MANILA - More Filipinos are turning to extra jobs and side hustles to cope with the rising cost of living.
Irregular, project-based, and demand-driven jobs from online and informal job markets dubbed the "gig" and "platform economy" have become a lifeline for Filipinos seeking to tide over expenses.
Among them is 22-year-old Paul Babon, who supplements his day job in a tech company with a side job as an online teacher.
As his regular job began to transition to onsite work, he needed to earn extra to spend for commute fares and other expenses, so Babon applied at an online teaching site 2 months ago and began teaching math.
"As long as I can go with this part-time job, hopefully, mawala ang worries ko because of this inflation (hopefully I won't have to worry so much about this inflation)," Babon said.
Babon travels from Mandaluyong to Pasig for his day job, and while the commute is shorter than most, the fares still add up, he said.
Babon's monthly salary from his day job is only about 17 percent higher than his gig as an online teacher working 10 to 11 and a half hours a week for four weeks.
Despite the additional hours at work, Babon still finds time to play the piano, spend time with friends, watch movies, and even create memes online.
"The benefit of having double jobs is that I am able to practice effective time management and prevent possible overtimes. Because of those little soft skills, it helped me create time for leisure as well," Babon said.
Others are in the gig economy as full-time freelancers, and they wouldn't have it any other way.
Kristine Concepcion has been enjoying the perks of the gig economy for 8 years now. She left her regular job to work full-time as a freelance online English teacher.
"The more you teach, the more you earn, nasa sa'yo talaga (it all depends on you)," Concepcion said.
Through her freelance work, Concepcion said she is able to save and enjoy the things she wants to do. In 2019 alone, she traveled to Japan three times. Concepcion also indulges herself watching UAAP games and concerts, buying BTS merchandise, and going on "food trips" with friends.
Concepcion works 8-10 hours on weekdays, but takes on more teaching sessions on weekends at 12 to 15 hours. She earns an average of P40,000 a month, nearly twice as much as when she was working at her previous corporate job.
What Concepcion enjoys the most the freedom and flexibility with working online. In 8 years, many of her friends and acquaintances have joined her in working online.
"Very flexible 'yung schedule. Lalo na for the moms, nakaka-enjoy na sila ng work-life balance. May time sila for their family, their children, tapos at the same time, nakakaipon at nakaka-earn sila ng pera," she said.
(Mothers I know enjoy the flexibility and the work-life balance. They have time for their family and children, while being able to earn and save.)
Economist Nicholas Mapa said the gig economy has been expanding and accelerated in the wake of the pandemic that forced Filipinos to work remotely via the internet.
"It's very dynamic, it grows and evolves and caters to the needs, desires, and wants of a particular market, so in some ways, it can beat the more traditional market, but it's a good addition, and complements the formal sector very well," Mapa told ABS-CBN News.
The Philippines ranked 6th among fastest growing markets for gig economy in the 2019 Gig Economy Index by Payoneer, but the Department of Labor and Employment admitted data were scarce on how many Filipinos benefit from this sector.
"As to data, yun ang challenge ng Pilipinas, wala pa tayong baseline data talaga kung ilan. Since they work from home, or they do remote work, mahirap malaman kung ilan talaga sila, unless meron tayong system kung saan magreregister sila pero wala pa tayong ganun," DOLE Institute for Labor Studies Executive DIrector Charisma Lobrin-Satumba told ABS-CBN News.
(We have no baseline data yet. The challenge is they work at home or remotely, and we have no system where they can register or declare their work status.)
But DOLE sees the gig and platform economy thriving, especially after the pandemic accelerated online transactions and web-based activities.
"Dahil dito yung mga displaced workers na alam naman natin maraming naapektuhan, kung di man [ang pinagtatrabahuhan nila] nagsara ay nalessen yung capacity nila para mag-absorb ng tao, hindi talaga kaya. Itong gig economy nag-provide ng additional jobs," Lobrin-Satumba said.
(Displaced workers from companies that have less capacity to absorb people were given jobs.)
Jobs within the gig economy often offer higher rates, added Mapa, giving a "different edge" to the purchasing power and consumption of those who partake in it, and contributing to the overall economy.
Marife Elambayo found her own "gig" selling food she cooks and bakes online. Elambayo kept seeing "online entrepreneurs" scrolling through social media, and thought she could try her hand in it.
She began learning recipes, and started to cook Filipino rice cakes at home. She posts them online, takes orders via Messenger, and has them shipped via Lalamove, with the customers shouldering the shipping fee upon delivery.
In the years that she has been hustling at home while her husband worked abroad as a seaman, she was able to buy her own second-hand SUV.
