IT is 8 o'clock in the evening and I am sitting in a pitch black flat, waiting for an emergency generator hidden deep in the bowels of my condominium to light up a standby light bulb. Moments ago, when the power was cut, a screen of text on my computer disappeared forever. If I'm lucky, I'll be able to switch my air-conditioner and other appliances back on in four or five hours, depending on when the electricity company finds enough power. Nine floors below on the streets of the showcase Makati business district, the daily roar of generators has started - sending clouds of ugly-black diesel smoke into the air. As I begin to swelter, I contemplate where to escape the heat. The best places to cool off are hotels, movie theatres and Manila's California-style shopping centres. Welcome to a ''brownout'' - the uniquely Filipino term for what is known elsewhere as a blackout. In the coffee shops and offices of Manila, the daily brownouts headline almost every discussion - with Filipinos debating whom to blame for the daily misery. Former president Corazon Aquino is the main culprit, failing to add one single kilowatt of electricity during her six-year term. ''Cory owes us an apology,'' wrote a Manila columnist. Yesterday, we had an eight-hour power outage and on Sunday - a day when we are usually spared this horrible disruption - two outages. Because of ageing power plants conking out, not a day goes by when the main island of Luzon has uninterrupted power. The worst thing is that brownouts strike randomly, without warning, and at any time of day or night. In the Philippines, the joke goes like this: What did Filipinos use to light their homes before candles? The answer: electricity. A local consumer writer said she has diagnosed a new disease associated with the power outages and unique to Manila residents: it is called ''blackoutisis''. Symptoms include diarrhoea (caused by spoiled food), asthma, pulmonary disease, food poisoning,broken limbs and unexpected pregnancies. With a brownout comes untold misery. Computer screens go blank, traffic lights flicker off - causing huge traffic jams, elevators seize up, and refrigerators and air-conditioners stop working. Factories and offices become unbearable sweat shops. Cold showers have become the norm - so has dining out. Restaurants and hotels with generators display ''brownout free'' signs - a sure way to attract customers during the sweltering summer months. The misery, however, does not end with the resumption of power. Because of unexpected power surges, appliances and sensitive electronic equipment are prone to severe damage. Manila residents living at higher elevations wake up on many days with not only no electricity but also no water: the water company says it isn't getting enough electricity to power its pumps. ''For Filipinos, time is no longer measured by day and night, but by on and off,'' said Manila Chronicle reporter Alan Robles. Along with a soaring crime rate, notoriously unreliable telephone system, and disgusting air pollution, the power crisis has made it even more difficult to lead a normal life in Manila. The next few months will become even more unbearable, with forecasts of longer outages. That will bring shortened workdays and more lay-offs. With no longer any idea how much power will be available on a given day, the power company has stopped issuing brownout schedules - vital timetables which people once used to help bring some semblance of order to their lives since the crisis started last year. Seemingly oblivious to much of the misery are the well-heeled Filipinos, ensconced in walled, landscaped villages where uniformed maids obediently flick-on large, personal generators as soon as the power is cut. As Manila's 12-million people struggle through a crisis that has already cost this impoverished nation billions of pesos, the beleaguered government of President Fidel Ramos grapples with a number of solutions - from invoking ''emergency measures'' to leasing power barges from developed countries. What I have learnt from all of this is that Filipinos have an almost unlimited tolerance for suffering. This would never be tolerated in Canada, let alone any of the other booming economies of southeast Asia. On many days, as I walk down Manila's crowded streets, I shake my head in incredulity: why is there no outrage? How can a nation function with almost no electricity?