The town of Culion in Palawan used to be known as the Island of No Return, when it served as home to the largest leper colony in the world. Its inhabitants – feared, and at times reviled – were quarantined for decades, until the cure for leprosy was discovered in 1987 and the disease was totally eradicated in the year 2000. Today, its residents are striving to rise above the stigma of the past as the fourth-class municipality slowly builds a reputation as a tourist destination.
BPI BanKo (BanKo), the country’s first and only mobile-based bank, plays a role in Culion’s “rebirth” as it recently inaugurated three local businesses within the island as BanKo partner outlets, accredited and trained to accept account applications and perform cash in and cash out transactions. In partnership with Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan, a Jesuit ministry helping vulnerable communities, BanKo provides Culion residents with access to formal financial services and educates them on basic saving habits through the PondoKO Para sa Kinabukasan program.
Prior to the arrival of BanKo on the island, residents used to take two-hour boat rides to get to the nearest bank located in Coron island. For majority of Culion’s inhabitants who attended the BanKo’s formal launch, this will be their first time to have a savings account. Over 500 BanKO accounts were opened in the first two weeks, with more residents applying at partner outlets.
The island’s residents, led by Culion Mayor Emiliano G. Marasigan, Jr., welcomed the arrival of BanKo in their community. Shiela Mae Iglesia, owner and proprietor of Hannah’s Store that is now a BanKo partner outlet narrated, “Now, my townmates can finally start saving just by cashing in at my sari sari store. They don’t have to spend P400 anymore to go to Coron just for their financial needs. As an added bonus, I earn extra income as an outlet.”
Father Xavier Alpasa, S.J., Executive Director of Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan, who has been at the forefront of Culion’s rehabilitation and development said, “BanKo has not only brought virtual banking to the island of Culion which has never had any bank ever. It has actually brought hope which everyone can now bank on, forever.”
“BanKo’s efforts toward financial inclusion take on a greater meaning as we establish our presence in Culion, a place that has been isolated and avoided for so long,” said BanKo President John Rubio. “In line with our mission to provide every Filipino with a bank account, we are constantly reaching out to underserved communities, especially in rural areas. We take great pride in being the first financial institution to serve the people of Culion.”