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Cell Phones and Text Messaging in the Philippines

In America, I had no need for a cell phone. I was usually at work or home. For me a wired phone or here called landlines was my preferred form of communication. One time I had a cell phone. This was because being ignorant of the free phones included with a service contract. Well one year my mom told me, she wanted to have a cell phone in case of an emergency while out of the house.  I was thinking I would be nice and offer to buy her a phone.

Off we went to the mall and walked up to a kiosk selling phones and service. We were informed not only was the phone free with a one year service contract; they were offering two phones for the same package deal. Well, mom convinced me to take advantage of the deal and there I was a new owner of a cell phone. I had to keep the service for one year or else I would have to pay a penalty and surcharge for canceling. I had received a basic deal with was $18 a month for 15 free minutes.

In that year, I used the phone once. I was invited to my mom’s house for dinner. On the way, there was a bad accident and traffic was at a complete stop. Therefore, I used my unused phone and called my mom that I would be late. Once I arrived, I asked my mom “if I was late and did not call her, what would she think?” She replied, she would have figured there was bad traffic and would wait. Therefore, see, using the phone had little need. At the end of the year, I canceled the service and put the phone in a drawer to be forgotten.

I had seen many people in America where a cell phone was a necessity. My clients in the building construction business needed the cell phone to keep in touch with the sub-contractors and the office. It did bother me when we could not meet for lunch or in a meeting without the phone going off every five minutes, but they had large projects to manage.

Before moving here, Elena told me I should buy a cell phone in the States since they are cheaper there than in the Philippines. It had to be unlocked and tri-band to be used here. Being confused, I spoke to a neighbor who worked for Motorola and he assisted me in getting something I would like.

Once I got to the Philippines, I learned about text messaging. Not only is it an inexpensive way to communicate, it is a way of life here. I think as soon as your old enough to spell a Filipino gets a cell phone. No matter where a person is, or what they are doing, reading a text message is #1 priority. As a friend jokes, to drive a Filipino crazy is to ignore the fact you just received a text. To a Filipino, there is nothing as important as reading a newly received text message and then replying.

One time I was in the Sala having a cigarette and we heard my cell phone in the bedroom make its sound that I had received a message.  Each member of the family at home had to tell me I received a text. I would answer I knew and would check it after I was finished with my smoke. They would respond “but you got a text message.” Again, I would reply I knew and there could not be something so important that I had to read and respond immediately. Finally, one of my nieces brought me my phone. I thanked her and put the phone on the table. This drove them crazy until I read the message.

Here in Davao, you might be walking in the mall or on the street and a person in front of you will just stop walking to read a message and then stands there or walks at a snail’s pace as they reply. I often joke Filipinos hearing shuts off as they read a message since they will not listen or respond until they are finished.

In addition, a complete question is never asked in one message. The messages go back and forth many times. At the last message, if you do not reply “ok” or “k” you will get another message asking if you received their last message.

For me, I carry my cell phone, but there are sometimes days I never send or receive a text.  Recently a new friend who moved here mentioned he did not have a cell phone, he was tied to it in America and did not want one here. I thought how I would get a hold of him if we were out and planned to meet somewhere. Then talking to him, he mentioned his wife was out with friends one night and did not return until late. He then told her she could not go out without each having a cell phone to get in touch.

I do agree, with many people without landline phones and being out and needing to get in touch with people, a cell phone is a necessity. However, with my never having a cell phone in America and seeing the overuse and addiction to many people here, it does upset me seeing how some people spend hours and money texting constantly. I am sure there are times there is a choice between food and cell phone load and the cell phone wins.

At times, I wonder, in the past, business was conducted, people would meet and stay in contact and there was no form of cell phones. Now it all the cell towers got destroyed, how many would go insane without the ability to be “connected.”

26 Responses to “Cell Phones and Text Messaging in the Philippines”

  1. Lonnie Carreau says:

    I asked my wife why folks do not talk on the cell more there. She explained that voice calls are very expensive compared to texting. I thought that was interesting since here, in the US, text plans are over and above the voice plans, but it makes sense to me that less bandwidth is used for texting, so maybe there proice structure is more reflective of reality.

    I guess I am old school as well. I hardly ever text on my phone.

    • Bruce says:


      Here, most use loads for their phones. the basic cost is one peso for a text message on the same network and two pesos for the other networks. A voice call is seven pesos in network and ten for the others.
      Many buy small loads and if they want to do a lot of texting, use a promo such as “All Text” where you pay 10 pesos and have a whole day of unlimited text messages.

      Smart has been running a promo for unlimited voice calls, 100 pesos for one week or 500 pesos for the month.

      I have gotten so used to texts I do not do voice calls very often.

    • Tom says:

      Originally texting was free. They started charging for texting because most people never made calls they only used the free text. Now they are addicted so they pay.

      • Bruce says:

        It that in the States or some other country, or here in the Philippines? My wife said they always paid for texting.

        • Tom says:

          In the Philippines it was origanally free to text. You were charged for phone calls. Perhaps they did not get a cell until after they started charging.

          I remember reading about it when they started charging but I don’t remember when it was. I didn’t have a cell phone then so I wasn’t worried about it. Maybe the late 90’s.

