Saturday, June 11, 2005


Recently, when I e-mailed a long-lost friend who is now based in America, he asked me how life is today in his old Philippines. He told me he hasn’t been here for the last 30 years. Of course he said that he is kept posted on the developments hereabouts via the internet, as all local newspapers are on-line, but he wanted them straight from the horse’s mouth.

What interests most a full-blooded businessman is the state of the economy. I told him that business and economics commentators can take care of that. I even recommended to him my favourite columnist, Boo Chanco, who in his tri-weekly column in the Philippine Star dishes out bitter pill diagnosis on our ailing economy. Not is he exchanging views with our overseas compatriots whose experience or training abroad widened their perspective, they even become instant social cum economic critics. That precisely is the beauty of exposure to other lands. The expatriate has the luxury of comparison. As my youngest son said, the Philippines is in “black and white” while the countries he visited abroad are in “full color”. The learning is deep and spontaneous. It validates the observation that “travels season a statesman”.

My friend wants to invest his foreign currency savings in this country, and tells me he wants at least to contribute something for its development. Well, that is noble of you, I told him. There are many areas of investments in this country that badly need foreign capital. Then I ticked out the areas in mining, real estate, outsourcing and manufacturing. But he said his interest is in networking. He added he improved on a beauty product and the Philippines is definitely a market. I assured him that Filipinas have close affinity to beauty embellishments, and without them they feel inadequate. One provincial official of Quezon was complaining that his wife wants to lose weight. His moneybag told the provincial chief point-blank to advise his wife not to apply make-up anymore!

Networking is an oft-abused mode of doing business. There is a thin line that divides pyramiding or Ponzi schemes from networking. Both systems exploit the baser instincts of people.

Since we brag about our connections or the number of our relatives and friends, most of us find this line of business very attractive. In the US for instance every Filipino there boasts of politician-relatives in the Philippines. Just talking to our fiends and relations is not only fun, we earn money in the process. Look at jueteng. The cobrador has the network of bettors in a town or barangay. There is a social need being satisfied by the jueteng collector. He is the street shrink because he interprets their thoughts and assigns numbers or anuncio on the persons or objects from their dreams. He is the news carrier from the far ends of the barangay to its center. Or he can mediate the differences between neighbours or members of the family long before the barangay conciliation was even introduced. By betting on the numbers suggested by the cobrador, all things are settled. But most important, he personifies hope or espera. He retails hope to the bettors since government, the local officials or the religious have long deserted them.

Among the influence peddlers, networking is capital. Bagmen or front guys of decision makers collect access fees for an appointment with the big boss. And if the transaction pushes thru, again they bill the client, success fees. Success fees are divided between the big boss who gets the larger piece and crumbs out to the point man.

Gratitude in government has commercial imperatives. A fellow discretion giver bends the rule in favour of another for future reckoning. An Ombudsman Graft Investigator would likely exonerate a Labor Arbiter charged with dereliction of duty in exchange for a quid pro quo. There is one ranking Ombudsman Officer who brazenly calls elective officials recommending his favourite contractors. There is quid pro quo in the Fiscal’s Office, the RTCs, the MTCs, in the Immigration department (remember the 10 little Indians?), the Customs, the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court. A quid pro quo is a valuable asset transforming one into an overnight millionaire.

Networking may also mean knowing the idiosyncrasies of the decision maker.

This is true with judges and justices, labor arbiters, commissioners and chairmen of administrative agencies. A larger part of disposition of controversies is decided on personal relations of both parties with the arbiter. The rest is decided on monetary consideration. Where the decision is based on merits, it’s a fluke. Sometimes, the bribe-taker wants to wash his conscience by taking on high-fallutin issues like matters on the Bill of Rights, the environment, and others that far touch the pocket. Pang-posterity, ika.

There is one lawyer who once bragged that his area of expertise is in chamber-lawyering. He was a fixture of the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. He could produce draft resolutions of these superior courts to the amazement of his clients impressing that he had access to the justices.

There is another law firm which can rightly boast that 90% of the men and women in the judiciary and in the bureaucracy were indebted to that law firm for their appointment. Tell me, who can say no to them?

I know another lawyer who has mastered the art of knowing the character of politicians and their bagmen in his province. He knows exactly what restaurant the big boss patronizes, his favourite dish, his associates and the gradation of their influence on the boss on the scale of 1-10. That lawyer can also tell you the favourite GRO of the bagman in the latter’s watering hole. Armed with the information, the prospective client gains confidence on where to prick the prick. A little innocent flattery out of the blue sends these local chiefs in mindless paroxysm. And the client is inches away from the contract.

From the cultural aspect, networking is the everyday areglo. We are confronted in every which way by a regulatory agency of the government. More often we find the requirements cumbersome. Cutting corners is an alternative. The best way to do it is to twist the discretion of the bureaucrat. Knowing personally the chief of the agency is no problem. A simple call will suffice. But where we are clueless on who the chiefs’ friends are, the old networking works. Humanap ka, ika, ng katapat. Yaong di niya matatanggihan.

One gets a wide array of network starting from his radius of confidence. His family, relatives, town mates, province mates, from his regional provenance, village or subdivision neighbours in the cities, officemates, friends, organizations, fraternity brothers, civic organizations, and classmates from pre-school to graduate school. Whooah! That’s how broad one’s network is.

To a Pinoy, he’ll never go hungry with the number of his friends. By simply rotating his visits, a freeloader is assured of three square meals a day. Come election time, these network-claimants become an asset or bane to a politician. As an asset, their voluntarism spells the loss or victory in the polls. And as a liability, he can cost an arm or leg.

That is how networking has come a long way here. With 85 million Filipinos and growing, the networker will never run out of business.

Sonny Pulgar

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