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ATM moments in the Philippines

It happens every now and then. I’m standing in line at an ATM. One or two Filipinos are currently using it. They insert their card, punch in their PIN, and then check their bank balance. Often, they want to learn if a family member overseas has transmitted funds to the account. If so, they shout for joy, jump a bit, and then withdraw some money. If not, their shoulders drop and they push the button to retrieve the card.

When using the ATM, I observe my surroundings carefully. This includes looking in the trash can near my leg. Usually, it is overflowing with receipts. I read the account balance on the easy-to-see receipts. In past years, many of them reported several thousand pesos, a few showed tens of thousands of pesos, and some revealed a nearly empty account.

As the season of pandemic has lengthened, the percentage of receipts reporting nearly empty accounts has greatly increased. Nearly all the ones I now see show less than 150 pesos. If I were to stand near an ATM for an hour, I might witness only a few users experiencing a positive ATM moment. The large majority would sigh and walk away, pockets still empty.

My years in the Philippines had also taught me to not try to get cash from ATMs on Sunday afternoon or early Monday morning. This was because, by then, account holders had withdrawn all the cash in them for weekend shopping. It would not be until bank hours on Monday that the cash in them was replenished.

On a recent Monday, the due date for my rent was approaching. I decided to try to get the cash early that morning. I went for a jog and swung by my neighborhood ATM. I approached it expecting to see a note on its screen announcing that it was out of money. Instead, it welcomed me. I inserted my card, did the other steps, and got the cash. While it was performing the transaction, I glanced at the trash can. It was only half full, and each easy-to-read receipt showed a very low balance.

Please pray for:

1. the many Filipinos who are struggling to provide for their families;

2. officials who are making decisions about community quarantines that affect jobs;

3. officials who are making decisions about helping those in need.

Andy Smith
OMF Philippines


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