By Aimee Morales

Sometime in 2018, a friend referred me to a non-government organization (NGO) affiliated with an international organization for development. The work involved documenting consultations in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The client needed three reports that covered the proceedings in each of the consultation venues.

I billed the organization a total of P150,000 net for the entire project. But I had to advance money for my own expenses, including airfare, because the initial payment came late. The client approved my quotation. I submitted all the necessary paperwork and we signed a contract.

I traveled, finished the report, sent it to the client, and waited for the second and third tranches to be transferred to my bank account.

Then one day, I received a message from my client telling me that they thought my rate was way higher than those of the other documenters hired by the other NGOs for the same project. It was a huge national event involving other agencies and organizations who sent their own documenters. Apparently, some people were comparing notes and discovered that, surprise, freelancers don’t charge the same rates.

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The client wanted to bring down my fee to P30,000! Of course, this was unacceptable. We already signed a binding agreement and it was their shortcoming for not doing their due diligence before accepting my proposal. Sometimes, I do charge higher than other freelancers. If a client can’t afford the amount I quote, they are always free to look for a writer who charges less. I do make sure that my clients get their money’s worth as I usually go beyond expectations to deliver the requirements.

Back to my story. I reminded my client about the contract. They got back to me with a thinly veiled threat: they would put my name on a blacklist being circulated among the international organizations operating in the Philippines. (I didn’t even know there was such a thing.)

They had their lawyer find a clause in the contract to justify paying me a smaller amount than what was agreed upon. The lawyer found this line about the client reserving the right to adjust payment if work was unsatisfactory. That was not true, obviously. Because along with this threat, they had me write and sign a letter saying that I was foregoing receipt of the third tranche (in the amount of P60,000) because I could not submit the third and final report due to ill health.

At that point, I had already completed and submitted all three reports. They basically asked me to lie in a letter in exchange for the receipt of my second tranche. Not lying and writing that letter would have meant I’d be giving them not just P60,000 but P120,000 of my hard-earned money.

So what’s the biggest lesson here? It’s simple: People are going to screw you over. Some of them will come from established and respected organizations working for various causes—humanitarian, environment, education, poverty alleviation, etc. These are big, noble words. Yet sometimes, they will not reflect the practice and behavior of the people working in these organizations.

Another lesson I’ve learned is that you can stick to the rules as much as you can, like using a contract and meeting deadlines. But there will be times when, no matter how careful you are, you will still experience some form of abuse or violation of your rights as a freelance worker.

I chose not to pursue the case because I felt doing so was not worth my time. I’d have had to hire a lawyer, face the blacklist threat, go through the process of filing a case against this established giant of an organization.

Maybe I was wrong not to fight for the P60,000. But I have no regrets. This client will find their story within the pages of a horror story collection I am currently working on. It’s my own blacklist; and I just might release it to the public in the near future.

Aimee Morales has been working as a freelance writer and editor in the Philippines for more than two decades. You may reach her through

Kuwentong Freelancer is made up of essays voluntarily contributed by members and officers of the Freelance Writers’ Guild of the Philippines. Thoughts and opinions expressed in each essay solely belong to its author. These do not necessarily reflect those of the Guild.

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