The radio announcer posed this question: “Kung papapiliin ka, alin ang gusto mo: maging mayaman sa pera o mayaman sa kaibigan (If you were to choose, would you rather have a wealth of money or a wealth of friends)?”
The show received several text messages. Many chose having many friends, as money, they said, could never buy the things that mattered most in this world. A few chose to be financially rich. What would you do with a truckload of friends if you were dirt poor? Makakain mo ba sila kung nagugutom ka (Can you eat them when you are hungry)?
I got down from the taxi and found myself in a conference room of over 200 people seated on blue Monobloc chairs. It was those chairs, the way their dark blue tint stood out against the whiteness of the walls, that jarred my memory. I had been here before in a similar event. I wanted to leave.
But I was already in the middle of the seventh row. The orientation had started. In front was a man who was probably in his late 30s; he would declare later that he was 43. He was dressed in a black suit. He looked neat; his hair cropped short. His face was pasty white, like the faces of women who were fond of applying that Chinese cream called tsinchansu. He referred to himself as “Doc” in his anecdotes.
Graphic images of cancer-ravaged human organs flashed on the glass wall behind the Doc. He asked the crowd, “Do you want to get cancer?” His voice bore the energy of one sure of the answer: “NO!” His audience responded with equal enthusiasm. They were men and women, young and old, thin and fat, non-smokers and smokers–something that the Doc used to elicit laughter and prove a point. Most, it seemed, came from poor communities.
The Doc moved on to explain antioxidants, a common ingredient in the 12 herbal products the company was selling. Each product description ended with a thunderous, “Maganda ba ang product natin (Is our product great)?” to which everyone (except me) answered, “YES!” Then came the almost affectionate, “Palakpakan natin ang product natin (Let’s applaud our product)”, followed instantly by emphatic clapping. Mine was a mere touching of the palms, forced by that phenomenon called group think.
I must be watching a prayer rally coverage on TV, I thought. Doc was the evangelist and the crowd his flock. Just substitute the word “panginoon (god)” to “product” and I wouldn’t have known the difference. In fact, had the Doc done just that, I was sure the audience wouldn’t have known the difference either and would have still clapped automatically. Such was their faith in the man in front.
An hour later this man would be another. He was taller and younger, but of equally confident and manicured bearing. Wearing black slacks and a pink polo shirt, he had a face that was just as immaculate but darker in complexion. I thought at first that he had foundation on. I still wasn’t sure at the end of his presentation.
His performance was the crux of the gathering. How to make money. His battlecry: “Gusto niyo bang yumaman (Do you want to get rich)?” “YES!” His punch line: “Ba’t ‘di niyo gawin (Why don’t you do it then)?”
He evoked more laughter than Doc. I joined in. He played on the Pinoy (Filipino) psyche to prove much of his point. He hit the mark. Indeed, why wouldn’t they want to invest here? In front was a man who did and was now a millionaire. He didn’t have to exert too much, but he was still earning P24,000 a day. It would be foolish not to want to be where he was. I could almost see Envy snaking throughout the room.
The last man who stood in front was truly a man of god. A pastor, he wore a checkered polo shirt and jeans. He had a huge smile on his face, which didn’t seem caked with tsinchansu or foundation.
He solidified the crowd’s support to the company. Who would deny the hand of god? Was it not true that god did not want his people to suffer? That was why he commanded Moises to lead them out of slavery and into the land of milk and honey. God wanted his people to live in an abundance of blessings. Poverty and wealth is a choice. It is biblical. It is up to you.
The crowd peppered Pastor’s closing remarks with plenty of heartfelt “AMEN!” Now the TV coverage was real. I was in a prayer rally.
After three hours, I left the room with the blue chairs to spend time with friends. We stuffed ourselves with good food and silly conversations and banter. We looked forward to jumping into the sea, taking pictures, listening to beach music, and finding out who will sneak into the cooler room.
My guard was down. I was myself and making familiar, happy memories. I felt rich.