Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Legacy: Broken hearts, lives, dreams

MANILA, Philippines—Her illness may have saved Myra Dizon from putting more money, and losing it, in the Legacy Group.

Having just come out of a hospital confinement, Dizon was excited to personally deposit her P5,000 in her account in the San Jose Rural Bank in San Jose, Batangas, anticipating that her money would grow fast in the coming months.

A loyal customer of the bank since she was an elementary school pupil, Dizon, now 33, had seen her money grow from the small deposit she had started by saving P5 from her daily allowance. In 1992, Dizon decided to transfer the money into the accounts of her children, while opening another account in her name.

The money in her account reached P50,000 at one point. But with Dizon’s chronic illness which often required hospitalization, most of that had to be withdrawn until only about P5,000 was left.

After she was discharged from hospital, Dizon thought of immediately replenishing her account with P5,000, plus another P15,000 from her husband.

“My excitement turned into disappointment when I learned from my co-depositors that the bank had closed,” she said.

The San Jose Rural Bank declared a bank holiday on Dec. 8, following the lead of other rural banks in the Legacy group of companies that have since been placed under receivership by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

Dizon had reason to be thankful that she had not recovered from her illness sooner or the family would have lost P20,000, in addition to the P5,000 left in her account, which she still hopes she can recover.

Feelings of anger, anxiety and disappointment overcame countless unsuspecting depositors the day the Legacy chain—the Rural Bank of Parañaque, PRBank, Rural Bank of Bais, Rural Bank of San Jose, Bank of East Asia, First Interstate Rural Bank, Philippine Countryside Rural Bank, Dynamic Rural Bank, Nation Bank, Rural Bank of Carmen, Rural Bank of DARBCI, Bicol Development Bank and San Pablo City Development Bank—shut their doors on them.

Double-your-money scheme

In Tagbilaran City, a depositor of another Legacy-owned bank, the Pilipino Rural Bank (PRBank), fumed as he railed at the bank’s offering a high-interest deposit scheme and not being able to make good on it.

“I hope PRBank officials and owners will be held accountable for this,” said engineer Abdon Añora.

In Argao, Cebu, barangay chair Fedlemido Albero had just deposited P45,000 in his checking account at the PRBank branch in his town three days before it closed.

That money was meant to pay a supplier of his food-supplement business, Albero said.

Albero’s family also had a trust fund in the bank earning a monthly interest of P8,000 under a double-your-money scheme. He said the trust account supported part of the family’s monthly expenses.

Word about the Legacy group’s “double your money” scheme spread like wildfire among overseas recruitment agencies in Metro Manila, and about “300 to 400” of them signed up as investors, according to two victims of the scheme.

Analisa Soto and Romeo Escobar, owners of recruitment agencies in Makati and Taguig, respectively, invested in a “double your money” scheme at the Legacy group’s Asiatrust Bank.

Soto’s P1 million deposit, which was supposed to be held in escrow, went down the drain with the closure of Legacy’s Banco Parañaque, where the money was invested by Asiatrust.

“The money in escrow should have been invested in more secure financial instruments or products,” said Soto.

Stand-by fund gone

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration requires job recruitment agencies to set aside P1 million as a standby fund to be used to pay for awards and damages in case of conflict between the workers and the agencies. The job firms have to deposit the P1 million in escrow with a bank.

Soto and Escobar said they were enticed by the promise of the high interest earnings. According to Soto, since the bank which previously held her P1 million in escrow did not pay interest on the deposit, she decided to move the deposit to Asiatrust.

According to Escobar, he was enticed by the prospect that his P1 million would earn double while held in escrow by Asiatrust. After two meetings with a Legacy agent, whom he identified as Victor Fortuna, Escobar decided to move his funds to Asiatrust in 2006.

Soto said Fortuna was also the Legacy agent who convinced her to place her money in Asiatrust.

With his deposit dissolving in thin air, Escobar is now afraid for his business as he would have to raise another P1 million for the standby fund to be able to renew his license.

