Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Chinese in the Philippines during the Spanish era

Title: The Philippine Islands
Author: John Foreman

Long before the foundation of Manila by Legaspi in 1571 the Chinese traded with these Islands. Their locus standi, however, was invariably a critical one, and their commercial transactions with the semi-barbarous Philippine Islanders were always conducted afloat. Often their junks were boarded and pillaged by the natives, but, in spite of the immense risk incurred, the Chinese lacked nothing in their active pursuit. Their chief home port was Canton.

Legaspi soon perceived the advantages which would accrue to his conquest by fostering the development of commerce with these Islands; and, as an inducement to the Chinese to continue their traffic, he severely punished all acts of violence committed against them.

In the course of time the Chinese had gained sufficient confidence under European protection, to come ashore with their wares. In 1588, Chinese were already paying rent for the land they occupied. Some writers assert that they propagated their religious doctrines as well as their customs, but nothing can be found to confirm this statement, and a knowledge of Chinese habits inclines one to think it most improbable. In their trading junks they frequently carried their idols, as a Romish priest carries his missal when he travels. The natives may have imitated the Chinese religious rites years before the Spaniards came. There is no evidence adduced to prove that they made any endeavour to proselytize the natives as the Spaniards did. On the other hand, there is reason to believe that some idols, lost by the Chinese in shipwreck and piratical attacks, have been, and still are, revered by the natives as authenticated miraculous images of Christian Saints (vide “Holy Child of Cebú” and “Our Lady of Cagsaysay”).

The Chinese contributed, in a large measure, to bring about a state of order and prosperity in the new Colony, by the introduction of their small trades and industries; and their traffic in the interior, and with China, was really beneficial, in those times, to the object which the conquerors had in view. So numerous, however, did they become, that it was found necessary to regulate the growing commerce and the modus vivendi of the foreign traders.

In the bad weather they were unable to go to and from their junks, and, fearing lest under such circumstances the trade would fall off, the Government determined to provide them with a large building called the Alcayceria. The contract for its construction was offered to any private person or corporation willing to take it up on the following terms, viz.:—The original cost, the annual expense of maintenance, and the annual rents received from the Chinese tenants were to be equally shared by the Government and the contractor. The contract was accepted by a certain Fernando de Mier y Noriega, who was appointed bailiff of the Alcayceria for life, and the employment was to be hereditary in his family, at a salary of 50 pesos per month. However, when the plan was submitted to the Government, it was considered too extensive, and was consequently greatly reduced, the Government defraying the total cost (₱ 48,000). The bailiffʼs salary was likewise reduced to ₱ 25 per month, and only the condition of sharing rent and expense of preservation was maintained. The Alcayceria, was a square of shops, with a back store, and one apartment above each tenement. It was inaugurated in 1580, in the Calle de San Fernando, in Binondo, opposite to where is now the Harbour-Masterʼs Office, and within firing range of the forts. In the course of years this became a ruin, and on the same site Government Stores were built in 1856. These, too, were wrecked in their turn by the great earthquake of 1863. In the meantime, the Chinese had long ago spread far beyond the limits of the Alcayceria, and another centre had been provided for them within the City of Manila. This was called the Parian, which is the Mexican word for market-place. It was demolished by Government order in 1860, but the entrance to the city at that part (constructed in 1782) still retains the name of Puerta del Parian.

Hence it will be seen that from the time of the conquest, and for generations following, the Spanish authorities offered encouragement and protection to the Chinese.
Dr. Antonio Morga, in his work on the Philippines, p. 349, writes (at the close of the 16th century): “It is true the town cannot exist without the Chinese, as they are workers in all trades and business, and very industrious and work for small wages.”
Juan de la Concepcion writes1 (referring to the beginning of the 17th century); “Without the trade and commerce of the Chinese, these dominions could not have subsisted.” The same writer estimates the number of Chinese in the Colony in 1638 at 33,000.2

In 1686 the policy of fixing the statutory maximum number of Chinese at 6,000 was discussed, but commercial conveniences outweighed its adoption. Had the measure been carried out, it was [111]proposed to lodge them all in one place within easy cannon range, in view of a possible rising.

