By By Ramonfelipe A. Sarmiento
Sosyudad (Third of five parts)
posted 26-Feb-2010  ·  
1,235 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

(NOTE: The current series is drawn from my Ph.D. dissertation in Anthropology at the University of the Philippines. It is my way of giving back to the community what I had taken the liberty to extract from it, namely its culture – or certain aspects of it. This is the least I can do to reciprocate the generosity.)

The other stereotype of the sosyudad is its being a saving and lending enterprise. Of the 150 groups I surveyed, only eleven did not engage in the saving scheme. Of the 139 saving groups only ten did not make the money available for lending. In the first part of this series we established that the basic purpose of the sosyudad is the harampang meant to enact egalitarian camaraderie and for this, drinking is the main mechanism. But this is something that is gratified on a weekly basis and the routine can easily dissipate interest. What gives the sosyudad a long-term framework is the saving and lending enterprise because the barangaan is done annually (semi-annually for a few). Therefore, the life of a sosyudad group is usually reckoned in a yearly cycle.

But more than giving a sosyudad group at least a one-year term of existence, the saving-lending also provides a sense of purpose, a practical counterpart to the whimsical aspect of drinking. According to an informant "Ta iyo man sana, pirming ga harampang, maghulog-hulog lamang ning diit-diit." Somehow, it diminishes the guilt of alcoholic indulgence: "bako sanang puro ilinom, igwa man paga-halton pag-abo ning pista, maski pang rikado lamang." It might have been the original purpose of saving, to defray the cost of fiestas, but this has been outgrown through the years. The sosyudad saving enterprise has become much more than pang-rikado. According to my rough estimates, some three million pesos circulate among the various groups for this undertaking. While the barangaan is timed during fiestas or Christmas, share money is typically spent on things like house improvement or procurement of appliances, etc. An all-women group in West Garden does their barangaan in June so that the money becomes handy for school opening.

But more than a means to save, the sosyudad is useful as a source for credit, not just for members but also for outsiders. Many people prefer the sosyudad as creditor over the bank because it does not involve paper work and the cash is immediately available. It is also favored over the "5-6" or bombay because it charges less interest. Although there are a few groups which exact 20% per month, most groups take only between 5 - 15%. If you are a member, you are usually charged less than a non-member. One intriguing fact on interest charges is that the rural groups charge more than the urban counterparts, which is ironic because the people in the hinterlands are more financially hard-up. The reason for this perhaps is supply and demand: cash is in shorter supply in the rural areas.

The lending that goes on in the sosyudad is really small-scale. Typically, the regular amount dispensed to borrowers goes only up to a few thousands. But there are really groups with large capital. The biggest single borrowing I documented was fifty thousand pesos which was used to finance somebody applying for work abroad. The group involved was one which was more oriented to the business aspect than the harampang, which to be sure is quite rare.

In many ways, the saving-lending sosyudad is like a credit cooperative. But the cooperative movement and the sosyudad practitioners have mutual hostilities. All that drinking in the sosyudad is seen as inimical with the goals of cooperativism in particular and development in general, a giving in to the people’s vices, especially the poor. On the other hand, all that paper work, formalities and concern for economics in the cooperative are grossly distasteful to the sosyudad loyalists who are more after the intimate and informal bonding between members. Besides, there is the lingering suspicion that cooperatives are the government’s way of monitoring a group’s affairs and transactions.

An interesting story regarding sosyudad and "community development" was told to me by a professional community organizer. Committed to the dictum that community development must be pursued in terms of the :people’s culture," our organizer joined a sosyudad with the hope of being able to have deeper understanding of it, and eventually make it a vehicle for community organizing. While a member, he started introducing the concept of cooperatives to the group. The members were duly receptive but they refused to convert the sosyudad into a cooperative. Instead, they formed another group that would operate as a cooperative, but with the same members. How did they manage? The sosyudad met on Saturday and the cooperative met on the next day. It went on for some time, but later on the cooperative withered away but the sosyudad remained. Lesson? It is difficult to recruit the sosyudad to the cause of development. Not because the members are anti-development but that the sosyudad has its operating logic.

While the saving and lending further cement the sosyudad and provide it with a practical purpose, it is also a major source of problems that may eventually lead to a group’s break up. We hear of many cases where members of a sosyudad group, subscribed to promote egalitarian camaraderie, end up as bitter enemies because of problems arising from the handling of funds. Money indeed can make or break relations. Ta pag imo na ang pigahororonan, deficil. Problems of this sort can take many forms. Failure to pay. Favoritism in lending. And disappearing funds. In the course of my research, I heard of many weird stories regarding this. Many of them are quite incredible and like the legendary "Waltams" group, may actually be folklore. One story goes that, in order to ensure safety, a group had fabricated a deposit box with individual compartments for each member, with respective slits for making the hulog. When opening time came, everybody was shocked to find that the money changed places! What? Mga balag-balagon na imo, naki-harongharong? So the supposedly happy occasion became daw a free-for-all, nag-sarapakan daa, nagsarabunutan pa. Another story involves a group that in order to secure their funds has a deposit box made of steel and sealed with a padlocked that could secure a bank. However, it got swept away by the flood during a strong typhoon, or so the caretaker claimed. According to members, na-Titanic.

But such horror stories are the exception, not the rule. The fact that people continue to invest time and resources in the sosyudad means it is something that produces more advantage than otherwise. Aside from gratifying one’s need for belongingness and socialization, the saving and lending scheme of the sosyudad provide more utilitarian premium. If anything, the sosyudad is an exemplary illustration of the superiority of collective action over individualism in approaching our concerns. When people cooperate and pool resources together, there are much better chances for them to be able to solve problems and achieve goals. The sosyudad is basically a mechanism for mutual help and care, and this is not expressed only in the harampang and saving and lending, but also in many other ways. Some groups engage in livelihood projects such as all sorts of buy-and-sell activities. During times of need, the sosyudad is a handy source of help, in money, in kind, or in service.

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