(Editors’ note: The Midland Courier is reprinting the columns of the late Atty. Benedicto T. Carantes as a tribute to one of its long-time columnists. This piece was published on Jan. 20, 2008.)
A long time ago, an heiress to her family’s large fortune said that “the rich do not steal.”
I do not exactly recall when she made the statement – if she was then the Social Welfare Administration (SWA) head under the Magsaysay administration, or after she had been elected to the Philippine Senate.
At the time, the country was slowly recovering from the devastation of World War II, and the reputedly honest Ramon Magsaysay was elected president following his successful campaign against the Hukbalahap movement (the equivalent of the New People’s Army today) as the Defense secretary of President Elpidio Quirino, the very man he defeated in the 1953 Presidential elections.
And so it was that dipping one’s fingers into the government coffers was an unforgivable sin, and honesty and truthfulness were the doctrines of people working in government, from the lowest salaried employee to the highest official of the land.
Corruption was not quite widespread as it is today, except perhaps in the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Bureau of Customs, given the nature and sensitivity of their work.
I relate this story only as a reminder that what the lady SWA administrator and later senator said had a ring of truth then, but alas, that is not the case at present.
The plain and simple reality is that the rich get richer because they have learned how to steal, and the ranks of the rich have swelled to enviable levels.
The old rich have been joined by the so called new rich – or those who make their money the wrong way, many of them in government service.
It really doesn’t go that far back to the 50s, but over a long period, Baguio City has been plagued by sores that continue to fester as time goes on, and it has nothing to do with governance.
Jueteng, said to be the first kind, is here to stay, but the people couldn’t care less.
Jueteng, after all, is the poor man’s lottery, a ready solution to his simple dreams.
There is of course the lotto, but as your favorite Bombay money lender will tell you, it is not easy for a poor man to cough up P20 a day, the lotto minimum bet – also the minimum daily payment for a P500 loan.
But a coin or two or even a peso is much easier to come by, and jueteng does not discriminate against the hard up whose day to day hope is to hit the lucky jueteng combination, making use of dreams in his sleep, his analysis of the numbers pattern, as well as tips from other people who always seem to know better.
So, jueteng is not really a sore but a remedy. But what to call the culprits who allow jueteng to operate openly for a share of the profits?
The poor jueteng operators can only scratch their heads.
And officials who close their eyes to the numbers game in their jurisdiction even have their own bagman to speak of, so if you are told that the rich do not accept under the table bribes, kick them in the butt because they actually demand it.
The other sore is the Panagbenga, always a source of profit and misunderstanding.
So much money is involved that all past administrations have been accused of making money from the festival, which is why they point fingers at each other.
The idea is to deflect current wrongdoing by fingering alleged former wrongdoers.
Millions literally pour in every year, the reason why the same bagman I am speaking of is frequently out of town, negotiating with all the big corporations that want their products advertised during the month-long festivities – for a fee, naturally.
I suppose that is how it is. We are like a banana republic where every revolution deposes a tyrant, only to place another tyrant in his place.
And Baguio is just like the zigzag – it is one crooked turn after another.
The rich do not steal? Believe me they do, and sooner of later, will be found out.
In fact, it is already the talk of the town.
What was it that the late Arsenic Lacson once said about a rising upstart?
“So young, and yet so…”