pop goes the world: money talks loud

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 9 June 2011, Thursday

Money Talks Loud

When money bends rules and makes a mockery of law; when money can buy the goodwill and blind eye of those in power; when money buys privileges to negate the principles of punishment and correction, then we should not wonder why our country is decaying.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima was in the news about her visit the other day to New Bilibid Prison, where, accompanied by members of Congress, she conducted an ocular inspection and ordered the dismantling of the kubols (huts) of inmates who had paid for the privilege of sleeping apart from the general population. Most of these “special” inmates were “Chinese drug lords”, she said.

A kubol at New Bilibid Prison. Image here.

In a radio interview yesterday, she admitted that this was her fourth visit to Bilibid. She had questioned the existence of the kubols before, but was told that a certain Building Four was under renovation, where it was intended to move the special inmates, for the reason that holding them in one area would also be easier for guarding and monitoring.

Finally, something is being done about this injustice. However, it is hard to believe that this double standard for moneyed inmates was unknown to those in authority. It had become embedded in prison and justice culture as a practice in which those participating were in a tacit contract to uphold an unwritten code.

But with media’s splashing of high-profile Bilibid inmate and former Batangas governor Antonio Leviste’s “leaves” from the prison compound, the situation was laid bare to the public, which rightly erupted in anger and indignation.

The practice of giving privileges and special favors to those who have bribed persons in authority is nothing new. In fact, the Bible speaks of it several times. Proverbs 16:18 says, “Do you want to meet an important person? Take a gift and it will be easy.” The giving of gifts or bribes was a recognized tactic in Asiatic culture, something that is still practiced in most societies today. However, the Bible also warns against this in Exodus 23:8 – “And you shall take no gift: for the gift blinds the wise, and perverts the words of the righteous.”

All this boils down to is the principle of the Golden Rule – “He who has the gold, makes the rules.”

Got gold? Image here.

When the people of a society see that money is the key to a life of privilege, a life that allows one to circumvent the law and otherwise live as he wishes without regard to others and his community, it is no wonder that people will do anything to make money, especially in a poor society.

In the Philippines, where a substantial portion of the population live below the poverty line, we see women gyrating on national TV in their underwear, and children gyrating on national TV period, for money, or shall we say, easy money.

Women search online for husbands in first-world countries, often elderly white men. Several of these men that I’ve interviewed treated the situation as an economic transaction – “I’ve got a young wife who keeps house well and treats me like her lord and master, and in return I take care of her and her extended family in the province. That’s understood.”

The phenomenon is not exclusive to the Philippines. Take China. In a post on the Internet website of Women’s Watch, Inc., Bejing-based Chengcheng Jiang reported on a new subject for young girls this school year in in the southern province of Guangdong – “how to avoid being a mistress”. With increasing wealth in China, old social customs that Mao tried to eradicate have resurfaced, among them the tradition of men keeping an ernai (literally “second breast”) as a status and power symbol.

The practice of keeping mistresses in China is a cultural tradition that extends into the past. Sai Jinhua (born 1872) was a courtesan who later became an ambassador’s wife. When her husband died, she was forced back into a life of prostitution. She died in poverty.

For the women, it’s about financial gain. “I’d rather cry in the backseat of a BMW than smile on the back of a bike,” is said to be a common attitude of “a certain segment of young girls looking for wealthy partners.”

Researcher Li Yinhe of the Institute of Sociology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences says not only men but also women need to be educated – “…after all, they’re the ones who go looking for mistresses,” she said.

How are the culture of corruption and the culture of mistress-keeping related?

Both stem from issues of power and wealth. Those who have more of either, also have more in a society. But if a country is founded on democratic principles of fairness and equality and seeks to uphold these principles, it must root out instances of injustice and unfairness; otherwise, it is being a hypocrite, and forcing its citizens to be hypocrites as well.

Corruption, as we have seen in disgusting detail in the Bilibid scandal, is so deeply entrenched in our culture that its eradication seems hopeless. As CASS’s Li said, “…it is well known that social customs are the hardest to change.”

Hard, yes, but it is not impossible. Traditional mindsets that hold back economic and political reforms are difficult to transform, but it can be done. Look how Lee Kuan Yew turned Singapore into the economic powerhouse it is today – but it took him three decades. Mahathir Mohamad engineered Malaysia’s growth and modernization – over 22 years as prime minister. It is a long-term process that requires strong leadership to start and maintain.

Singapore. Image here.

Changing negative social attitudes that have created and embedded the culture of corruption and impunity,kanya-kanyahan, materialism, and their insidious ilk needs to start now. China is doing something about their similar problems through the education of young people.

Yes, we can reverse our country’s decay. But if not now, when do we ever begin?

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