Filipino Time – The Philippines is one of my favorite countries that I’ve visited, but one aspect that I certainly don’t miss was their businesses’ apparent lack of appreciation for people’s schedules. Travelers refer to it as “running on Filipino Time” or running on “Philippine Time” or “Pinoy Time.” In the Caribbean I’d experienced what it’s like to be a place “operating on island time,” but this is much worse. Perhaps being “prompt” is a western concept. The customer’s time is consistently not valued. It was as if the times listed on published schedules were merely guidelines. Schedules for flights, buses, and boats were often delayed or canceled without notice or reason.
The Philippines would be difficult to navigate even if transportation sources were reliable, but this adds to the challenges. It might be the least efficient country when it comes to reliability of scheduling (Singapore, the country I’d visit next, was easily the best in this area).
Music Interlude on Filipino Time / Pinoy Time:
I was starting to think we were just unlucky so I asked around and did some research; it’s apparently known as an element built into Filipino culture in the Philippines. This article takes a deeper dive into this phenomenon. It’s interesting because this part of the culture doesn’t seem to be present in my Filipino friends in New York.
Urban Dictionary defines Filipino Time as “Things get done whenever they get done.”
Below are 3 examples from my experiences:
Filipino Time example #1: Flight delays/cancellations
On a beautiful sunny day, our flight was delayed again and again and then canceled, “due to weather.” Whaaat? Local residents said they do this routinely when the plane is undersold. It’s just Philippine Time / Filipino Time. Perhaps that’s a lovely concept when you have no schedule, but when you have connecting flights, we found this lack of reliability to be reeeeeally frustrating. Don’t rely on Cebu Pacific or PAL, the two major airlines that operate within the Philippines.
Getting around in the Philippines is often challenging, and built-in Filipino Time is a wildcard that certainly doesn’t help.
Filipino Time example #2: Buses and Ferries
For example, the tiny remote island of Malapascua is known for being one of the best places in the world to go SCUBA diving to see Thresher Sharks, but it’s not easy to get to.
Starting in Cebu, the closest major city, you have to get to the top of that island in a town called Maya. There’s a bus with a posted schedule, but it never came, or at least not within two hours of the posted time. Local residents told us it doesn’t leave every day, and never keeps to a schedule. We met some backpackers that said they went two days in a row and the bus never came, with no refund or explanation. The bus, even if it comes on time, doesn’t seem to be coordinated with the ferry to Malapascua schedule, which leaves once per day at 8am. Local residents later explained that’s done deliberately to get people to spend time and money in Maya.
The alternative way to get to Maya is a 4-hour private taxi to Maya. This is way more expensive, but given the lack of reliability of the bus, we found a mini-van taxi to take our group. We were picked up at 4am, in order to arrive before 8am, and then waited for the 8am ferry. 830…and waited…9am. And waited. The ferry didn’t leave until 930am; we later learned that they never leave until the boat is full, even if it takes hours, and were lucky to leave within 90 minutes of the schedule. So we took a taxi at 4am to make sure we took an 8am ferry, which sat docked for 90-minutes.
Filipino Time example #3: SCUBA diving (with Thresher Sharks)
Upon arrival at Malapascua Island, we booked our SCUBA diving trip to see Thresher Sharks for the following morning. We’d need to be out on the water before sunrise, but to catch a glimpse of Thresher Sharks it would be worth it. After prematurely ending our evening early (by 1am), we got up at 430am to ensure we’d ready to rush out to the dive site, only to have to wait more than 45min for the boat to come pick us up. Eeerrgh. Thanks “Safety Stop” (dive shop in Malapascua). Yet another example of running on frustrating Filipino Time.
How widespread is this issue? It’s common enough that the term Filipino Time is all over the internet. Some examples are from Urban Dictionary, the newspaper PhilStar, and here and here. Most refer explain it as Pinoy people always being 30 minutes late to a scheduled time, and point out that it’s built into the culture. That’s fine, but it’s much worse when it’s actually businesses with scheduling. It’s unprofessional.
Conclusion: Despite these mild annoyances, I loved my time in the Philippines. If you go, I just recommend you leave lots of extra time.
Note to businesses: It would appear there’s a business opportunity to start a company in the ultra competitive shipping/ferry business which can actually be on time (like Cornelius Vanderbilt did in the United States 200 years ago).
Request to the Philippines tourist board: please address this! To attract more tourism money, you’re going to need to improve this aspect, as not everyone has unlimited days to arrive places. If travelers can’t depend on posted schedules, travelers won’t include the Philippines on their trip.
The government of the Philippines even tried to make it a law. So strange! Details at this CNN link: