It is the 5th of January and the weather is looking a little brighter. Our field worker Winelin and her husband Cres have arrived at the hotel. The two of them will ride on one motorcycle and Ireen and I on a slightly bigger one, a Yamaha 125cc crossover which we purchased a year ago.
We are in Bayawan, the city with the longest promenade (2.5km) in the Philippines. It is a peaceful city noted for its pedicabs and cleanliness.
The first appointment of the day is with Renaldo. His home is within the city. We helped his daughter in law Evangeline and her father with a farming loan in 2015. Reynaldo is applying for a loan to redeem his rice farm. He pawned it in 2016 as he needed money to pay back a loan he received three years before from a lending agency for rice farming. That was the year when typhoon Haiyan struck the province and mud from a landslide poured into his rice field. Reynaldo was left with a debt and no harvest income to pay it back. He gave up farming and accepted to be the caretaker of his niece’s house in Bayawan where he is now.
Renaldo is applying for a loan of 30,000 pesos (US$600) to redeem his one hectare farm and start farming again. While Ireen is talking with Renaldo, I get to meet his son Elizar and his two daughters Jilian (5) and Jemaina (10). They live next door in a ramshackle house. I ask the two children what they would like to do when they grow up. We all laugh when Jilian says she wants to join a beauty pageant. As for Jemaina, she wants to be a doctor. When I ask her ‘why’, she replies ‘to help people’. Both girls are bright and I am told Jemaina is an honours student in her elementary school.
Our next stop is Winelin and Cres’ family home which doubles up as our field office. To get there requires a 30 minute motorcycle ride to Santa Catalina, the next town and then up into the hills. The last section is rough road so I am grateful for the big tires on the motorcycle.
Ireen and I exchange greetings with the family. Winelin’s father is staying with them over the new year. Both he and Cres’s father are blind from cataracts as is Amaro, a PSHF farming loan recipient living nearby. We intend to have all three of them undergo eye check-ups this year in the hope that cataract surgery may be possible.
I notice a young man sitting quietly on the bench outside the house. He is with Felicisima, a woman in her 50s who recently received a loan to buy a carabao (water buffalo). It transpires that the young man is Milkey and he is my first candidate for interview. Felicisima is the mother of Milkey’s girlfriend.
Milkey is 22 years old and the second in a family of five children. He tells me that he makes furniture from bamboo in his spare time. He made his first sale back in 2012; 700 pesos for the sale of a divider to his school. I am surprised when he tells me that his loan request is not for bamboo making, rather it is for making chicharron (fried macaroni). I suggest to him that a loan for bamboo tools may be more useful in the long-term and his eyes light up. He mentions his dream of owning an electric drill specifically for use with bamboo. I ask him if he thinks he could build a bamboo hut and he says ‘yes’. It so happens that we intend to build a room for Ireen and visitors to the field office so we might even have a job for him!
As I conclude with Milkey, Winelin’s youngest daughter, Kristin Mae (14) brings me a glass of fresh coconut juice which is most welcome as I feel a bit dehydrated. I can’t resist asking Milkey about his girlfriend with her mother present. He smiles shyly when he describes Feve as beautiful, kind and reliable.
My next applicant is Edelfonsa who has been waiting patiently for me to conclude with Milkey. She and her husband Edgardo who comes later are applying for a loan of 12,000 pesos (US$240) to pay the balance on a 800 square metre lot. The lot costs 20,000 pesos and the two of them have already paid a deposit of 8,000 pesos. The land purchase is somewhat urgent as they must build a house and move into it by September which is when they will need to move out from their current home which belongs to a relative.
Edgardo is both a carpenter and a farmer. He has no land of his own but he does own a carabao (water buffalo) by the name of Jon. He works on a ‘pakyaw’ basis (not the boxer!) which means he ploughs land for a job fee. A typical job would be to plough a hectare of land with his carabao for four days, four hours a day for a fee of 1,000 pesos ($20).
Edgardo and Edelfonsa have had two loans from the PSHF, one for the purchase of the carabao and the other for carpentry tools. As I am talking with Edelfonsa, Winelin reminds me of the tragedy that beset her family in 2015. Their son, Edgardo Jr. was a delivery truck driver in Cebu City and according to his fellow worker, he was shot dead when he tried to stop thieves from stealing what he was carrying in the truck. The murderer was never apprehended.
Clearly, even the mention of what happened to Edgardo Jr. four years ago is very upsetting to Edelfonsa so I move on to another subject. Soon after, Edgardo arrives and our spirits are lifted by his cheerfulness. Ireen does not recognise him as he is usually to be seen with his head covered in a turban to protect him from the heat of the sun when he does carpentry jobs.
My final applicant for the day is Delbeta (54) who has come here with her daughter Ritchelle (29). Delbeta is applying for a loan of 7,000 pesos for intercropping of peanuts and cassavas on her half hectare piece of land. The loan will be used to buy peanut seedlings and cassava points and to pay for ploughing. The details are quite straightforward so I switch the conversation to a more personal level by asking her about the events that have marked her life. She tells me that the loss of her crops to typhoon Haiyan in 2013 was the hardest time for her family. As for her joys in life, she tells me how much pleasure she derives from having family living nearby and seeing her grandchildren daily.
I have concluded three interviews and all of them have gone well. Winelin has been my interpreter. As for Ireen, she has also conducted three interviews.
It is time to head back to Bayawan but first we have two visits to make to clients with overdues on their loans.
The first of these is Jovencia, a 45 year old widow with five children living in a simple wooden house on the crest of a hill. She is at home and there is a man there who we later discover is her boyfriend. I sit down on the bench in the porch and I get the distinct impression the wooden floor is slopping downwards which it wasn’t on my last visit. Ireen talks to Jovencia about her overdue balance of 7,000 pesos and comes to an agreement which she happily agrees to.
Our final call of the day is Meralyn who we spotted earlier clearing a roadside ditch with other women members of the IP (indigenous persons) group. The DSWD has a work for cash programme for tribal people in Negros Oriental.
We find Meralyn in the roadside store just opposite our education loan recipient’s Juanna’s home. She and one of her IP group members are eating snacks to wind up the day. Meralyn is also drinking ‘cobra’ an energy drink much to Ireen’s alarm as it can destroy the intestines if drunk frequently. While Ireen talks to Meralyn about her overdue, I wander over to find Juanna in the local coop where she works part-time to support herself as she studies for her Masters degree in Education. I want to congratulate her on her engagement. As I walk back to the store, I come across some delightful children, two of whom I discover are Edgardo Jr’s youngest. Their mother Noeme comes over and I am able to express my condolences to her in person on the loss of her husband.
Meanwhile, Ireen is talking with Meralyn and expressing our disappointment that she has prioritised the payback of her 2015 carabao purchase loan with a lending agency over us. The balance is just 3,250 pesos. Meralyn agrees to pay the balance by mid January.
It is time for Ireen and I to take our leave and return to Bayawan but not before some workers outside the store had offered me a glass of some rather potent looking rum; I decline their offer with my staple excuse that I need my wits about me when I am on two wheels.
I start up the engine of the Yamaha, Ireen climbs on board and Noeme’s children and their friends gather around us to give us a warm send-off. We are heading back to Santa Catalina. It has been a productive day.