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A Cue from CUES
(Article published in the May 8, 2001 issue of TODAY, Business Section)

For those who have more in life than those who trooped to Malacanang and were dispersed during last May 1’s mayhem, reflection leads to the rightful realization that the haves were all responsible somehow for the conditions that gave rise to the attack on the Palace.

Perhaps, if the haves had been more generous in sharing their resources and less selfish in leading their personal lives, the poor would have been less vulnerable to the enticements of so-called leaders who were as skillful in rousing hate as they were quick in disclaiming responsibility for the violence that was hate’s logical aftermath.

So, what is to be done now? An answer, among many other good ones, is to take the cue from the CUES (Credit Union Empowerment & Strengthening) Program in Mindanao of the World Council of Credit Unions, Inc. (WOCCU). A microfinance success story not too many have heard of.

WOCCU is an international organization of credit union associations representing 85 countries serving in Africa, Asia, Australia, Canada, the Carrebbean, Czech Republic, Fiji, Great Britain, Ireland, Latin America, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Russia, Ukraine and the United States. Its mission is to be the world’s leading advocate, platform for innovation and development agency for credit unions. Its vision is "Quality Credit Unions for Everyone… enabling millions of people to grow by providing access to affordable financial services."

In the Philippines, its presence is called CUES-Philippines. Funded by the United States Agency for International Development, it is a 72-month development program designed not to capitalize loans nor put deposits with any of its partner cooperatives, but to educate a cooperative’s officers, management and staff on the importance of adhering strictly to appropriate financial standards. Now in its 48th month, CUES-Philippines to better the quality of the cooperatives’ services and improve the lives of the cooperatives’ members.

CUES-Philippines is based in Davao City at Dr. 2, Josefina Bldg., 109 Mac Arthur Highway, Matina, from which it transfers new microfinance technologies on finance management, credit administration, savings mobilization and marketing concepts to 19 savings and credit cooperatives in Mindanao. As of 28 February 2001, these cooperatives have a combined members-users total of 130,216.

The major thrust of the program is to assist the cooperatives to adopt and practice good governance in line with international standards. A key concept is complete reliance on internal financing. In other words, micro loans to members are to be funded exclusively from savings of members, a sort of "bayanihan" in financial life.

A cooperative’s financial stability is monitored by a system called PEARLS which is a set of ratios measuring Protection of the funds at risk, Effective financial structure, Asset quality, Rates of return and costs, Liquidity and Signs of growth.

Cooperatives consistently meeting the required ratios are given the FOCCUS brand (standing for Finance Organizations Achieving Certified Credit Union Standards) which operates as a seal of good housekeeping, assuring the public that the FOCCUS branded cooperative has low delinquency, has made adequate provisions for delinquent loans and has controlled its non-earning assets.

Foccus also affirms that a cooperative has reduced, if not eliminated, its external dependency, has mobilized savings effectively, accumulated institutional capital, managed liquidity demands on savings, and grew assets and membership satisfactorily.

As of 31 December 2000, seven cooperatives have already achieved the FOCCUS brand, and 12 more are working for the same recognition.

All this is a rebuttal of the proposition that our poor are undisciplined, that they do not pay their obligations, that they do not have the capability to achieve international standards of financial responsibility, and that helping them out is a senseless waste of scarce resources. It vindicates instead the faith that poor can in fact be empowered to rise above the limitations often involuntarily imposed upon them by birth and circumstance as well as the pride and prejudice of their more fortunate brethren.

If the CUES experience (not necessarily its exact same methods and systems) is eventually replicated in enough places and by enough Filipinos seriously looking for the meaning to be drawn from the turmoil at EDSA last week, then, perhaps, what we have seen at the Shrine can also rightfully carry the EDSA name since it too could well be the beginning of the breaking of bondage.

EDSA I was a break from a dictatorial government; EDSA II was the casting off of a corrupt administration; and EDSA III if understood as a call to action and not recrimination, could very well be, like one born out of time, the poor rising from the pit of poverty, achieved by hands pulling up other hands.