Thursday, October 6, 2011

Utang... Kalimutan!

One advice that my husband's cousin gave us a few days before we left the US to begin our life in the Philippines was to be wary of 5/6.  I gave them a blank stare as Jojo and his cousin continued with the conversation.  I nodded pretending that I knew what they were talking about.  Later when Jojo and I were together alone he explained to me what 5/6 was about.  For those reading this and are still staring blankly let me try to expound.  I just did a quick search on Yahoo on "5/6 philipines" to see what it came up with, one link is on "pautang 5 6 philippines" on sulit.com.ph which actually comes up with 20 results.  5/6 (not sure if my use of a slash is right) is a common loaning system here in the Philippines.  Not sure what the history is but as far as I know, it is made popular by the Indian nationals who loan people money on the basis that if they loan you for example P500, you will have to pay them back P600.  Thereby the 5/6 system.  If we do our calculation, that is a 20% interest.  It's an informal loaning system and for those who have no other options, they are easy bait to this type of loan.  So if you're in the Philippines and you wonder why some people, mostly low-income vendors, hide from the Indian national on his motorcycle? Well, it's because he/she cannot pay back their loan.  But the persistent Indians come back or wait for their "customers" and somehow get their money back with interest.

Why am I bringing this up?  It's not that I've tried borrowing money from the Indians (more commonly referred to as "Bombays"), but of a nagging feeling (to put it lightly) of those who borrow money and do not pay back.  And there is more than one person that I know who owe us (either myself, my husband or my mother) and who are now "in hiding".  "Utang, kalimutan", is another term that comes to mind.  Just recently, an ex-neighbor, who lives a few streets from us, someone whom I trusted and held in high regard, came one quiet afternoon.  It was unusual for her to come and I had thought that she was just in the neighborhood and maybe wanted to take a rest before she went to wherever she was going.  But she started telling me how she tried to pawn off these silver (or what she thougth were silver) cutleries but was not successful.  Then she told me of how she needed money to pay off her water bill which reached P2000.  I asked how their water bill could be so high and she explained that they hadn't paid it for several months.  To cut the story short, she came to me asking to borrow money with the promise that she will pay it back in two months.  Two months seemed a long time, but I agreed and it was timely that I had money in my wallet (which was supposed to be used to pay our own utility bills).  Anyway, the two months came and went last July.  No word and now we're being ignored as if nothing happened.  Is this another case of "utang, kalimutan"?

This isn't the only time we have been ignored like this.  It has happened before, mostly my Mom was the one who loaned her money and trusted that it would be paid back in due time.  But time has a way of hardening one's heart or their brain into forgetfulness.

Unlike the Bombays, we are not the type to go up to the persons who borrowed money and remind them that they owe us.  We know that they know.  They hide or look away when we go by them in the streets.  They live with it, ashamed.  And we are supposed to forget (?)  But we don't and so the relationship, even if it was just a friendly nod to acknowledge their presence, is now strained.  I wonder at the consciense of these people.  The "utang" must gnaw at them. Persistently, I hope, like the Bombays.

No matter how many times others have let us down, why oh why, do we fall into loaning money after hearing another sob story?  I, for one, am a sucker for stuff like this.  I believe them.  I believe the story is true and the people telling them are honest.  And I believe that they'll return the money.  Until the promise is broken.

Then a couple of weeks ago I was listening to a commentary on TV and the topic was on one's perspective of loaning money.  He said that if we had money for someone to borrow, that money (at that time) was excess money.  If it wasn't paid back, then it should be alright, since it was from our surplus.  If it was to be paid back, then we should consider it to be a bonus for us.  This isn't the exact phrase, but I hope I captured the gist.  This brought new light to that nagging thought and feeling.  Maybe I should start a clean slate.  But I still wonder at those people who still owe us.  Can we start a clean slate if they still do not even acknowledge us or their utangs?

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