IF you want to be a thief in our country, make sure it’s not some petty theft like pickpocketing, robbing a jewelry store or even robbing a bank.

Those are quite risky and life-threatening crimes. The potential pay-off of those are in the magnitude of hundreds, thousands or at most, a few million pesos – but the consequences are dire as well – you spend years in one of our overcrowded prisons, neglected and forgotten except to those very close to you, or if you are unlucky enough to be caught in the act, you may get shot and killed as well.

So if you want to be a thief, go big time. Get close to a politician (and not some two-bit politician either but make sure they are big names) or be one yourself. Do not think about stealing hundreds of thousands or a few million only. Expand your horizons. Think big. Think hundreds of millions, and even billions. The bigger your vision and the grander your scheme, the better it will be for you. Oh, and make sure to make regular and hefty donations to your church, and always maintain an image of outward piety – this will come in handy later, as you will see.

Consider now the consequences if you are caught.

One, you will become an instant celebrity. Your face will be on all over the national papers, on television and on the internet. Your name will be on everyone’s lips. You will be the topic of many conversations, tweets and status updates. Never mind that people are cursing your name and damning you to the deepest hell. That is only for the moment. Think long term. Filipinos are a forgiving people. In a few years, their anger will mellow down but you will still be known and famous. Why, you can even run for public office. One only has to think of a certain former first lady with a penchant for shoes, forced to flee from the country three decades ago, only to come back to wield power and influence once more. Heck, one of the accused senators, who thought that a privilege speech is a chance to show off his latest MTV, is even declaring his intent to run for president.

Two, you will get medical privileges. You can avoid going to those nasty prisons and instead opt for “hospital arrest.” All you need is a little skill in acting or just make sure to highlight a medical condition you already have and ask to be thoroughly examined. If you’re lucky, the government will even foot the bill for your stay. If not, well, there’s nothing to worry about. Since you had the foresight to steal huge sums of money, you can easily pay for your stay (you will even seem generous for not being a burden on the government). Do you get such benefits as a petty thief? Can you ask for an executive check-up at any of the top hospitals in the country? You should be so lucky if they let you out of your cell to go to the prison infirmary.

Three, your local priest or head of congregation will call for leniency and ask people not to condemn you. This is where your huge donations and friendliness to the clergy pay off. They will quote Jesus who confronted the crowd ready to stone the adulterous woman and say, “Let he who has no sin cast the first stone.” (Never mind that the story does not appear originally in the gospels but is generally thought by scholars to have been added on by scribes at a later point). “Do not condemn the scammers, for you could be just like them,” they will say. But do you hear them uttering those words if you are not a huge contributor or a known critic? It was only a few years ago when a known tour guide walked into the Manila Cathedral dressed as Jose Rizal, holding a sign that read “Damaso.” He was later convicted and jailed for “offending religious feelings.” Did you hear the clergy preaching non-condemnation and mercy then, as loudly as they do now? Perhaps he forgot to tithe his ten percent.

Four, you get exclusive accommodations especially built for you. After stealing billions from the government, it now feels obligated to spend a few more millions to ensure that your prison stay is comfortable. Heaven forbid that they throw you into the same jam-packed facilities where they put all other thieves of lesser stature. Surely you deserve more because you stole a whole lot more. In fact, your specially made “prison” is probably more luxurious than the homes of the “lesser” inmates. Yes, this is where the hard-earned taxes of your fellow citizens go. This is why the government has to work so hard to squeeze taxes from our professionals like doctors, actors, and even small earners like fishermen, sari-sari store owners, and even tricycle drivers. That is how privileged you will be for being a big-time crook.

Five, you will enjoy perks on your birthday, Christmas, New Year and probably other special holidays. Your relatives can come visit even beyond regular visiting hours, or you can take a trip to an outside facility and where you can spend the day with your relatives, as demonstrated by our previous president just last year. Now, try asking for those favors as a petty thief. “Excuse me, guard, it’s Christmas tomorrow. Can I go spend the day with my family instead of my 30 stinky cellmates?” Not likely to happen.

Six, if you’re lucky, you may even get a presidential pardon and be elected to public office again. Hopefully, you will be smarter about covering your tracks this time.

See? Thievery pays, but only if you are a man or woman of vision and lofty dreams, especially in the Philippines, where it’s more fun. Go big time!

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