Lives of a large number of Indians, most of them Punjabis, engaged in un-institutional finance business in the Philippines are fraught with danger. The business, according to those settled in the Philippines, has a huge profit margin but that comes at a price.
Murders, threats to life, looting and kidnapping for ransom are common place and all those into the money-lending business have learned the tricks to keep their businesses running despite all odds.
Recent killings of Punjabis in the Philippines are cause of concern for the families of moneylenders back home. Kulpal Singh, who is into the money-lending business for the past 20 years in Markina city of the Philippines and is also president of one of the biggest gurdwara in the city, told HT over phone that the business scenario is turning from bad to worse. "In most cases, beneficiaries return money in time, but sometimes they refused to pay back and to save themselves from paying back, they threaten, attack and even kill moneylenders," adds Kulpal.
"You never know when you will get looted, hit, stabbed or even shot. I was shot at three years ago, but I survived as I killed one from a group of Filipinos, which attacked me," adds 51-year-old Kulpal Singh, who hails from Dhanoula in Barnala district. His marriage to a Filipino is acting shield for him.
In the past 15 days, three Punjabis were killed. Ramandeep Singh of Moga was killed on Saturday last week, and 10 days ago, Gurprem Singh and Gurjant Singh were done to death. As per an estimate by Kulpal Singh, about 50 Punjabis were killed in the past four years. Most Punjabis, who are into the money-lending business, hail from Moga, Jalandhar, Patiala and Sangrur.
Kulpal further revealed that due to business rivalry, Punjabis have become each other's enemy and in some cases they are also getting each other killed.
"Due to lot of poverty in the Philippines, people there are always in need of quick money, which is made available to them by Punjabi moneylenders at high rates of interest," informed Chitwant Singh, who shifted from Sanour in Patiala to the Philippines and started money lending with a small investment of 50,000 peso (Rs 70,450).
He adds that there is no system of getting receipt from a beneficiary so there is no help from the local authorities for recovering the money, so the lenders have their own recovery teams.
Punjabis living since early 1900s
Punjabis started reaching the Philippines in the early years of 1900 and a gurdwara was built in capital city of Manila in 1927. "As per an estimate, there are 20,000-25,000 Punjabi families living in the Philippines," says Chitwant Singh, adding that there is no such island where Punjabis are not found. Some of the families are fifth or sixth generation Punjabis.
From rice cooker to house
A heavy rate of interest is charged from the beneficiary, ranging between 10% and 25%. "We offer finance on rice cooker, refrigerator, motorcycles, cars and up to houses, but the entire business is without anything on paper," says Kulpal Singh, adding that an ordinary businessman or a beginner starts earning 50,000 to 1 lakh of peso and the income of well-to-do money lenders is as good as earnings of the local banks. "For a sum of 5,000 peso given as debt, we get back 6,000 in two months. 100 peso is recovered from the beneficiary every day," revealed another Punjabi moneylender.
Punjabis go where police refuse
According to Chitwant Singh, Punjabis, in the Philippines, risk their lives and enter places where local police have the instructions of not entering. Subang city has highest crime rate in the Philippines and Punjabis lend money to those living on this island.