Why getting drunk is the only escape of poor and working class men

After they are finished with their work constructing a house in the nearby village, they would ask the young boy Joshua, aged 9, to go to a sari-sari store three blocks away to buy two lapad (a thin bottle) of Tanduay. During pay days, however, Joshua would have to ask help from a playmate to carry two long-necked bottles of the same brand of rum, an additional lapad in case the two big bottles proved insufficient, and several bags of ice.



Before these alcoholic drinks from Manila inundated provincial sari-sari stores in Mindanao, local men would buy wholesale by the gallons coconut wine called tuba, more popularly called in Cebuano-speaking town bahalina. This kind of wine has a lower alcohol content compared to commercial alcoholic drinks such as brandy or rum. This means that a group of six to eight men needs a dozen of gallons to achieve the desired level of inebriation enough to make them forget, even for a night, all their problems concerning work, family, and some unanswered questions about the skewed sense of justice of the universe.

With or without money, they all spend their late afternoons drinking, drowning the bitterness of life in the equally bitter, cheap rum.

This drinking response was repeatedly used by Russian writers such as Chekov, Dostoyevsky, and Gorky, in their portrayal of hopelessness and resignation felt by working men who felt victimized by their fate and by the prevailing social condition of their time. But it is worth emphasizing that these novels by the great Russian authors were inspired by the events during the turn of the 20th century, more than a hundred years ago. In the Philippines, however, little has changed in the lives of the working class men. Most, after a day of hard labor, are still chained in the routine of early evening alcohol bout because it is the easiest and most potent in causing temporary amnesia, even for several hours, from the drudgery of the ordinary and the banal.

When the spirit of alcohol has already taken over their usually timid selves, they run amok, start a fist fight, and then sleep soaked in their viscous puke or stinking urine. The following day, they awake and go back to their work as if nothing happened.

This after-work ritual is the only time that these men are able to recover their lost control, their freedom from their constricting work. When they’re drunk, they have a valid excuse to be themselves, to be more truthful to their nature which they would not otherwise be able to do when they are in constant fear of being laid off from their below minimum-wage work. It is only during this time when they are under the control of alcohol do they feel their power over their lives and selves. Poverty, inequality, and unfair labor practices have long left them powerless.



In most western countries, drunkenness is a sign of a deep seated psychological problem, but in poor countries, such as the Philippines, inebriety is more a result of glaring social disparities. It is the poor man’s response to the inability of the society to let him become himself.


6 thoughts on “Why getting drunk is the only escape of poor and working class men”

  1. one doesn’t have to drink to the point of getting drunk. i guess the average pinoy drinker still has to discover this fact ;-).

  2. yeah, i took that in consideration, that in some culture, alcoholism is more of a personal issue. but in the philippines, being a member of a certain class still has a lot to do why people resort to it.

    thanks a lot for that additional perspective.

  3. I have enoyed reading a couple of things on your blog. I have to say, though, that drinking isn’t just a working man’s escape route, it’s a global phenomenon that is not necessarily dependent on class. It’s like Marx’s statement that religion is the opium of the people – although most people forget that he preceded this by acknowledging that it is also “the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.” Marx saw this “heartlessness” in the socio-economic conditions of workers, but this wouldn’t explain why, to this day, many middle/upper class people are still religious, in the same way as many upper/middle class people get trashed every week-end (look at the binge-drinking phenomenon in the UK, for example). It has nothing to do with class, and everything to do with the human condition. Because the fact is, everyone suffers, rich or poor. In fact, thhere’s probably an interesting relationship between one’s own suffering, and the amount of suffering one is prepared to inflict on others. This is probably more a Buddhist-type truth than a political theory, but I think there is something to it. Which isn’t to say that we shouldn’t challenge injustice, but simply that we should avoid conflating human suffering in general with the particular suffering of the so-called working class. The former can never be resolved by a political revolution of any kind.

  4. Wild e,

    thanks a lot for adding me in your blogroll. and welcome to blogging, you seemed to have just started. and your comments can never be truer. i guess religion has slowly lost its power to drug people, giving way to rum, gin, and beer.

  5. Interesting…thanks for posting. I guess alcohol is for the male members of the hoi poloi as chismis & tong-its is for their female counterpart. The bourgeoisie on the otherhand upgrade to costlier vice like casino and drugs and yes designer drugs & bags 🙂 Although alcohol cuts a big swath in the cultural vice landscape, in my opinion, it is so because its the only anesthesia the poor can afford. Following your blog 🙂

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