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Friday, April 10, 2015

Persecuted




Few voices have been raised denouncing the growing trend, perhaps because of the tyranny of political correctness: Christians are being persecuted, violently in many instances, in the hands of those who warped Islam and used it to justify evil.
Pope Francis, in both his Good Friday and Easter Sunday messages, dared speak of this frightening trend: the persecution of Christians. If we fail to denounce it, the Holy Father said, we will be complicit in the recurring crime.
The Pope spoke just days after al-Shebab terrorists crossing from Somalia barged into Garissa University College in Kenya, killing 147 students in cold blood and wounding scores of others. Garissa is a town with a significant Somali population sitting close to the border. The gunmen tried to separate Christian students from the rest and murdered them systematically.
This is the second major attack mounted by al-Shebab militants in Kenya. The first major assault was on an upscale mall in Nairobi nearly two years ago.
In Libya a few weeks ago, Egyptian Coptic Christians were rounded up and executed by militants affiliated with the Islamic State. The same trend is observed in Nigeria, where Boko Haram militants attacked Christian communities and institutions.
For three years now, Islamic militants affiliated with both the Islamic State and Al Qaeda mounted bloody attacks against Christian minorities in both Syria and Iraq. The attacks were accompanied by mass executions and continue on a scale that may rightly be defined as genocide. Christian communities now live in terror and many have chosen to leave both war-torn countries.
The Pope called global attention to the worsening humanitarian situation in Syria especially, where the civil war now on its third year threatens to escalate in its destructiveness as well as in its barbarity. The international community has been reluctant to get involved in Syria, seeing no choice between the brutal Assad dictatorship and the increasingly radicalized Islamic opposition to it.
Syria and Iraq, cradles of many ancient civilizations, both face irreparable destruction due to civil war and sectarian violence. The minority Christian communities are caught in the unremitting struggle between Sunnis and Shiites in the region. That sectarian struggle now spills into Yemen, where regional powers Saudi Arabia and Iran are apparently supporting the warring sects.
The whole crescent stretching from Syria to Sub-Saharan Africa threatens to explode into sectarian war unlike any we have seen before. With deepening Islamic fundamentalism expressed in increasingly powerful militias, Christians are likely to be targets of hate campaigns if not outright extermination drives.
Silence cannot possibly be the appropriate response to this growing peril.
Unbanked
Our banking system might appear resilient and robust, having withstood the past cycles of financial stresses quite admirably. The fact, however, is that fully 73 percent of our population remains unbanked and financially underserved.
That is a glaring percentage. Three-fourths of our population is beyond the reach of the banking system. They have no access to credit, investment opportunities and safe depositaries.
Most of our bank branches are securely in the urban areas, catering to, well, urban clients. It is, simply put, uneconomical for the banks to operate banking facilities in the communities that ironically need financial services most desperately. Extending banking services to the underserved communities seem to run against the economies of scale, both for deposit-taking as well as lending.
Commercial banks need to be tough-minded and incredibly imaginative to break out from the present pattern and extend financial services to the underserved communities. Extending financial services to the greater number has to be a conscious mission, one that needs to be undertaken so that the savings and investment base of our economy widens from its currently narrow base.
One bank, at least, has committed itself to breaking out from the traditional mold of Philippine banking.
Security Bank, which grew from a small “credit card bank” to a full-service universal bank because it constantly innovated on its products to reach a broader client base, commits itself to extending the reach of our banking system.
Now the country’s eighth largest banking institution, Security Bank grew precisely on the back of bold product lines designed to reach out to a wider base. Its Unit Investment Trust Fund (UITF) proved to be the best performing fund for 2014, providing the best returns for small investors.
The SB Peso Equity Fund led the industry with a 48.29 percent return on investments last year. The SB Asset Variety Fund likewise proved to be most profitable among the 17 balanced funds in the industry.
Security Bank will soon open the door wider for small investors. Effective this week, the bank will no longer charge their clients a penalty when they choose to redeem their UITF investments.  UITFs offer savers much better returns by channeling savings to medium- to long-term investment placements.
The bank’s impressive growth performance and solidity may be rightly credited to the leadership of Alberto Villarosa, who assumed the presidency of Security Bank in 2004. Over the last decade, the bank increased its profitability, achieved the lowest non-performing loan ratio in the industry and expanded its operations.
Villarosa will be elevated to chairmanship of the bank this month. He will be succeeded by Alfonso “Yogi” Salcedo Jr., trained at the Harvard Business School and with impressive credentials in retail banking. The choice of the next CEO underscores this bank’s commitment to expand banking services to the underserved sectors.
We hope the rest of the industry will follow Security Bank’s lead. We cannot have truly inclusive growth until a majority of the population is reached by the banking industry. The banks themselves cannot thrive serving only a fourth of our people.

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