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Saturday, May 06, 2006

Boats remain sure way of pumping Pinoy money from overseas


[Editor’s note: The exact location of the remittance system described in the story has been hidden to protect against unscrupulous individuals and groups]

SOMEWHERE in Visayas – PUMP boats. Of course, pump boats.
In a world where cash passes hands at the push of a button, pump boats remain the fastest, surest method of remittance from overseas Filipinos to their families in remote areas of the Philippines’s southern island-group.
For the past 41 years, Ismael F. has relied on these boats to send money from Chicago, United States.
This method “has been tried and tested,” Ismael told the OFW Journalism Consortium during his vacation for a fiesta celebration of his coastal town.
He eschews newer, technology-backed remittance channels for Filipinos abroad, saying using the pump boat — or aviso — method allows him to avoid remittance charges.
Ismael sends a minimum US$50 or US$100 every month. “But I also continually provide tuition and fees to a relative. Thus, I send some P25,000 (nearly US$500) every semester,” he added.
Remittances sent through non-banking channels and informal practices, such as the method used by Ismael, are a five-year US$8.24-billion resource that the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) hopes would pass through the formal banking system (see related story ‘Chunk of Pinoy cash fro abroad still outside bank sphere in past five years’).
Ismael sends his remittance through relatives in Manila who then take a ferry boat to the province’s center of commerce, where Western Union and several banks operate.
From the center, his relatives take a jeep to the tip of the island where they would catch a boat.
The boat stops by a town and then reaches islets where the money is handed over personally to its recipient.
Ismael’s money takes 10 hours from Manila via ferry to the mainland or the provincial capital and two to three hours from there to in-between-islands boat travel.
“Even a simple snail mail here takes a month before it reaches the first boat stop,” Ismael explained.

THE archipelagic nature of the Philippines has made it difficult for remittances to directly reach families, especially in far-flung rural areas, according to a 2004 study by the Asian Development Bank.
Even as a Philippine bank can serve an average of 10,982 clients (as of December 2003 BSP estimates), the geographical disparity of these banks “is quite pronounced,” the study added.
Head offices and branches of banks, the study said, are concentrated in the National Capital Region where Manila belongs. South of the capital, roughly 40 to 80 kilometers away is the Southern Tagalog region that has only 1,267 bank offices, 578 ATM units, 211 post offices, and 3,238 cooperatives. If all these outlets are allowed to receive remittances, each commercial bank, rural bank, cooperative, or post office will serve an estimated 271 OFWs in that group of landlocked islands.
Rural banks are not yet formally allowed to receive foreign exchange, but a recent approval from the Monetary Board will soon see the country’s 765 rural banks directly receive money from OFWs abroad.
The BSP also recently reported that informal remittances have dropped last year, explaining that OFWs are remitting more to formal banking channels.
Still the ADB study maintained that about 38 percent of recipients in the Philippines would prefer the informal and non-banking methods, “primarily due to lower remittance costs.”
Ismael said using the pump boat method saves him US$7 for every US$100 he sends.
He added the US$7 he pays somehow covers the estimated P2,000 transportation cost and incidental expenses of the courier.

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PRC to test million-dollar online exam system on seafarers


MANILA – NO more lining up for hours under a hot sun to register for the professional exam. No more waiting in agony for the release of results.
By May, seafarers wanting to take examinations for marine deck officer licenses can register online, take the walk-in computerized exam, and get the results soon after the test.
The Professional Regulation Commission announced recently in a forum the readiness of the computerized walk-in examination process under the Licensure Examination and Registration Information System (Leris).
The long wait is over, PRC chairperson Leonor Tripon-Rosero said, five years after Leris was mandated by a law to computerize examinations to be given to Filipinos from 42 types of professions seeking license or renewal of their license. These include teachers, nurses, mechanical engineers, dentists, and x-ray technicians, among others.
Seafarers would be the first sector on which the system would be applied.
Private firm Geo-Spatial Solutions Inc. (GSI) is crafting and implementing the electronic design that would process thousands of items in a databank of questions, according to Capt. Constantino Arcellana Jr., who is also a member of the board of marine deck examiners.
GSI president Efren Ricalde Jr. confirmed they are readying the platform to implement the Leris for seafarers.
The implementation of Leris was nine years late in coming.
The PRC blamed the delayed implementation on the lack of funding even as the Norwegian Government and the International Maritime Organization donated US$1.2-million in 1997 and a seafarer’s union also donated 40 computers recently.
The PRC also pointed to the lack of security, but Ricalde said this concern has been addressed by GSI as the system would use “state-of-the-art” firewalls and other security features.
“We would not leave any window of opportunity for hackers,” Ricalde said, adding that only professional board examiners could access several points in the system.
A successful online registration and computerized examination at the PRC by seafarers would serve as impetus for offering the system to other professions, Ricalde said.

