Where Digong Gets It Wrong

atheist

People who know me well know that I am a Duterte fan. My Facebook wall is testament to that as one can see many pro-Duterte articles and memes I have posted. While we can argue black and blue about the morality of his methods, the brutal frankness and vulgarity of his statements, or the future impact of his brand of leadership, the one thing we cannot argue with is results. It is because of him that Davao is what it is today.

(By the way, to those who read my column two weeks ago entitled “Would Duterte Make A Great President?” I would like to clarify that the only paragraph I wrote there was the first one. The rest of the piece was written by Mr. Abella, whom I mentioned there. I hope this puts a stop to people who keep asking me if I was really kidnapped, or if I was really a pastor in 1996, or if I am still a pastor now. Please read carefully next time.)

However, there was a statement he made in an interview with Jessica Soho of GMA that bothers me. At the conclusion of the interview, Soho asks, “May kinatatakutan ho ba kayo, Mayor?” (Is there anything you are afraid of, Mayor?)

Duterte replies, ”Nanay ko pati tatay ko, at ang Diyos. I am afraid of karma. Takot ako sa tao na hindi naniniwala ng Diyos, hindi naniniwala ng karma because that guy will do what he wants to do in his life.” (My mother, my father, and God. I am afraid of karma. I am afraid of people who don’t believe in God, who don’t believe in karma because that guy will do what he wants to do in his life.)

That is a statement I totally disagree with.

People who want to do what they want in life, who have headstrong personalities, will do it regardless of their belief or non-belief in God. They will simply find a way to justify what they are doing (if it is wrong). In 2013, the US Federal Bureau of Prisons released some information regarding the religious affiliations of the inmates and it shows that atheists make up only 0.07% of the prison population who were willing to divulge their religious affiliation. Christians (Catholic and Protestant) accounted for 53%, Muslims around 5% and smaller percentages spread out among other minor religions. We don’t have such statistics for the Philippines but I don’t see how the result will be much different given that a vast majority of our population are predisposed to believing in some sort of god.

One may even argue that belief in a merciful God may pave the way for desperate people to commit crimes. “Surely God will understand and forgive. He knows that I have to do this to survive or to help my child, or some other family member.” The hope in an afterlife may give a person the idea that there is still a chance to do better next time.

In fact, look at all the people we have in government who are involved in one shady deal or another. Chances are, you will also see them professing their faith, praying, and supporting their church. An atheist friend of mine, who happens to be a harsh critic of Digong’s “kill them all” methods remarked, “Isn’t it ironic that he says those who do not believe in God will do what they want to do? Yet, isn’t he doing what he wants to do by killing the criminals without due process?”

You have to admit that he has a point.

Let me share why an atheist might not necessarily be a person who will go around raping, pillaging, murdering and drinking babies’ blood. This is a stereotype I hope to shatter in this deeply religious country of ours.

A person who holds no belief in gods or an afterlife believes that this life is the only one there is. There is no reset button, no replay option. Once the game is over, it’s over. Therefore, this life is precious. It is not something to be taken lightly. This person has more motivation to live a good life instead of being reckless because there is no second chance and no redemption.

Penn Jillette, a prominent atheist and stage magician, once said, “The question I get asked by religious people all the time is, without God, what’s to stop me from raping all I want? And my answer is: I do rape all I want. And the amount I want is zero. And I do murder all I want, and the amount I want is zero. The fact that these people think that if they didn’t have this person watching over them that they would go on killing, raping rampages is the most self-damning thing I can imagine.”

The mayor should be more afraid of are those who believe that God is on their side. Look at the suicide bombers, fanatics and martyrs. Almost all of them hold deep religious beliefs. They think they are obeying their God’s commands. They are willing to die because they believe they will be rewarded in the next life. These are actually the kind of people who will do whatever they want as long as they can justify it in the name of their god.

As for atheists/agnostics? You need not be afraid of us. All we do is write articles like this, or rant or debate on Facebook. We will not strap bombs on our body and threaten to destroy all your churches. We have no ideologies to die for and everything to live for. We live only once (and we believe that literally), so we have every reason to make sure that we live good, happy lives.

Let me end with a verse from Robert G. Ingersoll, also known as The Great Agnostic:

“Happiness is the only good.
The time to be happy is now.
The place to be happy is here.
The way to be happy is to help make others so.”

