On one of my travels returning for home, a young man, two years out of college, started a conversation with me, which turned to be the longest I’ve ever had with a stranger. Normally, on long trips like these, once I’m seated, I plug in my earphones to show persons sitting beside me that I don’t want to be bothered. This young man, however, reminded me of my younger self, eager, spontaneous, curious, and I decided to suspend my lack of neighborliness. Also, he struck me as without malice in his address toward me like I could see him as my brother, which to me was the deciding factor.
Apparently, he noticed the material I had been reading and that was how his initial question went: do you mind if I ask you what development research is? I didn’t. And then afterward I learned that he too was in research, but in the natural sciences, entomology. What’s that?, I asked. He didn’t know development research, I didn’t know entomology – we were both even. It’s the study of insects, he said. I was piqued — why would anyone want to go to university to study insects like, cockroaches? but I didn’t vocalize that, of course. Instead, I asked, so, have you, like, figured how many butterfly varieties there are in Benguet?, unsure if that made sense at all. Not really, he said, because it’s more about studying them in order to protect crops. Oh, OK, now I get it, of course, he finished at Benguet State University – this was my mind reacting. Outwardly, I just nodded. Further into the conversation, he said he admires that I went on after university into work that’s related to my studies. I didn’t, he said, because I’m working as a security detail. He explained that his heart is really not in his field of study, that in fact he really wants to be in the police force. But the fact remains that you were able to finish your studies, I commented. I did, he said, but I guess there’s the difference. Oh, well, you know what, your being in security is probably the best thing because what matters is it’s where your heart is and one always performs best there. He appeared to mull this over and then he said, I think you’re right, and then softly repeated to himself the phrase ‘where your heart is’ over and over, which now brings me to the real subject of this article.
The conversation proceeded to talk of the PDAF Scam. I’m not sure at what point exactly it crossed over to this but the young man had asked me what the Scam really was all about. It was then way past midnight. Everyone except for the driver, conductor, and the two of us, was deep in Sleepland. But, in retrospect, the topic was perfect for the time. I provided the young man the basics of the Scam. We both were disappointed and saddened that his hometown’s own former representative in Congress, Samuel Dangwa, had been involved in the affair, if at all, our sadness compounded by the fact that it had to happen toward the twilight of his life. But the core of our talk was the amount of public money that was scammed.
National media reported that the amount was around PHP10B or PHP2B from others. I averred that this is just the principal. My thinking, I told him, is that, if the accused were as practical as they are, this amount was invested, and if it was, how much, say, would 10% per annum yield? One billion?, he said. (Incidentally, this was the amount recently reported that Napoles will return to the national government, but was afterward denied.) I goaded the young man’s mind further: But, what if the amount wasn’t merely idly-banked but invested? How much did the accused got from that? Windfall?, he said. And then, I said, what if the investment was the portfolio kind, how much was received out of the several investment schemes? Rip-offs?, he said. But wait some more, I said, what if the interests from the interests of the investments were reinvested into yet another portfolio and then into another after that and so on, since 2003? Oh god, he said, stop! my mind has just frozen over — that’s waaaay too much money! We laughed and fell silent. We were both trying to fathom the amount of actual money the accused gained from the Scam. He was first to break the silence. You know, he said, the money’s really too much, I can’t even begin to imagine what I’d do with millions. What more with billions? And what does wallowing in billions of cash even look like?
A bath?, I offered. We laughed some more.
And then arriving at the same conclusion, we said: we do best where our hearts are!