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Materialism: An Opponent of the Rule of Law?

By Judge Eliza B. Yu, LLM, DCL

Materialism is a way of thinking that gives too much importance to material


possessions rather than to spiritual or intellectual things; a doctrine that the
only or the highest values or objectives lie in material well-being and in the
furtherance of material progress (Merriam Webster Dictionary).It is
equated to greed due to the excessive desire to acquire and possess
material goods and resources. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote "Greed is a sin
against God, just as all mortal sins, in as much as man condemns things
eternal for the sake of temporal things." Greed is the disordered love of
riches. Like pride, lust, gluttony, sloth, anger, and envy, greed is called a
"deadly" or "capital" sin because it gives rise to other sins (See "Greed
Leads to Other Sins," p. 24). Today, greed often takes the form of
consumerism and over-work. Consumerism is a view of the human person
that reduces us to what we can buy and consume. It is captured by the motto:
"He who dies with the most toys wins." The workaholics greed, on the other
hand, is not in consuming but in producing. Both the ultra-consumer and the
workaholic are, practically speaking, materialists: What really counts, the
ultimate goal of life, is what can be bought and sold (The Sin of Greed
When We Worship the Golden God by Christopher Kaczor, Catholic
Answers).

Russel Belk's conceptualization of materialism includes three original


personality traits:

1. Non Generosity is an unwillingness to give or share possession with


others;
2. Envy is a desire for other people's possessions; and
3. Possessiveness is a concern about loss of possessions and a desire for
the greater control of ownership (R.W. Belk, "Trait aspects of living in the
material world", 1985 Journal of Consumer Research, 12, 265280).

Christopher Kaczor observed that when love of riches grows too strong,
other sins typically follow: neglecting family to pursue career; donating little
or nothing to charity; leaving inappropriately meager tips for help staff;
cheating on tax returns; leaving no information after damaging a parked car;
becoming unreasonably angry when money is lost or stolen; devoting
unreasonable time and attention to financial matters; outright stealing; lying

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to get more money; taking financial advantage of people; falsifying insurance
claims; and looking down on people who are poor.

Gordon Gekko, a fictional character in the 1987 Wall Street movie said: The
point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.
Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the
essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for
money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. Is he
right to the public servants in the Philippines? The answer is in the negative.

Materialism is viewed adversely and negatively in public service by the


Constitution and statutes.

1987 Philippine Constitution, Article XI, Section1, it provides: Public office is


a public trust. Public officers and employees must, at all times, be
accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity,
loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.

RA. No. 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials
and Employees) approved on February 20, 1989 and took effect on March
25, 1989, stated the policy of the State to promote a high standard of ethics
in public service. Public officials and employees shall at all times be
accountable to the people and shall discharge their duties with utmost
responsibility, integrity, competence and loyalty, act with patriotism and
justice,lead modest lives, and uphold public interest over personal interest.

RA No. 6713 Section 4 (h) provides: Section 4. Norms of Conduct of Public


Officials and Employees. (A) Every public official and employee shall
observe the following as standards of personal conduct in the discharge and
execution of official duties: XXX (h) Simple living. Public officials and
employees and their families shall lead modest lives appropriate to their
positions and income. They shall not indulge in extravagant or ostentatious
display of wealth in any form. XXX

Article 25 of the New Civil Code states: Thoughtless extravagance in


expenses for pleasure or display during a period of acute public want or
emergency may be stopped by order of the courts at the instance of any
government or private charitable institution.

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Civil Service Commission MC No.14, s. 1991 prohibits XXX "5. The use of
too much costume jewelry, flashy bangles and similar accessories shall
likewise be prohibited. Conversely, ostentatious display of expensive jewelry
is strongly discouraged and prohibited except for special occasions and
official celebrations.

