Last week, my son in law went for the fifth time to Manila to try to collect rent owed and damages for a house we rented out. (We bought it when he was attending university there, and now rent it out).

In the USA, usually after a few months of non payment, you can get them evicted and start over. In the northern US this is a bit tricky: usually people rented the house in the fall, stopped paying rent about December, and since we didn’t want to evict them and risk having the pipes freeze, usually we waited to evict them until May or so. It was almost a game that everyone knew the rules. If we didn’t bother them, the house would still be in good shape, ready for us to be a sucker and rent it out again.

But here in the Philippines, you can’t trust the rules. Recently, we had a renter who repeatedly bounced her checks, and after given three months notice, she refused to leave. Even after the contract ended, she refused to leave. We sued her in court, but she was “friends” with the local judicial system, so the case kept getting postponed, and of course she counter-sued us saying we threatened her.

After three court cases and over a year of no payment, she left after trashing the place.

The court cases alone cost us money in travel and time lost from work, not to mention lawyer fees.  The one involved is not poor: she is a middle class businesswoman with several houses and a business. The problem is lack of honesty.

In short, unless one is willing to use “extrajudicial” means, getting justice is long and discouraging. And one of the reasons for a lot of killing here is that threatening violence or even killing is a cheaper and easier alternative to trying to get justice in a court system that may or may not work.

And this is only about a town house in a middle class neighborhood in Manila (not a mansion in a gated community). Multiply the problems of delays, countersuits, threats, and the possibility of the one you are suing hiring their own hired thugs, (and in some cases this means getting rid of witnesses) and you see the problem of justice.

Yes, I know of similar shenanigans in the US court system. But at least there is some trust things will get done eventually. That trust is not present here.

A similar problem is found in every business transaction. You can’t just sign a contract: You have to keep checking up on it, that the contract is being followed, and that the money hasn’t just disappeared without a chance to recover it.

Multiply this by thousands, and you have problems.

Another problem is that one’s lower level employees steal (in traditional Filipino society, employees are part of the family, so if they borrow stuff you don’t need, it’s not quite stealing).

So how does one get around such dishonesty?

Convert them to Evangelical Christianity, and then network with those who go to your church. If they pull some illegal or immoral tricks, word will get around and soon they will be ostracized from their church and their friends.

Bet you didn’t see that one coming.

In the Philippines, the Catholic religion stresses getting along, generosity toward the family, not honesty.

So Catholics would put getting along and family before rules: no stealing, unless it’s a customary thank you gift (going rate for government bribes 20 percent), you have family values (as one wag put it: you take care of ALL your “families”), and you often evade telling a person something that might upset them (like you don’t have any money left in your checking account to cover the bill…just give them a check and they’ll be happy, at least for awhile, and then? Behala na..).

But the Evangelical churches stress rules: Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not lie.And they stress these things literally, without a lot of nuances.

So one of the unreported stories in the Philippines is how the business community is run by evangelicals who network with each other.

Yes, there are other links of trust, such as those in the traditional Chinese community (who presumably follow Confucian ethics which have similar ideas). And of course, the “rich families” who run the country “trust” each other. But for the growing middle class with medium sized businesses, the Evangelical business links and ethic is important (and I should note some of these are Catholics who belong to groups that echo the same strict business ethic).

The link between Evangelical churches and the increase in trust in South America is similarly noted in Francis Fukuyama’s book on the need for trust and social virtues to become prosperous. 

Similarly, the BBC notes that the Chinese government is actually encouraging the teaching of Confucian ethics and the spread of Christianity to improve their prosperity. Like the Philippines, corruption and payoffs that allow shoddy goods to be exported is a major problem in that country, but having Christian entrepeneurs guide their businesses by the rules of faith is one way of changing the way business is traditionally done.

Weng-Jen Wau believes that by encouraging increasing numbers of his staff to convert to Christianity, his business will prosper.

And he tells me that when staff do convert to Christianity, their attitude towards their work is transformed.

“If you’re a Christian you’re more honest, with a better heart,” he says. “The people who aren’t Christians aren’t responsible. I think it’s very different.

“I’m not saying those people who aren’t Christians are all bad, but from the percentage of the workers who are Christians, they seem to be more responsible.

As a Catholic, I cringe at the “evangelical” outreach that “converts” easy going and often religiously ignorant Catholics into fervant Christians. But I am old enough to remember when we were taught in college that only a “Marxist” or communist revolution would improve the lot of the poor.

Well, the Marxist professors were wrong. There was indeed a “third way” to improve things, and that was capitalism limited by personal ethics that allowed trust and honesty to keep corruption under control.

But now, I see things slowly changing, and part of that change is the “protestantization” of society, replacing the family oriented but feudal ties with that of trust between equals.

The modernization is still on and off and varies from place to place (the present President is going after corruption, and trying to persuade the bishops to allow artificial family planning to limit population increase).

So what will happen? I have no idea. The Philippines is multi ethnic, but as long as the “peace and justice” rich folks run the Catholic church, I would place my bets on the small and growing Evangelical community as being a major part of the solution to our poverty.

The dirty little secret is that capitalism needs trust to work, and that every cheater, kickback accepter, polluter,or substitution of shoddy goods undermines the public trust.

One way to ensure honesty is to hire cops and punish the evildoers. But another way to ensure honesty is to embed honesty, truth-telling, and keeping one’s word internally, and in many countries, it is the evangelical churches who are best at teaching such things to their members.

And one wonders how many of those who were behind the scams that are destroying the US economy either don’t take God seriously or are from  churches of the “god loves me no matter what I do, and there is no hell” variety.

Maybe they need to remember the idea that so many Evangelical churches stress: that worshipping God is not about having an uplifting hour on Sunday morning. God expects one to act with honesty and personal ethics and take responsibility for one’s family, one’s job and one’s business.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines.

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