving and I can proudly say it has been an enriching and satisfying time for my whole family,” she relates. “We have fond memories of weekend beach trips as well as frequent visits to mountain resorts. Our quality of life is optimum because we have time—time to have a relaxed decent meal, time to meet friends in the middle of the afternoon for coffee, time to squeeze in some exercise, time to do quick grocery shopping and get home. As parents, we invested in the formative to teen years of our children and know we have given them enough ammunition to survive the harsh realities when they finally go to college and wherever their careers take them.”
Provincial Home: Zamboanga
Though 41-year-old Hope Go* lived in Metro Manila her entire life, she left it all to relocate to Zamboanga when she married her husband Elden*, 43. It wasn’t easy in the beginning. “I had to deal with homesickness and adjusting to a new environment,” she says. “Eventually, I was able to meet and make new friends, and I have adjusted to a new pace of life here in Zamboanga.” Now she has three children, aged 9, 5, and 3, with a new addition on the way. Zamboanga has definitely become home for Hope.
Focus on Family Time
It isn’t just the stress- and traffic-free traveling that makes Zamboanga a haven for Hope and her family, but how nature is just around the bend. “My children and I appreciate the easy access to the beach and to nature spots,” she says. “On weekends, we bring our kids to the beach for some swimming and sand play, or we go to Pasonanca Park, where they have a butterfly sanctuary, pathways for walking, jogging, and biking, and a mini Science Museum. We sometimes go to Paseo del Mar, a boardwalk by the sea.”
At the same time, the lack of traffic helps her manage her time better. “My husband spends more time with the family because he gets to join us for lunch and dinner,” she relates. “Because Zamboanga City is compact, I can also get from place to place without being stuck in traffic, so I can get more errands and things done in one day.”
Living in Zamboanga also gives Hope and her family a taste of the city life. “Just like in Manila, we also go to the malls to eat out, watch movies, do some shopping on weekends,” she says. But there are certain things Hope misses, aside from her family. “Manila is very complete in facilities and access to certain goods that are not available in Zamboanga. So whenever I go to Manila, I do a supply run and stock up on items I would not be able to find in Zamboanga like specialized cooking ingredients, or books that the children like reading,” she explains.
The Price to Pay
It won’t be surprising to note that the general cost of goods in Zamboanga is cheaper than in Manila. “Seafood and vegetables are fresh and cheaper than Manila prices. One kilo of lapu-lapu will cost around P180 to P250, but in Manila one kilo would cost around P350 and above,” explains Hope. “Tuition is also more reasonable when compared to prices in Manila. Cost of electricity is also more affordable, thanks to the hydroelectricity that powers most of Mindanao.”
However, Hope notes that the price of fuel is similar or even higher than that of Manila. “The cost of fuel is possibly slightly more expensive in Zamboanga due to freight charges for fuel transported from other places to our city. But because Zamboanga City is more compact, there is generally less traffic, so I think it is safe to say that transportation costs here are cheaper. A full tank of gas can last me for two weeks, even with my daily homeschool-work routes.”
Regarding job opportunities, Hope says “there are not as many as in bigger cities like Manila, Cebu, or Davao, where there are more BPO industries operating.”
All things considered, Hope’s choice to uproot to a place completely different from where she grew up has enriched her life in so many ways.
Provincial Home: Surigao
Julia Sombilon, 25, and her husband Henry Quincy Kang, 25, moved to Surigao in 2015 for two reasons: to spend more time with Henry’s side of the family and to run the Kangs’ restaurant, Maricor’s Patisserie. “As it deals with pastries and other baked foods, we needed a hands-on approach to gain knowledge about the business,” Julia explains. “The move made it possible to learn the delicate processes in the kitchen and the methods of baking.” The help of family made the move easy, but as they took roots in the province, Julia and her husband, together with their three-year-old daughter Cyrene Marie, began making waves of their own as well.
Although a laid-back place, Surigao is slowly beginning to boom. “Since Siargao is only a boat ride away, there is an influx of visitors both foreign and local,” shares Julia. “The boom in business is actually evident. A lot of hostels and restaurants have recently opened in Siargao. There is even an art gallery there! The mining business is also alive. Engineers, suppliers, and geologists can easily find a home in Surigao.”
Julia and her husband are currently focused on running Maricor’s Patisserie. He takes care of the recipes while she handles marketing. They’re also shaking up the art world. “Since my husband and I are art-inclined, together with a group of friends, we started the Surigao Makers Mart,” she shares. “It’s a local fair that happens every second or third Sunday of the month where local artists can exhibit their work and local bands are free to perform. Most of our sellers feature local artisan products, pre-loved items, and food.”
It was the provincial life that pushed Julia to start the Makers Mart. “In Manila, art fairs, gigs, and exhibits are almost always ongoing, you just have to pick an event and go. Here, you have to make that event happen! But since it’s a small community, hosting an event is comparatively easier to do,” she reveals.
Despite the boom, Surigao is still far from Manila when it comes to the perks of city life. “I remember going to the grocery store and being dismayed by only two choices of tea, and the unavailability of my favorite instant Pho noodles,” says Julia. “My mother usually sends a care package every now and then. It holds treasures like instant mac and cheese and other items that are not available here. We don’t even have movies here! But we’re currently working on bringing local independent films for screening in Surigao City. Like I mentioned, here, you have to make things happen for yourself.”
One of the very first obstacles citydwellers from Manila will notice once they land in a province is how they no longer understand what people are saying. This was true for Julia.
She shares, “The main challenge for me was the dialect. The common notion of Manileños is that the Visayan language speaks for all regions of Visayas and Mindanao, but Surigao has a specific dialect, which is Surigaonon. But over my two-year stay, I have learned to understand the dialect. The language barrier is still there, but most Surigaonons willingly explain in Tagalog when asked.”
Perks for Kids
Though there are challenges that come with living in the province, the consensus is that children are very happy. “The laidback lifestyle we are accustomed to here in the province is doing our daughter well,” shares Julia. “As parents, we are grateful that we are able to devote time for our daughter each day, and we are able to spend quality time with my husband’s side of the family. Saving is also easier to do here, it helps us prepare for our daughter’s future.”
When it comes to school, Julia says it is also a win-win: “Education is more affordable here. The usual P80,000 to P100,000 for pre-school in Manila equates to around P20,000 here. It does not mean that the quality is sacrificed, though.”
In the end, Julia believes it is up to the parents to see if their child is learning. “Currently, our daughter is enrolled in a Christian school. At the age of three, she is able to speak three languages—tagalog, Bisaya, and English—write her name, memorize her Bible verses, read simple words, and do her math as we also enrolled her in Kumon. Esteemed schools have also expanded here. We have St. Paul, San Sebastian, and Caraga Regional Science High School.” Julia and her little family have definitely made a happy home for themselves in Surigao.
Aleck Maramag-arradaza from Baguio says, “The idea of enjoyment here is about slowing down and taking the time to be taken by nature.”
Locals and tourists alike flock to the beaches in Subic Bay, Zambales.
Aleck, Joeban, and son Crimson in Baguio
Bacolod is known for its vast sugarcane plantations.
Families in Davao can have a quick getaway on Samal Island, which is home to numerous beach resorts, such as the idyllic Pearl Farm.
The Ledesma family in Bacolod
Colorful vintas can be found in the waters of Zamboanga.
The Tionko family in Davao
Siargao Island, a popular surfing destination, is just a two- to three-hour ferry ride away from Surigao.