In 1755 it was resolved to expel all non-Christian Chinese, but a term was allowed for the liquidation of their affairs and withdrawal. By June 30, 1755, the day fixed for their departure from Manila, 515 Chinamen had been sharp enough to obtain baptism as Christians, in order to evade the edict, besides 1,108 who were permitted to remain because they were studying the mysteries and intricacies of Christianity. 2,070 were banished from Manila, the expulsion being rigidly enforced on those newly arriving in junks.

Except a few Europeans and a score of Western Asiatics, the Chinese who remained were the only merchants in the Archipelago. The natives had neither knowledge, tact, energy, nor desire to compete with them. The Chinese were a boon to the Colony, for, without them, living would have been far dearer—commodities and labour of all kinds more scarce, and the export and import trade much embarrassed. The Chinese and the Japanese are really the people who gave to the natives the first notions of trade, industry, and fruitful work. The Chinese taught them, amongst many other useful things, the extraction of saccharine juice from the sugar-cane, the manufacture of sugar, and the working of wrought iron. They introduced into the Colony the first sugar-mills with vertical stone crushers, and iron boiling-pans.

The history of the last 150 years shows that the Chinese, although tolerated, were always regarded by the Spanish colonists as an unwelcome race, and the natives have learnt, from example, to despise them. From time to time, especially since the year 1763, the feeling against them has run very high.

The public clamoured for restrictions on their arrival, impediments to the traffic of those already established there, intervention of the authorities with respect to their dwellings and mode of living, and not a few urged their total expulsion. Indeed, such influence was brought to bear on the Indian Council at Madrid during the temporary Governorship of Juan Arechedera, Bishop of Nueva Segovia (1745–50), that the Archbishop received orders to expel the Chinese from the Islands; but, on the ground that to have done so would have prejudiced public interests, he simply archived the decree. Even up to the close of Spanish rule, the authorities and the national trading class considered the question from very distinct points of view; for the fact is, that only the mildest action was taken—just enough to appease the wild demands of the people. Still, the Chinaman was always subject to the ebb and flow of the tide of official goodwill, and only since 1843 were Chinese shops allowed to be opened on the same terms as other foreigners. There are now streets of Chinese shops.

The Chinaman is always ready to sell at any price which will leave him a trifling nett gain, whereas the native, having earned sufficient for his immediate wants, would stubbornly refuse to sell his wares except at an enormous profit.

Again, but for Chinese coolie competition,3 constant labour from the natives would have been almost unprocurable. The native day-labourer would work two or three days, and then suddenly disappear. The active Chinaman goes day after day to his task (excepting only at the time of the Chinese New Year, in January or February), and can be depended upon; thus the needy native was pushed, by alien competition, to bestir himself. In my time, in the port of Yloilo, four foreign commercial houses had to incur the expense and risk of bringing Chinese coolies for loading and discharging vessels, whilst the natives coolly lounged about and absolutely refused to work. Moreover, the exactions of the native create a serious impediment to the development of the Colony. Only a very small minority of the labouring class will put their hands to work without an advance on their wages, and will often demand it without any guarantee whatsoever. If a native is commissioned to perform any kind of service, he will refuse to stir without a sum of money beforehand, whilst the Chinese very rarely expect payment until they have given value for it. Only the direst necessity will make an unskilled native work steadily for several weeks for a wage which is only to be paid when due. There is scarcely a single agriculturist who is not compelled to sink a share of his capital in making advances to his labourers, who, nevertheless, are in no way legally bound thereby to serve the capitalist; or, whether they are or not, the fact is, that a large proportion of this capital so employed must be considered lost. There are certain lines of business quite impossible without the co-operation of Chinese, and their exclusion will be a loss to the Colony.

Taxes were first levied on the Mongol traders in 1828. In 1852 a general reform of the fiscal laws was introduced, and the classification of Chinese dealers was modified. They were then divided into four grades or classes, each paying contributions according to the new tariff.

