On to economic freedom

NEVER in their lives have the overseas Filipinos become active players in their own economic emancipation as now. The advent of the Internet has actually made it possible for many of them to come together to discuss ways to improve their lot, and to finally make a concrete move to realize their dream – that of establishing a bank which they can call their own.

What used to be just a dream is now coming into reality with the putting up of the Overseas Filipinos Worldwide International Holdings, Inc. (OFW Holdings) early this year. Some 200 staketakers or what is termed as charter founders risked their hard-earned dollars ranging from $220 minimum to $10,120 maximum from August 2001 until January 31, 2002. With their collective contributions, the OFW Holdings became a corporate body, officially registered at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on March 11, 2002.

Actually acting as the business arm of the Overseas Filipinos WorldNet Foundation, Inc. (OFWNet), the OFW Holdings serves as a vehicle for one of OFWNet’s dual objectives of economic and political empowerment for the millions of overseas Filipinos (OFs). In the political front, the OFWNet leads a campaign for the passage of the Absentee Voting (AV) bill still pending at the 12th Congress. Despite a promise of no less than President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the move to pass a law giving the inalienable right of suffrage to the OFs, members of both the lower and upper chambers of the Congress are still undecided as to whether enact the law or not.

Establishment of a bank

A universal bank, to be called OFW Bank (already the name is reserved at SEC, along with OFW Microfinance Bank), is aimed to be established by year 2006. A very ambitious move indeed but one which the original 200 staketakers were all bent in putting into action. Hand-in-hand, they strove to increase their base and are now numbering to nearly 400 – and are still steadily increasing.

With their sheer number – more than seven million of them overseas Filipinos – the proponents of the OFW Bank project are optimistic that they will reach their goal by 2006, and even earlier as foreseen by the newly elected chairman of the Board of Directors Gil R. Ramos. Dr. Ramos is actually considered the brain of this ambitious project and through his direction, by way of creating the OFW Community of Lists via the Internet early last year, the idea and then plans of establishing a bank, slowly but surely emerged in the horizon.

One of the subscribers of the OFW-Bank list during the early days of the discussions described well the rationale behind the project:

We have the potential to be one of the biggest and strongest lobby blocks in the Philippines whose resources are not just financial but our physical number as well. We have seen how some big, “favored few” destroy an established institution in total disregard of the Filipino people’s pride and sentiments. It is high time that we harness our resources and tilt the balance in our favor and not just to be treated as a milking cow while those “favored few” are profiting from our hard earned dollars. Together we, the OFWs remit at least US$ 7Billion to our home country, an amount praised to high heavens by politicians.

First 200 staketakers

Discussions among the hundreds of OFs in both the OFW-Bank and OFW-Business mailing lists (only two of the many under the OFW Community of Lists) finally led to the existence of a unique group, the so-called first 200 staketakers. These first 200 people will now go down in the history of the establishment of the OFW-owned bank as those who initially risked and fully gave out their trust to their leaders without any qualm, directed only by their burning ambition and the vision to prepare for their children’s future. As conceptualized by the Incubation Committee members, the following is the group’s guiding vision:

Anak, kahapon ito’y pangarap lang. Ngayon ay nangyayari na. Bukas, naway kasaganaan at ginhawa ay makamtan. Mga anak, ito ang regalo ko sa inyo, ang inyong kinabukasan.” (My child, this used to be just a dream. Now it is happening. Tomorrow, may you only live in prosperity and comfort. My children, this is my gift to you, for your future.)

Sprouting of businesses

As part of the incubation period or fund accumulation scheme, the OFW Holdings has lately engaged in various businesses. In June this year, it started operating the “Rent-a-Car” service alongside a Travel and Tours business entity. At the same time, the company also started giving out loans and other financing needs to its hundreds of stockholders.

This August, a partnership with Pioneer Allianz Life Insurance has been forged and the first four clients were immediately named less than a week of announcing the signing of Memorandum of Agreement and only after a day of releasing the implementing rules and regulations.

This October, preparations for the putting up of a small bank, a thrift bank or microfinance bank, will take off. According to Chief Operating Officer Norman Gacula, it will take a few months to one year before the small bank becomes operational. This OFW Microfinance Bank will be put up in one of the provinces outside Metropolitan Manila and is envisioned to branch out as the need arises.

A remittance service is also now under study and the OFW Holdings has recently partnered with Asia United Bank in order to actualize the business. Pilot area to initiate the project has been identified as Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and a special committee is now at work to study the project and is aiming for implementation before the year ends.

Other businesses which the OFW Holdings is planning to gradually engage with are all identified in a business plan painstakingly developed by Dr. Eduardo ‘Ka Edong” del Rosario, the current Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the OFWNet, and Norman Gacula, also an elected official of OFWNet’s Board of Trustees. These businesses are as follows: freight forwarding, manpower services (land and sea-based), apartelle/hotel, travel agencies, agro-industrial projects, health and medicare services, schools and training centers, technology transfer projects, marketing and product distribution, franchising and media companies. All these businesses will ultimately take the visionaries to its goal which is the establishment of the OFW Bank in 2006.

An open invitation

Quoted below, in parts, is an open invitation to join the OFW Bank project, as taken from the OFWNet website, to wit:

“Our Fellow Overseas Filipinos,

Bank ownership for Overseas Filipinos is now rising in the horizon. Imagine yourself where you are part owner availing of the services of the bank in remittances, loans, investments, and other financial services. Imagine the benefits this would bring to our families and the economy as well. How is this possible and how can we do this?

As a major contributor to the economy of the Philippines which is widely accepted by the past and present government administration we have not seen any considerable economic development and growth in our society. We are calling on all the entrepreneurial and all our kababayan Overseas Filipinos whose burning desire to act as catalyst to a sustainable economic endeavor to benefit not just the OF community but the nation’s economy as well. Join us in our effort to once again flex our collective muscle in a private sector effort in the formation of a Bank that would be owned mostly by OFs to service our sectors banking needs. You can explore the on-going process and be part of a historic pioneering effort by subscribing to the OFW Bank e-mail list.

You can either send a blank email to OFW-Bank-subscribe@yahoogroups.com or go to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/OFW-Bank/j…

The establishment of the ‘bank’ is at the centerpiece of the Overseas Filipinos effort for economic empowerment. Join us today and be part of the historic pioneering effort in our quest for economic emancipation. Your individual participation would help us strengthen our collective effort in our quest for economic emancipation in an organization that will change the way we do business for the better. Let us do our share towards economic empowerment of OFWs.”


Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: August 30, 2002 





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2 responses to “On to economic freedom

  1. Hi, Freda! I chuckle as I realize i have the same ideas for the OFW but am quite late on the stage as far as doing this specific project is concerned. Would you please tell me what is the current status of this OFW bank project? What has been the response of the OFW grassroots regarding it? Thanks!

    • Thanks Li for your comment. The OFW Bank project which was started by some 200 plus OFWs in late 2001 didn’t materialize in the end because of internal problems in the management based in Manila. Sad to say, the fund which had been entrusted, without any qualms by the OFW members, reaching to 4M pesos, had been irresponsibly handled. Proponents in the end lost their interest in pursuing it and just charged their loss to “experience”.

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