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  • Writer's pictureNow You Know


By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento

The Filipino sociological phenomena of nagoyo, na-once, na-gancho, nabudol affirm our common humanity and fallibility. With the popularity of online shopping, the American term “scam” is now part of the Filipino language, as in na-iscam ako.

Worse than losing one’s money is losing one’s mind. That in essence is what happens to conspiracy theorists, cultists or those who support corrupt, incompetent or brutal leaders on the false premise that they are the only ones who can effect real change for the better.

Psychologists have come up with several theories on why we fall for this or that scam, fake news item, conspiracy theory or revisionist history. Mostly it’s because we believe that we are good judges of human nature and underestimate the depths of depravity that the smiling, personable perpetrators will sink to, or the criminality which they are capable of. Budol-budol victims are approached by seemingly friendly strangers of means—hindi dugyot o gusgusin--who flatter them by paying attention to them, showing warmth and affection, treating them to merienda and taking them into their confidence. Thus, they are cajoled and persuaded into parting with their lifetime savings on the belief that they are helping their friend, or getting a rare opportunity to be among the first investors in some lucrative but illusory scheme. Because the victim herself is a decent person, she cannot imagine that her new-found friends are not whom they appear to be, that they were out to fool her all along. It’s hard to recognize or measure the evil that lurks in the hearts of men.

Many Filipinos rely on the false promise of regionalism. Just because we come from the same province, we share a bond. We are like family. The supermarket cashier declines the pink pocket calendar with the senatorial slate, and explains why she’s voting for the SOD: “Taga-Sarrat kami at doon din ipinanganak ang kaniyang lola at ang Apo.” She can’t explain why Sarrat remains a 4th class municipality since their ascent to power after World War II.

It was like when the Cory Administration permitted the Marcoses to return to face the charges against them. After all that was the legal thing to do in a newly restored democracy where the wheels of justice would presumably move us forward instead of continually breaking down like the MRT. Our sorry public transport system is a sad but apt metaphor for our government.

Anyway, it’s not just the chasm between the have’s and the have not’s that divides our society but also the difference between the essentially good and decent Filipino who has a sense of community and pakikipagkapwa tao, and the sociopathic political thugs whose guns, goons and gold have firmly entrenched them in power for generations, and who have even gamed the party list. Thus, when several attendees of that political rally in Bulacan complained about losing their valuables, many from the other camp gently reminded those among us who thought that was their comeuppance—when you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas--that it still wasn’t nice to laugh at them, at least not on social media anyway.

One’s vote is actually more valuable than mere thousands of pesos because it has the power to affect the fates of 110 million Filipinos. The COMELEC spokesman James Jimenez assured voters that not just anyone, certainly not the trapo’s lider or paymaster, can immediately verify what you actually put in your ballot. So as, another James, the late Jaime Cardinal Sin has advised, “Take the money because you are poor (and if it was ill-gotten wealth, it was stolen from you in the first place) but vote according to your conscience.”

As the Chinese proverb says: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me too.” But if you keep on fooling me come every election, we all go down together. Still, it doesn’t have to be that way: sa gobiernong tapat, angat buhay lahat.


Menchu Aquino Sarmiento is an award-winning writer and a social concerns advocate. IRL (In Real Life) are short verbal pagmumuni-muni, the essay equivalent of fast fiction--but in real life. She really wants more Filipinos to care, and to do something legal and non-violent about it, preferably together, so that we act more like a civilized country, a mature democracy.

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