Lilia sells food in the streets but hasn’t heard of microfinance

Published by rudy Date posted on March 10, 2010

MANILA, Philippines—Life could have been easier for Lilia Roseryo had she been a beneficiary of a microfinance program, a government blueprint to ease poverty.

But she hasn’t even heard of it. And maybe most of the Filipinos who belong to that poor segment of society with little education or access to capital or credit.

Every day, Roseryo wakes up at 4 a.m. to cook dishes like sinigang and adobo. By 7 a.m., she leaves her small home in Tondo, Manila, and heads wherever there are crowds of people she could sell her ready-to-eat meals.

She once owned a small carinderia (eatery) right in front of her home, but it fell on bad times. Her husband deserted her two years after the youngest of her four children was born. He is sickly. The three other kids have stopped schooling.

Borrowed capital

Capital is borrowed from a neighbor. She takes home about P60 to P70 a day, minus all the expenses, a little repayment for the loan and setting aside the required money for the next day’s enterprise.

The family eats the unsold lunches, when they haven’t yet been spoiled.

“I’m cooking food, but they’re not for my children,” she laments.

No, she hasn’t heard of the microfinance program that the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) claims it is promoting to ease creeping poverty hounding a third of the Philippine population.

Flagship program

It is one of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s flagship programs to provide livelihood opportunities.

Under the NAPC, accredited organizations are provided loan from P1,000 to each individual to as much as P150,000 for groups of borrowers at minimal interest.

Emmanuel Esguerra, an economics professor of the University of the Philippines-Diliman, says that the government’s microfinance system is flawed and limited.

He says the dominance of nongovernment organizations (NGOs) involved in the programs puts the program’s sustainability under question.

“NGOs are still very heavily dependent on subsidies,” Esguerra says.

Arcane guidelines

Like any bank loan, money borrowed under the program is given through a set of guidelines. Often, the poor fail to meet the standards of credit and project feasibility, something arcane for the unschooled.

“Credit markets in the Philippines are so imperfect that people who are not even poor are not even able to obtain themselves credit,” he says.

Esguerra says that even if the poor present the necessary documents, there’s no assurance the loan will be processed because collaterals are still needed.

“The better way to help these poor guys is not to expect them to be entrepreneurs,” he says, as entrepreneurial skills are not equally distributed among everyone.

Esguerra says it may be more appropriate for the government to engage the poor in conditional cash transfers instead of microfinance.

He says this program enables poor households to receive funds, in return providing the household’s children enough time to concentrate on education and improving employment opportunities.

Better fighting chance

“The next generation will have a better fighting chance,” Esguerra says, in comparison to households engaging in microfinance.

For Mariel Vincent A. Rapisura, program manager of the Ateneo de Manila University Microfinance Capacity-Building Program, where proper information and guidance are provided results are positive.

“In our research, it has been consistently shown that microfinance prevents the poor from becoming poorer. Microfinance clients typically have improved quality of life derived from improved business income,” Rapisura says.

“The improvements in their quality of life include better nutrition, better housing, gender empowerment, higher propensity to save, better ability to send children to school and better access to health services,” he adds.

It could certainly help people like Lilia Roseryo. –Peter Blaza, Nephele Kirong, Philippine Daily Inquirer

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