In 1886 the universal depression, which was first manifest in this Colony in 1884, still continued. Remedies of most original character were suggested in the public organs and private circles, and a renewed spasmodic tirade was directed against the Chinese. A petition, made and signed by numbers of the retail trading class, was addressed to the Sovereign; but it appears to have found its last resting-place in the Colonial Secretaryʼs waste-paper basket. The Americans in the United States and Mexico were in open riot against the Celestials—the Governments of Australia had imposed a capitation tax on their entry4—in [113]British Columbia there was a party disposed to throw off its allegiance to Great Britain rather than forego its agitation against the Chinese. Why should not the Chinese be expelled from the Philippines, it was asked, or at least be permitted only to pursue agriculture in the Islands? In 1638, around Calamba and along the Laguna shore, they tilled the land; but the selfishness and jealousy of the natives made their permanence impossible. In 1850 the Chinese were invited to take up agriculture, but the rancorous feeling of the natives forced them to abandon the idea, and to seek greater security in the towns.

Chinese-Filipino Mestizo during Spanish era.

The chief accusation levelled against the Chinaman is, that he comes as an adventurer and makes money, which he carries away, without leaving any trace of civilization behind him. The Chinese immigrant is of the lowest social class. Is not the dream of the European adventurer, of the same or better class, to make his pile of dollars and be off to the land of his birth? If he spends more money in the Colony than the Chinaman does, it is because he lacks the Chinamanʼs self-abnegation and thriftiness. Is the kind of civilization taught in the colonies by low-class European settlers superior?

The Chinaman settled in the Philippines under Spanish rule was quite a different being to the obstinate, self-willed, riotous coolie in Hong-Kong or Singapore. In Manila he was drilled past docility—in six months he became even fawning, cringing, and servile, until goaded into open rebellion. Whatever position he might attain to, he was never addressed (as in the British Colonies) as “Mr.” or “Esqre,” or the equivalent, “Señor D.,” but always “Chinaman ——” (“Chino ——”).

The total expulsion of the Chinese in Spanish times would have been highly prejudicial to trade. Had it suited the State policy to check the ingress of the Chinese, nothing would have been easier than the imposition of a ₱50 poll tax. To compel them to take up agriculture was out of the question in a Colony where there was so little guarantee for their personal safety. The frugality, constant activity, and commendable ambition of the Celestial clashes with the dissipation, indolence and want of aim in life of the native. There is absolutely no harmony of thought, purpose, or habit between the Philippine Malay native and the Mongol race, and the consequence of Chinese coolies working on plantations without ample protection would be frequent assassinations and open affray. Moreover, a native planter could never manage, to his own satisfaction or interest, an estate worked with Chinese labour, but the European might. The Chinese is essentially of a commercial bent, and, in the Philippines at least, he prefers taking his chance as to the profits, in the bubble and risk of independent speculation, rather than calmly labour at a fixed wage which affords no stimulus to his efforts.

Plantations worked by Chinese owners with Chinese labour might nave succeeded, but those who arrived in the Colony brought no capital, and the Government never offered them gratuitous allotment of property. A law relating to the concession of State lands existed (”Terrenos baldíos” and “Colonias agrícolas”), but it was enveloped in so many entanglements and so encompassed by tardy process and intricate conditions, that few Orientals or Europeans took advantage of it.

Chinese coolie in the Philippines, 1899.

History records that in the year 1603 two Chinese Mandarins came to Manila as Ambassadors from their Emperor to the Gov.-General of the Philippines. They represented that a countryman of theirs had informed His Celestial Majesty of the existence of a mountain of gold in the environs of Cavite, and they desired to see it. The Gov.-General welcomed them, and they were carried ashore by their own people in ivory and gilded sedan-chairs. They wore the insignia of High Mandarins, and the Governor accorded them the reception due to their exalted station. He assured them that they were entirely misinformed respecting the mountain of gold, which could only be imaginary, but, to further convince them, he accompanied them to Cavite. The Mandarins shortly afterwards returned to their country. The greatest anxiety prevailed in Manila. Rumours circulated that a Chinese invasion was in preparation. The authorities held frequent councils, in which the opinions were very divided. A feverish consternation overcame the natives, who were armed, and ordered to carry their weapons constantly. The armoury was overhauled. A war plan was discussed and adopted, and places were singled out for each division of troops. The natives openly avowed to the Chinese that whenever they saw the first signs of the hostile fleet arriving they would murder them all. The Chinese were accused of having arms secreted; they were publicly insulted and maltreated; the cry was falsely raised that the Spaniards had fixed the day for their extermination; they daily saw weapons being cleaned and put in order, and they knew that there could be no immediate enemy but themselves. There was, in short, every circumstantial evidence that the fight for their existence would ere long be forced upon them.

