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ocieties the world over have always been fascinated by wealth. And nowhere is this more evident than in the Philippines today. In fact, Filipinos seem to have gone beyond fascination to actual adoration of anyone with a lot of money. And such adulation is at some level, understandable. In a country where corruption is pervasive and everything—as well as everyone—appears to be for sale, money will put you above the law. Unlike countries such as the United States where even a billionaire could end up behind bars, in the Philippines, the rich get away with murder—literally.
Therefore why not be rich? Makes sense doesn’t it? So a vast number of Pinoys make it a point to get rich—quick! And there lies the problem. It is easier to make money illegally rather than legally. Break the law, stack the deck, grease the palms, buy off the regulators, give kickbacks; the ways to accumulate wealth the wrong way are endless. Sadly, the number of Filipinos making money illegally appears to have increased alarmingly over the years.
It is therefore only logical that not just the media but the average Juan and Juana start asking rich people how they made their fortunes. For example how was Bureau of Customs clerk Paulino Elevado IV whose take home pay was less than P6,000.00 a month able to drive around in a Porsche? Instead of being awed, Elevado’s friends and relatives should have asked him how he managed such a feat. Another example was Ferdinand Marcos. According to his wife Imelda, they had a trillion dollars in their Citibank New York bank accounts. Assuming this was not another one of Imelda’s fantasies, the public should have asked: how did a poor boy from Batac who supposedly had a full-time job running an entire country manage to amass more wealth than say Warren Buffett, a renowned businessman who works full-time at it and employs an army of top-flight investment advisers to help him out? How was Marcos able to out-Buffett, Buffett—singlehandedly, and all the while doing it on the side?
Instead of being impressed with the fancy new car, or the Rolex watch, or the opulent mansion of a friend or relative, Pinoys ought to be asking them how they managed to afford those luxuries. In fact the whole country should be asking the same question of all these sudden millionaires who gain untold wealth without anyone having the slightest clue of how they do it. The Philippine press ought to be leading the charge instead of lionizing the rich as most media outfits do today.
In the context of Philippine society today, a healthy dose of skepticism towards individuals who are making tons of money is not uncalled for. These folks need to pass some kind of “acid test” before they can be embraced by the public. And public servants who make money while in office ought to be hauled off to jail.
The Philippines will need to put in place exceptionally tough laws to combat corruption given the lack of ethics and morality in our society. And until that day comes when the country has been effectively cleansed of it, you and I and everyone else need to be asking the rich this question: “how did you get to be so rich?” Published 12/8/2013