Christmas 'magic' propels remittances, lifts peso

Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 19 2019 01:56 PM | Updated as of Dec 19 2019 02:09 PM

 Filipinos gather around a giant Christmas tree in Manila. Remittances grew faster than expected in October, in a testament to Filipinos' gift-giving spirit. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file​

MANILA – Hong Kong household helper Rebecca Alvarez added a box full of groceries to her monthly cash remittance, hoping to make this Christmas extra special for her 2 children, while giving the peso an unexpected jolt despite global uncertainties.

Cash transfers and balikbayan boxes from Filipino expatriates surge during the holidays. Growth last October defied uncertainties due to the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and Brexit, which both rattled world financial markets.

"Napakalaki, sobrang saya na maibigay kung ano man 'yung hiling na pamasko ng pamilya namin," Alvarez told ABS-CBN News.

(We are overjoyed every time we give something that our families asked for during Christmas.)

Cash remittances coursed through banks grew 8 percent to $2.7 billion (P136.8 billion), beating analysts' expectations. Personal remittances, including those in kind and house-to-house transfers grew 7.7 percent to $3 billion, according to central bank data.

The 49-year-old Alvarez's Christmas package that was sent to her Silang, Cavite home was worth roughly P20,000. She recalled how she escaped from a melee because she was wearing red instead of black, the color of the pro-democracy protesters.

Hong Kong is the Philippines third biggest source of remittances in Asia while the US is the top contributor overall.

Bangko Sentral Governor Benjamin Diokno earlier expressed optimism that remittances would continue growing with increased demand for Overseas Filipino Workers.

Rebecca Alvarez has been working overseas for 11 years. Photo: Rebecca Alvarez

UNWAVERING SPIRIT

Filipinos working and living abroad have an "unwavering commitment" to send money and gifts back home, defying some studies that predict a slowdown due to global risks, ING Bank senior economist Nicholas Mapa told ABS-CBN News.

"The motive to remit goes beyond a mere profit bottom line, they send home their hard earned salaries to ensure a better life for their families and that can never be modeled," he Mapa said.

Marites Palma, another household helper in Hong Kong, spends as much as HK$2,000 (P13,000) on Christmas gifts, which she considers an expression of love.

"Importante ang pagbibigay ng kaunting regalo sa mga kapamilya dahil yun ang paraan ko na maipakita ang aking pagmamahal sa kanila, na maipadama sa kanila na kahit wala ako ay parang naroon lang ako sa tabi nila," Palma told ABS-CBN News. 

(It's important to give a little gift to my family since it's my way of showing my love for them, to make them feel that I'm still there despite my physical absence)

Kimberly Anne Mendoza, a ballerina and chorus dancer at Hong Kong Disneyland, said sending money makes up for not being home during holiday gatherings.

"Yung thought na naisipan mong magbigay ng regalo para sa ibang tao, kahit minsan gipit ka na, para sakin 'yun 'yung magic ng gift giving," the 26-year old said.

(The idea of giving gifts, even though you yourself does not have enough, for me, that's the magic of gift giving)

Kimberly Anne Mendoza has been working at Hong Kong Disneyland for 3 years. Photo: Adena Micaela Silang​

When the Christmas effect wanes, remittances are still expected to continue growing, albeit at a "modest" pace, said Mapa.

"Remittances have been the ace up the sleeve of the Philippines throughout all these years, providing domestic purchasing power and a steady stream of foreign currency, an increasingly important commodity for an economy whose export sector has struggled," he said.