Sunday, October 17, 2010

Predators in the Urban Jungle

manila skylineDrug lords, rapists, robbers, scam artists, showbiz celebrities, religious figures, politicians, businessmen, magnates, and to an extent -- even you -- share a similarity. What do they all have in common? They all exploit others. We all do, it is just that the ones I have mentioned do so to a much greater degree, where moral principles or even the law are violated. They seek out those with vulnerabilities that they can victimize and take advantage of in exchange for personal gains.

Drug lords capitalize on people's addiction. Rapists capitalize on a woman's physical disadvantage and an opportune time to rape. Robbers capitalize on loopholes. Scam artists capitalize on people's gullibility. Showbiz celebrities capitalize on the public's value and envy of their assets. Religious figures and ministers capitalize on followers' beliefs and conceptions. Politicians capitalize on citizens' trust. Magnates capitalize on slave or cheap labor. Employers exploit employees; if they weren't earning money or have the upper hand by having you hired, then you wouldn't be hired (seeking a fair and mutually beneficial deal is the way to minimize the extent of exploitation). So on, and so forth.

As I said, we all do so, to an extent. Naturally, we are all 'greedy.' It is a biologically protective mechanism embedded in all living things. Instinctively, if you are hungry, you will eat, or even fight to eat, at the expense of others. Instinctively, you will do the same for your family, your tribe, etc. This can not only be applied to food, but to other resources as well. It is natural selection (survival of the fittest, competition) in action.

But, things have changed. In the wild, it was mostly about things that we need and not so much about things that we want. Before, it may have just been about food, territory, or some resource, but today, it has extended to money, power, and everything else that money can buy that one would want. In these modern times, the magnitude of this tug of war is greater and has the potential to become blown out of proportion in some very hungry hands, which have led to such struggles as capitalism vs. socialism, individualism vs. collectivism, plutocracy vs. democracy, the rich vs. the poor, the elite vs. the masses, etc. Some people, with a skewed interpretation or complete disregard for the concept of fairness, will exploit to the extent that it is significantly harmful to others -- to the point that it is arguably immoral or even unlawful. I have met a number of such individuals, with some (like Fusion Excel and its representatives) worse than others.

Another example of a prime 'predator' or exploiter that I have come across is Francisco R. Sibal, along with his colleagues. About a couple of months ago, a contact of his, who knows of me, informed him that my talents were going to waste and that I could very well contribute to one of his business ventures. After getting wind of my skills and credentials, Sibal promptly got in touch with me. Note that I was already living in the rural provinces.

He briefed me on his business venture and requested that I travel to Manila to meet with him and his colleagues, even cajoling me by offering to pay for fare and accommodation. So, considering the potential, I took him up on it and headed down to Manila.

I left the provinces around early lunchtime and arrived in Manila in the evening and checked into the reserved room at an apartelle near Quezon Ave. The reservation was made but apparently not paid for, so I had to pay out-of-pocket. Fortunately, I had brought some extra money with me.

That night, I did some background research on Mr. Francisco R. Sibal. I found out that he was one of the incorporators responsible for bringing in the highly successful 7-Eleven Convenience Store system to the entire Philippines, the former Executive Vice President for Philippine Seven Corporation (PSC), Chief Financial Officer of Proton Laboratories Inc., works with BW2 Asia / BW2 Holdings International, and owns shares or is affiliated with family-owned businesses Phoenix Publishing House Inc., Central Book Supply Inc., and CentralBooks Online Bookstore. So, considering all this, I thought that the effort into making this meeting would be worth the time after all.

I met Sibal and his colleague Mr. Ferrer (who owns engineering consultancy firm RN Ferrer & Associates) at the latter's office in Padilla Building, Ortigas. Sibal seemed to be around 50 or maybe in his late 40's, was well-spoken and a keen-thinker, as most successful businessmen are. It was here that he introduced me to Mr. Ferrer and the 'sideline' work I would be doing for his engineering consultancy firm had the working relation materialized. For the firm, during 'down-time' as he put it (when I am not busy with the main work for his business venture), I would be streamlining their systems, developing embedded as well as custom software for energy consumption monitoring, electronics-related calculations, and whatnot.

