Greed is a shabby thread that runs thru Holy Thursday’s fabric. “What are you willing to give me if I turn him over to you ?”, Judas haggled with the high priests. “They paid him 30 pieces of silver”.
The physician in Luke spotted a psychological detail: “From then on, Judas kept looking for an opportunity to hand him over, without creating a disturbance.”
Thirty pieces of silver became a universal symbol of cupidity. This mercenary quid-pro-quo taints much of our national life today. You see it everywhere: from Jose Velarde’s bank account, Abu Sayyaf’s insatiable appetite for ransom to Joc-Joc Bolante’s fertilizer scam.
“Greed is a tree that grows in arid souls”, the Ilocano axiom says. Newsweek underscored that truth, this Holy Week, by publishing, it’s “11 Greediest Persons of All Time” list. Iscariot didn’t make it. But two women did: Empress Dowager Cixi and Imelda Marcos.
In a starving China, Cixi dined, we’re told, with golden chopsticks at 150-course dinners. Imelda took “$5-million shopping sprees to New York and Rome, reportedly owned the world’s largest collections of gems and 3,000 pairs of shoes,” (Wrong. Only 1,060 pairs, she says.)
Newsweek’ “honor roll” list includes, among others: Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan , Roman general Marcus Licinius Crassus, Wall Street swindler Bernard Madoff and Pope Sixtus IV. Did Michaelangelo have Sixtus IV in mind when painting the “Last Judgement” in the Sistine Chapel? He depicted there a pontiff in hades.
“Put yourself in Imelda’s shoes,” the Observer once suggested. How would you react? Imelda’s loyalists leapt in to say their heroine “was only greedy in giving.” Avarice, retort her critics. The 79-year old widow zippered her lips.
That’s not always been the case. “If you know how rich you are, you are not rich, she told Inquirerin March 1998. “But me — I am not aware of the extent of my wealth. That’s how rich we are.”.
Imelda pledged to give $800 million to hard-up Filipinos — if she became president. Hindi siya nagi-isa. Judas slobbered over aromatic nard used to anoint the Master. “Why was this oil not sold for 300 days wages and given to the poor?”.
Judas “said this, not because he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief,” John wrote. “He held the money bag and used to steal the contributions.”
The poor, in any case, never saw Imelda’s $800 million then. She limped in fifth in a seven-way presidential race. Fidel Ramos squeaked thru. Decades later, she’s still pledging to share Marcos’ wealth.
“People say I’m touched in the head”, she told Time magazine just after the Southern Leyte landslide. But the Marcos foundation would unload it’s millions — finally. “I’ll come up with a project that will wipe out poverty here in two years.”
Marcos funds are stashed in five’account groups’ abroad, the Supreme Court has noted. These are (a) Azio-Verso-Vibur Foundation; (b) Xandy-Wintrop: Charis-Scolari-Valamo-Spinus- Avertina Foundation ( c);Trinidad-Rayby-Palmy Foundation accounts; (d) Rosalys-Aguamina Foundation; and (e) Maler Foundation accounts.
None supported a single project here. They’re like Erap’s Muslim Youth Foundation that never had scholars. Courts wrung every centavo Filipinos got from the Marcoses : $638 million from shell foundations to $36.4 million that a US district court,in Hawaii, ordered go to martial law victims.
The Newsweek list holds up sorry examples. But men will learn at no other school. And locals have proven quick studies. Yet, “he who is greedy is always in want,” Horace wrote..
With martial law bayonets, Eduardo Cojuangco squeezed levies from defenseless coconut farmers. Kickbacks in the ZTE broadband scandal ballooned from 20% to 60%.. “Back off”, ex-commissioner Benjamin Abalos & Co. told whistleblower Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada. Cupidity of local officials, over potentials of sand and gravel contract s torpedoed an P80-billion shipyard project for Misamis Oriental.
“Jose Velarde” account bloated from one peso to P3,233,104,173 in a year. It dwindled when the impeachment against Joseph Estrada started. Jose Velarde and Joseph Estrada were one and the same person, the Anti-Graft Court found. Did Erap gag? “The greedy choke easily”, say Boholano and Hilongo proverbs.
In 2000, Abu Sayyaf pegged it’s “board and lodging” rate for 30 Basilan hostages at 180 sacks of rice, medicine, canned goods — plus cell phones they fancied. When they hostaged ABS-CBN’s Ces Drilon and team, rates had bolted into the millions. Negotiators sliced into the loot.
Can you tell a country that bags top slots in lists like Transparency International’s dossierof “World’s Most Corrupt Leaders” and, now Newsweek’s grasping eleven?
Yes. It’s one where the affluent few buy ever larger locks, raise higher the walls of gated enclaves and withdraw from the needy. “Self worth becomes net worth,” as a banker puts it.
“Government by quid-pro-quo is a blind alley,” Cebu Daily News said in a Holy Thursday issue.. “It leads, as Judas discovered, to burial in a potter’s field.”.
Newsweek’s list is no reason to give up There was, after all, only one Judas – but eleven others who, despite their flaws, ultimately stood by what is decent.