Jeremaiah M. Opiniano
CABANATUAN CITY—The rhythmic clink-clink of coins and swish-swish of money bills break the afternoon silence of a town 30 kilometers northwest of here as Filipinos representing different generations of migrant workers from Nueva Ecija try to recoup their failed savings tack as individuals.
It has been three decades since Fernando Cara sailed the ocean as seafarer and decades since Gloria de Guzman and Ruby Abella worked as domestic helpers abroad. Half a decade later, they decided to shore up whatever they earned from working abroad.
While they failed individually to do that, they are not giving up: these former OFWs are banking on their six-year-old self-help group, the Sto. Domingo OFW Association.
We want our members to avoid suffering our fate of not being able to save somewhat we earn while working abroad, said Cara, who was a seafarer in 1967 to 1968.
We’re even thinking of forcing our members to save, pitched in de Guzman, a domestic helper in several Middle East countries from 1980 to 1986.
Recognizing they share the same predicament and vision, these ex-OFWs – Abella was a domestic helper in Taiwan from 1989 to 1997– of the town of Sto. Domingo are seeing pay-offs from a collective tack: the association now has 75 members, 33 of whom currently work abroad.
Aside from their own individual experience in managing and saving money, the trio are also pressured to manage well the group’s funds, now P161,000 in cash.
But these leaders say they can’t rest easy: they have applied for a P100,000 livelihood loan with the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Aside from the economic predicament of their town, they all went through the hardships of getting something tangible from their labors abroad.
When he returned to Sto. Domingo in 1968 for good, Cara relied on his hard work to jumpstart some of the family’s small businesses such as selling fertilizers and a junkshop – all “built on earnings here in Sto. Domingo”.
De Guzman, for her part, was a domestic worker for three years each in the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. She recalled that her US$200 monthly salary (then at US$1 = P25) went straight to her farmer-husband and three kids, as well as de Guzman’s mother and sister.
She went back home for good with little savings, she related.
Apart from having a meager produce at the family’s farmland there, she complains that the earnings go to buy basic commodities.
Whatever I sent home that time didn’t go to the farm but to my family’s food expenses, De Guzman recalls. “Kung hindi ako nagkakamali, hindi napupunta sa pagsasaka ang mga pinapadala ko noon kundi sa pangkain ng pamilya ko..”
De Guzman claims that life is difficult in Sto. Domingo, a partially urban fourth-class municipality with only a P7.356 million net income, according to a 2003 Commission on Audit (COA) report.
“Before, people here have jobs and work hard. Now, it has become difficult for us. This is why many of our town mates still want to try their luck overseas,” de Guzman added.
Nueva Ecija, based on 1998 to 2002 data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) on the provincial origins of OFWs deployed, is the ninth topmost source of contract workers among provinces with 44,947.
Given limited income opportunities in the town, OFW families in Sto. Domingo, said Cara and de Guzman, have now become dependent on the remittances from dependents abroad. For that, former domestic workers such as Ruby Abella cannot save, and she said this showed during her early years of an eight-year work in Saudi Arabia.
Abella said in 1989 she earned some US$200 monthly (equivalent to some P7,000) which her employer directly sends to her sisters and brothers in Sto. Domingo. Abella said she wasn’t able to either “hold the money” or save something because of this arrangement.
But when her salary rose to the range of P16,000 to P20,000 under new employers who gave the salary directly to her, Abella tried a savings scheme.
“I did not send everything I earned in Saudi. Since I don’t have a child to feed, I send some P3,000 back home and I saved some P11,000,” she added.
Upon her return, and setting aside money for her permanent return migration to the Philippines, she was able to save some P80,000 – “had I not realized the importance of saving”.
But we’re studying very carefully the “forced savings” scheme, De Guzman said adding that based on their experience, even loans tapped by their members go to their families’ basic needs like grocery and food items.
The trio thought of the forced savings concept after noticing that their first lending scheme wasn’t helping debtors extend the life of the money loaned. This, they said, isn’t a sustainable practice.
“They can’t even save because the loan goes to the needs of their sari-sari stores [where most of the money loaned went to],” Cara added.
Formed in August 2000, the Sto. Domingo OFW Association began with a revolving fund of P50,000 from the P100 fee each member paid and fundraising activities. From this fund, members accessed P5,000-worth of loan.
Cara said the association did not oblige members to save some amounts when the member repays the loan.
“They can’t even save because the loan [they tapped went] to the needs of their sari-sari stores,” Cara added.
Seeing repayment scheme at 90 percent but owed money going to the small retail store business of their members, the group decided to tap a zero-interest loan of P50,000-worth of grocery items from the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration’s OFW Groceria project last year.
Ironically, Cara said it was OWWA personnel who advised the trio to form a group so that they can access a P100,000-credit window. However, after doing so, their application was rejected.
The OFW Groceria Project, meanwhile, allowed the association to open more credit lines to other members at P5,000 each. But this time, Cara said, the repayment has a three percent interest with it.
De Guzman said the association is studying carefully the possibility of increasing membership dues as a “forced savings” scheme, especially if they lent some money.
“Say, if they will pay the P5,000 loan in six months, the association will charge them a ‘service tax’ of P200 or P250 that will be deducted from their loan,” she explained.
If this forced savings scheme becomes successful, Cara said accumulated amounts will be used to help current members have some income-generating activities, like a carosa service during funerals in the town.
The trio hopes their group’s capital build-up efforts will be as successful as their initial fray into the savings and loan sector. Nonetheless, they said they’re open to make mistakes.
Indeed, they learned the value of collective work that they led in forming a provincial federation of OFW self-help groups from Nueva Ecija, the Nueva Ecija OFW Federation or NEOFED.
We’ll stand up again if we stumble, they said.