Banking on the base

By: Rina Jimenez-David August 26,2016 - 10:20 PM

With his relentless pursuit of the “war against drugs,” President Rodrigo Duterte has been giving the impression that it is what his administration is all about.

At a recent press conference, he even pooh-poohed the concerns raised by many, church people among them, that the poor were being unfairly and disproportionately targeted by police and vigilantes. Do not be fooled by the poor, he said, since they constitute the majority of drug users and pushers in the country, noting that one didn’t have to be wealthy to fight back and harm or even kill police or military personnel.

Such posturing has painted a portrait of the current Philippine president as a bloodthirsty, violent and intemperate man, much given to personal attacks against perceived enemies and using cuss words to get his points across.

But is gunning down drug users and pushers the sole pursuit of the Du30 administration? At the other end of the perception spectrum, there is the President’s self-proclaimed posturing as a “man of peace,” a leader who would “go the extra mile” to put an end to festering rebellions. Indeed, he has even sent out feelers for peace with communist and Moro rebels, going so far as to have prominent CPP-NPA figures released, much to the chagrin of military operatives who had risked life and limb to capture them.

Lost in all the talk of summary executions, extrajudicial killings and putting an end to the drug trade are other aspects of Duterte governance. One of them is economic policy. At a recent press conference, Bank of the Philippine Islands president Cezar Consing, asked what he thought of the President’s economic programs, said he was very much in favor of the basic thrust of the administration’s program which is “raising the base plan for poor Filipinos.”

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As a banker, said Consing, he anticipated the government’s policy of raising the economic status of all Filipinos, but especially of the poor, as also working in favor of the financial sector in general. He cited policies to encourage small and medium enterprises and even micro finance which could not but “widen the base” for the banking sector, as well as those that would encourage entrepreneurship, such as making it easier to secure licenses and cutting red tape, easing the way for small and big investors alike to start a business.

After all, the work that lies ahead after bringing the country to the brink of accelerated development is to “spread the riches.” It means, to use Ramos-era language, not just “making the pie bigger” but also making sure that the bigger pie is sliced more equitably, with a bigger share going to the poor, as it should.

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The “bias” for the poor was very much the theme of the launch of BPI Bayan 2.0, under the hashtag #PartnerForProgress, the redesigned and reinvigorated program of the BPI Foundation. This thrust, said Fernando Zobel de Ayala, BPI vice chair and BPI Foundation president, remains to be “meeting the basic needs of the poorest Filipinos.”
But it is focusing, he said, on harnessing the financial know-how and skills of BPI officers and employees to bring about what he called “financial inclusivity” among those in the margins of society.

This seemed a most appropriate metaphor as the guest of honor at the morning’s event was Vice President Leni Robredo, who entered the hall at the BPI headquarters to the cheers of a mainly millennial crowd, who, I was told, now compose the majority of the bank’s employees.

The advocate of those at the laylayan or edges of society said she herself has been a longtime BPI depositor, so that she did not hesitate in accepting an invitation to share in the celebration. Responding to the question of whether there is still hope in the country despite the crippling poverty of many Filipinos, Robredo reminded the audience that “each of us stands as proof of hope.”

She cited the many projects of the foundation that have been led and fueled by the participation of employees, who are, she said, “partners for reform.”

Robredo cited her own “five-point antipoverty framework” that includes rural development, quality education, universal healthcare, food security and women empowerment, all of which are linked in aims and outcomes. She cited a program she had launched as a congresswoman to improve school attendance by offering free meals in public schools. But she required that ingredients used in the free meals be sourced from the poorest farmers, who in turn had to undergo orientation on better farming methods, storage and transport of produce. Thus, not only were schoolchildren going to school regularly and being fed properly, but farmers were also growing in self-confidence and belief in themselves even as they found a more secure source of income.

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This is also the thrust of BPI Foundation, which is propelled by the vision of “a decent and dignified life” for every Filipino, said Faye Corcuera, its executive director.

Toward this end, the foundation has embarked on projects such as the “Stop Hunger Now” donation drive which, in partnership with the International Care Ministries, raised more than P800,000 for the benefit of 6,600 families living in extreme poverty.

Building on its base of employees who volunteer their free time and labor, the foundation also launched the MAD Challenge last July, choosing five projects conceived by employees “to plan for more targeted projects to foster resiliency in the communities they serve.”

These are on top of other efforts which, through the years, have helped poor families and communities not only to get back on their feet after disasters, but also to learn from the particular competence of bankers to plan, to save, and to “work smarter.”

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TAGS: BPI, Duterte, extrajudicial killings, Filipino, military, police, President, President Rodrigo Duterte, Rodrigo Duterte, summary executions, war against drugs

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