In this terrible position they were constrained to act on the offensive, simply to ensure their own safety. They raised fortifications in several places outside the city, and many an unhappy Chinaman had to shoulder a weapon reluctantly with tears in his eyes. They were traders. War and revolution were quite foreign to their wishes. The Christian rulers compelled them to abandon their adopted homes and their chattels, regardless of the future. What a strange conception the Chinese must have formed of His Most Catholic Majesty! In their despair many of them committed suicide. Finally, on the eve of Saint Francisʼ Day, the Chinese openly declared hostilities—beat their war-gongs, hoisted their flags, assaulted the armed natives, and threatened the city. Houses were burnt, and Binondo was besieged. They fortified Tondo; and the next morning Luis Perez Dasmariñas, an ex-Gov.-General, led the troops against them. He was joined by 100 picked Spanish soldiers under Tomás de Acuña. The nephew of the Governor and the nephew of the Archbishop rallied to the Spanish standard nearly all the flower of Castilian soldiery—and hardly one was left to tell the tale! The bloodshed was appalling. The Chinese, encouraged by this first victory, besieged the city, but after a prolonged struggle they were obliged to yield, as they could not provision themselves.

Chinese litter bearer used by American troops during the Fil-American War 1899.

The retreating Chinese were pursued far from Manila along the Laguna de Bay shore, thousands of them being overtaken and slaughtered or disabled. Reinforcements met them on the way, and drove them as far as Batangas Province and into the Mórong district (now included in Rizal Province). The natives were in high glee at this licence to shed blood unresisted—so in harmony with their natural instincts. It is calculated that 24,000 Chinese were slain or captured in this revolt.

The priests affirm positively that during the defence of the city Saint Francis appeared in person on the walls to stimulate the Christians—thus the victory was ascribed to him.

This ruthless treatment of a harmless and necessary people—for up to this event they had proved themselves to be both—threatened to bring its own reward. They were the only industrious, thriving, skilful, wealth-producing portion of the population. There were no other artificers or tradespeople in the Colony. Moreover, the Spaniards were fearful lest their supplies from China of food for consumption in Manila,5 and manufactured articles for export to Mexico, should in future be discontinued. Consequently they hastened to despatch an envoy to China to explain matters, and to reassure the Chinese traders. Much to their surprise, they found the Viceroy of Canton little concerned about what had happened, and the junks of merchandise again arrived as heretofore.

Notwithstanding the memorable event of 1603, another struggle was made by the Chinese 36 years afterwards. In 1639, exasperated at the official robbery and oppression of a certain doctor, Luis Arias do Mora, and the Governor of the Laguna Province, they rose in open rebellion and killed these officials in the town of Calamba. So serious was the revolt that the Gov.-General went out against them in person. The rebels numbered about 30,000, and sustained, for nearly a year, a petty warfare all around. The images of the Saints were promenaded in the streets of Manila; it was a happy thought, for 6,000 Chinese coincidentally surrendered. During this conflict an edict was published ordering all the Chinese in the provinces to be slain.

In 1660 there was another rising of these people, which terminated in a great massacre.

The Spaniards now began to reflect that they had made rather a bad bargain with the Mongol traders in the beginning, and that the Government would have done better had they encouraged commerce with the Peninsula. Up to this time the Spaniards had vainly reposed on their laurels as conquerors. They squandered lives and treasure on innumerable fruitless expeditions to Gamboge, Cochin China, Siam, Pegu, Japan, and the Moluccas, in quest of fresh glories, instead of concentrating their efforts in opening up this Colony and fostering a Philippine export trade, as yet almost unknown, if we exclude merchandise from China, etc., in transit to Mexico. From this period restrictions were, little by little, placed on the introduction of Chinese; they were treated with arrogance by the Europeans and Mexicans, and the jealous hatred which the native to this day feels for the Chinaman now began to be more openly manifested. The Chinaman had, for a long time past, been regarded by the European as a necessity—and henceforth an unfortunate one.

