They pay much, much less for gas, and get subsidies from the government. But they don’t have a night life.
For the 21,000 Filipinos, there are trade-offs for the “privileges” they enjoy in this rich oil state on the northern coast of Borneo, a two-hour flight from Manila.
The 5,765-square-kilometer Brunei looks a lot like a developed countryside city with a lot of green. Traffic is seamless on landscaped roads, where motorists can race at expressway speed and buildings are constructed far apart. The streets are clean.
In downtown Bandar Seri Begawan, instead of gleaming malls, there is a cluster of old shops.
“There are only two malls here,” a young Bruneian said apologetically while driving a Malacañang media officer in a sleek Toyota Camry through the rain-drenched streets of the capital on Thursday night to his hotel. He said Bruneians hit the sack by 9 p.m.
“It’s quiet here. There’s no violence. There’s no traffic, and there’s no night life to speak of,” said Philippine Ambassador to Brunei Nestor Ochoa. “You watch movies. Otherwise it’s a home-to-workplace routine. That’s the kind of life we have here. Very simple,” he said. “On weekends, people would rather rest.”
Brunei is a predominantly Muslim sultanate rich in oil and gas with a population of more than 400,000. Forbes lists Brunei as the world’s fifth-richest country with a per capita gross domestic product of $50,500.
The sultanate’s laws prohibit public sale and consumption of alcohol, but non-Muslim visitors are allowed to bring in limited amounts for private consumption.
Otherwise, the Filipinos working here are “very fortunate,” Ochoa said.
“While their pay is not that high, they don’t have to pay taxes. The subsidized rice is very cheap. The gas is very cheap, only 51 cents per liter, or P17 per liter. The food is cheap here. You don’t have to spend much,” he told reporters at the Philippine Embassy in the capital’s Diplomatic Enclave on Wednesday.
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