Like clockwork, Berting gets up at 7:00 every morning, Monday through Friday, have his usual breakfast oftapsilogand a cup of coffee. While eating, he reads all the major newspapers (about seven) in Manila. This morning, one newspaper headline said, “GMA says RP has Fiscal Crisis.” “This is going to be bad for my business,” he told himself.
He dressed up and looked at himself at the oversized gilded mirror in his bedroom. “Not bad,” he told himself, smiling, “Not bad at all for poor boy that made good… very good.” His left eye twitched occasionally. He almost lost his left eye in an accident when he was 13 years old. He was then a runner for the remnants of the Asiong Salonga gang in Tondo. He put on his sunglasses. “That takes care of that little problem.” His twitching left eye became his trademark and his friends call him “Berting Kirat” or just “Kirat.”
He opened his drawer and picked up a 10-carat solitaire pinky ring and a watch from his expensive collection — a diamond-studded gold Rolex President. This watch had a sentimental value because the late Senator Cosme de la Concepcion, his former boss, gave it to him. Those were the days when he worked as a chauffeur for “Kissme,” as the powerful Senator — and bohemian — was called by his friends, especially the women.
He kissed his sleeping wife, Ai Ai, and left the room. Ai Ai had been playing mahjong till 3:00 AM. Berting looked at his young and beautiful wife and smiled. Ai Ai is the daughter of one of Berting’s former clients, Toto, a rich Chinese smuggler, and Gigi, a beautiful Spanishmestiza. It was rumored that Gigi was once working as a guest relations officer – used to be “hostess” -- at the Bayside Club on Roxas Blvd.
Berting stepped out the door to his waiting car, a Mercedes S500 with tinted windows. “I hope you did not forget to buy a bottle of Remy,” he asked Rico, his driver. “I got it, sir,” Rico answered. Berting is going to give the expensive bottle of Remy Martin “Napoleon Baccarat” cognac to his friend, Ignacio “Quincy” Ramos, at his birthday party tonight. Quincy is a tax examiner with the Bureau of Internal Revenue. His friends call him “Quincy” because of his practice of requiring a 15 (quinsein Spanish) percent kickback.
Berting arrived at his office at the Manila Peninsula — the “Pen.” He instructed his driver to pick him up at 12:00 for a lunch meeting. He looked around and then went to the coffee shop. He took one of the empty tables and signaled the waitress for his usual coffee. This is Berting’s office. The “Pen” is where Berting and other fixers hang out everyday, except weekends. This is where they conduct their business.
Berting and his associates do not call themselves “fixers.” They hate the word “fixer.” They want to be called “brokers.” Whether they call themselves brokers or fixers, the correct description of what they do is “influence peddling.” They act as facilitators to clients who want to do business with corrupt government officials. They use their connections with elected officials and government bureaucrats to “facilitate” illicit deals. In the old days, a 5% commission would suffice to fix a deal. Today, it could be anywhere from 20% to 50%.
As Berting was drinking his first cup of coffee, Bong, another fixer, joined him and told him about the successful outcome of a deal they worked together. Bong handed Berting an envelope, “Here’s your cut.” Berting looked inside the envelope and saw a thick wad of P100 bills and smiled. “By the way, what do you think of the fiscal crisis? Will it affect our business?” Berting asked. “Ah, don’t worry about it,pare,” Bong — who is more experienced in this business — said, “Our business is good any time… all the time. It’s recession-free. There are always people out there who need us. So, don’t worry, we’ll be around for as long as this country exists. I’d better go, I’ll see you tonight at Quincy’s party, okay?” He stood up and left. Berting held the envelope tightly. This reminded him of his first “fixing” job when he was driving for Senator “Kissme.” The Senator told him to go see Mr. Reyes about a deal being worked under the table. Berting went back and forth several times serving as the conduit between Kissme and Mr. Reyes.After the deal was concluded, Mr. Reyes gave Berting his first envelope. “Not bad, not bad at all,” Berting told himself.
At 11:30 AM, Rico came back. “Bring me to Santa Maria Country Club,” he commanded. They reached Santa Maria — the most exclusive country club in the Philippines — in one hour. Berting rushed in and found Mr. Santander waiting for him at a table. “Sorry I’m late,” Berting said. “Don’t worry, please sit down. I know you’re very busy so I ordered the food already. Care for a Remy while we wait?” Mr. Santander asked. “Sure,” Berting replied. One of the two waiters serving them ran to the bar to get a Remy XO. Their table was being waited by two waiters to make sure that they got served right away.
After their sumptuous lunch Mr. Santander went on with his agenda. “Robert, I need your help. This guy from BIR told me that I owe the government P120 million in back taxes. His name is Ignacio Ramos.” “Oh, yeah, I know that guy. Actually, he’s having his birthday party tonight. How can I be of help?” Berting — Robert to his clients — asked. “Well, I can afford to pay P20 million. Do you think he’ll agree to that?” Mr. Santander queried. Berting replied, “You see, that’s P100 million you’re trying to keep. GMA needs the money to keep our country afloat.” Berting took a sip from the snifter handed to him by the waiter and said, “Excellent Remy, thanks Roger.” “You’re welcome,” Mr. Santander responded meekly. After three minutes of deafening silence, Berting said, “I have a plan for you. How about paying P40 million in back taxes and you give me a 25% commission from the amount you’d save? I have to take care of several people including Mr. Ramos. You’ll end up with a net saving of P60 million.” “That’s very generous of you Robert. I like your plan. What do we do now?” Mr. Santander said with a sigh. “Mr. Ramos will call you.” Berting replied with finality in his voice. “Not bad, not bad at all. That’s 15% for Quincy and 10% for me,” Berting told himself and he let out a smile. The lunch meeting ended at 2:00 PM just in time for him to go back to his office at the “Pen” to pick up another envelope. It was a busy day for Berting Kirat, indeed.
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(NOTE: I originally wrote and published this article in September 2004 under my column“PerryScope.”This article is fictional and all the characters are fictional. Any similarity in names and circumstances is purely coincidental.)