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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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