Doing Business in the Philippines
The Philippines is an archipelago consisting of 7,107 islands in low tide and a bit less in high tide (as one of the famous Filipino joke boasts). There are three main regions: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao that each boasts unique traditions, cultures, and culinary delights (that never cease to amaze even the pickiest business traveler).
At the moment Manila, in the Luzon region, is the capital of the Philippines. Depending on who is in power, the government sometimes switches the capital to Quezon City (also in Luzon) as it is the largest city of the Philippines. Manila is the site of Malacañang Palace, the seat of government and official residence of the President. Financial, business, and posh shopping districts are found in Makati, also in the Luzon region. Quezon City is the home of the House of Congress, Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo (military bases), and other government buildings, such as the Social Security Building.
The number of islands in the Philippines may give an indication of the number of dialects spoken; there are over 170 dialects spoken throughout the islands including Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Waray, etc. Interpreting the language may prove to be difficult as there are so many spoken dialects. However, the government officially declared Tagalog and English as the official languages of the country, making it appealing for Westerners to do business in the islands.
Since English is the official language of the government, business and education, most Filipinos speak “Tag-lish”, a mixture of Tagalog and English words, in everyday conversation. This style of talking makes translating and interpreting a bit trickier as locals easily switch languages.
The Philippines were Spanish occupied for around three centuries, coming to an end with the Spanish-American War in 1898. (The Spanish influence explains why most Filipinos have last names of Spanish origin.) The Islands became known as the Commonwealth of the Philippines in 1935. A transitory president, Manuel Quezon, was elected to guide the islands and he served the country for 8 years. The United States agreed to give the island its independence after a decade-long transitional period. The Philippines finally gained its independence from the Americans in 1946 following a short occupation by the Japanese during World War II.
Philippine national anthem & national flag
The Filipinos are a very nationalistic people. The national anthem “Lupang Hinirang” (Translation: Beloved Land) is played at the beginning of most business ceremonies and even at movie theatres at the start of each film. The national flag can be interpreted as follows: three stars representing the three regions of the country (Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao); eight sun rays illustrating the uprise of the first eight provinces (Batangas, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, Manila, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, and Pampanga) against the Spanish rule. The two bands can be interpreted as ‘war’ (red) and ‘peace’ (blue). Its unique property is that the flag can be hung both ways: blue at the top during peace time and red at the top during a time of war.
Business customs & etiquette
This developing nation is known for the warmth and hospitality of its people. The friendly Filipinos make it a delight for international businessmen and businesswomen to expand their businesses in the islands.
In order to do business in the Philippines, one must establish relationships with their business partners. Business relationships are personal relationships. Networking and building trust are essential skills to possess if one is to survive in the business world. Help from interpreters, who understand the culture and the language, make it easier to gain trust and confidence.
Outward appearances are very important to Filipinos. Even when going to a grocery store, one dresses to impress. Make sure that when you go to a business meeting that you dress smartly and conservatively using either light or dark colors.
The formal and official national Filipino wear used in place of a suit and tie (and is used at formal parties, award ceremonies, weddings or at the office) is called ‘Barong Tagalog’ (translated as, ‘dress of the Tagalog’). This is an upper garment made from abaco fibre, jusi or piña cloth worn deliberately un-tucked. Although still worn at offices, more and more office workers are modernised and wear Westernised long-sleeved shirt, tie and suit.
Formality is key when it comes to business greetings. Upon meeting a business acquaintance, use “Mister” for men or “Miss” or “Mrs.” for women along with their surnames. To win bonus points, use official work or academic titles along with their last name as status symbol is key for most Filipinos. Take for instance, Engineer Ballesteros, Minister Jagurin, etc. Only address someone on a first-name basis if they request you to be less formal.
A handshake is also a very common salutation. Make sure to greet the eldest or most senior person in the room before everyone else. Business card exchange is also important. One must make sure that one’s title is clearly marked on the card. Make it a point to present your card and to ask for one in exchange. Take a few moments to read and to acknowledge the card before carefully putting it away.
Business meetings / negotiations
Although Filipinos earn a reputation for operating on “Filipino time” meaning that they are always late for events, this does not hold true for business meetings. Meetings, in general, are pretty formal and start on time. However, be prepared to start and end meetings with a friendly and social chat. After the chitchat, the meeting begins and agendas are strictly adhered to. Minutes of the meeting are almost always sent out soon after.
Dining and entertaining
As mentioned previously, Filipinos are ultra-friendly and hospitable. A business meeting may end up at a local restaurant or a personal invitation to dine at one’s home. Being invited to either of these events is a great indication that the business trust has started and has now entered a personal relationship stage. Remember, business and personal relationships are one and the same to a true Filipino. Make it a point to attend.
It is welcomed if you take a gift to the event, but remember never to take an edible gift as the host might interpret this as an insult to their hospitality and ability to provide you with good food. A trinket or icon from your home country would be a well-received token of your appreciation. It is also customary to heavily complement the host on the event and to send a small gift (e.g. flowers for a woman) to thank them the next day.
Filipinos pride themselves with their culinary delights. Most are known to eat three heavy meals throughout the day and two snacks known as ‘merienda’ (one in between breakfast and lunch and the other after lunch but before dinner).
Common Filipino expressions
True to its Spanish influence, the Filipino language has both informal and formal manner of speaking. The formal tone is used to address elders (like parents and grandparents) or people in positions of authority. The word “opo” or “po” is added in the end to denote the formality.
|Yes (formal)||Oo (Opo)|
|Salutations, similar to cheers (literal translation: long live)||Mabuhay|
|Good morning (formal)||Magandang umaga (po)|
|Good afternoon (formal)||Magandang hapon (po)|
|Good evening (formal)||Magandang gabi (po)|
|Thank you very much (formal)||Maraming salamat (po)|
|You’re welcome (formal)||Walang anuman (po)|
|How are you? (formal)||Kamusta (po) kayo?|
|Fine (formal)||Mabuti (po)|
|What? (formal)||Ano (po)?|
|When? (formal)||Kailan (po)?|
|Where? (formal)||Saan (po)?|
|How? (formal)||Paano (po)?|
Aside from the formal language, Filipinos often use nonverbal language, which involves a lot of facial expressions and body language. The raising of the eyebrow (depending on the brow curve may mean different things) and the lips are common. The aid of an interpreter may be needed by business people in order to effectively understand this nonverbal Filipino language.
When Tagalog was first written using the Roman alphabet, it used Spanish derived spellings. When the language of Filipino was derived in the late Twentieth Century, the official alphabet featured 28 letters. These can be interpreted roughly as the twenty-six standard letters of the Roman alphabet plus the letters ñ and ng.
- The Philippines is the only Catholic country in Asia as influenced by the Spaniards, who ruled the country for 333 years from 1565-1898.
- The Philippines is ruled by a female President, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo; the second female president to have taken power in the past 20 years. The first one was Former President Corazon Aquino, who ended Marcos’s 21-year dictatorship in a blood-free revolution in 1986, known as “People’s Power”.
- There is no such thing as the word “No” in the Philippine language of business. Most businessmen/women avoid saying no as they perceive it as a weakness. Therefore, a “yes”, may mean “later on” or “maybe.”
- Filipinos are known to have unusual and interesting first names. Normally it’s a made-up name, which is a combination of the mother and father’s first names. Take for instance, Ednora (combination of Eduardo and Nora) for a girl and Jomari (combination of Jose and Maria) for a boy. Other unusual but common first names are Cherry or Cherry Pie, Princess, etc.
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