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We, the launderers

(Somewhere in Europe) – At the airport, the man at the foreign exchange counter was doing his usual routine. He would ask every customer what currency he or she needed and how much. It was simple, really – he calculated the rate, counted the bills and handed the money to each buyer or seller.

“Next please,” he would say, one after the other, almost like clockwork. He was in his late 30s or early 40s and seemed to know the drill perfectly well. The line was long but it moved quickly because, as I said, the man moved fast and easy and money literally slipped through his hands smoothly. The more bills to exchange, the more commissions too for this forex counter.

And then came the turn of a fellow Filipino traveler.

She asked to change some dollars into the local currency. It was her first time in Europe and she was beaming with excitement. It was almost palpable as she grinned from ear to ear; not even the 16-hour or so flight from the Philippines would slow her down. Getting ready for her first European adventure, she wanted to get some local currency first before anything else.

After an exchange of pleasantries, the man at the counter asked her where she was from.


“How much do you need?”

“$700,” she said.

The man said he could only exchange $495. She didn’t ask why. Maybe, it was a simple administrative matter.

He readied the local currency; she gave him five pieces of crisp $100. He handed her $5 as change.

He then went back to his computer. And that’s when the bad news came crashing down.

Unfortunately, he said apologetically, he could not take her bills because, in so many words, he said something like the Philippines is on a list of countries being monitored for money laundering.

She could try, said the man, in another forex outlet in the city.

That’s that. She was stunned but saw no reason to appeal, for what could she do, really?

The man called the next customers in line but guess what – we’re all Filipinos.

We didn’t bother trying our luck anymore. It was too embarrassing.

In fact, more than an inconvenience, it was for me a very embarrassing incident for us Filipinos.

Shrugging off this sort of mishap, our group of Filipino travelers walked out