By Jason Paul Laxamana
Central Luzon Daily
If you ever pass by Balibago on your way to SM Clark, you certainly will not miss a certain area somewhere along the Pagcor building where a lot of people—most of them teenagers and young adults—are chatting with one another as if they are a newly founded religion. I used to think it was a new branch office of some call center or something opening itself to agent-wannabes; hence, the proliferation of people my age wanting to earn something. That was until a close friend became part of that cult and tried to lure me into its cleverly structured clutches.
Unlimited Network of Opportunities or UNO is the name of the company. To use a no-connotation term, we can say that it's all about MLM or Multi-Level Marketing—a more credible term than “networking” or worse, “pyramid scam.” When my friend was trying to introduce UNO to me, I at once asked if he's trying to recruit me in a networking company.
Bad college experience
I certainly had my inhibitions, because back in college, my fellow boarders and I were recruited by the son of our landlady to Legacy, which all also claimed to do Multi-Level Marketing business. We were taken to a confident adult who oriented us about how huge amounts of money could come to our grasps by merely investing Php14,000 and inviting others to do the same. The way the whole thing was presented was so believable and overwhelming, such that my big brother and I weren't able to sleep because we were so overjoyed, thinking “This is it! We're going to be filthy rich!”
My mother was KJ then though. When we excitedly told her about the financial opportunity, she quickly aired her protest and told us it was just one of those pyramid scams. Of course, we were offended. We argued back and harshly told her that she was close-minded, and she would definitely fail in life financially by being the skeptic that she was. No matter how hard we fought for it, my mother wouldn't lend us Php14,000.
Our co-boarders had some money though. They decided to volt in their money—seven thousand from one person, and the rest from the other person—so they were able to invest the required Php14,000. They began recruiting various people like their classmates and org-mates in UP Diliman, their high school batchmates, and even their relatives. Alas, not one was fazed with the so-called opportunity. After several failures, they gave up. Bye-bye Php14,000.
It was a good thing my mother didn't lend us money when we demanded for it. After a few weeks, the excitement resulting from the hypnotizing sweet-talk of the recruiter faded away and Koya and I came to our senses: it was a difficult job—too difficult for the average person, you'd think it's designed to be that way—disguised as a legal and easy-money business.
How I was reduced from friend to prospect
I admit—I am not in speaking terms with the friend I am talking about just because of this UNO thing. Let's call him Karl.
He used to work in a call center in Clark. One day, he texted me and other friends, begging for us to come to Pagcor. He also begged us to not ask why, because it was something very complicated. The way the message was constructed, I thought he was having some serious problem, probably related to his girlfriend or his family. Unfortunately, I was busy with other matters at that time so I didn't go.
Concerned and curious, I called him (from landline to cellphone) early in the morning to ask what his message was all about. He sounded very desperate, like he was receiving death threats from a certain gang, or he had accidentally killed someone and had no idea what to do. Unable to explain via phone his predicament, he asked if he could stay in my place for the night. “Sige,” I told him.
Before he even came to my place to sleep over, I found out from common friends that he didn't have the problem I was suspecting he had. Instead, he was recruiting people to try MLM because he joined UNO. To focus on MLM, he quit his call center job without informing his parents. Hence, he sleeps over in the houses of different people including me because he couldn't come home at night. Lest he'll be questioned by his parents about his call center resignation.
When Karl arrived in my place, we were trying to catch up with each other because it has been a long time since we chatted about our lives. After catching up, I asked him what the thing he texted me before was all about. Before him even answering, I emphasized, “Are you trying to recruit me?”
From the persona of a friend, his face turned vendor-like, and told me, “O di ba, ang sama kaagad ng pumapasok sa isip mo kapag nababanggit ang networking? Pero ito, iba ito. Ako rin noong una, talagang duda ako, pero ni-research ko talaga, pati sa Internet, wala akong mahanap na loophole.”
Karl even went as far as assessing my personality. He first flattered me by telling me I am an extraordinarily smart and creative person, but my weakness, he said, was in business; thus, my failure to earn money despite working very hard. “Kilala kita,” he even said. “May tendency kang mag-claim na alam mo na ang isang bagay, pero ang hinihingi ko lang, makinig ka muna. Isang oras lang naman.”
I was also touched by his sentence of emphasis: “Kaibigan kita; yayayain ba kita dito kung alam kong ikakapahamak mo?”
Yet with all that, he didn't even bother listening to my college experience.
The UNO recruitment experience
Fast forward. Despite setting my mind to “I will never join,” I allowed him to take me to the UNO office in Balibago, where I saw members trying to recruit innocent-looking people—probably their friends, co-workers, classmates, or relatives. I even saw a woman dressed like a teacher orienting what seemed like her students about the mechanics of the business.
Karl then introduced me to a person I met and befriended days before at SM Clark. Let's call him Tim. Back when I first met him, he was this shy-looking but cool teenager who knew a lot of people I knew—bands, DJs, and other people. On that night we encountered each other at SM Clark, we talked about plans in life and the difference of burgers from one burger joint to another (since he claimed to want to establish his own burger restaurant someday). I even told him about my friend Karl and his funny attempts of trying to attract me to MLM. With all the laughter and cigarette-smoking, he was a nice and sensible lad, I thought, and I certainly would want to work with him in future projects (he used to have a band, and I used to produce recorded music).
