The foundation former President Corazon Aquino put up 12 years ago to help the poor start their own enterprise is folding up for lack of financial support.
In a letter sent Tuesday to donors and friends, PinoyME (ME for medium enterprises) is closing shop by end of August, nearly 10 years after the democracy icon died of colon cancer.
“With deep sadness in our hearts, we announce the end of operations of PinoyME Foundation by August 31, 2019 due to liquidity problems,” said PinoyME president Danny Songco in a letter, aptly titled “Farewell and Thank You”, to supporters and friends.
“Although we are saddened by this untimely end of our existence, we are proud of what we have accomplished. We are confident that we have contributed our humble share to the growing efforts to finding solutions to the wicked problem of rural poverty and created emergent models of commercially sustainable rural enterprises of small farmers,” he said.
PinoyMe has worked with over 100 microfinance institutions in disbursing P313 million in loans to rural microentrepreneurs. It has has helped grow 11,700 microenterprises in 26 provinces across the country in the past 12 years.
HOW IT STARTED
Aquino founded PinoyME in July 2007 a few weeks after she met some 30 women in a series of seminars on microfinance in Barangay Tatalon in Quezon City. It was her 72nd birthday, and Aquino decided to attend the seminar instead and sat with the women.
She arrived unannounced at the site in her old, green Toyota Hi-Ace van and found the women huddled in a small room listening to the lecture. Upon seeing Aquino, who was in her trademark yellow dress, they scrounged around for a decent chair. She quietly told a woman to ignore her.
Wearing dusters and slippers, the women, mostly housewives in their 20s and 30s, were asking questions about microfinance and how it could improve their lives, the questions centered mostly from borrowing anywhere between P2,000 to put up a banana cue kiosk, and P5,000 to bankroll a fledgling sari-sari store. One of them said she didn’t want to borrow from the “five-six” creditors.
Aquino sat quietly, listening to the stories for about an hour. She hardly said a word until she bade them goodbye. She would return, she told the women, leaving them wondering what brought the former president to their neighborhood.
“When you listen to people who have so much less in life yet they beam with so much hope, you wonder how people with so much can be so cynical about our country,” she reportedly told her nephew Raffy Lopa, who accompanied her on the visit, on their way home.
THE VIP DONORS
A few weeks later, Aquino summoned to a meeting business leaders Washington Sycip, Oscar Lopez, Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, Manny Pangilinan, Ramon del Rosario, Jess Tambunting, among others.
Over coffee, she asked all of them to listen to a lecture by Aris Alip of the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD) on the wonders of microfinance and microcredit.
Alip was a 2008 Ramon Magsaysay Award for public service for helping the poor through microfinance, a lending system by the poor and for the poor pioneered by Grameen Bank of Bangladesh.
Aquino and Alip told the group that there were too many decent and honest people who had very little wanting to uplift their lives, but only needed a little help from those who had so much. Aquino recalled her Tatalon experience and asked the business leaders to put up the foundation that would bankroll the Tatalon women.
“I was shocked when I found out how many people were engaged in ‘five-six,’” Sycip told this newsman after the meeting. “For me, [bringing down] the cost of credit is one of three ways to reduce poverty in this country. The other two are education and rural health. If a poor mother selling small items can finance her inventory through microfinance instead of ‘five-six,’ she can send her kids to school.”
After Alip’s lecture, Sycip gave P5 million for the foundation on the spot. Pangilinan contributed P5 million. Lopez gave P2 million. Zobel doled out P1 million, but he was so impressed with Alip he sent one of his sons to apprentice with the CARD Bank’s main office in San Pablo City in Laguna for a year. Other businessmen followed suit. It was “Cory magic” at work again.
In all, Aquino raised P20 million, paving the way for the establishment of PinoyME Foundation, publicly launched in February 2009 during the 23rd anniversary of four-day revolution that ousted strongman Ferdinand Marcos and cronies.
Aquino went about her microfinance work quietly. She planned to enlist the public’s help in PinoyME’s capital-raising programs. But as the public awareness campaign was being readied, Aquino’s health deteriorated.
Despite her failing health, she agreed to videotape a message appealing to the public, especially the big investors, to help her fulfill her dream of reaching out and turning around the lives of 5 million people at the very least. In sum, her message, initially made for a TV commercial, can be viewed on www.pinoyme.com. She spoke of her faith in the Filipino people: “If Filipinos can win back their freedom on their own, they can conquer poverty on their own.”
Until she died on August 1, 2009, Aquino had big dreams for the foundation. She wanted to turn around the lives of at least five million people by 2011. Sycip died on October 7, 2017. Over the last three years, funding for the foundation came scarce.
“We thank all our donors, partners, friends, and everyone who have in their own way generously contributed to our achievements and to the memories that we leave behind,” Songco said in the letter.
“We are particularly grateful to all the rural communities that have allowed us to work with them in finding the continuing path to their development. They are the core of our mission and the reason we struggled all these years to survive.”