Dollar weak but he’s going strong
By Kenneth del Rosario
Posted date: November 27, 2007

EARNING DOLLARS is not as lucrative as it was a couple of years ago with the continued weakening of the greenback against the peso, my dad told me through a text message.
And so, in the middle of the Caribbean, my father Nonito, who has been working abroad as a seafarer for the last 27 years, asked my older brother and me to wisely spend the money he sends for the upkeep of our house and whatever miscellaneous expenses we incur.

A chief engineer, my dad is one of the millions of OFWs whose income has “shrunk” with the strong peso.

It’s a good thing that my mom Tomasita, who manages what my dad earns, is one of the thriftiest people in the world. I have always told her that had thriftiness been a crime, she’d end up locked up in jail, for sure.

Real estate

Realizing my dad won’t be able to work abroad forever, my parents invested in real estate. Through the years, my parents acquired several parcels of land in Laguna, where we live, and built apartments on them.

They started dabbling in real estate in the early 1990s when they bought an old house in San Pablo City and renovated it themselves before they rented it out.

Years later, the six-door apartment had earned back the money my parents used to buy it. They did the same thing to three more apartments they bought in the last decade.

And while my dad spends some 10 months on board cargo ships, my mom is as busy on land.

Here she manages our apartments with the help of my brother, Nonito Jr. Together they collect the monthly rentals of our apartments which now total 20 doors. My mom also supervises whatever repairs are necessary to keep the rooms in pristine condition.

100 doors for rent

“I will retire when we already had 100 doors for rent,” I remember my father telling me in jest over lunch a few years ago. This is because the only way he would be able to earn the same amount he makes working abroad, he said.

At the moment my mom is overseeing the construction of two more apartments in Alaminos, Laguna, whose blueprints were designed by my brother. This would add another eight doors. Not bad but still a long way to go to the 100-mark, my dad said.

My older brother, who’s taking up nursing as a second course, manages the property my parents recently bought. He’s in charge of looking after the rambutan and lanzones trees we planted while my parents decided on what to do with the land.

An OFW in the making, my brother plans to leave the country after finishing his studies. In the meantime, he has also been tasked, with the help of his wife Blechelle, to supervise the construction of a convenience store we would be putting up in our barangay soon.

Remitter, currency changer

Living and working in Makati has kept me from helping in the maintenance of our properties as I am only home in Laguna for one day a week. Whenever I get the chance, however, I accompany my mom to the apartment in Alabang that she also manages.

Being the most adept in the family when it comes to banking and finance, I often advise my parents on which banks would give a highest yield for our time deposits. Always on the go, I also continuously look for potential properties which my parents might want to consider buying.

But even before my parents had enough savings to buy our parcels of land, my father always found a way to earn that extra income.

While at sea, he would act as the ship’s currency changer and remitter. Instead of coursing their earnings through banks or remittance companies, his crewmates would rather transact business with my dad.

After receiving the dollars from his crewmates what my father does is send a text message to my mom with the contact details of the recipient. My mom in turn instantly sends the amount in pesos to the recipient’s bank account in the country.

They earn a couple of bucks from every transaction by converting the dollars into pesos, using an exchange rate which is a bit lower than the prevailing rate in the market during the time of the transaction.

My father is happy to help his crewmates. He sends their money to the Philippines fast even while they’re on board ship, without inconveniencing them in any way.

Spending on leisure

Not only that, my dad also occasionally sells cell phone loads to his crewmates. After receiving a text message from my dad, my mom sends the pin numbers of the cell phone loads which my dad, in turn, sells to his crewmates.

Growing up, our parents religiously provided the things we needed, but never in excess. There were no major decisions made in my life without the blessing of my father who, even put in for the family.

It’s always a simple gathering when my dad comes home every year. He would arrive with only two suitcases containing his clothes and some important documents. Rarely does he come home with balikbayan boxes and it would be a feast if he came with packs of chocolates. Occasionally, though, there would be perfume for my mom.

This, I later realized, is how well my dad gives value to the money he earns. Early on, both my parents had inculcated in my brother and me how hard it is to earn money abroad.


While other OFWs would go home loaded with jewelry, my dad would come in the same clothes he wore when he left the year before

But while my parents break their backs in working nonstop, once in a while they also spend on leisure activities. They toured the United States and Mexico Early this year and are already planning a trip to Europe next year.

With my dad’s earnings, we also managed to buy four different vehicles.

Grandparents to my brother’s two year-old daughter Carylle Faye, mom and dad could not be happier than when indulging her with children’s books and educational toys.

Several years back, my dad also tried his luck in running a business venture which he hoped would earn an amount comparable to what he’s earning abroad so he could stay in the country.

He partnered with a friend, a fellow seafarer, and they put up a maritime recruitment agency. For a couple of months, the business looked promising. They were sending hundreds of people abroad.

But the earnings weren’t enough to support the family, especially because my brother and I were still going to school then. My dad was forced to work abroad again.

It was in this period that the recruitment agency got into a difficult time and was not making money. My father decided to leave the partnership after he earned back the money he invested in the venture.

Mom and dad are well on their way to their 50s. Retirement now pops into the picture. My dad’s latest investment, a fishpond he bought in Los Baños, Laguna, is what he plans to focus on when he finally decides to stay and work in the country for good.

He grew up helping his father till their farm in Bicol and believes that breeding tilapia and other kinds of fish would be the perfect business venture for him. More fun, he hopes, than the 100-door apartments he initially wanted.