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Defending EmGoldex, and Failing Miserably

Photo Credit: EyadHainey via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: EyadHainey via Compfight cc

I received a lot of feedback on my previous article, “Is EmGoldex a Scam?” both in the comments section, as well as via email. Of particular interest to me were the staunch defenders who proclaimed that my logic “sucks” and that I didn’t do the proper research, and they proceeded to explain how I wrongly described this or that specific detail in their payout scheme.

Truth to tell, I expected this because as I have already mentioned, I have seen this happen over and over again in the past. It’s like knowing the secret to a magic trick. Once you’ve seen it, then you know how it’s done and even if the magician does variations to the trick, you can still probably figure out how it’s done, because you know the basic principle.

In other words, I don’t need to fully understand the marketing plan of EmGoldex or whatever other company out there. All I need to know is the gist of it, as well as some knowledge of its products, and it’s easy to tell if it’s a scam or not. Perhaps it’s my critics who should recheck their logic and do their proper research on pyramid schemes. I was, after all, a teacher of algebra, geometry, physics and computer programming. So I have every reason to be very confident with the soundness of my logic.

The bottom line is this: How is the company earning money?

If it earns money mainly via recruitment, then it is a pyramid scheme BY DEFINITION. It may even be registered with SEC (it’s not that hard to register a corporation and make it sound legal at first). Many past scams were registered with SEC so that’s not really a guarantee — although a company that isn’t registered ought to make you really doubtful.

It also doesn’t matter whether this celebrity or that politician endorsed it. Come on, these people are human too and they can make mistakes, or they can be scammers as well. What? You don’t believe that politicians or celebrities can be scammers? Then you might be interested in buying a 2.5 billion peso parking building in Makati that I happen to be selling.

So what if it’s a pyramid scheme? If people know what they’re getting into and are willing to take the risk, why shouldn’t they be free to do so?

Well, the problem is that sponsors or uplines are RARELY transparent about the risk. They will always focus on the upside and downplay the downside. They will show you how easy it is to double, triple, quadruple or quintuple your money. And all you have to do is to “invite two, only two.” They don’t tell you that majority of those who invested have not yet earned anything. In fact, they spend a lot of time trying to convince you that the company is legitimate, and that it is not a scam, and so on and so forth.

But as I have shown in the last article, for every person who exits, there are 14 other people who are waiting — in other words, they haven’t earned anything yet. What they don’t know is that the money they invested was used to pay out the exiting person and the rest goes to the pocket of the owners.

Ah, but they will say that it doesn’t really go into their pockets because they have to pay out the next exiting person. True, but remember that the next person can’t exit unless there are new people coming in (or old people who “reinvested”) so there’s always fresh cash coming in and only a fraction of that is used to pay out the exiting person.

Now, experienced schemers will rarely admit that they make money from recruitment (because they know that they will be trapped by the definition of a pyramid scheme). Therefore, they will try to persuade you that they are really in the business of buying and selling gold, and that is how the company makes money.

Again, that is patently false and is relatively easy to demonstrate. The historical price per gram of gold can be found in the goldpriceoz.com website, which uses the London gold fixing price as its reference. If we look at a 6-month window on the price of gold (from Dec 2014 to June 2015), we can see that the highest point is at $41.66. and the lowest point at $36.88. That means even if I bought at the lowest point and sold at the highest point, I would have earned $4.78 which is roughly 13% return on my original investment.

gold-price-6-months

Let’s look at a one year window (from June 2014 to June 2015). The highest point is at $43.09. and the lowest point at $36.72. Following the previous analogy, I would have earned $6.37 or 17% return on my original investment.

gold-price-1-year

(Note that in both these scenarios, I am presenting the BEST CASE — buying at lowest and selling at highest — but we know this RARELY happens in reality. In fact, if you had bought gold in June 2014 at around 40.50 and held on to it, your portfolio would have a  NEGATIVE net value today because gold in June 2015 is only 37.80.)

But going back to the analogy, we have seen that in even the best case for one year, we only got a 17% return by buying and selling gold. In contrast, EmGoldex promises to turn your PHP35,000 into PHP180,000. That’s a whopping 514% return on investment. So tell me, how did they earn that much money in such a short time? By buying and selling gold? But we have already shown that’s not possible.

Therefore, they earn from recruitment, and therefore, it’s a pyramid scheme.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

For the people who misread last week’s article, please note that I am not and have never been a pastor, nor have I been kidnapped. Please read the first paragraph of that article again and you will know who the author of that piece really is. All I wrote was the first paragraph.

