Bobby Castro: Former Activist, Now Runs PH’s Largest Pawnshop Network

Get to know Bobby Castro and his colorful life. From being a former student activist during the Martial Law, he now owns the Philippines ‘ biggest pawnshop franchise.

bobby castro palawan
Image by Palawan Pawnshop- Pera Padala

In an article by Esquire, Castro liked to clarify that he isn’t the founder of Palawan Pawnshop. But due to his entrepreneurial prowess, he managed to expand it to make it the most successful pawnshop and money remittance network in the Philippines.

“For the record, I did not start Palawan Pawnshop,” he says. “It was in existence since the early 1980s, opened by the Rodriguez family of Roxas, Palawan.”

Student activism

During the height of Martial Law, Castro found himself at the forefront of student activism. As a socially-involved student, he became an organizer of urban poor groups.

For more than a year, Castro was imprisoned at Camp Crame in 1975. When he was granted a leave of absence to visit his family, he took the chance to rejoin the movement. Castro got face to face with death when he was shot during an encounter. For the following years, he was held without charge in Camp Olivas.

Venturing business

When Castro finally regained his freedom, he got married and started a new life in Palawan. He and his father dabbled in various businesses. Aside from managing their family’s commercial building, Castro got into odd jobs. He sold almost everything he could get his hands on. From diapers and gift items to Bangus fry and wild honey, he became a resourceful businessman. And he didn’t stop there, he even opened a carinderia and exported some Palawan-made products to Hong Kong.

bobby castro
Image by Palawan Pawnshop- Pera Padala

According to Castro, the skills he acquired as a student activist helped him greatly to become a good entrepreneur. “The skills I learned in the movement — analyzing, planning, organizing, motivating — and the values that were formed — selfless dedication, persistence, a genuine concern for comrades — served me well as I started engaging in various businesses. I continue to use them in my business today,” Castro said.

Castro expands Palawan Pawnshop

Castro struck gold when he purchased the Palawan Pawnshop in 1985 for P40,000. Although according to Castro, it was hardly profitable at first. The monthly profit would be around P5,000. Engines, boxy televisions, Betamax and VHS players, and even chainsaws were being pawned.

“We didn’t start out with the idea of building an empire,” says Castro. “We were just trying to stay afloat, to pay the bills. and sustain a growing family.”

Palawan Pawnshop slowly but steadily spread throughout the country. It began offering a money remittance service named Palawan Express Padala in 2003. It soon offered other services such as money changing, bills payment, ATM Withdrawal, e-loading and life insurance.

“The pawnshop business is built on trust,” says Castro. “Trust is everything. If your customers don’t trust you, you have no business. The way you build trust is by playing fair.”

Sally Mae
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