Of bags and millions

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Friday, February 14, 2014


HOW much money can a bag hold? It depends upon the size of the bag. But to be specific, how big a bag does one need to carry one million in peso bills? Again, that depends upon the peso denomination. One million in 100-peso bills need a bigger bag than one million in 1,000-peso bills.

But what are the bags’ sizes exactly?

Those questions flitted in my mind while listening to the testimony of Ruby Tuason during the Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearing on the pork barrel scam.

The last time questions like these surfaced on nationwide television was during ousted president Joseph Estrada’s impeachment trial when the discussion shifted to the money delivered to Erap from proceeds from the illegal numbers game jueteng.

I haven’t in my whole life handled P1 million in cash. That’s why I can only imagine the life the major players in the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam led as they exchanged millions of pesos in people’s money in transactions that sounded so ordinary to them.

Here’s how Tuason talked about her alleged deliveries to Sen. Jinggoy Estrada via his office in the Senate:

"Mabigat 'yung pera. I used a hand-carry bag, 'yung may gulong. If the amount is small, like P1 million or P2 million, kasya in my bag. That will fit in my bag. If it's bigger than that, we need a big bag."

Note that “P1 million or P2 million” to her is but a small amount. Moreover, when Benhur Luy, the original whistleblower, was asked how nig was the role played by Tuason in the scam allegedly masterminded by Janet Lim-Napoles, the answer was it was “minor.” And yet Tuason admitted she got a total of P40 million as commissions from her role as go-between.

Sensilyo ra diay nang P40 million?

Anyway, I searched the internet for information about bags and money. I found some answers in the blog fitzvillafuerte.com. The blogger’s article was titled, “How Big is One Million Pesos?”

The blogger bundled 100 pieces of peso bills and measured its thickness. It was approximately one centimeter. If that bundle only had 1,000-peso bills, then a P100,000 bundle is only as thick as one centimeter. Meaning that ten bundles (or P1 million) would approximately be 10 centimeters thick, or roughly 4 inches.

So Tuason didn’t lie when she said, “1 million or 2 million, kasya in my bag.” The bag needn’t be a really big one.

Which brings me to my point about how “P1 million or P2 million” ended up being mere “sensilyo” in transactions that involved--per estimate by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) of the amount of tax money pilfered in the Napoles operation--P10 billion.

If money can be stuffed in a small bag, psychologically, it feels small, especially to those handling amounts reaching billion of pesos.

Then again, it’s a matter of perspective. If I would be given a 4-inches-thick bundle of 1,000-peso bills, I would probably faint. I even struggle to pay for the tuition of my kids. But to the major players in the pork barrel scam, P1 million is “sensilyo”?

There were instances in the Senate hearing when Luy, Tuason and the senators laughed.

I understand the need to lighten up the mood in the midst of the seriousness of the matter being discussed. But I couldn’t help but associate those scenes with the manner the scammers, especially the politicians, treated the money taxpayers paid the government, money sourced from people’s sweat and tears.

And it made me angry even more.

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 14, 2014.

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