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Chunk of Pinoy cash from abroad still outside bank sphere in past five years


MANILA – NEARLY a fifth of cash being sent by Filipinos abroad for the past five years remained outside the sphere of banks and formal channels, data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas shows.
The country’s balance of payments data, which the BSP revised recently to comply with a new International Monetary Fund reporting standard, showed that overseas Filipinos sent some US$8.24 billion of cash remittances through informal channels from 2001 to 2005.
The amount is 17.18 percent of the five-year total US$47.975 billion cash remittances of overseas Filipinos, data from country’s central bank showed.
Under the revised BoP data, cash worth US$39.735 billion flowed through formal banking channels.
In terms of year-on-year share, money sent via informal channels appears to decline: from 21.89 percent of the total remittances in 2001, 19.99 percent in 2002, 16.65 percent in 2003, to 16.66 percent in 2004.
Informally-sent remittances further declined to 13.06 percent of the total US$12.3 billion the BSP recorded as money sent by overseas Filipinos to the country last year.
According to BSP director Iluminada Sicat, this chunk worth US$1.6 billion represents cash remittances through informal channels while the US$10.7 billion “represents hard currencies that drive exchange rates, as well as the domestic economy.”
The latter amount, explains the head of BSP’s Department of Economic Statistics, would near-accurately describes the real contribution of remittances to Philippine economy, which has been overtaken by its neighbors since the Asian financial crisis almost a decade ago.
“We have consistently told the public that the OFW [overseas Filipino workers] remittances we have reported are those that pass through the banks,’” Sicat told the OFW Journalism Consortium.
The BSP is just on its second year of using the “new series” to report remittances in measuring the BoP.
The country’s BoP, which measures the Philippines’s total trade with other countries, had a surplus of US$2.407 billion in 2005, a big improvement from a US$280 million deficit in 2004. As of February this year, the BoP position revealed a US$2.209 billion surplus.

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Advocates want say in Malacañang OFW bank bid


MANILA – MIGRANT advocates may be split on Malacañang’s go-ahead to build a bank of overseas migrant workers via migrant workers’ pooled funds but they agreed OFWs should be given say; some even ownership of the project.
“This government move again insulted many unsung heroes by diverting our money without due consultation,” wrote Ronnie Abeto of the Saudi Arabia-based Pusong Mamon Task Force, one of several groups of overseas Filipinos connected to the Internet.
“The issue here is not actually the creation of an overseas Filipino workers’ bank, but the use of OWWA funds,” an email by another Saudi Arabia-based OFW, Francis Oca, said.
Abeto and Oca were two of many OFWs consulted via email by the OFW Journalism Consortium after President Gloria Arroyo reportedly approved taking P1 billion from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to transform the Postal Bank into an OFW bank.
Francisco Aguilar Jr. of the Federation of Migrant Workers (FMW) said in an e-group discussion that he is apprehensive over the president's pronouncement since it would involve use of OWWA's resources without any consultation.
We reiterated the clamor to have proper representation and consultation with the OFW sector and to put in place full transparency of the project, wrote Aguilar, who is also president and chief executive of FMW Group of Companies.
Robert Ceralvo, who claims leadership of a Filipino community in New Jersey, United States, shared the “same fear”.
If OFWs will not be consulted, included, and vested in this OFW bank project, chances are, it will benefit more the powerbrokers than any of us [and] OFWs, Ceralvo’s email ran without explaining how this would come about.
Edna Aquino, trustee of the Centre for Migrant Filipinos (CMF) in London, England, also wrote that the decision “seemed like a unilateral one”.
She posited the following questions: “Why should the [Postal Bank] be given this kind of authority solely on the basis of its 18 branches and P30 million profit? How can it compete against the other mega banks with track records in the remittance services? And if the bank is for OFWs and the money for running it will come from OFW contributions, the more they should be consulted on the issue.”

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