Dissipating the smog of gullibility
Several years ago, I was invited to be a speaker in an anticorruption national congress in a Manila hotel by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption. There were over a hundred participants, all sharing knowledge, techniques and ideas on fighting corruption. The other speaker, an Australian lady seated next to me, whispered, “They are all victims, aren’t they?”
For a moment, I did not understand what she was saying. Then it hit me. The participants articulating lofty principles were not riling against corruption as a national evil. Each one was recounting and expressing a personal hurt at having been victimized by some corrupt official or person. The assemblage looked like a real organic public gathering that was attentive to corruption as a national issue, but in actuality, it was a concatenation of corruption victims.
This insight flashed back to me when I read news reports about 100,000 Kapa Community Ministry International members rallying in General Santos City against the impending prosecution of the corporation for the continuing crime of large-scale estafa, upon orders of President Duterte. The testimonies were heartrending. Said one: “When President Duterte ordered the closure of Kapa, we cried. Kapa has helped many poor families meet their basic needs.” Other testimonies were very concrete and personal—how Kapa significantly and materially benefited its members.
The participants came from all over Mindanao, as far away as Kidapawan in Cotabato and Bislig in Surigao del Sur, where Kapa started operations in 2016. It is remarkable that in three short years, Kapa now claims a national membership of 5 million members.
The Kapa members have risen as one in protest against Kapa’s closure. It looks like a mass appeal in favor of the poor. But, given how Ponzi schemes work, the downstream investors will surely be left holding the bag. Each one of the members clamoring for the continuance of Kapa is either a frantic victim or a potential victim, hoping that he or she will get a share of the blessings before the organization becomes kaput.
Descriptions of the rally show evidence of the tantalizing material benefits that have been received by the Kapa members—flashy sports cars and SUVs among them. Kapa founder Joel Apolinario himself arrived in a helicopter. It is understandable why victims and perpetrators are willing to conspire to keep the scheme going. No one would file a complaint against Kapa.
Kapa is not the only scam to hit the poor. Recall that in September 2017, a similar scam was perpetrated on some 100,000 unsuspecting people who converged at the University of the Philippines Los Baños grounds, having bought tickets that supposedly entitled them to shares of the Marcos wealth. Apparently, a smog of gullibility, aided by that elixir of illusion, social media, has fallen on the land in the time of Rodrigo Duterte.
How does one warn against scams? Here we go again, frantically looking for the magic device to warn people against a novel catastrophic experience, a gullibility surge.
There are two levels of responses. The first one is organizational self-help and mutual help. Institutions like schools and youth and senior citizen organizations must teach critical thinking and help forewarn the poor against get-rich schemes. The second level is for government agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police to proactively dissipate the smog of gullibility that has engulfed this nation over the past three years.
It is a relief that Mr. Duterte has pulled the plug on Kapa. But this is rather ironic. It is no coincidence that Kapa flourished under the atmosphere of frenzied faith and hope that the election of Mr. Duterte to power engendered.
Joel Apolinario is a retailer of hope and faith. What has made him possible is the same smog of gullibility that gave us the national savior, Rodrigo Duterte, “the best president in the solar system.” What Joel Apolinario has proceeded to deliver at the operational, ground level are the promises of the good life with which Mr. Duterte has likewise mesmerized the whole nation.
That Mr. Duterte now indicts Kapa as a scam looks to me like the head of the snake biting its own tail. A 30-percent return on investment is no different from a promise of eradicating drugs, crime and corruption in Philippine society within six months. One is an investment scam. The other is a political one.
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