Convenience and consequences

By: Reyshimar Arguelles

PRESIDENT Duterte’s order to close down the lottery operations of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office due to massive corruption had me thinking why people are drawn to the game in the first place.

To some, buying a lottery ticket is treated as a rite of passage, much like a baptism or circumcision. It’s a phase where we are introduced to the world of adulthood, alongside blood pressure medication and sporadic fits of gout. We want to know what it’s like having a lifestyle that’s free from the problems of having less wealth. So it’s either we adults work ourselves to the point of exhaustion or try our luck at winning the jackpot.

If you haven’t been stressed out enough by your daily workload at a job that pays you less than the actual value you are producing, the lottery provides a potential way out of the situation you’re in. The odds of winning are notoriously low, but to someone who has been tracking lottery numbers for years, there is persistence in waiting in line and trying another number combination in the hopes of winning half a billion pesos.

Taking your chances with the lottery creates some measure of hope that maybe – just maybe – you can instantly bail yourself out of debt and lead the kind of life reserved only for the worst of oligarchs and social media influencers. That’s understandable. Our culture has always made a big deal out of this need to underscore convenience. We all have goals, and given that we handle too many issues at work and at home, reducing the steps leading to these goals has become almost a strategy for survival.

Aside from the lottery, there’s also the practice of using fixers who can help speed up transactions at government offices. Falling in line is for wimps, so why spend an hour queueing when you can pay someone to process your driver’s license or business permits for you? Much has been done to destroy this practice, starting with the Anti-Red Tape Law that seeks to reduce processing times for all transactions at government offices. The act was further enhanced last year with the introduction of an amendment prohibiting clients from directly contacting government personnel.

These regulations, however, have failed to drastically reduce the cases of red tape in government. This has prompted President Duterte to name the Land Transportation Office, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Pag-IBIG Fund, the Social Security System, and the Land Registration Authority as among the few problematic agencies in his recent State of the Nation Address.

Is there any other way these agencies can reduce their processes further? Bureaucratism is just one of many nauseating barriers that Filipinos will need to address every day. We already have too many issues to handle and too many forms to fill up. We just can’t waste any more time dealing with paperwork when we can reserve most of it for more productive things.

Joining the lottery, on the other hand, is someone’s way of bypassing the barriers that get in the way to solving every problem in life.

For sure, we all are averse at the idea of suffering or toiling hard for something we want or need. This makes sense as working smart is better than working hard. Then again, working smart doesn’t necessarily mean you can get away with the moral consequences it entails. Gas chambers, after all, were created to “streamline” the liquidation of undesirables as the Holocaust progressed. Similarly, the country’s recent foreign policy shows a desire easier way out of the entanglement we’ve found ourselves in.

Convenience has its price. Winning the lottery won’t necessarily make you happy. There are no shortcuts that will lead you towards it. The process itself is arduous, but at least it lets you grow in maturity.

The same can be said when it comes to managing the affairs of the state. There’s no room for making impulsive decisions. People’s lives are at stake and taking shortcuts will only make matters even more complicated than they already are.

There is no jackpot when you’re in public office and there’s simply no way you can make the government more efficient if you insist on taking the shorter route.