How we went from selling peanuts to making millions

The Philippines is one of the fastest growing of Asia's tiger economies. Six months ago parts of the country were devastated by Typhoon Haiyan and many feared it would also destroy their economic success.

So, has the tropical cyclone dented the confidence of this ebullient country or made Filipinos even more determined to succeed? We hear from five Filipinos about the changing economic landscape and their working lives.

Fe Barino

From small beginnings Fe Barino and her husband have created a multi-million dollar business empire.

"We started selling peanuts, anything small we could buy and sell on," she recalls.

Start Quote

Everyone asks what gives us our edge and we say it's family”

End Quote Fe Barino Businesswoman

"Then, we moved on to the bakery, noodle manufacturing, painting and building maintenance and road construction, which is where the company grew really big."

Their conglomerate now spans an astonishing range of businesses turning over millions of dollars a year.

The Duros Group is run by Fe and her husband while many of the senior positions are held by her brothers and sisters.

"Everyone asks what gives us our edge and we say it's family."

Taking her lead from her elderly mother who is still the matriarch of the family, she has no problem operating in what she calls a man's world.

Philippines Direct graphic

"I feel proud to be a woman in the boardroom because when I sit there they are looking at me and expecting something from me, that's why I need to be strong and I feel so privileged to have that stature," she says.

Fe brings a pragmatic and business-like approach to everything in her life, including natural disasters.

"In every calamity there is opportunity and that's where business comes in but it's also an opportunity to help others," she says.

"As you can see with what happened with the typhoon and earthquake here new buildings rose up, houses which used to be small are now big, in other words there are positive things which happen in every calamity."

line break

Kenneth Cobonpue

Kenneth Cobonpue is an internationally-renowned furniture designer whose work now graces the houses of celebrities such as Brad Pitt. But, he says, he has had to fight to get his name and designs recognised.

"People still think that if you're Asian then your work has to be cheap, that it's inferior to European design and it's that stigma that I'm working against," he says.

Start Quote

There is something going on here which is different from the rest of Asia”

End Quote Kenneth Cobonpue Furniture designer

Kenneth was born into a family who breathed design. His mother was a successful designer and after studying in the US and Europe he has followed in her footsteps.

His work now sells in more than 36 countries worldwide. However, he says his influences are rooted firmly in the Philippines.

"I'm inspired by many things, partly my own culture and traditions, but also things from my travels and from my childhood," he says.

"Increasingly I've been informed and inspired by nature and I've translated that into design using local handmade skills and the materials around us."

He believes that Filipinos have an innate creativity that will be the secret to their success in the future.

"There is something going on here which is different from the rest of Asia. You will see that each family has someone going into a creative course," he says.

"This is going to make us globally competitive. You see it now in music, in sports, or in my field, design, and this is something which doesn't require a lot of capital, or technology or investment in which we've been left behind. It's brainpower."

line break

Father Jonas Mejares

Apart from the Catholic church, Father Jonas Mejares has two great passions - basketball and singing.

At 5ft 3in, he readily admits that his chances of being a professional basketball player were always going to be a slim.

Start Quote

Being a priest is a vocation, not a job”

End Quote Father Jonas Mejares Catholic priest

But no such barrier exists for his singing, for which he is known across the Philippines as the "singing Augustinian priest".

His daily congregations are treated to his rendition of "You Raise Me Up" and he makes regular pop performances with the Filipino winners of Dream Academy.

"Being a priest is a vocation, not a job," he says.

"A job is about money-making, it's earning an income and a vocation is about invoking your dreams of a better life. It gives a priest much more meaning, more happiness and more satisfaction."

Life has been tough of late for many in his congregation in Cebu, hit by both the earthquake which preceded Typhoon Haiyan and the tropical cyclone itself. But, he says, this has had a positive effect.

"It's brought unity to us as Filipino people. After the earthquake our faith became stronger and the number of people coming to mass was increasing, after Typhoon Haiyan even more people are coming all the time."

line break

Louis Rebamonte

Six months ago, Louis Rebamonte, a fisherman on the island of Bantayan, used to catch 10kg of fish a day, enough to provide comfortably for his family.

Today he says he is lucky if he manages just half a kilo even after up to 12 hours far out at sea in his small outrigger boat, or bangka.

Start Quote

I don't know where all the fish have gone”

End Quote Louis Rebamonte Fisherman

The reason for the change is the destructive power of Typhoon Haiyan, which six months ago largely destroyed the local coral and fish habitat.

"If you look you'll see lots of damage to the coral," he says. "Lots of broken coral and I don't know where all the fish have gone."

The local fishermen tried building an artificial reef to entice their catch back but Louis says: "We did it. But no fish. Still no fish."

Now, he is forced to find other work.

"I'm always looking for extra income, helping with carpentry, construction or any labour. I can get 200 pesos ($5) a day, it's much more than fishing," he says.

His experience means that his family's long fishing heritage is likely to die out.

"My mother was a fisherman, also my father, my grandfather, my grandmother, brothers, sisters, all fishermen," he says.

"But I have a child, seven years old. I want her to become a nurse or a teacher. I don't want her to become a fisherman. It's very difficult."

line break

Divine Grace Antonio

Divine Grace Antonio is the new face of the Philippine workforce, a 22-year-old worker in an industry that is beginning to outstrip its rivals in India.

Such is the success of the business outsourcing companies clustered in Cebu city, that this small economic miracle has been dubbed CeBoom.

Start Quote

It's so boring, taking calls is so stressful”

End Quote Divine Grace Antonio Call centre worker

Divine works for Qualfon, one of the largest companies in business process outsourcing, otherwise known as off-shore call centres where the Philippines is now challenging India's top spot in this area.

Their biggest customers are in America so Divine's working day starts at 20:00 and finishes at 04:00.

During their eight-hour shift they get just 25 minutes for lunch, two other 10-minute breaks and otherwise are on the phone constantly.

"It's so boring, taking calls is so stressful, so many complaints, it might hurt your ear," she says. "Sometimes I have to lower the volume and tell the customer please stop attacking me because it won't improve anything.

"You just have to take a deep breath and keep telling yourself that the customer's problems are nothing to do with you personally."

It takes Divine two hours to get to work on four different modes of transport each day. She hates working overnight but she's the main breadwinner for her family.

She is also trying to put herself through college with a hope of a different career when she graduates.

"I'm being motivated to work because I just want to be normal and working in a call centre is not normal. You just have to alter your lifestyle," she says.

More Asia stories

RSS

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.