Sep 192014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/05/09MANILA1121.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09MANILA1121
2009-05-27 08:56
2011-08-30 01:44
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Embassy Manila

VZCZCXRO3640
OO RUEHBC RUEHCHI RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHFK RUEHGI RUEHHM
RUEHJS RUEHKSO RUEHKUK RUEHLH RUEHNAG RUEHPB RUEHPW RUEHROV RUEHTRO
DE RUEHML #1121/01 1470856
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 270856Z MAY 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4205
INFO RUCNISL/ISLAMIC COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL IMMEDIATE 0432
RHHMUNA/USPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUEHZU/ASIAN PACIFIC ECONOMIC COOPERATION COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC IMMEDIATE
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 001121

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR EAP/EX AND EAP/MTS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON EFIN PHUM KWMN KISL RP
SUBJECT: MICROFINANCE TO EMPOWER MUSLIM FILIPINAS

¶1. (U) Summary: The first Islamic microfinance program in the
Philippines aims to empower Muslim women living in the Autonomous
Region of Muslim Mindanao, a region in the southern Philippines
plagued by poverty and conflict. The intent is to expand the
program nationwide to help Muslim Filipinas economically and
socially, and to promote peace, rule-of-law, and progressive Islamic
values. End summary.

PROGRAM LAUCHED WITH ONE AMERICAN DONATION
——————————————

¶2. (U) Emboff met with Director of the Philippine Council for Islam
and Democracy (PCID) Amina Rasul and her sister/partner Fatima Irene
Tillah Rasul on May 12, 2009 to discuss the first Islamic
microfinance program in the Philippines. Amina Rasul is a human
rights and peace advocate known for her efforts to enhance the
status of Muslim women in the Philippines. Fatima Rasul is former
Philippines Department for Trade and Industry Regional Secretary for
the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. The microfinance program
is part of the Livelihood Program of The Magbassa Kita Foundation,
Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to literacy, poverty
alleviation, and peace. The Islamic Microfinance Program was
launched in October 2008 with a $100k personal donation from
Filipina-American Dr. Myrna L. Soriano.

NOT JUST MICROFINANCE, BUT ISLAMIC MICROFINANCE
——————————————— —

¶3. (U) Microfinance is not new in the Philippines and is part of the
Philippine government’s anti-poverty campaign. However, the region
of Mindanao is severely underserved by microfinance institutions
despite having the highest poverty rates in the Philippines. Of the
47 towns lacking access to microfinance in the Philippines, 33 are
located in this region. Reasons include security concerns, remote
locations, and illiteracy. Executive Director of the Philippine
Office of Muslim Affairs Datu Ali B. Sangki believes that prejudice
against Muslims by mainstream financial institutions may also be a
factor. Currently, no Islamic banks operate in the Philippines
(although one has been chartered, and some mainstream banks offer
Islamic banking products). Rasul’s Islamic Microfinance Program is
the first of its kind in the Philippines, and one of very few
microfinance programs operating in Muslim Mindanao.

GOAL: EMPOWER MUSLIM WOMEN-RESIST SAUDI INFLUENCE
——————————————— —-

¶4. (SBU) Rasul’s efforts to empower Muslim women took a giant step
forward when she helped launch the National Ulama Council for the
Philippines (NUCP) in 2007. Unlike similar Muslim groups in other
countries, the Council emphasizes a leadership role for women (the
Ulema) and is therefore an important leadership forum for them. The
Islamic Microfinance Program is the brainchild of that leadership.
According to Amina Rasul, she developed the Program to respond to
the needs and demands of the Ulema for “financial security” for
Muslim women. The Program aims to empower Muslim women by providing
access to economic opportunities, independent sources of income, and
networks of like-minded women. Higher incomes not only help women
caregivers put rice on the table, but also enhance their status in
their families and communities. Rasul explained that Muslim
Filipinas have traditionally enjoyed respect and autonomy in their
communities. However, the influence of Saudi missionaries over the
past 20 years has caused the “democratic space” of Muslim women to
shrink. She pointed to several communities in Mindanao that have
passed laws requiring women to veil. Rasul sees microfinance as a
way to reverse this “negative trend” for Muslim Filipinas and help
them to defend or even take back rights and status.

¶5. (U) Rasul describes her microfinance program as a pilot project,
which, if successful, could expand to every Muslim community in the
Philippines. It currently provides microloans of up to $80 (there
is no minimum amount) to Muslim women living in the Autonomous
Region. To apply for a loan, women must form a group of six (based
on the Grameen community lending model). They must have an existing
business and pass a background check. The group of six women
selects a leader who travels weekly to the Program Center to make
loan repayments for the group. The program funds livelihood
businesses such as home-based convenience stores that buy
commodities in bulk and sell them retail is small amounts; eateries
and food production; charcoal production; sewing; and laminating
businesses. Rasul also hopes to encourage ethnic craft businesses.

SPECIAL EXEMPTION FOR ACTS OF GOD AND WAR

MANILA 00001121 002 OF 002

—————————————–

¶6. (U) In keeping with Sharia law, the women pay “program costs” of
3.33% monthly for their loans, but pay no “interest.” This rate is
higher than the 2% monthly interest which is standard in loans from
rural banks. Loans can be forgiven if armed conflict or other
unavoidable problems make it impossible to repay. Amina Rasul said
the 85% repayment rate is “good enough,” considering the Program
operates in the midst of an active armed conflict. Fatima Rasul
believes the income generated by the “program costs” fee is enough
to ensure the program is sustainable. However, additional funds
would be needed to expand the scope of the program.

PROGRAM PROVIDES MORE THAN MONEY
——————————–

¶7. (U) Borrowers receive technical support, including instruction in
bookkeeping and business planning, and religious counseling that
promotes a progressive interpretation of Islam, including
instruction from an imam emphasizing the Islamic requirement to
repay debts. The women are required to present their business plans
to the larger group, thereby giving them public speaking experience
and developing networks of like-minded women to support and
encourage each other. Rasul believes that establishing networks and
habits of communication among rural women is a key aspect of
empowering them, just as important as an independent income. The
program also offers literacy training.

WOMEN ARE KEY TO PEACE, LAW, AND “MAINSTREAM” ISLAM
——————————————— ——

¶8. (U) Development experts recognize microfinance as a tool for
alleviating poverty, one cause of radicalism. Rasul’s Islamic
Microfinance Program could provide women in rural Muslim Mindanao
with the status and knowledge they need to help communities resist
conservative Islamic proselytizers, combat Islamic radicalization,
and promote peace in the region. As one Asian Development Bank
official explained, when a community is involved in a microfinance
project, its group members tend to keep other members focused on
income generation, rather than armed conflict. Microfinance could
also help create a positive cultural identity for Philippine Muslims
by promoting “mainstream” Islamic values and institutions.

¶9. (SBU) Comment: The Rasuls will review the program at the end of
its first fiscal year in July 2009 to determine whether changes are
needed. Islamic microfinance experts from Indonesia have offered to
provide technical support. This program is timely given current
developments in Mindanao, and serves many U.S. interests there. It
may therefore be worth further monitoring, and perhaps assisting and
replicating elsewhere.

KENNEY

   

 

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.