ILO-ILO is one of those cities so nice that they named it twice. This positive repetitiveness is evident too in the Ilonggo manner of speech. It’s not enough to calmly acquiesce with an “Okay.” Here it’s a brisk, upward trending “Okay-okay!” often punctuated with a reassuring “Ah” at the end, as in “Okay-okay-AHH!!” One rarely hears an Ilonggo ambivalently and lazily intoning, “Oohh-ka-a-ay laahngg. . .” with a downward tonal drop at the end. Another favorite response is a brisk “Sige, sige…” not to be confused with the Bilibid gangs, of course. This “sige, sige” is an affirmative chorus, an enthusiastic refrain, indicating that yes, they got it. You were understood, and your wish is their command. This charming tendency to iteration is acted out enthusiastically by my masahista who finishes up by twirling my feet between her rapidly spinning palms, then gives me a double thumbs up to indicate the end of the session.
Another favorite double positive is the ubiquitous ukay-ukay which seems to be in every other narrow side street. The sprawling Marymart, one of the oldest shopping centers in the City, as the downtown Iloilo business center is called, is a veritable ukay-ukay paradise. This democratization and ready accessibility of seemingly infinitee fashion choices may be why the Ilonggo is generally stylish and well-turned out.
An Assumptionista Old Gal told of how she and her amigas enjoyed occasional outings to Eleganza, their tongue-in-cheek name for the town of Leganes, less than half an hour from the City, which according to her, used to have among the largest open-air ukay-ukay right in the plaza. The Old Gals frequented the ukay-ukay not out of economic necessity, but for the sense of shared adventure, and getting an inexpensive, harmless fix for that shopping itch. Branded pieces were serendipitous finds among the Good Will discards and diverted relief goods. Amidst literal mountains of used clothing and other dry goods, it’s hard to feel guilty about the vague prospect that one might have deprived some unknown fashion-conscious natural disaster or calamity victim in an evacuation center somewhere, of a Stella McCartney blouse, a Longchamp canvas sling or a pair of Doc Martens boots. There are plenty of other donated options for them to enjoy, thanks to the kindness of foreign strangers.
Whatever moral or ethical ambiguities there might be about buying ukay-ukay are more than offset by the fact that by recycling ready-to-wear, we help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a fun way of mitigating climate change, as the textile and clothing industries are among the worst polluters and carbon emitters. Thus H&M, one of the biggest offenders, attempts to expiate its sins with a program where if you turn in your old clothes, they will give you discount vouchers so you can shop some more at H&M of course.
But some positive doubling here in Iloilo, is actually quite negative. The prices of essential food items at the once weekly Iloilo wet markets in the districts of Jaro (Thursday) and Molo (Sunday) are discombobulating, and not in a good way. No, Virginia. Life is not necessarily cheaper in the provinces. Eating nutritiously is more expensive here than in Metro-Manila. As a frequent shopper of the bangketa in Divisoria, and the bagsakan in Cubao and Balintawak, it was shocking to find that the prices of bananas, raw corn, camote and even pechay or pakbet mix are at least 50% higher here—or even 100% costlier for papaya, touted as the king of fruits. Recently, avocado has been the happy exception at P85/kg in the Molo talipapa, compared to P150 at Mega Q-Mart. The tindera at the Jaro Huebesan or Thursday Market, said they don’t sell the local bananas but get these from Davao. I haven’t found the P25/kg saging bulcan or bundok from my suki in Ermin Garcia-Cubao, in the wet markets here. On the upside, the short togue sprouts used in the Ilonggo panara (not to be confused with Luzon panara which has upo as a filling) which one has to look for in the Central Market in Zurbaran or in the pricier Rustan’s chiller section, are in abundance here. Surprisingly, bangus which is locally produced, is 30% costlier. Onions are as unaffordable here as they are in Metro-Manila. So much for unity in suffering. Don’t even ask about the Baguio vegetables. Celery, wansoy and kintsay are rare, as is tokwa, even at the Iloilo “Super Market” bagsakan, which is currently being renovated by SM. Although I would appreciate the parking and not having to trudge through mud, muck and mire while I do my marketing, I am filled with trepidation at how much more food will cost once SM has it all.
Some lifestyle essentials are cheaper in urban Iloilo compared to Metro-Manila, such as rent (P10K for a 3 bedroom 2 storey apartment close to the City) and stay-in kasambahay salaries (starting pay might be P5K a month for an experienced all-around). For the latter, they usually come from the uma (rural areas) so their families do eat more cheaply. Our kasambahay still have disposable income for home service mani-pedi and hair treatments. Surprisingly, home service massages cost more here (P500/hour in Iloilo compared to P350/hour but without a tip in Metro-Manila). If that’s just a matter of fair trade for one’s labor and the market self-correcting itself without breaking the bank, then here’s a double thumbs up to that.
Menchu Aquino Sarmiento is an award-winning writer and a social concerns advocate. IRL (Iloilo Represents Life) are short verbal pagmumuni-muni, the essay equivalent of fast fiction–but in real life. She really wants more Filipinos to care, and to do something legal and non-violent about it, preferably together, so that we act more like a civilized country, a mature democracy.