Would Duterte Make A Great President?

Photo Credit: nicdalic via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: nicdalic via Compfight cc

My good friend, Ernie Abella, seems to think so, as he wrote a piece explaining his case. He has given me permission to share his thoughts on the matter:

Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte would make a great President. He would succeed where Marcos failed – create a truly New Society. Marcos seems the apt benchmark because he used a strong hand to stay in power. Duterte exercises a firm grip to stabilize a city where lawlessness would be rampant if there were no clear vision and the political will to enforce it.

Etta Rosales, current chair of the CHR, called up the Marcos bogey when she was featured in Jessica Soho’s special on Duterte. She claimed it might be Marcos all over again if Duterte became Philippine president. Her refined liberal sensibilities caution her assessment of the man Time magazine labelled, “The Punisher.”

Peter Wallace of the Economist Intelligence Unit, Philippines understands why the masses like him. “In a civilized society, such action (referring to the notorious Dirty Harry reputation of Duterte”) is reprehensible. But in a civilized society, the system of law works. In the Philippines, it very probably (sic) does not…”. (Peter Wallace, Like It Is, Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 28, 2015, pA13).

Rosales invokes the great liberal and democratic ideals, which most college educated Filipinos grew up on – especially those who were around during the First Quarter Storm. However, Wallace says, “…in a society where crime goes mostly unpunished, Duterte’s solution is drastic in the extreme and, in the wrong hands, could be massively abused, as we saw during martial law.

But if you rely on an inutile legal system the society remains at risk from ruthless criminals. So what do you do? Do you stick to the democratic ideal, or accept that the reality calls for a different solution? And the reality is that crime flourishes in the Philippines, but doesn’t in Davao…in a letter to the editor, a visiting German rightly says, “You cannot apply Western ideas in the Philippines.”

What makes this discussion difficult is the fact that our arguments are backed up by personal experience. Rosales herself was a victim of Marcos’ human rights abuses, and resists the “strong hand” solution. The ordinary citizens of the Philippines have also been victimized by “unpunished crime” and an “inutile justice system” and therefore favour a “different solution”.

But the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the tasting. After 3 decades and more of Duterte leading Davao, what has it yielded? Aside from the peace and order, it also has one of the country’s most competitive local government units; and topped NCC’s Cities and Municipalities competitiveness survey of infrastructures (health, education, ICT connection, economic dynamism; most transparent LGU, most active in promoting investments, compliance with national LGU directives and efficient tax collection.

So far, all I have done is present two points of view, Ms. Rosales’ and Mr. Wallace’. But as a former resident of Davao City, I can tell you several reasons why Davao City is different: the firecracker ban, smoking ban, no liquor after 12 a.m. ordinance, curfew for minors, speed limits, and so forth and so on. These would seem petty and irritating, but they were never arbitrary. They were necessary because we had not yet become responsible citizens.

In truth, as a people, we have not yet become full and participating citizens. In fact, our perception of ourselves as one nation only began in 1986 – when we were galvanized by the outrage we had against the dictator. And there was dancing in the streets when they left. Even in Davao. But when the thrill of EDSA faded, the small flames of hope were nurtured in Davao by Rodrigo Duterte. And slowly he turned this frontier town into the reality that all the pioneers from Luzon and the Visayas had hoped for.

I was kidnapped in 1996. I was a pastor then. And I had just inherited a small sum from my parents and was looking for a piece of property. And the real estate dealers led me to this secluded place where 5 ethnic men held me for ransom. As fate would have it, my colleagues went to Mayor Rody. And in a classic response, he called for the MNLF commanders in the city warning them, “If anything happens to that pastor, I will capture 3 of your imams.” (as retold to me later). Within 24 hours, I was released.

I tell this story, not because I am an unquestioning supporter but because I understand that in a society in search for itself, we need a firm hand until such a time we can make difficult decisions for ourselves. Duterte is not a Jeffersonian Democrat and neither was Lee Kuan Yew. But both shared a clear vision of the way things could be.

I cannot tell you about the personal morality of Mayor Duterte. I can tell you what he has publicly done – he has turned a backwater city into a global benchmark. And if he had wanted to steal us blind he would have left traces by now. He is not that sophisticated. He is that rarity – a plainspoken man who wants the world to work for everyone. Therein lies his greatness. He is an ordinary man with ordinary dreams – the dream of a better life. What makes him great is his willingness to defend your right to a fair share – your share of a decent life, a happy home and a peaceful nation. I would vote for a man like that. I would persuade others to do so. Ninoy died so we could have that kind of a life. Rody is the kind of a person who will make sure we do.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Is EmGoldex a Scam?

