The cost of a life in the Philippines is just 10,000 pesos (around Rs 14,000), or even less. As per an estimate, nearly 500 Punjabis were murdered in 2012, while about 50 have been killed this year so far. Most of these cases involved contract killings in which the victims were financiers.
The money-lenders are under threat not only from the locals but also from fellow Punjabis. "Every day, we leave home praying to the almighty to be with us," a money-lender from Moga told HT on the phone, adding that there were several cases in which Punjabis were killed when they approached borrowers for recovering sums as low as 1,000 pesos (around Rs 1,400).
"There is no help from the local government or the police. Punjabis moneylenders are most vulnerable because they always carry money and the local population knows this," said Chitwant Singh, vice-president of a gurdwara in Markina city, 15 km from capital city Manila. The gurdwara management is trying to get details of Punjabis killed in previous years and decades. Punjabis have been living in the Philippines since the early years of the 20th century.
"The local police are very corrupt. The people are ruthless. They are ready to kill at the drop of a hat," said another Punjabi from Moga, who shifted to Manila about eight years ago. Unwilling to alarm his family back home, he doesn't want to be quoted.
He added that guns and ammunition were easy to procure in Philippines. "Even if we manage to get the culprits booked, we can't approach the courts as there have been incidents where Punjabis were killed during the trial," said Chitwant. He added that the police were not keen to register cases. "Instead, they prefer to shoot anyone caught indulging in theft or looting," said another Punjab money-lender.
'March, April most dangerous'
March and April are the most dreaded months for Punjabi money-lenders, when new admissions in schools take place. "A majority of the Filipino population is poor, but they want to educate their children, so they loot Punjabi money-lenders, who are most vulnerable," said Chitwant. He added that the local population also became desperate for money when someone was ill in the family.