For Ramon’s Dreams

 

It was a busy lunch time on a side street in Makati City, one of Metro Manila’s central business districts, when we meet Ramon* (not his real name), who was eating beside us on a “jolly jeep”—a gray, aluminum food cart that sells affordable home-cooked meals to employees.

Inaantay ko lang yung boss ko matapos sa trabaho, mga ilang oras pa. (I’m waiting for my boss to finish work, there’s a few hours left.)”, he tells us.

Ramon, who’s in his early 50s, has been working as a family driver for 10 years. “Maayos naman, napapakain ko pamilya ko tapos mabait mga amo ko, (It’s good. I can feed my family and my employers are nice.” he shares, when asked about his job. He has 3 children – the eldest is already a college graduate. His wife is a housewife. On his days offs (Sundays), he does side jobs for extra income.

“Lahat gagawin ko para sa pamilya ko, (I’ll do everything for my family)”  

But when things get extra tough and expenses pile up, he seeks help from a group of lenders, the “5-6” as he calls it, when his money’s running short. He’s borrowed amounts that range from Php 3,000 to Php 10,000, with the largest amount loaned to pay for the tuition fee of his second son.

“They’re a well-known group in the neighborhood and they’ve been doing this for years,” Ramon shares in Tagalog.

If you’re a first-time borrower, they’ll go to your house to check your appliances and your household bills to “verify” if it’s really yours. Repayment can be daily, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly depending on your capacity to pay.

How much is the interest? “Hindi ko alam yan (I don’t know what that is),” admits Ramon.

“Pag matagal ka na sa grupo, pwede ka pa nila bigyan ng insurance (If you’ve been a part of the ‘group’ for a long time, they can even insure you),” Ramon explains. When we clarified what this “insurance” was, Ramon says that he provides them extra money that the group keeps for that purpose – such as emergency funds or medical bills.

We asked Ramon if he knows where exactly the money is kept. “Hindi. Pero binibigyan kami ng passbook, dun ko nakikita kung magkano (I’m not sure. But I see the money I deposit through a passbook)” he answers.

Is the passbook from a bank account? “Hindi ko alam sa kanila. Ako lang nagsisign. (I don’t know with them. I just sign.)”

Do you have your own bank account? “Wala (None.)”

Why not? “Madaming proseso. Hindi ko alam. (There are too many processes. I don’t know what they are.)”

Ramon is one of many Filipinos who borrow from informal lenders on a regular basis. According to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Financial Inclusion Survey, 40% of Filipino adults borrowed from informal loan sources in 2017, and they used it for daily personal needs such as food, house rentals, and utilities.

And for Ramon and many others, loaning from informal lenders is the only solution to their financial problem due to a lack of access to financial services. The same survey also finds that 77% of Filipinos are still unbanked, citing reasons such as lack of funds, having no access to required documents, joblessness, and low awareness.

Ramon’s fundamental lack of awareness and understanding of how financial systems work isn’t surprising either. Filipino adults performed poorly in Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services Global Financial Literacy Survey, which measured concepts for making financial decisions, and is considered the world’s largest, most comprehensive global measurement of financial literacy The survey reported that only 25% of Filipinos are considered financially literate, lower than the global average of 33%.

The MasterCard Financial Literacy Index released in 2016 reported that the Philippines ranked only 11th in the Asia Pacific for financial planning, which represents basic know-how for financial products and services, as well as the capacity to make long-term decisions and plans for their finances.

With the Philippines’ inflation steadying at a 9-year high of 6.7% as of October 2018, and the surge in the rates of basic goods and services continually increasing, Filipino families like Ramon’s are the ones that are most affected.

“Mataas ang presyo ng bilihin. Doble kayod na naman, o baka utang ulit. (Prices of goods are really high. I have to work extra hard, or else I might have to borrow again),” Ramon sighs.

With the mission of addressing the country’s huge financial inclusion problem, the BSP has rolled out the 2017 Economic and Financial Learning Program (EFLP). The EFLP brings greater awareness and understanding of essential economic and financial issues to help the public acquire the knowledge and develop the skills needed to make well-informed economic and financial decisions and choices. The BSP is also in discussions with the Department of Education to integrate financial literacy modules into the K-12 curriculum.  

In addition, they’ve expressed support for banks and fintechs who have earmarked resources to support their financial inclusion initiatives.

Fintech players such as Cashalo are helping bridge the finclusion gap by not only democratizing access to essential financial services like credit by leveraging mobile and data technology — but also aiming to nurture responsible financial habits in every Juan through nationwide financial literacy programs.

“Pwede siguro, basta hindi mahirap, (I’m open to it, as long as it’s not hard),” Ramon answers, when asked about his openness to a seminar teaching him about basic money concepts.

Just as lunch was about to end, Ramon shared with us his dreams.

“Kahit na hindi guminhawa buhay ko, basta pangarap ko na maging graduate at magkamaayos na trabaho yung mga anak ko, (It’s okay for me not to live a comfortable life, but it’s my dream for my 3 children to graduate and have good jobs).”

“Mahirap ang buhay, pero nung grumaduate yung panganay ko, parang nawala lahat ng pagod ko, (Life is hard, but when my eldest graduated, it’s like everything I worked for was worth it)” he says with a slight smile.

*Names have been hidden to protect the privacy of our interviewee.