“Given that I might get P250,000 from the insurance, I still have to put up another P750,000 to meet the requirement. This might be tough to raise since our deployment today is weak,” he said.

Second time around

To those “gullible enough to be fooled by high interest offers,” Añora has this advice: “If it’s too good to be true, it must be a scam.”

He said the PRBank’s clients include two big-time financiers of “Swertres,” a numbers game in Bohol, a prominent politician, businessmen, retirees and overseas Filipino workers.

Some depositors, however, do not believe it was a scam or feel embittered against the erring banks.

Retired midwife Cecinia Vallejera said she still trusts the country’s banking system, recalling a similar experience in the early 1980s when Banco Filipino declared a bank holiday and was eventually shut down. She recalled having been unable to get her deposits for two months.

“I am confident that I can also get back my money the second time around,” said Vallejera, a depositor of First Interstate Rural Bank in Palo, Leyte.

UPLB professors

Lourdes Redoloza, 65, a retired professor of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, is optimistic that she can still recover her time deposit. “It’s not a scam, and definitely not deceitful,” she said.

At the urging of a friend, she initially deposited P100,000 of her retirement money in 2006, which stayed with Legacy for five years.

“I was encouraged then since I was already retired. I was technically jobless,” she said. The Legacy agent had promised to double her investment.

She invested another P250,000, which she would have been able to withdraw after three years. But before the maturation date arrived, Legacy filed for corporate dissolution.

Still Redoloza remains hopeful that she can get back her money. She said many UPLB professors and retirees were investors in the company, some putting in millions of pesos.

“Mine was not that big compared to the amount they invested. And I know I will still get the amount,” she said.

“Other people think that the terms were too good to be true, but there was nothing wrong with what the company offered its investors. The terms were just like ordinary time deposits in other banks,” Redoloza said.

Claim forms

The Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp. (PDIC) may start issuing claim forms to all Legacy depositors in the first week of February, according to Eden Reyes, of the agency’s depositors’ assistance bureau.

The PDIC has asked an external audit firm, KPMG Manabat Sanagustin & Co., to fast-track the pre-settlement examination of deposit accounts in the 13 Legacy-owned banks placed under receivership by the Monetary Board.

“Our priority is to service the claims of small depositors with deposits of P100,000 and below because the PDIC’s mandate is to protect the small, unsophisticated depositors. These depositors represent about 62 percent of the total deposit accounts in these 12 closed banks,” said PDIC president Jose Nograles.

But Jose Torralba, a former mayor of Tagbilaran, Bohol, and a big Legacy depositor, is apprehensive. He has asked Bohol Gov. Erico Aumentado to arrange a meeting with PDIC officials on how to get the depositors’ claims fast.

The same anxiety is felt by small depositors, like Myra Dizon of San Jose, Batangas. For a sickly woman with three children in school and a husband planning to work overseas, recovering her P5,000 immediately would be a great help. Reports from Kit Bagaipo, Jhunnex Napallacan, Carla P. Gomez and Joey A. Gabieta, Inquirer Visayas; Marrah Erika Lesaba and Karen Lapitan, Inquirer Southern LuzonF

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Boredom drives couple into handicrafts

By Karen Lapitan
Southern Luzon Bureau
First Posted 23:46:00 01/24/2009

Filed Under: Economy and Business and Finance

PAETE, Laguna—It was boredom that pushed a couple here to go into a business that they never thought would penetrate the international market.

Roberto Cabrera, 62, and wife Vilma, 60, decided to venture into handicraft in 1988, when they felt they were no longer happy managing their small retail. “It was too monotonous,” Vilma recalls of their life before. “We do the same things every day, so we thought of coming up with a new business.”

And so, Rhema-J Handicrafts was born. The trade name was culled from the names of their children: Rhea, Marry Ann and Jassed.

After a while, the name was changed to Cabrera’s Handicrafts.

Today, the company goes by the name R. Cabrera’s Gifts and Collection (RCGC), giving pride to locally made products by invading the global market.


With a starting capital of P3,000, the couple hired three production workers and turned their house’s terrace into a workplace.

