I was on my laptop when the phone rang. On the other side of the line, a soft spoken voice greeted. “Hi Sir Rolando. Your application has been approved.”
It was in Laguna, Crossing Calamba Bank of the Philippine Island’s branch (BPI), that I intended to open a Single Savings Account around January or February last year. I was with my partner Gilly. We approached the New Accounts desk and waited for our turn. A young lady attended to us. After I told her that I wanted to open an account and she informed us of the requirements, she excused herself to seek advise from her superior. My only fear then was I do not know braille if she presents an application form with such. She came back with regret, telling us that I can only have a Joint Account. When I asked her why, she said “Di po kayo nakakabasa.” (You can’t read) I replied, “I can, using my phone.” I explained further and said I can show her a demonstration. She stayed silent so I requested if I could see the Manager. She left, came back and told us that the manager is busy. We decided to leave when it seemed we were not getting a substantial explanation from the lady.
I visited another BPI branch a week later, this time in Carmelrey Canlubang but got the same offer – a Joint Account.
My partner sent an email to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas to complain about the lack of options being provided to people with disabilities. I understand from an email that my partner received from BPI in response to his complaint, that the bank wanted to protect me, and the only way to enforce such protection is for me to avail of a Joint Account. But opening an account with someone is no protection for me at all.
With the advances in technology, I suggest that every bank should review their policy. Braille is invented in the early 1800’s, how come it never appeared in the bank’s forms to assist the blind. Currently, numerous Optic Character Recognition (OCR) applications available to be used in mobile phones to scan paper documents and instantly convert them to digital format and have this read in a single touch. All these and more inventions are to make everything accessible to the blind community. Although we certainly need protection like every body else, we also need to exercise self reliance, right to choose and independence. But not a Joint Account.
I went to a Union Bank branch in Real Calamba Laguna on Friday, 12th of February, where I thought it was accessible to our dwelling. I presented the following to Lisa, at the New Accounts desk: PWD ID, UMID and, TIN ID. I told her that I wanted to open a Regular Savings Account (E-Wallet). She excused herself, came back with Allan who introduced himself as the Sales Officer of the said bank. I told him my reasons in opening an account and added that I can sign using thumb mark whichever is appropriate. He replied that my signature would be fine and left. Lisa gets back to me and said I can open an EON Account. I understand from further query that EON serves as a VISA debit card and thus have annual and other transaction charges. I said Regular Savings (E-Wallet) fits my needs since I also intend to save. She left again, came back and said I can open a Regular Savings (Passbook). I asked her why then. She said they wanted to monitor my transactions. “Pwede naman po kayong pumunta ng banko kung kailangan nyong bumili ng…for example, plane tickets.” (You can always go to the bank if for example you want to buy plane tickets). she added.
Aside from the inconveniences a passbook will give me, now I am confused. She offered earlier an EON account which of course they won’t have the ability to monitor my transactions and now offering me a passbook just because they want to monitor my transactions? I paused. I do not want to leave a bad impression so I flashed a smile, said “I will think about it.” and bid Lisa goodbye.
In the afternoon of the same day, I visited another Union Bank, this time in Parian Calamba branch. After a woman collected my ID cards at the New Accounts desk, she said that the Operation Manager (OM) needs to interview me for approval of my desired account. She leads me to the office where Len was seated. She asked about my eye condition, my intentions in opening a bank account and other stuff. I remember answering all her questions with glee, just like in a job interview, that I forgotten the fact that it is my money I am entrusting them. After the short interview, she took my ID Cards to the copier, came back to me and said that my application is for the Sales Officer’s approval, who at that time was out of the office. I jotted down my mobile number in big strokes on the paper she handed me. Before I left, I gave her my warmest valentine greetings.
From my experience in my fully sighted years, I never encountered difficulties in opening a bank account. In less than two years of blindness, I did my best to acquire knowledge to equip myself in coping up with this impairment. I searched the internet, self-taught on how to use a computer and a phone with Voice Over Function, looked for Apps to help me navigate the road and Apps to help me read printed materials and a lot more. Above all, I learned to adapt, to live without seeing through the eyes because like every body else, we just want to live in a fair world.
I learned from Ana (a friend of mine) that Banco De Oro (BDO) also has a Savings VISA. So on February 19 I took a quick visit to one of it’s branches in iMall with my niece. At the bank, I told the New Accounts personnel my intention to open an account. She confirmed that they offer the account that I am referring to and added the requirements in opening the said account. She excused herself and vacated her post. She was accompanied by the Operations Manager when she got back. I returned the manager’s greeting with the most delightful smile I can draw on my face together with a short but sweet “Hi!”
She asked if I own a business. “Not at this moment. But hopefully in the future.” I replied.
Our conversation went on and on as I detailed the purpose of my visit – save, do internet banking and purchase through the internet.
She wondered how I will go about it. So with gusto, I explained to her the innovations in accessibility in recent technology. She apologised for the lack of knowledge about these.
“It’s not necessary.
“Sir, with your banking needs, a Passbook will do.” She then told me.
“Really?” I replied intrigued.
“Yes Sir! you can save, do internet banking and purchase in the internet using a passbook.”
A moment of silence, I heard the personnel whisper to her. She turned to me and said apologetically “Ay Sir, hindi pala pwede ang internet purchasing sa passbook.” (Sir, I am mistaken, internet banking is not possible with a passbook)
“Okay, I will have a Savings VISA Card then.” I insisted politely.
After she sought advise from the Bank Manager, she again told me that Passbook is the only instrument they can offer for my security.
I explained that I greatly understood their concern but passbook is riskier and more inconvenient in my case.
She retracted saying I might lose the card and someone else would be able to withdraw from my account.
“Anybody can lose their card for many different reasons. Why won’t you offer everyone passbook too?” explaining myself.
“Eh, hindi po kasi kayo nakakakita.” (It’s because you cannot see)
I shrunk in my seat. Of course she never meant to hurt my feelings.
I knew that no matter how I explained myself, she will only see my disability in spite of my many abilities.
Before we left, she said that they are happy to assist me when I decide to choose to open an account with their bank. I thanked her.
I realised that despite of the many inventions available to make banking accessible to the blind community, the authorities fail to incorporate this in the mainstream of the society. Although at some point I felt discriminated, I remain hopeful that I will find a bank that caters to my needs.
Yesterday, I have finally signed an application to open a bank account with Union Bank in Parian Calamba. A few days earlier, I received a call from Len. In my phone conversation with Len, the bank Operations Manager, she said that my desire to open an account has been approved but I was still quite unsure whether they offered me EON, Passbook or E-Wallet. So after I tackled errands for my mother at a law firm and bought plants at a garden near the municipal office, I scheduled a ride with Caloy. At the bank, Gilly sat across my seat. I brought him with me as a witness to my signing of bank documents while Didith, the account officer, stood also as a witness on behalf of the bank. Before anything else, I clarified if it is indeed E-Wallet that I will be getting. She confirmed without hesitations “Yes Sir!”
In that moment, my eyes lit up behind dark glasses and a smile broke from my pursed lips from ear-to-ear without forcing myself to do so. We proceeded with the documents. With every signature specimen, I affixed a thumb mark as it was one of the requirements to validate my penmanship. While she reviewed each document, we talked about politics, Pacquiao and gay rights. I thanked Didith for her assistance and sought Len’s presence to express my sincerest gratitude before we stepped out of the bank.