Meet the Infamous Debt Collectors of Indonesia
If I had the money, I would pay it.
Why would I… Yes, you have to pay!
You have to pay. It’s your responsibility! But right now I really have no money. Please, don’t talk to me like
I’m here to extort you for money! No, I’m here to make you
pay your debts! -I know, sir. I know.
-You must change your mindset. You think we’re trying to squeeze you
for the money. Why would we do that? Don’t play the victim here. You’re the perpetrator So I’m here in a typical
Indonesian wedding in Jakarta. It’s classic. You have your people
eating, greeting, dancing, singing… The difference here is it’s a
community of debt collectors. Some of Indonesia’s biggest and
powerful debt collectors are at this wedding. And many share one thing in common: They are from the Islands of Maluku
in eastern Indonesia. Eastern Indonesia is comprised of
several hard to reach provinces. Many here at this wedding are from a
collection of Islands off the coast of Papua called Maluku. This region is often ignored
and Eastern Indonesians are regularly discriminated against. And denied work because of their darker skin and locally perceived scary looks. Though there is one
industry the do dominate. Debt collecting. Ferry is one of the old guard of the
Indonesian debt collecting industry. He’s been collecting debt
since the early eighties. and has watched the rise of debt
collecting in Indonesia and the fortunes of ethnic
Maluccans with it. Today I’m meeting Ferry near a cluster
of street-side restaurants in South Jakarta that are local hangouts for
Indonesians from Maluku. – Excuse us.
-Yes, please take a seat Most people who work in the debt
collecting industry are Ambonese. Why is that? People give us these jobs
because we look tough. How can we come up to someone
[to collect money] if we are afraid? -Right?
-Right. It’s logical, isn’t it? For as long as I can remember, Moluccan’s have been used by the army for dangerous work. -Why? Because of our bravery.
-OK. During the New Order era of the 80s,
laws about debt collecting were unclear. The law was very vague,
but that all changed after 1998. After the ‘Reformasi’ era of the Indonesia, the rule of law became much stronger. So during that earlier period, was the way you collected debts any different? -Yes, it was different.
-Like completely different or… Sometimes we used violence.
It depended on the situation. -We can’t do that anymore today.
-OK. It’s fully regulated now. A lot of people think that debt
collection is a dangerous profession or that it’s tough, or harsh,
do you think that’s true? People assume we use violence,
but there’s no evidence of that. It’s just because people judge us on
how we look. They think we are scary. Because of this, Ambonese and
Moluccan people are considered scary. But if you spend time with us,
you’ll see that we are actually kind. And we’re very respectful.
We really respect others. Don’t judge people by their clothes. Or their looks. We can’t fit in their clothes anyway,
they don’t fit us, right? But if you pinch me, I feel pain too.
We are the same. -In the end, we’re all human.
-In the end, we’re all the same. This is Moluccan liquor. Do you mix it with soda or anything? No, we just drink it straight. People will laugh if we
mix it with soda. Why? -It’s not strong enough?
-Yes. It’s alcohol We are the hooligans! So, I just got done hanging out at [Incomprehensible] …had a chat with Ferry.
He’s a well known debt collector. He was quite open and easy to talk to. But I feel like there were a few
things that were left unsaid or unanswered which makes me more curious
about this whole industry. Ferry gives the contact of an active
debt collector named Jemmy Tatoo. Who agreed to let us join him
during a debt collection. Normally, when we accept a case, we’ll have a briefing here and I’ll organize the boys. I’ll give the case to who I think has the best skills for the job. Some of them are good at talking,
while others look more frightening. So everybody has their own role in
putting pressure on the debtor to pay. After we pressure them, we ask them to
think of a way to solve the debt. And if the debtor is a bit resistant,
we will bring in a lot of people… -Like how many people?
-Hundreds of people. It’s to make sure that the
debtor won’t fight back. That is why there’s always
a team ready for backup. Backup? Just on standby? Yes, they’re on standby.
