Anxiety to repay biz loans may weaken DOLE program
by: JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO (OFW Journalism Consortium)
PASAY CITY—A MONTHS-OLD program handing out business loans to returning migrant workers does not require collateral from borrowers, and a finance expert thinks borrowers might encounter uneasiness to repay these loans.
The P2 billion Reintegration Fund for returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) hands out loans ranging from P200,000 to P2 million to existing migrant entrepreneurs. But microfinance specialist Jun Perez is worried that required documents returning OFWs must present and frequently show might give borrowers hesitation to repay.
The context here, said the managing director of the microfinance network Seed Finance Corp., is the size of the enterprises vis-à-vis returning OFWs’ abilities to repay.
The loan range implies that borrowers run small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Meanwhile, lenders Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank) and Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) will require OFW borrowers to show documents related to their enterprises, such as purchase orders and titles to equipment purchased. There’s no collateral required for this loan program.
And this is where Perez’s view comes in about borrowers’ “compunction,” or a person’s strong uneasiness caused by a sense of guilt.
Borrowers running SMEs have to title their properties just to secure their loans, though the situation might not be applicable to those running sari-sari (small retail) stores or buy-and-sell ventures. Titling these properties entails costs, in the hope that with the titling the enterprise grows. With such growth the enterprise will now institutionalize having purchase orders (like sari-sari stores) like what usual businesses have.
Then the uneasiness comes in since running the business, producing the titles and business-related documents, and repaying the loans all come into play for the OFW borrower. In such a situation, the scheme of not requiring collateral for these SME loans “might be disadvantageous to the banks (DBP and LBP),” Perez said.
The Reintegration Fund represents the new scheme of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the National Reintegration Center for OFWs (NRCO) to hand out livelihood loans to overseas workers. No less than President Aquino III ordered the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to roll out this program.
But years of previous livelihood programs handled by OWWA, whether handled alone or in collaboration with financial institutions such as the National Livelihood Development Corp. (NLDC), have histories of high non-repayment rates by OFW borrowers.
THE fund has P0.5 billion each from Land Bank and DBP, as well as a guarantee amount of P1 billion from OWWA (the world’s largest migrant welfare fund whose resources come from US$25 membership fees that departing overseas workers pay on a per-contract basis).
Officials of Land Bank and DBP explained during the fund’s launch months ago that both banks will offer an interest rate of only 7.5 percent to each of the loans, payable from two to seven years.
The loans, said Land Bank’s Cressida Mendoza and DBP’s Brillo Reynes during the congress, will make up 80 percent of the total capital needed by the enterprise. There’s also a catch: The businesses to be financed by these loans “must be earning”.
That way, said Mendoza, the situation “will be mutually beneficial to the OFW and to the bank”.
NRCO director Vivian Tornea said in a DOLE release that while there’s no collateral, loan applicants must “guarantee the business enterprise… is viable and profitable —or earning, say, like P10,000 a month”.
Actually, Perez and another development finance expert, Hector de Pedro of the nonprofit Mandato Inc., think both LBP and DBP have proven track records in handing out these reintegration loans.
It’s just that the image of these banks as part of the “government” that worries both Perez and de Pedro. Government-run lending programs “fail,” de Pedro thinks, because “the (word) government is literally synonymous to the word dole out —and the approaches of some agencies do not breed entrepreneurs”.
Thus, Perez said the Reintegration Fund’s implementation “must maintain the discipline and conviction that it must be sustainable, thus must support clearly-viable or potentially viable (enterprises) with community impact”.
Not surprisingly, the Reintegration Fund leaves those OFWs planning to launch start-up enterprises by the wayside—similar to how banks offer loans to existing ventures (but not to start-ups).
The upside of this regulation by DBP and LBP is that government invests its loan resources on proven practices, and that means all figures are (easily) given. Still, new business models coming from OFW enterprise start-ups may not be developed “because there is no support,” said de Pedro.
THE issue of repayment has haunted previous livelihood programs of OWWA, the most recent of which was the loans OWWA and the NRCO issued to OFWs displaced by the global economic crisis in 2009.
Previous OWWA and NRCO programs on reintegration saw OWWA directly providing these services, especially loans (even if OWWA is not a quasi-financial institution). OWWA also has a running Livelihood Development Program for OFWs (LDPO), in coordination with the National Livelihood Development Corporation —though information is not available on the nationally-run loan program’s repayment performance.
During a press conference after the fund’s launch, Labor undersecretary Danilo Cruz told the OFW Journalism Consortium OWWA “will exert extra efforts” to monitor borrowers’ repayment of their loans. Handling loans “is not OWWA’s forte,” Cruz adds, justifying DOLE’s partnership with LandBank and DBP. The partnership sees OWWA’s share to the Reintegration Fund as a guarantee fund in case of non-repayment, Cruz told reporters during a press conference.
LDPO has its own repayment woes. For example, officials of a cooperative in central Philippines that is a conduit of LDPO loans said there is a “high” non-repayment rate among their OFW borrowers. The conduit, the Philippine Cooperative Central Fund Federation, then conducted a financial education and business assessment seminar to some of its borrowers so that the latter are told how to handle the capital they have.
For migrant civil society advocates like Carmelita Nuqui of the Development Action for Women Network (DAWN), the reintegration fund’s regulations are “different from what the government says in public”. Loans for returning migrants, Nuqui says, are available “but why can’t overseas Filipino workers get them right away if these are really for them?”