Yesterday, we visited the embassy and spent several hours in briefings.
The challenges facing the Philippines are staggering when compared to our own, namely 42 percent of the population living in poverty - at a poverty line of 2 dollars a day. And the poverty is everywhere, you can't miss it.
Along with the poverty came an interesting statistic: only 20 percent of the population uses banks.
The visit to the City of Quezon City was an insight into how governments are addressing both of these. Quezon City, with a population of 3.3 million citizens, has nearly 65% of its population in substandard housing, due to a massive migration over the last 20 years.
So the city has taken two interesting steps:
One, they have instituted a tax on homeowners to create a corporation to move people out of substandard housing and into safe homeownership. Residents who qualify pay roughly 50 dollars a month for their new home mortgages, and the interest is returned to the taxed homeowners. The city appears to be having some issues meeting the demand, but it is an interesting concept for getting residents into better homes.
Secondly, working with USAID, the city is allowing its residents to pay taxes and other fees through their cell phone, and will begin paying employees through direct deposit. Along the same line, there is an effort to educate residents on saving and banking.
The challenges here are so different than our own, thus the solutions may seem a bit foreign, but it's fascinating listening to some of the interesting ideas that officials are trying to address problems that are seemingly intractable.
And the journey continues...