Nevertheless, the lofty Spaniard who by favour of the King had arrived in Manila to occupy an official post without an escudo too much in his pocket, did not disdain to accept the hospitality of the Chinese. It was formerly their custom to secure the goodwill and personal protection of the Spanish officials by voluntarily keeping lodging-houses ready for their reception. It is chronicled that these gratuitous residences were well furnished and provided with all the requisites procurable on the spot. For a whole century the Spaniards were lulled with this easy-going and felicitous state of things, whilst the insidious Mongol, whose clear-sighted sagacity was sufficient to pierce the thin veil of friendship proffered by his guest, was ever prepared for another opportunity of rising against the dominion of Castile, of which he had had so many sorry experiences since 1603. The occasion at last arrived during the British occupation of Manila in 1763. The Chinese voluntarily joined the invaders, but were unable to sustain the struggle, and it is estimated that some 6,000 of them were murdered in the provinces by order of the notorious Simon de Anda (vide p. 93). They menaced the town of Pasig—near Manila—and Fray Juan de Torres, the parish priest, put himself at the head of 300 natives, by order of his Prior, Fray Andrés Fuentes, to oppose them, and the Chinese were forced to retire.

On October 9, 1820, a general massacre of Chinese, British, and other foreigners took place in Manila and Cavite. Epidemic cholera had affected the capital and surrounding districts; great numbers of natives succumbed to its malignant effects, and they accused the foreigners of having poisoned the drinking-water in the streams. Foreign property was attacked and pillaged—even ships lying in the bay had to sail off and anchor out afar for safety. The outbreak attained such grave proportions that the clergy intervened to dissuade the populace from their hallucination. The High Host was carried through the [117]streets, but the rioters were only pacified when they could find no more victims.

Amongst other reforms concerning the Chinese which the Spanish colonists and Manila natives called for in 1886, through the public organs, was that they should be forced to comply with the law promulgated in 1867, which provided that the Chinese, like all other merchants, should keep their trade-books in the Spanish language. The demand had the appearance of being based on certain justifiable grounds, but in reality it was a mere ebullition of spite intended to augment the difficulties of the Chinese.

The British merchants and bankers are, by far, those who give most credit to the Chinese. The Spanish and native creditors of the Chinese are but a small minority, taking the aggregate of their credits, and instead of seeking malevolently to impose new hardships on the Chinese, they could have abstained from entering into risky transactions with them. All merchants are aware of the Chinese trading system, and none are obliged to deal with them. A foreign house would give a Chinaman credit for, say, £300 to £400 worth of European manufactured goods, knowing full well, from personal experience, or from that of others, that the whole value would probably never be recovered. It remained a standing debt on the books of the firm. The Chinaman retailed these goods, and brought a small sum of cash to the firm, on the understanding that he would get another parcel of goods, and so he went on for years.6 Thus the foreign merchants practically sunk an amount of capital to start their Chinese constituents. Sometimes the acknowledged owner and responsible man in one Chinese retail establishment would have a share in, or own, several others. If matters went wrong, he absconded abroad, and only the one shop which he openly represented could be embargoed, whilst his goods were distributed over several shops under any name but his. It was always difficult to bring legal proof of this; the books were in Chinese, and the whole business was in a state of confusion incomprehensible to any European. But these risks were well known beforehand. It was only then that the original credit had to be written off by the foreigner as a nett loss—often small when set against several years of accumulated profits made in successive operations.

The Chinese have guilds or secret societies for their mutual protection, and it is a well-ascertained fact that they had to pay the Spanish authorities very dearly for the liberty of living at peace with their fellow-men. If the wind blew against them from official quarters the affair brought on the tapis was hushed up by a gift. These peace-offerings, at times of considerable value, were procured by a tax privately levied on each Chinaman by the headmen of their guilds. In 1880–83 the Gov.-General and other high functionaries used to accept Chinese hospitality, etc.

In December, 1887, the Medal of Civil Merit was awarded to a Chinaman named Sio-Sion-Tay, resident in Binondo, whilst the Government for several years had made contracts with the Chinese for the public service. Another Chinaman, christened in the name of Cárlos Palanca, was later on awarded the Grand Cross of Isabella the Catholic, with the title of Excellency.

