Compared to its Southeast Asian neighbors, the Philippines has been relatively more open to using Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, according to a report in FT.com, the Financial Times newspaper’s online site.
In an article published last December 6 titled “Southeast Asia ready to embrace blockchain”, FT.com revealed that a survey done by FT Confidential Research found that only 2.5 percent of consumers in five of the largest Southeast Asian countries (except Singapore) used cryptocurrencies in the three months to the end of September.
It added the adoption rate was highest in Indonesia at 3.3 percent followed by the Philippines at 2.9 percent. A graph accompanying the article showed that these rates were higher compared to those of Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia though no figures were provided for the last three countries.
The Philippines’ relatively higher adoption rate of cryptocurrencies may be related to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ (BSP) moves to regulate rather than ban Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
“Among the five ASEAN countries we survey, the Philippines has made the most regulatory progress. Since February, its central bank has required all exchanges to obtain a permit for trading cryptocurrencies and to register with the country’s Anti-Money Laundering Council. They are also subject to annual fees. We expect the rest of Asean-5 to follow, in response to concerns that Bitcoin is being used to fund terrorism and other crimes,” according to the report written by Prinz Magtulis and Andi Haswidi, FT Confidential Research analysts.
Last February, the BSP released a circular that detailed regulations for businesses that want to sign up as a virtual currency exchange—the only central bank in the five countries to have done so.
Since then, the BSP has approved at least two firms that applied for the virtual currency exchange license. As well, last November the BSP granted an electronic money issuer (EMI) license to Coins.ph, a startup providing financial services powered by Bitcoin and blockchain technology. It became the first blockchain-enabled startup in Asia to be granted such a license from a monetary regulator.
Still, the 2.9-percent adoption rate for cryptocurrencies in the Philippines is far lower compared to the number of Philippine respondents who used other modes of cashless payment. According to the same FT Confidential Research survey, around five percent of the respondents said they used “card-based e-money” recently, which refers to electronic transactions done via card, while almost 30 percent of respondents said they made recent transactions using online payments and/or electronic wallets.
That may yet change soon, what with the price of Bitcoin hitting $17,105 as of December 8 from only $9,916 at the end of November, according to CoinDesk. Driven largely by speculation, the price of Bitcoin has surged 1,667 percent since the end of last year. Regulators are cautioning ordinary people from investing their hard-earned money in Bitcoin as they expect the bubble to burst at some point.
Interest among Filipinos in Bitcoin is on the rise as stories of the digital currency’s seemingly unstoppable rise have filled both the traditional and social media. Google’s measurement of interest over time in the Philippines for the search term “Bitcoin”, rose 42 percent in December after climbing by 37.3 percent in November and 24.4 percent in October. Google says interest over time numbers represent “search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time.”
Google data also shows that interest in “Bitcoin” was topped by searches from Cainta and Taguig, where the Bonifacio Global City business district is located.
Lorenzo Kyle Subido is a staff writer of Entrepreneur PH