Those are the guys who bring the tools. When you talk about “tools,”
what are you really talking about? Well, for now, we only use machetes. And if they can’t pay off the debt in cash, then we’ll take whatever assets they have. Today, we are going to
use the waiting game. How long do you usually wait? It can be up to five hours. -It can be a day.
-We might even sleep there. -That’s happened before?
-It has. We’ll wait until the debtor gives in and comes up with a way to pay us. I’ve heard that there’s a certain
career path in this industry. How do you earn respect and move up in the industry? In order to be respected, you have to
have a name in the underworld. You can’t become
well-known by doing nothing. So we have to take some “actions.” If a person is beaten up
by someone lower than him, -that lower guy gets…
-promoted? -And earns respect?
-Right. I fought with John Kei and Basri. This scar is from John Kei. Let’s just say that I
won a lot of “points.” I’ve been locked up 16 times. Once for murder, twice for fighting. I have about 20 friends
who are in prison right now. My time in prison was one of the most
important experiences I’ve ever had. Prison is like this special school.
I learned a lot in there. You will become more experienced,
and rise up after you go to prison. We can get more jobs. Jeremy, have you ever felt afraid
or uncomfortable while on the job? Yes, I’ve been scared. It’s normal.
Every human feels afraid sometimes. You will die faster if
you have no fear. So we have just left Jemmy’s office
and we are on the way to Corta in north Dekaita. I’m joining Jemmy on a
mission today with his boys. Collect debt from someone
who owes 3.4 billion Rp This is a huge amount of money,
enough to buy a luxury house. and this is also Jemmy and his boys
at an attempt to collect this debt. What’s the background of this debtor?
What’s her profession? She owns some businesses. She has these stores that sell
construction materials. She used a house as collateral
to be able to open some new stores. In the loan agreement, she promised
to pay off her debt in installments to the bank. But she didn’t keep her promise. She hasn’t paid back
anything to the bank. We have to figure out
a solution to make her pay. Today, at the very least we have to
collect Rp 500 million [$35,000 USD] from her. -It’s the one near the blue building?
-Yes, that’s it. -Oh, I see it now.
-It’s that one. Right across the street you can the construction company where they’ve just gone in. They wouldn’t let me go in to not
disturb their negotiation method. We have a clear purpose for coming here. Please return what you have borrowed
[From the bank], that’s all. Our goals are in-line with
our assignment letter, that says there’s money from the bank
that you borrowed, right? We’ve come here to ask you to
please pay back the money. I gave all the money to my friend
the owner of the house. Please return the money! We don’t want to hear some story about whatever you’ve used it for. You’re the one who asked
the bank for a loan application. Whatever you used it for, if you gave it to someone else, that’s not our problem or the bank’s. We don’t want to pay, because we
don’t feel like we used the money. That’s according to you!
Here let me tell you… -The Rp 500 million was to pay her, to pay my mom.
-He used it to pay a debt to me. I understand, but listen to me! Listen! Who applied for the loan? Let’s all calm down. If we keep
arguing, then this will never end. I don’t want to fight about this.
I want you to be my friend. So that if anything happens,
you can help me out. I think the only solution is that you need to give me time to sell my assets. If I can’t sell them, we can have another conversation about how to pay the debt, OK? – I can’t do that. People will think…
-Please sir, please! I can’t lose my credibility
with this job. -You won’t. This can be between us.
-I want to see a show of good will. Don’t make me call all your suppliers
and embarrass you in front of them. You would lose a lot of people’s trust then. Two of the team or on the guard
outside under the Indonesian sun which I think is probably 30 degrees,
it’s dusty out. No one has eaten. They are still waiting. You can see it is not a glamorous job. -You’re not crazy right
-I’m not. You’re not a crazy person who took out a loan without knowing how to pay it back. -I know what I’ve done very well.
-I think you are very rational. If I had the money, I would pay it.
Why would I… Yes, you have to pay!
