Philippines start emitting magnetic-force to Expats around Earth – Alluring paradise to live

Paradise of "El Nido Palawan" - Photo from: MULTIWHAT? SEISMIC ON THE OTHER SIDE!

Seeing "The Philippines" From an Expat's Eyes

A recent study conducted by the American Chamber of Commerce revealed that most expats of multinational companies working in the Asia Pacific region prefer to be assigned to the Philippines over any other nation. Conversely, expats already working in the country have expressed unwillingness to be transferred elsewhere.

The results of the study come as a pleasant surprise given that the Philippines is placed in direct comparison with countries like Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. The survey shows that foreigners still prefer to live and work in the Philippines despite our lagging infrastructure and the inconveniences stemming from our densely populated cities.

The AmCham study piqued my curiosity. As a proud Pinoy, I wanted to know what made the Philippines so attractive to foreigners. I needed to get firsthand information from an expat who's spent a significant time in the country, as well as other parts of the world. I found just the guy in Pierre Marmonier.

Pierre is a Frenchman from the southern region of León. He graduated from the prestigious Aix de Provence Business School before earning his MBA at Harford University in Connecticut. He built his career as a corporate man initially working for Swedish Match before moving on to British American Tobacco. As a marketing and export executive, Pierre spent several years working in the U.K., France, Switzerland, Algeria and the Philippines, while constantly traveling around Asia.

Not only did Pierre ask to be stationed in the Philippines twice, he also decided to settle here after his stint with the multinationals. The man from León is now happily entrenched in Philippine life, both as a family man and a thriving entrepreneur.

Why The Philippines?

Over glasses of wine, Pierre and I talked about what made him decide to raise his family and start a business in the Philippines. He is a citizen of the EU, after all, and could settle in most parts of the western world where standards of living are higher.

Pierre told me that among all the races he's interacted with from all over the world, no one is more open and welcoming of foreigners than the Filipino. The Philippines is perhaps one among a handful of nations in the world where the locals have the compunction to make foreigners feel special. He observes how we Filipinos have it in our nature to make strangers feel welcome if he or she happens to be in our personal space. He cites how we would naturally include a stranger in a conversation if he happened to be within earshot of a chat. How we would offer a part of our meal to a stranger if he were to walk by while we were eating. How we would make the effort to speak in English if we were talking to a white person. These are traits uncommon in other nationalities, but natural to the Filipino, Pierre says.

He also finds the Pinoy to be both open-minded and tolerant of other people's life choices. Being different in the Philippines is no big deal, he asserts. It is a welcome change from his native France, where people can be close-minded on many issues.

Here, people are not hung up on religion, skin color, cultural idiosyncrasies or even gender, he says. He was surprised to discover that women are just as respected (sometimes, even more feared) than the men folk. He is amazed that the Muslims, Buddhists and Agnostics among a predominantly Catholic populace are looked upon with curiosity rather than resentment. He is amused that gay people are regarded as creative and "fun" rather than an object of hate. Above all, he notes how we Filipinos manage to smile even in the midst of the most dire circumstances.

As far as standards of living goes, Pierre has seen it improve considerably from the first time he stepped foot in the country in 1994. Back then, he relates, brownouts were the norm, proper housing for expats were few and far between, and recreational facilities like parks, malls and country clubs were rare. Things have changed today. While infrastructure is still a problem, albeit to a lesser degree, Manila can now rival any other world cities in terms of quality of life, especially in the realm of education where numerous international schools are now in operation for the expat community. He notes, however, that there is still a lack of facilities to feed the humanities. He misses the museums, theater scene and art scene of Europe and more advanced countries in Asia. This is something not in the priority list of government, but should be.

Paradise of "El Nido Palawan" - Photo from: MULTIWHAT? SEISMIC ON THE OTHER SIDE!

Doing Business In The Philippines

Pierre started his business some three years ago, just when the economy started to gain traction. His timing could not have been better and he is now reaping the fruits of our favorable economic environment.