The constitutional and statutory mandate for public servants to lead modest
lives is a public demand. Their simple lives and simple living are required
while in government, where by reason of the powers, influences and funds
in the public offices, they can acquire undue advantage to acquire riches for
themselves illegally at the expense of the taxpayers and others. To live in a
modest life by a public official or a public employee is to shun the calling of
a greedy life that is manifested by a luxurious display of material enjoyment
and possessions of a public servant before the public eyes. There are
government employees who flaunted excessive materialism and displayed
unexplained wealth, they have been dismissed from service upon the
complaints of the vigilant public. An extensive lifestyle check conducted upon
the Bureau of Customs employees showed separate registered owners of
luxury vehiclesconveniently omitted from their respective Statement of
Assets, Liabilities and Net Worths (SALNs). In 2006, the Office of the
Ombudsman found them guilty of dishonesty and grave misconduct and
were dismissed from the service and perpetually barred from re-employment
in government with loss of their retirement benefits. Another example of an
extravagant display of unexplained wealth in public service is a Bureau of
Customs collector who showed off a P300-million mansion at a pricey real
estate at Bonifacio Global City in Taguig with a fleet of luxury cars which he
flaunted in going to his office. Also, a mere janitor of Bureau of Customs
drives around a luxury vehicle disproportionate to his meager salary in the
government. In Investigating President Joseph Estrada Millions, Mansions
and Mistresses by the PCIJ as edited by Sheila S. Coronel, the PCIJ began
its research on President Joseph Estrada's wealth in the first quarter of 2000.
The direction of the research was determined by what could be documented.
Thus, one track of its investigation was focused on the acquisition of real
estate and the construction of houses. The second track focused on the
formation of corporations by members of President Estrada's various
families. What they found out was that President Estrada accumulated so
much money in his first two-and-a-half years in office that he was able to
purchase, through dummies and shell companies, over P2 billion worth of
real estate for his various wives and children. They also found a pattern of
corporate formation by presidential mistresses. They uncovered 66
companies in which President Estrada, his wives and children were listed as
incorporators or board members. Fourteen of these companies alone have
assets of over P600 million. Yet President Estrada declared a net worth of
only P35.8 million in 1999 and a net income of only P2.3 million that same

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year. Their findings on President Estrada's unexplained wealth and his
propensity for acquiring real estate and building mansions were published in
a series of articles in the second half of 2000. In October 2000, three of the
PCIJ's reports were included in the impeachment complaint against the
President. Ex President Joseph Estrada has many corruption issues prior to
EDSA II, a people power in 2001 that toppled his administration. He was
convicted for plunder by the Sandiganbayan in 2007 but pardoned by Pres.
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the same year. He ran for President in 2010
elections but lost with 9, 487,837 votes, lower than the votes he garnered
in 1998 elections where he won as President at 10, 722,295 votes. In 2013,
he won as Manila City Mayor with 342,254 votes against incumbent Mayor
Alfredo Lim with 307, 291 votes. Manila Citys total number of registered
voters is around 900,000. The election of pardoned ex convict for plunder
now Mayor Joseph Estrada may mean economic hardship, if not
materialism, of the 342, 254 voters who chose him as a city leader despite
of his well published corruption scandals while he was a President until his
conviction for plunder by the Anti - Graft Court. Poverty alleviation in Manila
City, the capital of Philippines, is the no. 1 pressing concern of the
government to date. Conceivably, Mayor Alfredo Lim, the most heavily
decorated police with numerous awards and commendations, failed to
address the issue of worsening economic hardship and poverty, the possible
cause of his electoral defeat. Joseph de Maistre wrote in 1811: "Every nation
gets the government it deserves.

Materialism is an opponent of the Rule of Law. When people are imbued with
it, they forget the good benefits of the Rule of Law as implemented by good
and honest leaders. Materialistic voters elect bad and corrupt leaders who
can opt to make a mockery of the Rule of Law. When government
employees, from the lowest rank to the highest rank, are materialistic, they
engage in graft and corrupt practices to gain material advantages and
economic benefits that make their lives better than the honest others who
most of them live in simplicity if not live in a quagmire of poverty. The noble
aims and fair processes of the Rule of Law are disregarded when the State
agents of the criminal justice system are corrupted with money. The
acquisition of more and more money in government is the object of
materialistic public servants. For them, money is the supreme law of the land
not the Constitution. Before it, they bow and worship, the same way the
Israelites bow and worship a golden calf in Bibles Exodus 32. Consequently,
there will be injustices committed by the corrupt State agents, motivated by
materialism, against the State and its people in the Rule of Law. These
injustices are living and vibrant manifestations of the Rule of Jungle or the
Government of Men that are contrary to the promotion of good virtues and
right ethics for the welfare of the people in the government envisioned by the
1987 Philippine Constitutions Preamble: We, the sovereign Filipino people,

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imploring the aid of Almighty God, in order to build a just and humane society
and establish a Government that shall embody our ideals and aspirations,
promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony, and
secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of independence and
democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love,
equality, and peace, do ordain and promulgate this Constitution. The right
application of the Rule of Law by the State agents, free of economic greed
and materialism, is a requisite in building a just and humane society. When
materialism triumphs over the Rule of Law, the result is an unjust and
inhumane society. Who wants to live in an unjust and inhumane society? No
one. Some of us live in an unjust and inhumane society with or without the
Rule of Law in different parts of the world this is another perspective to
explore, ponder and solve.