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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Learning Ethics From A Raffle Ticket

Thanks to my mom, who has declared me a "luck magnet" where raffles are concerned, I do have to confess a more-than-usual interest in reading the rules and regulations of the raffle contests I have taken part of - yes, I'm one of "those" who actually reads the fine print.

Mainly because I want to win, to use local parlance, na walang sabit. (With no hitches.)

The part that always caught my fancy as a child was the perennial provision that says: Relatives of employees of XXX Company, up to the second degree of affinity or consanguinity, are prohibited from joining the contest. I didn't know those words at that age, so I would end up always looking in a dictionary for what they meant.

Affinity is defined as a "relationship by marriage, or by ties other than blood."

Consanguinity is defined as a "relationship by descent from a common ancestor; kinship."

(Definitions provided by

I remember asking my mom about it when I accompanied (read: forced to carry the grocery bags) her to Cherry Foodarama, back then it seemed like a "hit supermarket", located at Shaw Boulevard, which still stands to this day. She knew I would ask more incessantly, as most children do, so she gave a terse, concise answer: para walang duda ang pagkapanalo mo ng raffle. (So no one would doubt you as the winner of the raffle.)

I would understand this later on, and strangely, it would be part and parcel of what formed my personal conduct.

From an ethical point of view, it certainly makes sense: A customer who wins should be drawn out randomly and should have won it fairly, using only the laws of probability. There can be no issues concerning tampering, as this would void the raffle results. Human mistakes should also not figure in, and more specifically, human intervention must not be a factor in deciding a winner. Which leads nicely into the provision about affinity and consanguinity.

Employees of a company would be privy to many data and facts that outsiders/customers would normally not be cognizant about. How many tickets are issued, what the raffle ticket serial numbers are and where were these particular numbers assigned/delivered to, how many tickets were actually returned to the company, etc. Knowledge of any one of these factors, or a combination of two or more of them, would be considered "insider information", and anyone who has them would have an advantage in trying to thwart the laws of probability.

Again, it leads nicely to the question of "who would gain from the insider information", which we have already identified as the employees of the company. Therefore, it is imperative and essential that in order to prevent any doubt as to the raffle winner results, employees are barred from entering the contest. The "affinity/consanguinity" provision (I'll call it the ACP Provision from here on out) also recognizes the possibility that employees could also ask relatives to "join the raffle" and then manipulate results in such a way that it is their relatives that end up "winning", colloquially called "kakontsaba" (working in collusion) and they can just split the spoils of war, or in this case, the raffle prize/s, into a specified arrangement later on.

I have never seen the ACP Provision stricken out, except for informal raffles in events like college reunions, which are really more of a fun activity than something open to the public, which needs to be regulated by a government agency. But let me share a true story relayed to me by a friend who recently attended her college reunion, in order for us to appreciate this provision further.

They held their reunion in a huge hotel, and after the usual pleasantries were exchanged - including snarky comments of how fat/bald/old they have all become - there were two highlights that everyone was looking forward to: the hotel's celebrated cuisine (my friend commented "I've had's not bad, but its reputation led me to expect much more") and the raffle at the end of their meal.

The chosen emcee for the night was not a surprise: she was an outspoken student leader back in the day who practiced "social friendliness" long before Facebook was even a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg's eyes. She was announcing the winners of the raffle (numbers announced were based on their meal/admission tickets) and as usual, the "top" prizes were the ones eagerly awaited for.

That list included an all-expense paid trip for two to Hong Kong/Macau, an expensive watch, and an overnight stay at a local hotel.

The emcee herself won the trip, while her boyfriend won the expensive watch.

And the emcee, owing to her sociability factor, was part of the planning committee that organized the reunion.

My friend described the reaction of the audience: It became painfully obvious that the ones vigorously clapping and cheering were the emcee and her boyfriend, there was only a smattering of polite, weak applause, people had their eyes bulging out, looking at each other. There was palpable whispering, and the general consensus was: Ano yan, linuto? (What was that, a rigged event?)

The party went on, and my friend said that she was sure the "winning couple" could feel the weight of people's stares and thoughts on their "winnings", and they were very good actors for not letting on.

Questions of credibility and ethical behavior were invariably raised because of, let's describe it as "interesting" results. I do not doubt that it is statistically possible for both of them to have won, but the probability that they would both win the top prizes is very, very, very small, which explains why everyone was straining incredulity at the results. A factor that mattered for them was that the emcee was one of the organizers of the reunion, and would have a hand in the preparation and logistics of the event.

Raffle ticket pa lang yan, ha. Ang dami nang tanong at haka haka. (And that's only a raffle ticket, which raised so much questions and speculations.)

My question then, is: Why do we demand so little accountability, transparency and propriety from our public officials? Why do we subject them to a much lower standard of ethical conduct? Are we saying, as a society, that we care more for who wins in a supermarket raffle than testing the credibility and fitness of the Chief Justice of our judicial system, or the government head of the agency that oversees gaming in this country?

(Photo courtesy of

(Photo courtesy of

Why are we misplacing where our ethical concerns should matter more?

Why should public officials - who are public servants paid with public money - be "proven beyond reasonable doubt" if they have done something unethical, whereas the "lowly" raffle ticket has regulations in place that would seem to suggest it values credibility and ethics much more? That companies who run raffle contests are being too careful, too conservative, para hindi mabahiran ng duda ang resulta ng kanilang mga pa-raffle? (So that raffle results will not be tainted with any doubt?) They even have provisions about how the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) will receive any complaints, if there are any.

In contrast, public officials who are under investigation do not go on leave while it is going on, they can even manage to prevent co-workers from testifying in an investigation.

Is this what's become of us where ethics are concerned?

In hindsight, it wasn't strange why what I learned from the raffle ticket became part of my personal code of conduct.

And I didn't need to go to law school to learn its lessons.

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