  2. vicki says:

    Lonnie is correct. When I lived in Germany for 3 yrs, I discovered that Europeans like to text as well. I found out that both in the Philippines and Germany, voice calls cost more than text messages. I know that in the Philippines, Australia & Europe, there aren’t voice plans like we have here. Here in the US, we have voice plans that include X # of minutes, which is why text messaging wasn’t as common back then. With my current plan, I chose to pay per-text (I get charged for both incoming & outgoing). Since my husband & I don’t text that often, it’s still cheaper than getting an unlimited plan. My one pet peeve in the Philippines are people who won’t turn off their phones for 1 hour while in church. I find that very rude.

    • Bruce says:


      As you mention, in the US you pay a monthly fee for voice calls and your minutes are charges for both calls you make and receive. Here you only pay to send, it is free to receive.

      You mention church, people are receiving and sending everywhere, movies, meetings and most sleep with their cell phones on and next to them so they never miss a message or call. They also never silence their phone so you here the ring tones constantly.

  3. Steve in Davao says:

    Bruce, I still don’t have a cell phone here. Buying one would start the inevitable re-cluttering of my life. Something I had hoped to purge myself of when I left the hustle and bustle of the U.S. I have never texted anyone, ever and do not intend to start now. Your right, it’s an addiction. I see people who can’t do without. The cell phone I had in the U.S. was a Motorola with talk around. Most all the farmers I worked with used them and that was all I needed, but now I’m glad it’s gone. Nope, I don’t intend to get another. The wife will buy one so I can keep in contact with her and my daughter when they are out of the house, but that’s it!
    Good article
    Steve in Davao

    • Bruce says:

      If your wife has the only cell phone, how will she contact you. Plus, once you make friends here and want to be in contact, a text is an easy way. For instance, if you plan to meet me at the mall, and on the way you are detained, how would you contact me?

  4. Steve in Davao says:

    Oh yeah, Vicki’s right. A ringing cell phone is soooo, rude in Church.
    Come on people, when God calls I promise, phone or no phone, you’ll know!
    Steve in Davao

    • Bruce says:


      Not only Church, any place people have to listen it is rude to have their cell go off. Also people here do not realize how rude it is when your having a conversation and they cut you off to read and reply to a text. To me, unless someone is in an accident or the hospital, there is nothing so important it has to be read and and answered immediately.

  5. Hi Bruce,

    I have a cell phone here in Austria. To keep it active for a year I have to pay 20 Euros. If I use that up within the year, I can buy more. I have been here 8 years. Today when I renewed for 2010, I found out I have 150 Euros credit! That shows you how much I used the phone in last 8 years. But, it is a comfort to have in case of emergency. That is the only reason I carry one. Mine also works in the Philippines so I will have it with me. See you in a month or so.

  6. Marvin says:

    I feel real guilty now, I have a cell tower on my dormitory roof. I never wanted to see another cell phone or pager when I left the US. But now I realize with all the sudden delays, canceled appointments, on and on.. we need to send a text once in awhile. But I get real frustrated when I see low income college students go without a meal just to load their phones and text a friend across the hall.

    • Bruce says:


      First, I guess you get an income for the tower on your building roof.
      I also agree and wrote about the addiction to texting has become more important then daily needs.

  7. alantooth says:

    this site rock!! i find it funny when we filipinos don’t turn off our phone when we were in church, thats not rude! that’s the reality pinoys loves texting, i don’t understand when someone is still texting/calling inside the movie house and never turn their phone into silent mode/off, grrrrrrrr!!

    • Bruce says:

      As I see it, Pinoys are addicted to their cell phone and texting. I think being in contact with each other is the most important in the world. When they get a text the must reply immediately. About rude, I do think it is rude to hear a cell phone in a movie, church or any important gathering. Unless someone close is coming for a visit or in a severe medical condition, there is not many times a reply cannot wait 15 minutes. I have seen my nieces at times sleeping with their phone in their hand.

  8. alantooth says:

    hahahaha me too i cant sleep without my phone on my pillow, just kiddin’.. even on facebook they’re always online 24/7 checkin their pictures comments and etc., i think thats the reason why they are famous, look what happened to some of their/our artist who guest in ellen degeneres show/oprah and some other foreign tv shows because of youtube hits who reached milon viewers and comments….. i love being pinoy, hehehe

    • Bruce says:

      The need to keep in touch with friends and family exceeds anything I have ever known before. Plus then need for immediate answers. It a text is not replied within seconds, many Filipinos will do a miscall to try to get their friends to look at their phone. The same for Facebook, once they post a message or comment on someone elses, they sit their waiting for a reply. All I can say is Chill out and take a break.

  9. alantooth says:

    hahahaha nice one bruce!! it’s just like updating your blog, facebook is like blogging you love them to comment on your status, photos and etc…. just like here in your site we connect,you’ve seen the beauty, ugly and etc of the philippines, you’ve seen how corrupt our government, the killings recently, hayst!!! and so others

  10. alantooth says:

    be my neighbor in farmville hahaha you can see how many villas i have, lols, am using a cheat engine to get this, hef no time to wait months to get a villa or any level up, bwahahahaha

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