“What we had then was only a 10-square meter space for the production,” Vilma said.

Initially, they made wooden pendants for a native necklace business of a client who was into export. This client ordered P20,000 worth of products after the couple showed samples of their designs.

That presented a production problem for them, having only P3,000 with which to deliver on a huge initial order.

But the couple did not want to borrow.

“We wanted to expand our business on our own,” Vilma told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

At the time, they did not have their own equipment. Even the packaging of their initial products was simple.

“My husband would just improvise,” Vilma said. “Boxes of cigarettes served as our main packaging material [for our finished products].”

To resolve their problem, they asked for a down payment to buy the raw materials.

After the initial bulk order, other customers went directly to their small office to inquire about their other products.

“We did not have a defined marketing strategy then,” Vilma said. “The clients were the ones who would ask us about our products.”

Apart from wooden pendants, they also made indigenous home decors, paper-based products, event souvenirs, kitchen wares and wooden signs.

More than the profit, the couple stressed that the quality of the products and the integrity of the owners matter most.

“At first, it may look strange that we had to turn down some business deals,” Vilma explained. “But we knew our capacity and we did not want to put our ... credibility at risk.”

Before making a deal, RCGC management ensures that their employees will have ample time to work on the order. They also try to make sure that each product is of high quality.

Continued growth

Ten years after its establishment, RCGC has a firm foothold in the local market.

At first, they introduced overruns to buyers interested in their products.

The local buyers were impressed with the quality and designs of the products, Vilma said.

This additional demand for their products prompted them to open a store in Paete, Laguna.

The terrace that served as their work place was replaced by a larger work area for the production of handicraft and gift items.

“Production [entailed] up to 50,000 pieces of decorative items and other products,” Vilma explained, adding that she and her husband also derived great satisfaction in providing job opportunities.

They now have 25 regular employees and at least 20 subcontract workers, depending on the orders from clients.

In 2001, they opened another store in Olivarez Plaza in Los Baños. This was followed by another in Market! Market! in Taguig, which they named Kyosh Novelty Shop. The couple’s daughter, Rhea, now manages the shop.

After two years, they opened their third store in Phase 2 of Market! Market!

Now, R. Cabrera Gifts and Collections indirectly exports products to Singapore, Europe and North America through their distributors and buyers.

Vilma said they were also planning to open another branch in Metro Manila.


The P3,000 in capital and the 10-sq. m. workplace have taken them far.

Vilma said they were thankful for the success of their business, which they also attributed to their workers.

The first artist that they hired when they started more than 20 years ago is still with them.

“It really feels good to know that we have loyal and efficient workers with us,” Vilma said, recalling how some of their other workers became successful later in life.

She added that they do not really treat their workers as mere employees but as family.

“We even eat the same dishes during meals,” Vilma said.

Aside from seeing to the welfare of their workers, the couple is also into charity work, which they claim is their way of sharing with others the success they now enjoy.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Lawyer writes online views from jail

By Karen Lapitan
Southern Luzon Bureau
First Posted 00:12:00 01/22/2009

Filed Under: Regional authorities, Prison, Human Rights, Armed conflict, rebellion

MANILA, Philippines – A labor lawyer and independent online newspaper columnist continues to voice out his legal opinions even though he has been in detention on murder charges in Calapan City for more than 70 days now.

Remigio Saladero Jr., chief legal counsel of the militant labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno, has been held on charges of multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder in connection with an ambush by communist rebels in March 2006.

He is also among the 27 respondents of a complaint filed at the Batangas Prosecutor’s Office for conspiracy to commit rebellion and arson after a Globe Telecommunications cell site was bombed by New People’s Army rebels in August last year.

Saladero was arrested on Oct. 23 last year at his house in Antipolo City by Rizal policemen and members of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines based on a warrant issued by Judge Tomas Leynes of the Regional Trial Court Branch 40 in Calapan on Oct. 8.

Arrest warrants have also been issued against 71 other militant leaders in Southern Tagalog on the same charges.

