During my first visit to Dumaguete seven years ago,when I needed to exchange U.S. Dollars for Philippine Pesos, my friend directed me to a company on San Jose Street across from Lee Plaza called Forex. Being a creature of habit, that would always be my location of choice whenever I needed Pesos from then on out.
I soon discovered a problem with that habit, however. During normal business days, Forex is opened Monday to Friday. No money exchange on the weekend. You also have to take into account that normal business days in Philippines are not always in line with normal business days elsewhere.
One December afternoon, I was running low on Pesos and couldn't depend on Forex due to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Jose Rizal's birthday. I was in desperate need for another option.My friend then told me about the money changers.
On the corner of Legaspi St. and Perdices you'll find them.......or rather, they'll find you. They will approach any foreigner on the chance the foreigner might need Pesos. The street corner is very near to St. Catherine's Cathedral. There's a MacDonald's on the corner now (it had not been there when I first visited).
It works like this:
The man will ask you the type of currency you wish to exchange and in what amount and denomination. He pulls out his calculator, tells you the exchange rate and the amount you will receive for your Dollars. A one hundred Dollar bill will net you a better rate than five Twenties, for example. If you agree to the exchange,the man will produce the Pesos, give them to you to hold (and count). If the count is right, then you give him the U.S.Dollars.
Surprisingly, the rate is not so very different from the "official" rate offered by companies like Forex. The difference may amount to only a few pesos; certainly, not much of a profit. I could never understand how these guys could be making any real money.
Recently, I needed to send money via Western Union to a family member in Mindanao and had to use the street exchange in order to have enough cash. It was on that occasion that I read a notice at Western Union about money laundering. That was when it hit me.....OK, these guys are laundering the money. I can only imagine where the money comes from. I'm not quite sure of the legality of this type of money changing, but it is done fairly well out in the open. If it is illegal, the police are turning a blind eye to it all.