Pierre's company manufactures artisanal jams made in the old-fashioned French manner. His products go by the name of "The Fruit Garden" and can be found in most hotels like the Dusit and Hyatt. It is also the house jam of most luxury hotel chains including the Shangri-La Group, The Peninsula, The Mandarin, The Hyatt, Discovery Shores and Oakwood, among others. Pierre is riding the tourism boom as more hotels are set to open in the next few years. He is already positioned to be part of the Raffles and Fairmont Hotels when they open next year, and he looks forward to the mammoth resorts on the rise at the Pagcor Entertainment City.

My wife and I have been fans of The Fruit Garden jams for years, especially their Mango-Ginger, Strawberry-Banana and Pine-Cocorum flavors. As Pinoys, we're not big jam eaters but this one is different. It's light, not too sweet, and has more fruit than water and pectin. It's become our morning fix and a regular fixture in our condiment rack.

Pierre is also supplier to some of the country's top 500 companies for their giveaways during Christmas and special events. His luxury packaging and French heritage recipes speak of class and stature, which makes it a hot seller in corporate circles.

Amidst all his success, he cites his Filipino workforce as one of his true assets. They are loyal, hardworking and have good work ethics, he says. In the manufacturing line, he finds his workers easy to train and able to retain knowledge without need for constant reminders (apparently, this is not the case with other workers in the region). In fact, he boasts of nearly zero production mistakes leading to a product reject ratio of less than one percent. He also appreciates the Filipino's willingness to multi-task, even if not in their job description. This speaks volumes of their concern for the company.


Still, there are irritants in doing business in the Philippines. He complains about the excessive cost of electricity and high cost of agricultural produce. For a country blessed with so much arable land, fruits are unreasonably expensive, he laments. For instance, a kilo of strawberries from Baguio can cost up to P200 while its imported equivalent from China costs less than P100. The country loses out because of its inefficient agricultural sector. Government would do good by giving it the focus it deserves, he opines.

Another issue he grapples with is the Filipino's lack of "hunger" in generating new business. He finds it strange that companies he intends to buy from fail to act with urgency when filling his orders. They act as if they don't need the business. Shouldn't they be hustling to generate sales? Pierre cannot understand the laxity. In Europe, suppliers treat their clients like partners as their (the client's) success naturally redounds to the supplier's success. Pierre does not feel that kind of symbiotic relationships with his suppliers. If anything, their view is only up to next month's purchase order.

But perhaps the biggest drawback in Pierre's experience is dealing with dishonest people or people who are not forthright in their business dealings. Unfortunately, there are many of them in these parts. Pierre told me how his landlord, a Filipino, presented his property as being suitable for commercial or industrial use, knowing full well that it was earmarked as a non-commercial zone. As a result, Pierre was unable to secure his business permits for months even after investing millions on improving the property. His landlord duped him and left him to fix the mess. Pierre was able to sort it out eventually, but not without massive setbacks on his business and personal trauma. It is unfortunate that our justice system does not provide quick recourse to address situations like this.

The Philippines Wins

In the next few months, The Fruit Garden will begin tapping the export market of Japan, Korea and China. He believes there is a demand for artisan French-made jams using the best tropical fruits from the Philippines. His closest competitor, Hero Jams, is made in Egypt and cannot compete with the wide spectrum of flavors The Fruit Garden offers.

When realized, the country stands to gain export revenues, not to mention the local taxes and employment from Pierre's venture. In fact, even now, the country already benefits from his work on many levels. For this, he deserves our gratitude. 

We should all continue to do what we naturally do best—make our expat friends feel special. As in Pierre's case, it pays dividends a hundred-fold.

Check out Pierre's many jam varieties at

Andrew is an economist, political analyst and businessman. He is a 20-year veteran in the hospitality and tourism industry. For comments and reactions, e-mail Follow Andrew on Twitter @aj_masigan.

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