You have to pay. It’s your responsibility! But right now, I really have no money. Please, don’t talk to me like I’m here
to extort you for money! No, I’m here to make
you pay your debts! -I know, sir. I know.
-You must change your mindset. You think we’re trying to squeeze you
for the money. Why would we do that? -Don’t play the victim here.
-I… You’re the perpetrator! -I told you, it doesn’t matter what you do…
-Bullshit! -I still don’t have any money.
-You made a promise. -Well, I just don’t have any money.
-Don’t be like that! -Just confiscate the house.
-Yeah, just confiscate it! Stop it, that won’t solve anything. I was telling him that we weren’t
trying to steal the money. -Please, give us time to talk.
-OK, how much time do you need? It won’t take long. I just need to
understand the situation first. -That’s why I asked you how long.
-Is today Wednesday or Tuesday? Tuesday. Either this Wednesday or this Thursday, we’ll go to the bank. We have to go to the bank, mom. We have to solve this problem, otherwise, we’ll just keep going in circles. OK? -See you there at 10.
-OK. So we have been here for like an hour and Jemmy and his crew just came back out. We’re going to meet up with them in a second and find out what happened inside. I’m assuming that they made some
head way with this case. Considering that that
only took an hour. Today went well, because they promised to go to the bank and make a deal to settle their debt. What was the mother’s strategy? She is tough. The son is weaker. The mother didn’t give in at all. But once the son came,
she agreed to go to the bank. This meant that everyone was
intimidated because of our presence. When they feel intimidated, they will try to do anything to solve the problem. Look at it this way. If I have debts, and I feel intimidated, then I can deal with that. But if my children, or my wife, are intimidated by someone because of my debts, that’s usually when someone breaks. When you were looking at the mother,
did you feel any pity. The consequences of stealing
other things are even worse. If you steal a motorbike in Indonesia
you may be burned alive or killed. But these people are the real thieves.
They basically steal tons of money yet they rarely feel guilty. They are just playing the victim while
they’re actually the main perpetrator. They are real thieves. If we rely too much on our feelings,
then this job is not for us. Afterwards Jemmy took us to an industrial part of north Jakarta called Tanjung Priok. This is a local hangout
for malucan people. and this territory is lead by the men who got married at the start of this piece. He’s tall and quite and
gives short answers. But he is highly respected by everyone in the neighborhood. Guys from the other neighborhoods
wouldn’t dare to come here. -No one is brave enough to come here?
-No. -They don’t have the guts?
-Exactly. They wouldn’t dare messing with us. Here in Priok, our bonds are strong. -Strong bonds that were formed in and out of prison.
-OK. Are there any tools here, like
machetes that you could show to us? Yeah, we have some. Just take a look, take it out. Pull out the gun, pull out yours too. We even have a lighter
that looks like a gun. This is to cut off naught hands. So you carry this with you everyday? It’s just a precaution.
If we need it, we use it. So I spent the whole day hanging out
with this community of debt collectors. One thing thats really palpable, the
main thing is the sense of community. Even for me as an outsider they have
been open and welcoming. So I really feel and sense
this brotherhood despite the general perception in Indonesia, that debt collecting is just a bunch of street thugs. Everything they showed me is that
this is actually just a big family. While it seems that most of what happens in debt collecting applies to low level personal debts These kind of debts, even small ones, can have a big impact on the national economy. A high percentage of
non performing loans combined with poor government monetary
policies led to crisis in the past, like the banking collapse in the 90s. I spoke to financial expert,
Ligwina Hananto about why the debt collection industry
is so important in Indonesia. It’s important for banks to have
a healthy credit system and structure. So debt collections are crucial
to reduce the amount of bad debts. There’s no magic solution
for problems with debt. You just have to pay it. It’s that simple. As long as people take out loans
without a proper repayment plan, then problems with bad
individual debts will keep happening. And this can lead to something
dangerous for the nation’s economy. It’s like a time bomb that will
explode within the next 15 years. Despite their important role in the
economy Maluccans are still seen as part of the underworld
by many Indonesians. Many Maluccans are trying to shake
the criminal stereotypes attached to them. Marsyel is the CEO of a
local security services company. Many of his employees are
from eastern Indonesia. He’s trying to put a legitimate face on a business seen as the domain of the underworld. I’m the leader of a few organizations. People under me see me as a role model. I’m basically a celebrity
in debt collecting industry. If we show them something negative,
then their lives will get even worse. We want to help them
become successful, so they can make their families
happy and live a better life. -This is the execution room.