Photo Credit: BullionVault via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: BullionVault via Compfight cc

I have been seeing numerous posts of EmGoldex on my online newsfeed for the past few months. And then someone I knew asked me for my advice about it. So I asked him to tell me briefly how it works. After he gave me an overview, my gut feel was that it was indeed a scam — more specifically, a pyramid scheme.

I am not saying this as a layman. I was a legitimate high-level multi-level marketer many years back. I was a speaker and a trainer. I have devoted considerable time studying many different marketing plans from different companies, and I have also studied how unscrupulous people use these techniques to perpetuate pyramid and ponzi schemes. It was very important in my previous line of work for me to know how to explain these things because I usually got many objections and questions at the end of a presentation. Also, a considerable number of people have the mistaken notion that ALL networking companies are scams.

(For those who are interested, I wrote a three-part series a few months back entitled “Truth and Lies of Network Marketing.”)

Like Liam Neeson in the movie, Taken, I can say that I “have a very special set of skills” when it comes to smelling out what is legitimate and what is not.

However, to truly understand EmGoldex and to give it a fair chance, I decided to browse through their company website as well as watch a couple of presentation videos (one in English and one in Filipino) made by actual distributors.

These are the facts I gathered about their company and marketing plan:

  1. The company sells gold. You may purchase these gold bars directly from the online retail store.
  2. The company has a marketing program that you can enroll in that allows you to order the gold bars, and then make money (eventually) by getting two other people to enroll in the program as well. Enrollment costs 540 euros or roughly PHP35,000.
  3. The two other people you recruit have to recruit two more each (four people) and those four people have to recruit two more each (eight people), and then you will “exit” with PHP180,000. In other words, in order for you to earn your PHP180,000, fourteen other people must have also invested PHP35,000 each into the system.*
  4. Recruit more, or reinvest your earned income into the system to earn more.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has come out with clear guidelines over what constitutes a pyramid scheme:

  • No genuine product or service. Unlike many legitimate MLMs, EmGoldex does not even have a unique product. There is no reason why one might prefer to buy or sell gold at EmGoldex except for the opportunity to participate in its recruitment system. This is a huge red flag.
  • Promises of high returns in a short time period. Promises of easy money or passive income. If there were really such a thing as easy money, don’t you think the business tycoons in our country would already be building businesses such as this? Why don’t we ever hear of the Henry Sys and the Ayalas in our country going into this business if it is indeed that lucrative? Why don’t major banks and investment companies do this? Let that sink in for a moment.
  • No demonstrated revenue from retail sales. Emphasis on recruiting. Does EmGoldex really make money from buying or selling gold? Or does it make money because people are buying in to the recruitment program? Think about this. Fifteen people paying PHP35,000 each is PHP525,000. The company pays out PHP180,000 to the “exiting” distributor, where does the remaining PHP345,000 go?*

So it is quite clear that the company earns its money mainly from recruitment, and that is a hallmark of pyramid schemes. The money used to pay the “exiting” distributors comes from the money paid in by new distributors. This will eventually lead to a collapse because there will come a point when there will simply not be enough new distributors to pay out all the existing ones.

Think about it. In order to pay out 1 person, the company needs 14 more people to join. So in order to pay out all 15 of them, they would need 225 more people (15×15). In order to pay out those people, they would need 3,375 more people (225×15). The more people who join, the more people they will need in order to pay out everyone who joined before them. Is that realistic and achievable? No, in due time, they will run out of new distributors coming in to support the existing user base, and if you are one of those who come in at that unfortunate time, you will lose your money, pure and simple. This is the time when the scammers pack up and run, when bonus checks bounce or no longer come in. I have seen too many of these kinds of schemes to know that it won’t last, and I can even prove to you mathematically why it is not sustainable.

I am not saying, however, that ALL those involved in this are scammers. No, I believe a lot of the distributors doing this sincerely believe that it is a legitimate enterprise and that they are helping other people in the process. What I am saying is that the people behind EmGoldex themselves are the scammers and they have fooled all these people who have joined them. Oh, but don’t take my word for it. Please do your research into “pyramid schemes,” “ponzi schemes,” and look for old news articles about Multitel, Aman Futures, and the like. Please, learn from history and do not get enticed by all the rosy visions these scammers paint.

