THE MIDDLE CLASS ARE ALREADY MILLIONAIRES!

MANILA, August 23, 2003  (STAR) INSIDE CEBU By Bobit S. Avila  - It’s been 32 years since the infamous Plaza Miranda bombing shook this nation and 20 years since the late Sen. Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. was assassinated at the Manila International Airport which now bears his name. Decades after these two dastardly acts took place they have been etched permanently in the memories of the Filipino people. These two major historic events share the same anniversary dates and some commonalities, foremost among them is, until today, the Filipino people still want to know the masterminds of these criminal acts put behind bars… a pipe dream if you ask me.

Yet until today, decades after these incidents happened, none of the suspected masterminds have been tried, much less imprisoned. Strangely, while this injustice persists, the majority of the Filipino people have more or less a general idea as to who masterminded these foul deeds. I’m positive that decades from now, these nagging questions will continue to haunt our nation.

With regards the soldiers belonging to the defunct Aviation Security Command (Avsecom) who were sentenced to double life terms for the conspiracy in the assassination of Ninoy, they are now asking, albeit demanding, the commutation of their sentence. After all they have served 20 years of their lives for being unluckily assigned to escort Ninoy as he was shot dead in the airport tarmac. But as we all know, the Aquino family opposes the commutation of their sentence, until and unless they openly declare in public who ordered the killing of Ninoy.

We have no doubt that in this deadly game of political conspiracies, it is the ordinary pawns that have suffered the most, while the masterminds probably enjoy a luxurious life without fear of being arrested. But I share the sentiments of the Aquino family, that for as long as the soldiers insist that it was Rolando Galman who killed Ninoy, no one will believe their yarn. If they want to shorten their sentences, then they should start telling the truth for a change. * * *

The expose’ series reported almost daily about the "lifestyles" of public officials has obviously struck the proverbial gold mine exposing many government officials, a. k. a. public servants as millionaires. Last Tuesday, Armed Forces Vice-Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Garcia asked a very intriguing question, "What is P1 million now?" This question was asked when the Philippine Star came up on the front-page news that "37 Generals are Millionaires; Air Force Chief is Richest".

While these figures came from the various statements of assets and liabilities (SALs) made by these officers, let me point out that we’re not blaming any of these people for corruption. Rather, it is merely a list of their SALs. The next question to ask should be… whether any of these members of the millionaire’s club can explain why they belong there.

Now who was it who said that in the Philippines, the rich was getting richer, while the poor gets poorer and poorer? In my book, things are doing well for the Philippines because today, the so-called middle class has been elevated into a new status, they’re virtually millionaires. Indeed, because the peso has weakened so much versus the US dollar, being inducted into the millionaires club these days doesn’t really mean anything.

For instance, if a public official bought a golf country club share for P50,000 20 years ago, owning that share wouldn’t put him in millionaire’s row. But 20 years later, if this same public official kept his country club share, chances are, it maybe worth between P2 million which makes him eligible to be in millionaires row… yet he still belongs to the middle class!

I’m using real estate investments as the example because many of these public officials and I’m sure, it includes the military officers were able to purchase their residences or golf shares 20 years ago at the rates I mentioned. Today, real estate values have gone so high; they’re for all intents and purposes considered millionaires. But we must compare apples with apples and oranges with oranges, not oranges against apples.

I looked into that list of "millionaire" military officers, published in the Star and the richest is our good friend, Air Force Chief Lt. General Nestor Santillan whose net worth is pegged at P13.4 million, mostly from his real estate investments. Yes, while he has a substantial investment, he ain’t no Ayala or a Henry Sy, a Lucio Tan or a Danding Cojuangco.

Mind you, a good friend of mine from DPWH talked with me a few weeks ago and he told me that he considered himself lucky to have bought a house and lot in Manila whose value has grown considerably. But because of the investigation on the so-called DPWH millionaires, his name appears there. But he was being truthful about his real estate investment.

Again, the problem really lies on the weakness of our currency caused by an uncaring political leadership. Twenty years ago the peso to the dollar rate was somewhere around P21 to US$ 1.00. Today, the peso is pegged at P55.00 to US$1.00, which means, you have to work 55 times more to earn a single US dollar! So if you’re so proud to be a millionaire in pesos, it’s really not a big deal anymore. Like I said, you’re no Ayala! Just like in Italy, being a millionaire with the Italian Lira ain’t a big deal at all!

So if you came up with the SALs of those belonging to the middle class sector, they too can also claim membership in the millionaires club. This means that today, millionaires are a dime a dozen. But our mentality has stuck on, that when your peso hits the million mark, you’re a proud millionaire. But are you really? If you ask me, a real millionaire is one who is a millionaire in US dollars. So when actor Christopher de Leon asks, "Who wants to be a millionaire?" I’m sure that even in pesos, many still want to become millionaires, except of course those public officials whose names appear in the millionaires list and can’t explain why they’ve become one. But rest assured, those belonging to the middle class can already claim membership in the millionaires club.

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For e-mail responses to this article, write tovsbobita@mozcom.com. Bobit Avila’s columns can also be accessed through www.thefreeman.com. He also hosts a weekly talkshow entitled, "Straight from the Sky" shown every Monday only in Metro Cebu on Channel 15 on SkyCable at 8 p.m.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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