"Mas maganda pag may sarili kang business, hawak mo ang oras mo, may sarili kang pera, kasama mo pa ang mga anak mo sa bahay," Elambayo shared.
(Having your own business is better. I manage my own time, I earn my own money, and I am able to stay home with my kids.)
But the gig economy comes with its pitfalls, Mapa said. It doesn't offer security, for one.
Jason Reyes has been hustling various jobs as a coordinator and video editor, and he admits he enjoys a large income from his gigs. But he shares he doesn't particularly enjoy the uncertainty of what his next job might be once his current gig is finished, especially not now when he has a daughter to look after.
"Ang problema mo lang lagi ngayon meron ka, di mo alam saan ka maghahanap ulit next time. One time only, 'pag natapos ang isang project mo let's say 1-2 weeks, one time payment 'yun, maghahanap ka na ng kasunod mo, hindi mo alam kung 2 weeks or 3 months," Reyes said.
(You have a job now, but you have to find the next one in anticipation for when your current gig ends. A 2-week project will pay you one-time, and then you need to find another one.)
When the end of his gig looms near, Reyes puts aside savings as back-up to tide over expenses in case he is unable to secure his next job.
And because of its informal structure where employment may come from within the country or abroad, benefits aren't usually provided in gig economy jobs, and taxes are often not paid either.
Concepcion walked herself through filing for her own contributions since she began work as an online teacher. She sought help from fellow online teachers who had to figure out the process on their own, and had to come back and forth to different Bureau of Internal Revenue offices to file her own taxes.
She hopes the government might make it easier for freelance workers like her, or those who are planning to join the gig market, to learn how to handle and file for their own government and social service benefits.
"There should be proper, transparent, and consistent information about this kind of set-up para well-informed ang mga tao (so people are well-informed) before they actually decide to do it," Concepcion said.
"BIR always has to find a way to play catch-up. I think there's a way to meet in the middle so people pay their taxes. As members of society we also need to contribute in our own way, especially if we're earning quite a lot," Mapa added.
As more people depend on the internet for transactions and employment, Mapa also emphasized the need for the government to safeguard Filipinos learning to maximize opportunities online.
"I get a lot of these text messages of scams going around, since it's a new space, this is something the government should crack down on, because people who want to take part in this, they should also be safeguarded," he said.
Working in tech, Babon also adds digital literacy to the list where the government can help Filipinos find their way in an increasingly online world.
"Sa college experience ko, medyo outdated ang itinuturo (From my experience in college, what schools teach is outdated) in terms of computer literacy, we're not usually up to date with the education system. Digital literacy and awareness, how to use specific programs [is] something they can provide with TESDA and in public schools. They can connect more to international databases," Babon said.
Connectivity is still an issue. There are still areas in the country underserved by telcos, with little or no internet access.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s Private Sector Advisory Council (PSAC) earlier said it would help the government create more jobs and boost digitalization in the next 6 years.
The Council said it would "regularly report to the President to provide feedback on what is happening on the ground and will make recommendations on modern policy development," the group said in a press release.
"We are optimistic that by working hand-in-hand with the government to develop the five priority areas, we will see a revitalized economy that all Filipinos will benefit from," said Aboitiz Group CEO Sabin Aboitiz, who now heads the PSAC.
"As this market evolves, the gig economy grows, there has to be an increasing presence from the government to at least safeguard those people," Mapa said.
DOLE however does not see itself imposing regulations for the sector anytime soon after focus group discussions with gig and platform professionals revealed that they preferred the freedom and ease of access online employment offered.
"Sabi ng mga workers, 'Baka 'yung regulation niyo maging napakahigpit na hindi na rin kami mag-benefit (The workers were apprehensive that possible regulations might not benefit them),'" she shared.
The FGD also revealed that gig and platform professionals recommend those interested in venturing in the sector to get in touch with "mentors," who have worked in the sector for some time, to help them learn the ropes.
A more inclusive labor and employment plan that considers concerns and issues from the gig and platform economy sector is in the works, DOLE said.
"'Yung polisiya governing this gig economy, hanggang ngayon ay talagang inaaral pa nang mabuti, and we are in dialogue with the workers and the employers as well. Maganda rin na ma-mainstream sila sa labor education and even employment facilitation services ng DOLE," Lobrin-Satumba said.
(Policies that govern the gig economy are still being studied. We are in dialog with workers and employers as well. It's good to mainstream this sector, and include them in labor education and employment facilitation services of DOLE.)
DOLE said any possible regulation would not adversely affect workers and would instead "create an enabling environment for the industry to flourish and for the workers to be protected."