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Buhay Pinay




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Debt and culture

08 April 2017

By Daisy Catherine L. Mandap

The recent police raid on a loan sharking syndicate uncovered, yet again, the stark truth: that we have a tendency to borrow money, for whatever reason, more than we can afford to pay.

Of the more than 200 passports, pieces of jewelry and smart phones recovered, not one belonged to a non-Filipino. It was a sad reminder that success is still a long way off in our multi-pronged effort to discourage our workers’ heavy borrowing.

Often we blame greedy agencies that collect unconscionable placement fees from our workers as the root of the problem. We also point the finger at financial institutions that make it easy for anyone to borrow money, but then make it hard for them to get out because of back-breaking interest payments.
Both remain valid notions, but how do we explain the Indonesian phenomenon?

Informal surveys by NGO, Enrich, showed that Indonesian workers come to Hong Kong more heavily in debt because of higher placement and training fees, but somehow manage to get out of the tight fix much faster. As a result, they get to go back home earlier to resume their interrupted lives.
The same survey showed that the Indonesians do not by choice remain in Hong Kong longer than necessary. They come here with a clear plan on how long they must stay, and so save up enough for that day when they have to go back home, never to come back.

In contrast, we have a lot of workers who have been in Hong Kong for decades, with hardly any savings to show for it. And so they continue to toil, until age or ailment forces them to retire. Some do go home after some time, hoping to settle back in, but end up returning because the little money they saved was not enough for them and their family’s needs.

How do we explain the difference? For this, we could reference our being too family oriented and our widely accepted concepts of “hiya” and “utang na loob”.

It is often difficult for Filipinos to say no when a friend or relative approaches them for a loan. More so if they think the borrower is someone they owe a debt of gratitude to.

If they don’t have the money, they would often take out the loan themselves, and make it big enough to cover their own imagined need.

In a lot of cases, the friend or relative who got easy money does not pay back as promised, leaving the worker to shoulder the loan herself, and yet sadly, still none the wiser for it.
Thus begins the cycle of borrowing that often leaves our workers enmeshed in debt for much of their work life in Hong Kong.

The task would have been harder if not for the persistent effort by some groups, notably Enrich, CARD HK and the Mission for Migrant Workers to teach our workers the value of saving for a rainy day, and giving a firm no to those who egg them to spend more than they can afford.

Credit must also go those who endeavor to make the Philippines stick to its no-placement policy, and Hong Kong to its 10-percent rule, for newly arrived Filipino domestic workers. This is not an easy task as it goes against the long-ingrained thinking among the workers themselves that they must pay for the cost of deployment. Thankfully, there have been encouraging signs recently pointing to a shift from this attitude among workers, recruiters and even employers.

The Consulate’s move to restrict the issuance of replacement passports to tighten the lid on those who use their documents as collateral for loans should also be commended, especially as it involves the delicate task of balancing public interest with individual rights.

Through these efforts, some headway has been made to make our workers realize that borrowing money should be avoided at all cost, and that they should have a definite plan on when they should go back home for good.

But the task ahead remains difficult. As has been said, the root of the problem dwells deep within most of us. It is time we cast aside our giving nature, of giving until it hurts, or because we don’t want to lose face.

We work hard to provide a better future for our family. Let that be our guide in staying away from debts and saving up so we can go back to them fast.

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