Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Where are all the Katulongs ?

Posted by butalidnl on 8 January 2011

Philippines, 9 January 2021. The past decade has seen great progress in the Philippines.  And of all the changes that have happened is one which we didn’t expect would affect the country a lot. And this is the widespread disappearance of live-in domestic servants, otherwise known as katulongs, maids, kasambahays. We are now several years after the era of katulongs is over, and we are living normal lives, losing all our katulongs didn’t result in widespread disaster after all. We learned to live with it, and to thrive even.

Strictly speaking, there are still katulongs in the Philippines. According to the statistics, there are about 50,000 left – domestic servants who are live-in. But this is a far cry from the 2.5 million that were katulongs in 2010. These residual katulongs work mostly for the really rich Filipinos, and the statistics include live-in drivers. They are also quite well paid, if we compare with the 2500 pesos minimum wage for kasambahays in 2011. It is quite common to find katulongs being paid upwards of 8000 pesos per month these days.

What Happened?
A number of things happened. First, the government’s Conditional Cash Transfer program reached millions of families; and it required families to send their children to school, in exchange for a cash payment. Many families opted to join this program, rather than send their teen daughters to work as domestic help.

Second, there was a surge in demand for high school graduates in the labor force.  Millions of workers were needed to work at the many companies that sprouted as a result of the “ASEAN Supply Chain” industries. These were companies that worked on various electronic and appliances, with various parts made in different ASEAN countries. This grew starting 2010 to big proportions, especially with the “China plus 1” policy of Japan and Taiwan, which encouraged companies to have a foot in China, and another in ASEAN (as insurance against possible problems in China). This trend was reinforced by the Chinese raising of wages and US extra taxes on Chinese products.

Initially, the development of the ASEAN Supply Chain, and the booming Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industries, and growing number of Overseas Filipino workers,  led to more, not less, people having katulongs. But, with the growth of the economy, there grew the need for people in all kinds of work, like producing consumer products and services.

Separation of Services
People started to pay separate for services previously done by the live-in katulongs.  There would be cleaning women who would work for a four hour period every week for a given household. These women would work for more households, and it pays more for them to contract out their cleaning services than to just stay and live-in with one family.
There would be the labandera who would do all of a family’s laundry on a certain day of the week.  Children are now brought to school and back by FX drivers who are contracted by groups of parents. And day care centers have sprouted to take care of people’s pre-school children. This has taken the place of yayas, for the most part.

Most families have coped  by distributing cooking duties among themselves. The mother/wife is no longer automatically the one who does this task. Very often, it would be the father or the eldest son or daughter who would cook the meals.  And if there are more children, setting and clearing the table and washing dishes are done by the younger ones. And midday meals are more often eaten at work or schools anyway; so there is only breakfast and supper that needs to be eaten at home. One could get a warm cooked meal from someone who cooks in the neighbourhood. Supermarkets also sell meals that are easier to cook, with all ingredients put together.

Children now are burdened with less homework as compared to 2010. Now, elementary school children are expected to spend more time at play and doing chores at home. So, teachers don’t give them too much assignment. And it turned out that they learn about the same as before. So, it worked out well for everyone.

Good for Economy
Why distribute the functions, instead of having the one live-in katulong? Well, the main reason was it was getting too expensive, and there were no more women who were willing to do the work.  But, on hindsight, distributing the functions is more efficient, and good for the economy. Less people, in total, are needed to do all the cleaning and washing.  And cooking – well, this has transformed the kitchen; with people investing in all kinds of kitchen appliances and instruments. And now, trained people are taking care of the babies, instead of the teen barrio girls who used to do this; resulting in a better upbringing of children.

This whole thing has been good for the economy: there are more products and services that are made, and everybody gets to work more efficiently and fully. Things like day care and cafeterias have grown, giving employment to many people. And since more people are efficiently employed, there is more buying power for consumers overall. Thus, the bigger demand for products of all kinds.

It is going so well with the economy, that people are talking about there being a labor shortage.  There are lesser people who want to work abroad.  This has led to a situation where deployment of some kinds of workers is drying up (e.g. domestics for Hong Kong etc), and the recruiting fees for other work has gone down dramatically.  Some say that this would be bad for the economy, with less foreign exchange coming in. But I think this is a good trend; I’m quite happy about it.

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