Take a bow

For the most part, save for the areas they operate in, rural banks are an unheralded lot. They go about their business as quietly as possible, rarely receiving the national recognition and headlines bigger banks usually get. Rural banks usually operate under the radar.

It is refreshing to see some members of the rural banking industry getting recognized for their “unique strengths and potentials” that allow them to truly play a distinct role in countryside development.

On its 15th anniversary, the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) paid tribute to a number of rural banks by conferring Golden Award for their invaluable support to countryside development even amid heightened competition from bigger banks and non-bank financial institutions.

Conferred with the Golden Award was the One Network Bank, Inc., a rural bank in Davao City. One Network was chosen for its continued support to small farmers and fisherfolk as evidenced by their increasing number of loan portfolio to these usually unreserved sectors.

LBP also named the Rural Bank of Goa, Inc. from Camarines Sur as the most outstanding Countryside Financial Institution (CFI) in the national category, followed by the Gateway Rural Bank, Inc. in Bulacan.

Meanwhile, the Rural Bank of San Jose, Inc. in Camarines Sur garnered third place, while the Rural Bank of Cauayan, Inc. in Cauayan City and the Cantilan Bank Inc. in Surigao del Sur landed in fourth and fifth places, respectively.

The first, second and third place winners in the national level received cash prizes of P300,000, P200,000 and P150,000, respectively, while the fourth- and fifth-place winners received P100,000 and P75,000, respectively.

In addition, LBP gave citations and a cash prize of P75,000 each to the most outstanding rural banks in three political regions: Region 1, Rang-ay Bank, Inc.; Region 4-A, Bangko Kabayan, Inc.; Region 11, Rural Bank of Digos, Inc. Special awards were also given to the Rang-ay Bank, Inc. of La Union as Best CFI Intermediary, with lowest pass-on rate to end borrowers.

The Rural Bank of Cauayan, Inc. of Isabela was adjudged as the Best CFI Availer–Agri/Agra Loans; Rural Bank of Goa, Inc. of Camarines Sur as Best CFI Availer– Microfinance Loans and Gateway Rural Bank, Inc. of Bulacan as Best CFI Availer–All Loans.

Apart from LBP, the Home Guaranty Corporation (HGC) also recognized 17 rural banks, along with one microfinance institution, as partners in their Guaranty Program to boost housing finance and homeownership in the countryside.

The program encourages financial institutions to lend more for housing, while the HGC guarantees security of banks’ investments for their home lending. This gives the rural poor access to easy financing for them to buy their own home.

The rural banking industry’s involvement in the said housing finance undertaking underscores the trust it has earned as a viable source of financing, especially for the underprivileged.

The 17 rural banks and a microfinance institution are located in areas of Luzon. This include 1st Macro Bank; AMA Bank; Banco Alabang; Bank of Makati; Cantillan Bank, Inc.; Lipa Rural Bank, Inc.; Mount Carmel Rural Bank, Inc.; Rang-ay Bank; Rural Bank of Cauayan; Rural Bank of Guinobatan; Rural Bank of Mabitac (Laguna), Inc.; Rural Bank of Pagbilao; Rural Bank of Porac (Pampanga); Rural Bank of Rosario (La Union); Rural Bank of San Jose (Camarines Sur), Inc.; Zambales Rural Bank; and the Alalay sa Kaunlaran Inc., a microfinance institution.

Seldom do rural banks trumpet achievements, most especially those they deem part of their sacred mission. More often than not, rural banking is only recognized when development and economic progress in the countryside would be very hard to achieve. (30)