-The execution room? -It’s soundproof?
-Yeah, it’s soundproof. This is the room for our friends
who have bad debts. They can talk about anything here.
They laugh, smoke, anything. Right? It smells like cigarettes, right? You can scream as loud as you can,
but nobody is going to save you. This is one of the industries that
helps defend the nation. In order to make this country strong. business needs to be healthy Together we are maintaining
the health of the economy. through debt collection and making sure that debtors pay off their debts on time. If the economy is healthy and the people are prosperous, our defenses will be strong. The debt collection industry works
closely with the Indonesian elites. When you’re talking about really high debts, usually this happens within large corporations, right? Those boys in the street wouldn’t even
understand this kind of thing. They don’t have the opportunity
to hang out with these big names. Because of my background in the
martial arts world and other organizations, I have the opportunity to be
among the nation’s elites. My job is to manage
coordinators like Jemmy. So they can get
more legitimate clients. I help make it so they don’t look at our boys like they’re some random thugs. How can you change this mindset to make it seem more professional or something to be proud of? I do’t want Ambonese people
to have a bad public image. I want to lead by being an example
of living on the right path. By doing this, the industry might
have a chance in the future. Our goal is to see the success of every
Ambonese child all over Indonesia. After showing me around his office, Marsyel started to introduce me to some of the men who work for him. They all have their own unique skills. These two men supposedly find people using their senses to feel peoples vibrations. I wasn’t convinced so I decided
to put them to the test. Sometimes, I ask for their help
to find people who are hiding. -The debtors?
-Obviously those who hide are debtors. If you want, we can show you.
Go hid, and they’ll cover their eyes and find you. I don’t think I’m in a very good spot, actually… -Point at her.
-There! There, she is standing there. Come down or you will fall. Why would you even hide that far? There she is, up there. She’s posing like this. Right? -What is she doing now?
-She’s waving like this. After a few days I felt closer to them, but I still felt that there was something missing in my understanding of how debt collecting works. So I decided that I needed to see this industry from the perspective of people who are being collected on. I’m here at … Jakarta. It’s the largest legal institute in Indonesia and I’m here to speak with Yunita,
she is the head of advocacy and has been with people going through
debt collection for the past 8 years. We have to see this industry
from two sides. If we see it from the civil law,
or from the debt, then the bad guy is a debtor. But the way to solve this kind of
case is using the mechanisms of civil law. It can be through mediation or
setting up an installment plan. It’s a different story if a debt collector commits a crime while trying to collect. For example, by intimidating or
torturing someone psychologically. In our cases, usually the debtors tell
us that they intend to pay their debt. Yet, the debt collectors keep coming
at them and intimidating them. -So, they become scared?
-Yes, they’re scared. That’s the violation of
their human rights. Debt collectors are not
legally allowed to intimidate. But maybe they are forced to do that, because of the demands of the clients. They can’t make a living
if they don’t do that. What people don’t know is
that banks are fully accountable for the impact of their
partnerships with third parties. So if the debt collector, or the debt collection agency, threatens someone, the banks are also responsible. But, in reality, they often
put their hands up and say, “This is a personal problem between the debt collector and the debtor.” Even though those kinds of violations
happen very often and are systematic. While they may seem like
a bunch of tough guys you can’t help but wonder if they
are also in a way victims too. Victims of a society that
marginalizes Eastern Indonesians and banks that have no problem exploiting these stereotypes to get their money. There are ties that connect Marsyel
to the debt collection world and there are ties that
keep him there too.