To be an office worker in this country, you need two sets of qualifications. First, there are the required skills: literacy, language fluency, ability to use office equipment, attitude. Second, there are the survival skills, probably best summed up in the question: how well can you sell clothes to your fellow employees? Actually it doesn't have to be clothing. It can also be food, jewellery, books, toys and even small appliances. The important thing is to be able to sell something in order to eke out a living and survive on the typically low salary you get. At a clinic I visited, a receptionist who was offering shirts and native delicacies to her co-workers said it best: 'Times are hard.' They've been hard for so long that the informal economy flourishing in every office in the country is taken for granted. It's a pretty complete economy too. Buyers are always allowed to pay in installments - vernacularly known as 'gives' or hulugan. And every company has its own version of paluwagan, an unofficial trust fund run by employees where each member regularly gives a percentage of his salary. The money is lent out on an honour basis, though sometimes a boss might be asked to be a guarantor, or 'co-maker', of a loan applicant. Office workers - overworked, underpaid, frequently commuting appalling distances through abominable traffic to get to their jobs - are the proletariat who help keep the economy afloat. The most common expression for their condition describes how a chicken eats: isang kayod isang tuka - 'one scratch of the ground, one bite'. In other words: hand-to-mouth. They survive through sariling sikap, or self-initiative: taking extra jobs, working long hours and buying and selling things. There was the famous story of public school teachers so hard up they sold female underwear and dried fish to their students. One reason the economy has managed to last like this is that millions of Filipinos working abroad remit billions of dollars. The reason they're abroad to begin with is that there were no prospects for them here. Perhaps economic planners should include a new indicator in their statistics: 'Number of office workers selling T-shirts to each other.' Far from recognising the workers' plight, government has tried to cap wage increases. And now the Arroyo administration is planning to levy a value-added tax that will make everything more expensive. I doubt our top officials have the same worries about making ends meet. I just can't see a cabinet meeting where the president says: 'Today we're going to discuss how to best implement poverty programmes, but first - anybody want to buy this lovely brassiere?'