Many Chinese have adopted Christianity, either to improve their social standing, or to be enabled thereby to contract marriage with natives. Their intercessor and patron is Saint Nicholas, since the time, it is said, that a Chinaman, having fallen into the Pasig River, was in danger of being eaten by an alligator, and saved himself by praying to that saint, who caused the monster to turn into stone. The legendary stone is still to be seen near the left bank of the river.

There appears to be no perfectly reliable data respecting the number of Chinese residents in the Archipelago. In 1886 the statistics differed largely. One statistician published that there was a total of 66,740 men and 194 women, of whom 51,348 men and 191 women lived in Manila and suburbs, 1,154 men and 3 women in Yloilo, and 983 men in Cebú, the rest being dispersed over the coast villages and the interior. The most competent local authorities in two provinces proved to me that the figures relating to their districts were inexact, and all other information on the subject which I have been able to procure tends to show that the number of resident Chinese was underrated. I estimate that just before the Rebellion of 1896 there were 100,000 Chinese in the whole Colony, including upwards of 40,000 in and around the capital.

Crowds of Chinese passed to these Islands via Sulu (Joló), which, as a free port, they could enter without need of papers. Pretending to be resident colonists there, they managed to obtain passports to travel on business for a limited period in the Philippines, but they were never seen again in Sulu.

In Spanish times the Chinaman was often referred to as a Macao or a Sangley. The former term applied to those who came from Southern China (Canton, Macao, Amoy, etc.). They were usually cooks and domestic servants. The latter signified the Northern Chinaman of the trading class. The popular term for a Chinaman in general was a Suya.

In Manila and in several provincial towns where the Chinese residents were numerous, they had their own separate “Tribunals” or local courts, wherein minor affairs were managed by petty governors of their own nationality, elected bi-annually, in the same manner as the natives. In 1888 the question of admitting a Chinese Consulate in the Philippines was talked of in official circles, which proves that the Government was far from seeing the “Chinese question” in the same light as the Spanish or native merchant class. In the course of time they acquired a certain [119]consideration in the body politic, and deputations of Chinese were present in all popular ceremonies during the last few years of Spanish rule.

Wherever the Chinese settle they exhibit a disposition to hold their footing, if not to strengthen it, at all hazards, by force if need be. In Sarawak their Secret Societies threatened to undermine the prosperity of that little State, and had to be suppressed by capital punishment. Since the British occupation of Hong-Kong in 1841, there have been two serious movements against the Europeans. In 1848 the Chinese murdered Governor Amiral of Macao, and the colonists had to fight for their lives. In Singapore the attempts of the Chinese to defy the Government called for coercive measures, but the danger is small, because the immigrant Chinaman has only the courage to act in mobs.

In Australia and the United States it was found necessary to enact special laws regulating the ingress of Mongols. Under the Spanish-Philippine Government the most that could be said against them, as a class, was that, through their thrift and perseverance, they outran the shopkeeping class in the race of life.

The Insular Government “Chinese Exclusion Act,” at present in operation, permits those Chinese who are already in the Islands to remain conditionally, but rigidly debars fresh immigration. The corollary is that, in the course of a few years, there will be no Chinese in the Philippines. The working of the above Act is alluded to in Chapter xxxi.

Under a native Government their lot is not likely to be a happy one. One of the aims of the Tagálog Revolutionists was to exclude the Chinese entirely from the Islands.


1 “Hist. Gen. de Philipinas,” by Juan de la Concepcion, Vol. IV., p. 53. Published in Manila, 1788.

2 Ibid., Vol. V., p. 429.

3 About two per thousand of the resident Chinese were not originally coolies.

4 General Wong Yung Ho, accompanied by a Chinese Justice of the High Court, visited Australia in the middle of the year 1887. In a newspaper of that Colony, it was reported that after these persons had been courteously entertained and shown the local institutions and industries, they had the effrontery to protest against the State Laws, and asked for a repeal of the “poll tax”—considered there the only check upon a Chinese coolie inundation!

5 Just before the naval engagement of Playa Honda between Dutch and Spanish ships (vide p. 75) the Dutch intercepted Chinese junks on the way to Manila, bringing, amongst their cargoes of food, as many as 12,000 capons.

6 Since about the year 1885, this system, which entailed severe losses, gradually fell into disuse, and business on cash terms

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