The Divine Lee divide

OBLIVIOUS. Divine Lee, who claims to be innocent of her father’s dealings, betrays a lack of sensitivity to the gravity of the issue she and her family are allegedly involved in. (divinemlee.com)

THIS entry isn’t primarily about the Lees, and their supposed guilt and insensitivity to the plight of ordinary hard-working Filipinos.

For those of you who don’t know the background of Delfin Lee, big boss of Manila-based real estate firm Globe Asiatique, and his high profile, Hermes-toting daughter Divine, I suggest you scour recent on-line archives of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and other Philippine newspapers.

I think I’ve said enough about what I feel about the Lees, especially Divine, on Facebook and would not like to add to it anymore.

The elder Lee, who was formally charged a little over a month ago and has disappeared since, is now the object of a manhunt for supposedly defrauding countless Pag-Ibig members of their hard-earned contributions (those based outside the Philippines, please look Pag-Ibig up as well).

What I’d like to zero in is the seeming divide this latest development has created among Filipinos.

Majority, of course, deplore the Lees (Lee’s older son, I believe, is also on the lam) and how they allegedly funneled and squandered huge sums in a high-end real estate project in Pampanga meant, not for the masses, but for more affluent Filipinos while supposedly using ordinary people’s money.

How Globe Asiatique and its supposed cohorts inside Pag-Ibig did it is a story in itself that has already been tackled by countless newspaper stories and public affairs programs.

Yesterday, while reading through my newsfeeds on Facebook, a friend’s entry with the elder Lee’s picture and an accompanying caption saying that President Aquino has now offered a P2-million bounty to anyone who could provide authorities with leads to the man’s whereabouts, caught my attention.

Most of the reactions, in typical Pinoy fashion, poked fun at Lee, from his appearance to the many ways he has so far eluded the law.

One response, however, stuck out from the rest. Not only was the fellow’s views contrary to conventional wisdom, he also said that he finds it “ironic” that “Tito Delfin” is now being hunted like a common criminal, and even has a price on his head that he himself might have contributed to PNoy, in the form of campaign funds, two years ago.

THE “victim” has decided to make himself scarce these days. (newsinfo.inquirer.net)

I won’t reveal the fellow’s identity because I have no quarrel with him. In fact, like the Lees, I only know of him and don’t quite recall having met him personally. His identity isn’t the issue here.

The fellow said that the accused is a “good” man, who didn’t think twice of “shelling out” P20 million to help fund PNoy’s presidential run. He finds it “sad” that the president is now using part of that money to collar his “Tito.”

Kung baga, as we Filipinos love to say, Lee is being fried in his own fat (ginigisa sa sariling mantika). The fellow even went on to add that Lee was a “mere” sacrificial lamb to “higher-ups.” Who those supposed higher-ups were, he didn’t say.

What really threw me off my seat was his parting shot: Tito Delfin is also a “victim” in this entire scenario. As kids would say these days, my initial reaction, which I kept to myself, was OMG! Victim? WTF?

Although I would have wanted to let it pass, his remarks elicited a very controlled response from me: “Should we let him off the hook [then] just because he allegedly funded a sitting president’s campaign?

“He is being given by the courts the chance to explain and defend himself. He should avail [himself] of it. The consequences of a lynch mob of angry Pag-ibig members he supposedly defrauded, and that includes almost all of us, are much too painful and bloody to behold.”

To his credit, the fellow didn’t use my response to pick up an on-line fight with me. He only reiterated how sad he was at the turn of events, and pointed to the seeming “irony” of it all. Part of Lee’s contribution, he argued, is now being used to smoke him out (my words).

I didn’t let it end there.

“Mr. X, you obviously respect and love the man. You see in him something we don’t because we don’t know him personally. Point ko lang, imbes na magtago siya (instead of hiding), he (Lee) should face the music. Madawit na ang [dapat] madawit. Magturo siya, by all means. (He should implicate others supposedly in cahoots with him. Point them out, by all means.)

Pero ‘wag siya tumakbo (but he shouldn’t run—and hide). ‘Di ba sabi nga nila, flight is one sure sign of guilt. As for his alleged campaign contribution, it is immaterial even if you think it is ironic. Malay natin kung ilang presidentiables ang binigyan niya [ng pera]. Granted, di siya kinasuhan ni PNoy out of ‘respect’ because donor nga siya. I’m sure mas maraming babatikos sa president. At dapat lang naman.”

You see now how flawed his thinking was. I will repeat (and supplement) the last lines of what I said to him in English for the benefit of my, ahem, foreign readers.

For all we know, Lee, as is the practice among big-time businessmen, probably gave to every “presidentiable” as a sort of protection money to ensure his place in business in the future winning administration. I, and I’m sure majority of Filipinos, would find it strange, even reprehensible, had PNoy kept quiet as the controversy unfolded. It would only validate the fellow’s argument: the most powerful man in the Philippines is beholden to Lee and probably to every oligarch out there. In the fellow’s mind, perhaps, Lee should have been untouchable.

Finally, I failed to add something that I felt later I ought to have said. But I’m sure, the fellow would have been infuriated even more had I said it.

So what if Lee gave PNoy P20 million? Actually, he could even give him a billion bucks, and it still wouldn’t matter. What is there for Lee to lose if the supposed money isn’t his anyway?

We come to my point. Why do Filipinos, and I’m not exempted, have a hard time separating the personal from, for a lack of a better term, legal, even clinical? How many Filipinos out there think like the fellow in my friend’s Facebook thread? Many, I’m afraid.

He’s obviously good friends with Lee. I don’t want to speculate, but he might have even benefited from Lee’s largesse. But when a public accounting was finally made, and Lee was found wanting, the fellow still insisted that his friend was faultless even if all indications pointed otherwise.

Instead of keeping quiet, as good friends with enough common sense and decency are wont to do, he publicly defended Lee by advancing, what was to my mind, a flawed argument. Worse, he even found irony in the situation.

Sadly, it’s now all about appearances and playing to emotions, and Divine and her handlers know the trick all too well.

Thanks to her countless followers on Twitter, most of them presumably gays and wannabe fashionistas enthralled by her public persona and worldly possessions, Divine has so far successfully shielded herself from a major, major fallout.

If this had happened in Japan or Korea, I’m pretty sure the outcome would have ended much differently. Most likely, there would have been blood! But this is the Philippines, a land where supposed public sins are easily forgotten, and where people would rather keep quiet, smile and look the other way so as not to “offend.”

At the risk of being criticized, this slice of reality is plain for all of us to see. Our reputation for being a very creative, visual and emotional people has brought us places and even caught the world’s attention. Well and good.

But these very admirable qualities, I believe, have also collectively blindsided us from people who have genuinely wronged us. As a result, we’ve become shallow, easy to please and forgetful for our own good.

What’s more, we Filipinos, by and large, are easily drawn to glamor and glitz (or as the musical “Chicago” more aptly put it, “razzle-dazzle”) at the expense of logic.

What should be plain for all to see, isn’t that plain at all. The ugly truth is often embellished, repackaged and made acceptable, even enhanced as to appear “covetable,” “aspirational” and worth emulating.

Past, present and future criminals have never had it so good.

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