After 43 days in jail, Saladero resumed writing his weekly column in the online Pinoy Weekly, on Dec. 11 in commemoration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He gives his views on social issues, especially those affecting workers.

In a statement, his wife Maricel, spokesperson of the Free Atty. Saladero Jr. et. al. Coalition (FASC), said he should be “helping workers win legal battles” instead of being put behind bars. Saladero headed the Pro-Labor Assistance Center when he was arrested.

Jobert Pahilga of the National Union of People’s Lawyers said a motion to dismiss the case against Saladero for “lack of probable cause” had already been filed.

On Nov. 27, Representatives Teodoro Casino, Liza Maza, Luzviminda Ilagan and Rafael Mariano filed Resolution No. 887 directing the Commission on Human Rights to investigate the charges against the militant leaders in Southern Tagalog.

Saladero is set to release his book, “Husgahan Natin,” containing his column articles written since 2002 on Feb. 13.

Calamba land fight draws even kids

By Karen Lapitan
Southern Luzon Bureau
First Posted 00:13:00 01/22/2009

Filed Under: Regional authorities, Children, Human Rights, Real Estate

CALAMBA CITY – After experiencing two demolitions-turned-ugly in their slum community, children in Sitio Kabute in Calamba City’s Barangay Real are wishing that no such violence will happen again this year.

“It was raining hard and the police were holding guns,” said 10-year-old Anjanette as she recalled in Filipino how the shanties were dismantled for the first time last year. “I was shivering out of fear.”

“This [land] is the only thing we have,” 12-year-old Jeffrey said in Filipino. He wished that the battle would come to an end.

Jo Vincent, 9, agreed. “We will fight for our homes. We want to live here until we get old.”

The children’s parents and 154 other families of Kabute – mostly vendors, carpenters and unskilled workers – are claiming as their own 2.8 hectares of land that they have occupied since the 1960s.

The sudden appearance of private entities in the area caught them by surprise, according to Mila Elupre, 54.

In January last year, some of the residents received notices stating that the place already belonged to Metrobank. Photocopies of a land title dated 2006 were attached to the notices.

Bank foreclosure

Metrobank foreclosed the whole Kabute after Gotesco Properties failed to settle its loan on its due date in 2000. “Everything here is legal,” said the company’s legal counsel, who refused to give his name to the Inquirer because he was not authorized to speak on the issue.

The bank filed a formal demand for the occupants to vacate the land, he said.

Soon after, a demolition team arrived. They did not show any legal documents that ordered the removal of the dwellings, said Melicia Almario, spokesperson of Samahan ng Maralita sa Sitio Kabute.

“Due to intimidation and given our meager understanding of the law, we voluntarily demolished our homes. But with [the] understanding of our fundamental right [to decent homes], we decided to regain possession of our land and settled back,” Almario said in an open letter.

Court ruling

On Sept. 11, Judge Alberto Serrano of the Regional Trial Court in Calamba ruled against the occupants and ordered them to vacate the land and demolish their shanties.

Another demolition involving armed policemen and a water cannon took place on Oct. 13. The informal settlers resisted and foiled the attempt.

Anjanette, Jo Vincent and Jomari, together with 12-year-old Jeffrey and 10-year-old Joseph, have been actively joining their elders in protest actions.

Looking younger and smaller than their actual age, they enthusiastically shared their stories of resistance. Three of them no longer go to school as their parents can no longer afford the expenses.

“When our parents could not attend rallies, we would go there for them,” said Jeffrey, stressing that they were not forced to do so. “We are doing this because we also have our rights.”

Katherine Scerri, executive director of the Bahay Tuluyan Kibo Chlidren’s Center, a nongovernment organization helping street children, said “the government is accountable for what is happening with the children (in Kabute).”

Their case is not an isolated one, she said, adding that the local government should help them and their families in defending their rights to education and decent homes.

Freedom of expression

“We cannot blame the children if they resort to attending protest rallies. It’s their right to express their opinions on issues that gravely affect them,” Scerri said.

