"Isang Kahig Isang Tuka"

Filipino people use the Tagalog expression isang kahig, isang tuka to talk about the fact that, in the Philippines, many families barely get by, and so many people have to work really hard to make ends meet.

Meaning of the expression "isang kahig isang tuka"

The Tagalog verb kumahig, formed by the root word kahig and the -um- affix (or the verb kahigin, if the verb is "object-focus), basically means"to scratch". The root-word kahig conveys the idea of "chickens scratching off the soil" ("kinakaig ang lupa ng manok"="the ground is being scratched by the chicken") or anyone "scratching off a soft surface", like for example a gardener who is raking fallen leaves ("kinakaig ng hardinero ang mga dahon"="the gardener is raking the leaves").

The root-word tuka conveys the idea of "pecking" like, for example, a "bird pecking at some food fallen on the ground or fruits hanging on a fruit tree".

Working poor in the Philippines have to "scratch" and "peck"

So isang kahig, isang tuka conveys the idea that poor Filipinos, who struggle with poverty, have to "scratch and peck", almost literally, to earn a living.

According to a source 

"more than 4 in 10 Filipinos who are poor actually have jobs. They continue to struggle with poverty because they are employed in poor-quality jobs that pay less than what their counterparts in manufacturing industries get....Since less than 10 percent of the population has a per capita income above the global middle-income level, the [Philippines] is still a long way from achieving its goal of becoming a middle-class society...Some households, the report cites as an example, earn as little as P50 to P100 a day, or close to $1.00 to $2.00 usd and many urban poor are “trapped in a low-wage and low-productivity jobs in the informal sector"(https://projectpayatas.org/2019/10/21/average-pay-in-the-philippines/)

"Scratching" and "pecking" among Filipino Overseas Workers

I am Italian, I live in Italy and I am married to a Filipina.

For this reason I have frequent interactions with Filipinos who live here.

What I have noticed is that, for way too many Filipinos, moving abroad hasn't turned out to be a way out of a life of "scratching and pecking".

Some Filipino migrants have made the grade financially while for too many life is still "isang kahig isang tuka". Why?

High cost of living and low-paying jobs

One reason is that in this country, as well as in many other European countries, wages are way higher than in the Philippines but the high cost of living eats away at their salaries.

The vast majority of OFW in my country works in the domestic sector and many Filipinos earn less than 1,500€ a month (and, in some cases, even less than 1,000€!).

Because in most major Italian cities (where Filipinos tend to concentrate, Rome and Milan being the Italian cities with the highest concentration of Filipino migrants) it is almost impossible to rent an apartment for less than 650€ a month, often Filipino families need to share an apartment with another family in order to be able to send money to the Philippines.

Utang na loob

The fact that Filipino Overseas Workers send money home is another reason why they "scratch and peck" even if they live in a rich country.

Filipinos have a strong connection with their entire extended family and a strong sense of "utang na loob" (or "debt of gratitude") toward "lolos and lolas" (grandparents), uncles and other relatives who took care of them in the past.

So their already meager wages are almost entirely eaten away at by the rent, the bills and by relatives in the Philippines who ask for money.

Lack of planning or "bahala-na"

I think another reason why Filipinos make their lives unnecessarily hard, and "scratch and peck" more than they should, is because of the so-called "bahala-na" mentality.

It is true that their wages are relatively low but it is also true that many Filipinos here either don't pay the rent, because they do live-in jobs, or they share their apartment with another family, so they often find a way around the high cost of living.

So why do they still "scratch and peck"?

It's what I just mentioned: the "bahala-na" mindset.

"Bahala-na" basically means "whatever will be will be".

I know Filipinos who made kids few months after arriving here, before getting a proper house and a proper job and I also know Filipinos who have no permit to stay in the country and yet they made kids.

On top of that Filipinos like having a car, the latest electronic gadgets and they eat out pretty often.

Here in Italy we have lending companies that advertise their lending services in various languages including Tagalog, because Filipinos are among their best customers!

Is "isang kahig isang tuka" a condition or a choice?

For many Filipinos who are stuck in their "bayan" or "barangay" in the Philippines there is no choice but to "scratch and peck".

For many Filipinos who live abroad, especially in countries like Italy where the only jobs available for them are domestic jobs, there is little choice as well because the cost of living is too high.

Yet, in many cases it is the lack of planning, the tendency to get into debt unnecessarily, the lack of basic financial education and a mistaken sense of "utang na loob" toward a little bit too many relatives that cause Filipinos who could have escaped the "isang kahig isang tuka" condition to remain stuck for life in a permanent state of "scratching and pecking".


  1. My filipino wife left me, "commanded" (exact word) to do so by her siblings, to have an affair with a younger man, because the family believed the younger man was a "better deal." So my wife left, as she was told to do and now lives with this fellow. Without me around, she has turned into a "gold mine" for the family. Now, the family sees remittances, one for this, one for that, and they are receiving 50,000 php per month, plus she now has signed to buy land and agreed to pay 20,000 php per month for the land. Yet she is sending more than she earns.

    This fellow is fearful of sex, seriously, afraid that nipples will cause "thrush" (candida albicans, a fungal infection) fearful that oral sex will cause disease, fearful of everything. Ironically my wife (we're separated, legally) turns to me for sexual needs but stays with him. (That is ending, I've had enough) Staying with him is free. Since there is no rent, and she earns what a low-skilled worker does in America, she now feels rich. But soon she will find that she must eventually pay rent or stay stuck with this fellow that she really does not love (she likes his cat, his aunt, his grandparents, his mama, his papa, more than him). And soon she will realize the full brunt of US taxation since I had several ways of removing money from taxation (401k; HSA's). She now has a FICO of 760 (excellent) and has US$5,000 in credit card credit. But she has already, in ONE month, racked up $2,000 in credit card debt, ignoring the extremely high credit card rate (~27%).

    Yet, she is learning. Her papa wanted a rice tiller (paddy cultivator) and asked for 102,000 php for it. We still talk, and I said: Do not let him buy it, call the seller. She did: Actual cost was 52,000php. There you have it, a father/brother "padding" (adding 50,000 php) onto the actual cost, which would have gone into their pocket. Why? Because so many (those who are poor and unlearned) believe that all Westerners have bucket of $100 bills.

    Yet she'll survive. In her job she makes enough to live, but can work OT (over-time at 1.5x the normal rate, so she'll work 70+ hours a week and have plenty. Still, she'll rack up debt and be shocked when she sees her first filing of annual taxes as a single person.

    It's so sad though, we had a lovely and loving relationship, all given up, to chase the family's "dreams" of wealth, and the result is a lovely woman, a faithful daughter (not faithful to her husband) literally working herself to death for utang na loob. Utang na loob to the family, with zero to the husband who brought her to América, who taught her English and who spent $12,000 on fixing her teeth.

    Western men, if you marry a Filipina make darn sure you create a prenuptial agreement if only to prevent the Courts from forcing you to sell your house to pay to a Filipina whose family commanded her to dump you. Also, if you want to marry a Filipina, marry them IN the Philippines for that marriage can NEVER be divorced. In America is simple: "Pay $250, sign, you're done."

    1. I totally understand the situation and, yes, Western men must be extremely careful before committing


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