by JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO
LOS BANOS, LAGUNA (OFW Journalism Consortium)–A TWO-STOREY town hall here is a reminder that political will, when wield, gets results.
For instance, whenever fish traders like Clarita Quisel walk by the hall, she automatically reaches for her pocket to rub coins and bills.
Under a low-savings rate regime, the town hall’s savings and loan association is effective in “forcing” families of overseas Filipino workers, like Quisel’s, to save.
The local government’s Kawayanan Bayanihan Multi-purpose Cooperative has uncanny methods for doing so.
One is delivering to the member a letter reminding the weekly deposit of P20 (nearly half a dollar) was not made the past Sunday. The letter also asks the member to pay a P30 penalty.
If the member misses another deposit, a promissory note is sent with the message: “If you fail to deposit, the local police will give you a subpoena.”
Such method, while too direct for some, marks the Kawayanan Cooperative’s success.
As of this writing, Kawayanan has total resources worth P3.42 million, with some P3.4 million loaned to members. Existing deposits of the cooperative amounted to P2.6 million (US$63,179).
But more than deposits, loan repayment has always been Kawayanan’s frequent challenge, according to the group.
Yet since only families from Malinta village are the only eligible members, issues surrounding non-paying members “are easily addressed,” the group’s report said.
Kawayanan’s the most successful Bayanihan Savings Replication Project, said Darrell Dizon of the Department of Interior and Local Government, referring to his agency’s former project that formed the Kawayanan.
Aside from families like Quisel’s, Kawayanan’s members are fishers, fish vendors, flower growers, laundrywomen, domestic workers for families in other villages, employees of the University of the Philippines-Los Baños, sari-sari store owners, and former OFWs.
Some 80 to 90 percent of members are women, said Kawayanan president Ricardo Bagnes, himself a former Saudi Arabia-based accountant during the 1980s.
EVERY Sunday, Quisel joins a line snaking from the Kawayanan office inside the town hall.
The room was crowded with farmers and fisherfolks, all clutching yellow passbooks with enclosed bills and coins. There were two collectors getting each depositor’s cash and passbooks.
After five minutes of waiting for her turn, Quisel extends a P20 bill to the collector, a woman behind a desk.
Before the collector could say anything, Quisel says: “P20 for this week. That okay with you?”
That’s the minimum weekly deposit of the cooperative, explains Bagnes, understanding that most of the fishing village’s 5,000 residents belong to the middle- and low-income groups.
The collector nods, takes Quisel’s bill, and gives her a receipt as proof of deposit. She writes the deposited amount in a yellow passbook bearing Quisel’s name and places it inside a wicker canister.
The minimum amount to save weekly makes the habit “manageable” to do, say former domestic workers Arsenia and Perlita Bacorro.
Still, a member must appear before the collector just to say s/he can’t put some savings for the week.
Arsenia said the member then promises the collector she’ll increase her deposit the following week.
These are also recorded in the passbook.
Hence, the subpoena is issued only after giving the member a lead time of about three weeks.
Bagnes, also Malinta’s newly-elected village chair, told the OFW Journalism Consortium that only five percent of its 670 members receive a subpoena.
“Nobody has been jailed for non-repayment,” Bagnes said.
Now, Kawayanan members race to reach a P5,000 plateau that will enable them to loan double that amount.
The loan bears a 2-percent interest rate and must be paid every month.
Quisel, the Bacorros, and OFW wife Yolanda Gayaban browse their passbooks and compare the amounts they’ve saved.
With four kids in tow, Arsenia Bacorro has some P4,200 saved, while those of distant cousin Perlita, still single, was higher: P7,931.
Gayaban admits losing profit from her house-to-house tocino (sweetened pork) retail business, but saving some from the remittances of her signboard painter-husband in Saudi Arabia, as well as from her own, led her to build up some P11,000 in the cooperative.
“You have three kids and P11,000 saved. I have six kids and some P3,000,” Quisel tells Gayaban.
“At least, I saved something,” she tells herself.
ASIDE from the cash loan, members of Kawayanan also could borrow rice every week and meat every two weeks, or for emergency hospitalization.
They could also buy produce at the cooperative’s mini-grocery at a discount as well as a chance to win groceries in weekly raffles after the weekly meeting.
During a meeting December 10, a religious leader stood up, opened a Bible, and read lines about saving money.
The wicker canister was already three-fourths full of passbooks.
Gayaban thinks Bagnes’s leadership is instrumental in the success of their group.
Bagnes, however, demurred, saying bayanihan, not transparency, is the secret to the cooperative’s growth.
It is, he claims, a trait since the Kawayanan was still an unregistered self-help group called the Kawayanan Bayanihan Savings Center.
Then under the BSRP of DILG, the center held lectures on saving.
When the deposits grew to P500,000 by May 2005, Kawayanan registered with the Cooperative Development Authority on June 1 that same year.
After getting some training from CDA, Kawayanan started to issue passbooks to record members’ savings and repaid loans.
The flexibility of the cooperative’s rules, he added, has also helped members especially since they spend for daily needs.
“While we have increased patience for them,” Bagnes adds, “members follow our rules”.
This village-wide empathy helped Quisel and her fellow members who have dependents working abroad.
“Saving has become habitual for me, and Kawayanan continues to grow as a result of each other’s trust,” Quisel said.
Individually, former illegal recruitment victim Perlita Bacorro has been challenged while selling kerosene daily: “You have to work hard just to place a deposit in Kawayanan.”
Still, there were new members during the meeting, as pointed out by Quisel.
And as like the week before, a raffle was held after the meeting, with processed meat, canned goods, and rice as prizes.
Quisel did not win any that night.
But as she stepped out of the town hall, she is reminded of something.
“I have to place my deposit next week.”