Anjanette, Jo Vincent and Joseph constantly look for jobs to help their parents. They wash dishes in some eateries.

They also want to learn, even outside the formal school system.

Jeffrey said concerned individuals, usually from the academe, would come and help them. For instance, teachers from the Philippine Normal University have taught some of them how to read and write.

Students from the University of the Philippines in Los Baños have been visiting the community to offer assistance.

Art therapy

The Southern Tagalog Exposure (STEX), a multimedia collective, has been extending support through artistic means. In October, it initiated a gig for the benefit of 300 children of Kabute.

Earlier, the group held art therapy sessions for some of the children. Through sessions on shadow play and drawing to help them express themselves, the children made post cards that were sold to individuals interested in financially helping them.

The STEX has been encouraging students from different universities to go on “exposure trips” to Kabute so they can understand the real situation of the children.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Laid off OFW now on job hunt

By Karen Lapitan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:10:00 01/15/2009

Filed Under: World Financial Crisis, Overseas Employment, Employment, Regional authorities

CALAUAN, Laguna – Anna Roselle Ariano went home from Taiwan in December last year not to spend her Christmas vacation but to look for a job.

In her first stint as an OFW (overseas Filipino worker), Ariano, 25, worked as a technical assistant in Advanced Chip Engineering Technologies Inc. (Aceti), a producer of wafer chips, in Hsinchu, Taiwan, in March 2007.

She had thought that she would be earning three times the local wage rates, but things did not happen as she had hoped. She was laid off in November; still she remained optimistic that she could find another job abroad.

Ariano’s pay slip reflected a salary of NT23,000 (P34,000) but half of that went to medical insurance, tax, agency and broker’s fee.

“We found our pay slip strange. Too many items were enumerated. Our initial pay slips were written in English so we easily understood the particulars, but they suddenly changed it to Mandarin,” she related.

She said she and the other employees tried to complain to their employment agency, but nothing came out of it.

Despite the relatively low salary, she persisted in working in Aceti as she just wanted to help her parents send her three siblings to school.

“My mother is earning through our retail store, while my father is unemployed. I want to give them a better life, just like ordinary children who want to repay their parents. Only my twin sister and I were working so I hoped to stay longer in Taiwan,” Ariano said.

Other companies in Taiwan are offering up to NT40,000 (P50,000), she said.


During the last quarter of 2008, Aceti started imposing austerity measures. It reduced electricity costs even at the expense of production. “We could not even use a cleaning tissue needed in the production,” Ariano said.

Workers were forced to file leaves to lower production costs. “The company eventually resorted to forcing us to file several leaves from work. Since there was a no-work-no-pay policy, we had very little salaries in our last few months,” Ariano related.

She said there was a time when the workers had to file two-week leaves since the company declared no work during the period. Only a few Taiwanese were allowed to work.

“It was hard since we had to pay our dorm and other expenses. Tax, agency fees and other items were still deducted from our pay. What we had was literally too little for us to stay there,” she said.

On Dec. 2, Ariano and her co-workers were called to a meeting by their employment agency. “We were asked about our plans. It was either we stayed or not,” she said.

More retrenchment

Having no assurance of work and with her savings running out, Ariano decided to go back to the Philippines. Thirty-seven OFWs decided to fly home to seek other opportunities – locally or abroad.

“Our agency told us that most companies in Taiwan were laying off, so we decided to look for some other opportunities somewhere,” Ariano said.

Migrante International, a nongovernment organization supporting Filipino migrant workers, reported that as of November 2008, 720 workers were laid off in Taiwan alone and the figure continued to escalate as more companies either shut down or laid off employees.

Ariano had not yet fully paid her placement fee when she flew to Taiwan in 2007. She was only able to pay half of the P85,000 placement fee.

She admitted that she was not able to invest on a single property from her earnings in Taiwan. She said her salary would go to the basic needs of her family.

“I am looking for an employment opportunity abroad that could give me a good pay. Despite the financial crisis, I have to continue looking for work,” she said. “After all, it’s for my family.”