He would describe the main job later, after a light lunch with former Philippine Seven Corporation colleague and Operations Manager Teodoro Wenceslao. His business venture, which I verbally agreed not to disclose, in vague description involves economical gadgetry, distribution of applications, and usage by institutions and their constituents. My part in the operation was to develop software for a custom content server/portal as well as applications for his custom-manufactured gadgetry -- or in other words, develop the software to get the wheels of his business venture rolling.

Before calling it a day, we had also visited the offices of his family-owned businesses of CentralBooks and Phoenix Publishing, where I was impressed that several employees had Apple Mac-branded computers and even dual monitors for some. Thus, when it came to the private closed-doors meeting to discuss the salary and specifics of the offer, I was quite optimistic -- even expecting that I might be offered a partnership in the venture or at least some shares. Hopes were shot down, however, when he mentioned that the job required transferring to Manila and that the salary was 15 to 20K PHP per month. I controlled my disappointment and said that I would think it over, but my mind was already made up. Fortunately though, he reimbursed me for fare and accommodation, but he complained about the 1,100 PHP overnight cost at the apartelle, which he said must be a mistake because he requested his associate reserve a 750 PHP per night room (it turned out his associate did make the 1,100 PHP reservation).

Considering his financial status and successful profile, I was surprised not only by the low offer but about his complaints about the overnight stay and even more so when a shiny oversize van picked him up after our meeting and he left me to walk back to the apartelle, which was not out of his way to drop me off.

When I arrived back home in the rural provinces, it turned out I actually lost money from the trip, due to food and inner-Manila fare. I e-mailed him after a day regarding my decision. I declined the offer and mentioned that the pay offered did not justify the labor involved in the project (which included the software development for the business venture as well as the side tasks with the engineering firm). I said that such laborious projects are oftentimes reserved for a team of developers/ engineers since the production of such intricate software systems involves several phases. Yet as an individual developer, or even with a team, the compensation offered for the work for the projects is, in my opinion, quite low -- especially considering the value and criticality of these deliverables for the completion and success of the whole business idea.

coconuter david poarchI added that I realize 15 to 20K PHP per month might be standard entry-level salary for IT personnel in the Philippines (though it is actually on the very low end), but I consider my background and experience to be a bit more unique compared to the run-of-the-mill candidate. Moreover, I cited that while residing in Manila, I was being offered web/software development positions (even supervisory IT positions) with salaries exceeding 100K PHP per month plus benefits package, which I also declined after considering the circumstances involved (graveyard shift, Manila living, etc.), my options available, and my desire to work independently as a freelance developer, entrepreneur, and consultant. Thus, in summation, I told Sibal that it was not in my best interest to accept the job offer.

Such was another one of my experiences in the quest for the elusive golden coconut.


nelson said...

I'm with you man...
I strongly detest those executive parasites who leech on less fortunate individuals.

(Please remove my first comment)

Jepoi said...

Sibal (시발) is a bad word in Korean. ^^

Anonymous said...

@Jepoi: and your point on your comment?

Rihkit said...

there are so many people like that... people who takes advantage of someone.

i know a girl in bulacan who already had a bf. though she is already rich, she had a job in a call center. knowing call center lifestyle, full of gimmicks and drinking, the teamlead she had a crush on got wasted. she brought him in a motel and did what she want. she's pregnant right now and looking forward for a gunshot wedding with the teamlead. the teamlead is very sure that it is not his child, but with the girl's ability to threaten him, she can always get what she wants.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I'm an Art student from England, I'm doing an installation based around what I like to call 'Urban Predators' i.e these same executive capitalists and how their "breed" will slowly die out when mother nature finally takes back her planet. You're article really helped a bit so thanks :) And good on you for thinking twice about the job!

Post a Comment