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Commentary

The tyrant called greed

Greed is desire—rapacious, wanting that knows no bounds. Greed rules through “elite” groups taking control of society at large, or segments of it. The manifestations of greed are many and multifaceted.

The pork barrel scam allegedly orchestrated by Janet Napoles is one face. Remember the NBN-ZTE scandal, once the subject of a Senate inquiry, from which emerged the unforgettable quote “Moderate their greed”? Or the State of the Nation Address of President Aquino exposing the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System management’s unrestrained grant of bonuses and other benefits to directors, officers and staff? Or the “pasalubong” and “pabaon” scandal that rocked the highest echelon of the military? What about the “Pajero scandal” in which some bishops were alleged to have been corrupted by the GMA administration through the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office? The billion-peso pyramid scams? The list is endless.

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And there are the structural manifestations that can be overwhelming.

There is the greed for political power, of which the reality of political dynasties is the clearest expression. No matter what justification the dynasts will put forward, it is undeniable that they are in politics because they want to stay in power. The framers of the 1987 Constitution precisely found the need to regulate political dynasties. It is now 2014, or 27 years after the Constitution was ratified, but no implementing law to regulate political dynasties has been enacted. The people’s representatives prefer to ignore the dictates of the Constitution in favor of their greed at the expense of the common good.

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Political dynasties and their hold on power also serve to circumvent the constitutional provision on term limits. When the only outcome of governance is patronage politics and corrupt practices, there is an undeniable need to revolt against the greed for political power.

And what about the greed for economic power, which proceeds from the barrel of one’s wealth? To be sure, there is nothing wrong with being wealthy. To acquire wealth is the strongest motivation for economic growth—for individuals as well as for nations. Concern arises when economic power is acquired through, and gets to be used for, foul means. For far too long, political power is pursued to gain control over economic resources that will ensure economic power and, consequently, keep political power. The cycle has continued for lifetimes. This is abuse, and this is foul. Lobbying in a democratic system is part of the dynamics that presumably must serve the common good. Unfortunately, it invariably gets to be used in pursuit of vested interest and self-serving goals.

As a result, it is no longer uncommon to hear many say in a resigned tone: Greed rules. It dominates as a tyrant. It controls the Filipino way of life. There is nothing we can do.

The mall scene is the most visible day-by-day reality for today’s Filipino. There is one mall in almost every major city nationwide, radically altering the retail landscape. The days of the sari-sari store or the  carinderia  are fast dying. Branded 24/7 convenience stores are taking over where sari-sari stores may still be. Wherever the malls are, small and medium retail businesses go through a natural dying process. Very subtly, unrestrained mall development can be a manifestation of corporate greed for economic power.

On the surface, intense competition may be demonstrated by the establishment of malls by the big players in high-density population centers with purchasing power: where call centers are; where high-rise condominium buildings have been built. But there is now a need to assess whether their business practices are in restraint of fair trade, to the possible detriment of the consuming public and small and medium entrepreneurs.

The drastically and rapidly changing economic framework demands a responsive and broad perspective in determining whether or not market intervention may be required in pursuit of a competitive environment. The market is a very effective way of serving the interest of various economic stakeholders. But when control over resources is dominated by a few, the monopolistic influences in play will go against the interest of the common good.

Massive consumption has been the impetus for mall development. Highly profitable mall ventures provide the reason they have been sustained. Pesos in the trillions go through the malls and commercial centers yearly. Greed can truly be tempting.

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The “trickle down” economic principle should have become operative given the profits earned by the mall owners. “Inclusive growth” should have been realized had local industries employing Filipino workers been established to supply the goods. But this has not happened; goods have generally been imported. Indeed, there is a problem: The myopic view sees profits by importing, and this makes real business sense; the medium and long view, however, seek a response that will allow the profits to get shared by the greater number through bigger local employment generation or the opening up of small and medium business opportunities. A measure of intervention may be necessary to nudge the major corporate players to “moderate the greed.”

It’s said that greed is an inclination present in everyone, from the “original sin.” Thus, “moderate the greed” is a poignant reminder that this inclination needs constant and deliberate controlling. The uncontrolled greed of “elite” groups is the most significant contributor to poverty in the Philippines. This is the tyrant that must be slain.

Danilo S. Venida ([email protected]) holds undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from the University of the Philippines and the Center for Research and Communication/University of Asia and the Pacific. He is a former president of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and is now a business consultant.

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TAGS: Commentary, Danilo S. Venida, greed, Janet Lim-Napoles, opinion, pork barrel scam
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