Sympathy for the Devil

Apropos are the lyrics of the famous Rolling Stones’s song to explain Janet Napoles’s evil ways.

Pleased to meet you.
Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah.
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah, get down, baby.

Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
‘Cause I’m in need of some restraint.

So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I’ll lay your soul to waste, mm yeah.

So Napoles is the Lucifer.

Much has been said about the evil ways of Napoles—how she gamed the pork barrel system to accumulate billions of pesos of public money for private gain.

Everyone is attacking Napoles and her daughter, the latter for her ostentatious display of ill-gotten wealth. Skimming the pork barrel, becoming nouveau rich, living the high life, and indulging in narcissism make a bad brew. The Napoles family will not get the sympathy of the media and the public. They are being crucified.

But through their song, Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones make a penetrating comment about the devil: “But what’s puzzling you is the nature of my [Lucifer’s] game.” The Rolling Stones sing: “Call me Lucifer just as every cop is a criminal and all the sinners saints.”

Indeed, we must be more concerned over what the Rolling Stones call “the nature of the game” than the devil herself. In the case of Napoles, the nature of her game is the pork barrel. It is a game that she has mastered. This is the game that made her the devil incarnate.

Fascinated by Napoles’s mastery of the pork barrel system, Randy David makes a serious proposal to her:

“Should she ever land in prison and need a benign intellectual pursuit to keep her active mind at work, I would recommend that she consider writing a participant-observer account of the social system of corruption. I would be happy to offer advice on the theoretical framework. A working title for her thesis might be: ‘Politics and the function of corruption: How the pork barrel works.’” (See Philippine Daily Inquirer, 31 July 2013.)

In the same vein, Manuel Buencamino, my colleague at Action for Economic Reforms, sent me a text message about the nature of the game:

“The more I think about Napoles, the more I see her as an innovator. Before her, the pork [barrel] market consisted of retailers. She introduced order and efficiency when she turned it into a wholesale business, through a network of foundations. She was near the point of establishing a monopoly. Her business model should be studied in the Asian Institute of Management, Ateneo, etc.”

But Buencamino’s idea is different from David’s. The former wants to focus on the business model, and the latter is interested in the politics and corruption of the pork barrel.

More to the point, Buencamino compares Napoles to J.P. Morgan, John Rockefeller and the robber barons. They all think alike.

Again, I am reminded of the lyrics of the Stones: “Just as every cop is a criminal,” so were the “industrial statesmen” robber barons.

Napoles, the Lucifer, is the scapegoat. She bears not only the sins she has committed but also the sins of the many politicians and businessmen who have privately benefited from the game.

At least, a man of integrity, Representative Isidro Ungab has come forward to explain how he used the pork barrel funds. As Buencamino wrote in his column (Interaksyon, 9 August 2013): “Ungab’s statement is unequivocal. Straight to the point. No side-stepping. No excuses. No finger-pointing. It takes balls to do that because it is easy enough to check if he is telling the truth. His beneficiaries were identified by the whistleblower so anybody can go and ask them if they got the goods and services he claims they got.”

But how about the many other politicians; will they speak up and give honest answers?

Napoles can do a cover version of the Rolling Stones’s song and dedicate it to these politicians.

Just as every pol is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
‘Cause I’m in need of some restraint.

So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I’ll lay your soul to waste, mm yeah.

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