In the heyday of Multitel and Aman Futures, people also earned from those and their participants staunchly defended the company, the founders and so on. But when they came down, they came down hard. I personally know someone who lost millions in one of those scams. Life for him and his family wasn’t pretty for the next few years as he struggled to recover.

If you are one of those who were still able to cash out, consider yourself fortunate. But I would strongly advise you against reinvesting or perpetuating this scam because there will come a time when you are either going to get hurt or you will hurt a lot of people in the process.

And some things just aren’t worth their weight in gold.

Here is another article I wrote more recently answering some objections from defenders of Emgoldex and showing why this is indeed a pyramid scheme: http://freethinking.me/essays/defending-emgoldex-and-failing-miserably/

See the following video and links for your further information and education:

http://www.thephilippinepride.com/more-ofw-victims-emerges-as-emgoldex-continues-to-scam-investors/

http://www.thephilippinepride.com/government-warns-massive-online-gold-investment-fraud-could-hit-ofws-badly/

http://www.sec.gov/investor/alerts/ia_pyramid.htm

 

* Some corrections have been made to the figures in the article because of minor computational errors. The analysis and conclusion remains the same.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Classroom Blues

Photo Credit: lets.book via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: lets.book via Compfight cc

Sometimes, I still miss being in a classroom with angsty teenagers, challenging their young minds to think beyond the conventional and ordinary. But there are also times that I don’t miss it — when I think of checking endless mounds of papers, for example, or fighting ridiculous policies from the administration or DepEd.

Teaching can be a very colorful and trying experience. I remember a time in my second year of teaching when I walked into the classroom, and I saw something strange at the back. I went nearer and saw that there were several CD’s and cassette tapes arranged on a desk with a couple of lighted candles. It was a makeshift altar to Kurt Cobain, lead singer, guitarist and primary songwriter of the rock band, Nirvana — whose death anniversary some of the boys at the back were commemorating.

Needless to say, that was a very strange physics class I had that day.

I still get a good laugh when I think about that now, and I also get a kick out of reading other teachers’ weird experiences with their kids. I recently came across a list of detention slips compiled by Mark Pygas and Jake Heppner. It was interesting reading through the various reasons why some students were sent out of their classrooms (with my comments):

  1. Marissa was “disrupting class – claiming to be the reborn Jesus and hitting another student with a Bible.” (Send her to me. I have some water I need turned into wine.)
  2. Another kid was found “drawing Justin Bieber in lessons, singing ‘That Should Be Me’ and hitting a non-’Belieber.’” (If he meets Marissa-Jesus up there, are they going to hit each other?)
  3. Raymond “threw a lamp at another student and told him to ‘Lighten the f*** up.'” (This is actually pretty clever.)
  4. Anthony was caught “unbuttoning his shirt to reveal a Superman T-shirt and announcing he was Superman.” (Did he wear red briefs outside his pants as well?)
  5. Casey was caught “leaping with intent to fly.” (He should take flying lessons from Anthony.)
  6. Joe “started with excessive chair squeaking and ended with farting in a student’s face.” (That’s called building up to a climactic finish.)
  7. Someone “volunteered to be a target for a paper spear and was hit in the face with it.” (Someone wasn’t very bright. Someone should throw a lamp at him.)
  8. Mason “looked up the dress of another student,” which he readily admitted in his own words: “I looked up her dress (I had my eyes closed).” (Yeah, Mason, sure…)
  9. A defiant student “used the F-word in the hall multiple times. When I said to him I should not hear that word, he told me to plug my ears and walked away.” (Well, that is a valid solution, you know.)
  10. But probably the most unjust case was that of Alex. His teacher wrote his parents saying, “Alex consistently defied me. During class he contradicted me numerous times when I insisted that the length of one kilometer was greater than that of one mile. Every other student…accepted my lesson without argument, but your son refused to believe what I told him, offering such rebuttals as, ‘You’re lying to the class,’ and commanding other students to challenge my curriculum.Although he was correct, Alex’s actions show a blatant disregard for authority, and a complete lack of respect for his school. In the future, Alex would be better off simply accepting my teachings without resistance.” (After teaching him something so clearly wrong? I don’t think so. If I were the principal of that school, the teacher, and not Alex, would be the one in detention, or worse, out of a job.)

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

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