Boardrooms, dinner tables, and coffee shops are abuzz with theories explaining the $81-million heist, which involved funds of the Bangladesh central bank being transferred to local RCBC accounts and eventually into our Philippine casinos.
The public is visibly intrigued and the media has covered the story as eagerly as our national campaigns.
Who were involved? Who is the mastermind? Who are the hackers and how did they get past the U.S. financial system’s safeguards? What does the branch manager know? Are bank officials involved? Who profited from this audacious crime? Is there a political angle to this heist?
These and many more questions have our minds occupied and keep casual conversations lively and engaging.
We are hopeful that throughout the course of our investigation in the senate, the truth will be revealed, the perpetrators will be brought to justice, and most of these questions will be answered.
But, sadly, no one is asking about Bangladesh.
So for the next few paragraphs, allow me to write about the real victims of this crime – the Bangladeshi people.
There are nearly 160 million people in Bangladesh as of 2015 with over 30% or 48 million living in poverty. In the 2015 Rankings of the Poorest Countries in the World based on GDP, Bangladesh ranked 46th poorest, while the Philippines ranked 68th.
Like in the Philippines, Bangladesh is dealing with issues that are rooted in poverty, such as hunger, sanitation, improved access to education, severe congestion of urban areas, and delivery of basic government services, among others.
The Bangladesh government and civil society groups are aggressive in their efforts to create better opportunities and greater wealth for the masses and they have churned out interesting, effective solutions.
One example is the world-renowned Grameen Bank spearheaded by economist and social entrepreneur Muhammad Yunus that pioneered the principles of microcredit and microfinance utilized around the world today
The government has also made leaps in improving access to government services with their ‘Digital Bangladesh, Vision 2021’ program that seeks to make all government services, public records, and even text books accessible through online channels by 2021, which sounds like the Freedom of Information (FOI) and the Open Government Partnership efforts.
They hope that ICT and an all-encompassing digital system in government will curb corruption – another one of our common adversaries.
Naturally, like in the Philippines, there is still a lot of work to be done before Bangladesh can eradicate poverty. But a key element to getting things done is adequate funding.
Can you imagine how far the stolen 81-million US dollars, which is equivalent to 6.35-billion Bangladeshi taka, could have gone to address hunger, livelihood, education, or health?
Now imagine if the tables were turned.
Think of billions of pesos worth of Philippine tax money stolen and siphoned off to the pockets of unscrupulous foreigners.
Billions of pesos that could have been used to fund infrastructure projects, livelihood programs, or improvements in government services are hacked then digitally wired to foreign nationals.
Picture the outrage in our streets and the frenzy on our social media feeds. What racist remarks will spew? What will the Philippine public demand? And what could ever appease hearts broken by this injustice?
Many of us, including politicians like myself, are caught up with the audacity of this heist, the intriguing anecdotes of the revealed personalities, and the tarnished image of the Philippines.
It is our nature to focus on the Filipino side.
But as a member of the global community and as a country known for its heart and compassion, we must realize how valuable the stolen money is in improving the lives of the millions of poor Bangladeshis.
With this in mind, it is imperative that we continue to push for reforms in our financial system, institute tighter and stricter policies, ferret out the truth, bring the perpetrators to justice, and most importantly return the stolen 81-million US dollars to the Bangladeshi people.
If this happened to us, we would expect nothing less.’
First Published on Manila Bulletin