But when I saw him again at UNO, it was as if he was a different person! He spoke like those salespeople you see in department stores promoting state-of-the-art kitchen knives and convenient-to-use floor mops. He wasn't a shy kid after all. He explained MLM like a Master Showman host, joked around sometimes to not bore us, and confidently claimed that in spite of him being just a mere “tambay,” he was already earning as much as Php5,000 per week. He also showed us the products of their company, including strength-enhancing bio-magnetic bracelets worn by ancient royalties and contemporary celebrities, 8-in-1 coffee that boosted energy, and other healthcare and beauty products.
Tim, with the help of Karl, also showed us an AVP explaining UNO and showing the people who had become instantly rich by joining—people of my age having their own cars, lay people casually withdrawing loads of cash from Union Bank, and segments that tried hard to convince the audience that they were a legal business.
Familiar with what they were talking about, thanks to my college Legacy experience, I entertained my mind by identifying what kind of psychological convincing strategy they are using on me. My favorite was that one that used peer pressure (“Huwag niyong isiping pinagkakakitaan namin kayo; kasi, kahit hindi kayo sumama, sasama at sasama pa rin naman yung iba e; ang gusto lang namin, magtulungan tayo sa pag-pag-asenso”).
In the middle of Tim's talking, a loud tricycle passed by. Unable to continue talking, he pretended to have a grenade in his hand and pretended to throw it to the noisy vehicle. It was the first time I saw someone to that kind of gesture, and I thought it was a cool way to express hatred to loud-engined automobiles.
Minutes after, another noisy tricycle passed by. I saw another recruiter from afar doing the grenade gesture, too. Listening to other recruiters, I heard them tell their prospects the exact words my friend Karl was telling me that morning—about open-mindedness, about financial success, about researching stuff on the Internet, and all that jazz. All of the recruiters know how to write upside down, too, to make their written lecture readable to the target prospect, who is usually seated opposite him.
I even heard someone else say, “Yayayain ba kita dito kung ikakapahamak mo?” That was when disappointment starting growing in my heart. My friend Karl reduced me into an MLM prospect. All the things he said to me, including his knowledge of my need of money to do my dream cultural projects, were all parrot-speak from his fellow UNO members. I would have preferred it if he just told me directly that if I joined, he will be earning. But no, he even used everything he knew about me as a friend just so he could convince me.
However, I didn't join. UNO members say that in case you join, you have to work hard to be successful. It's the same thing outside the MLM business. I am slowly working my way to reach my goals, and it was quite offending for both Tim and Karl to predict that I'll be a failure. “Maraming Pilipino,” they would say, “kayod ng kayod pero hindi pa rin umaasenso.”
My God! I am only 21 years old. Isn't it too early to determine whether I'm successful in life or not? Other people in the UNO office who gave their testimonials were hopeless people, whose last resort was MLM. I doubt though they were earning as much as what they claimed.
If they were so rich, how come their office looks very peasant? How come there's no free snacks for the prospects? Why are recruiters dressed casually? How come there's no big promotional event to make their claims more credible? Why was it that when a beggar approached us, they didn't spare him some coins, just to showcase that they were easily earning, and giving a beggar a hundred pesos was no biggie (I, a non-UNO member, was kind enough to give the beggar five pesos)? Why did Tim not pay for our jeepney fare went we decided to go home from SM Clark if he was earning Php5,000 per week, just to show that he was indeed making money comfortably?
Another friend of mine—let's call him Franz—who is witty in his own way, was recruited on a separate session. He asked Tim and other UNO members if they were confident that if he joined, earning money would be a breeze. With big smiles, they said yes.
Franz then said, “Kung ganoon, pahiramin niyo muna ako ng Php7,000 na pang-invest. Pagkatapos, babayaran ko na lang kapag nakaipon na ako. Madali lang naman makapasok ang pera, hindi ba?”
None of the UNO members wanted to lend money. Or was it because they really didn't have money in the first place?
Save thy souls
With that, I call on people: let's save the youth from this legalized scam. Wanting money to sustain their needs and luxurious desires in a period of tough competition, unemployment, and rising prices, they are the easy preys of UNO. The senior members even go as far as discouraging prospects to tell their parents about it because parents will naturally be skeptical about the whole thing.
“Pero sino bang pakikinggan mo?” they would ask. “Silang mga wala naman talagang karanasan sa MLM, o kaming mga may karanasan talaga dito?”
I am not questioning the legality of the business. It could be legal, fine, but not everything legal is for the good. Why are cigarettes sold in spite of the government acknowledging its danger to the citizens' health? If it's dangerous, why is it not banned in the market?
It's the same thing for UNO. In any case, I think I'm really interested in buying one of those bio-magnetic bracelets. I certainly need it in my strength-draining and pressure-laden line of work. After all, I need to work very hard to become successful, right?
I texted Karl when I got home and told him about my disappointment with his treatment of me as a prospect instead of a friend. I told him that I'll be looking forth to the day when he's already rich with UNO. If he does indeed become rich, I told him I promise to blindly obey his every counsel and burn all the books that serve as my guiding principles in life.