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  • By Diana G Mendoza

If I were a billionaire

Manila— As I write this, I just read somewhere again that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wears the same style of sweatshirt every day to spare himself from wasting precious time thinking about what to wear.

This young billionaire must be so busy trying to live differently — from me. I don’t have billions in my pocket. I work to pay the bills like everyone else. If there's some spare income, I try to have fun. I don’t have charities but I just gave my bottled water and bread snack to a child begging for coins as I alighted from a jeepney.

I told the boy that I didn’t have money to give him and asked if he wanted food instead. He said yes, of course. These are often my encounters on the street. If they’re not begging, some people who are hungry, who don’t have anything, grab and steal other people's belongings.

This brings me to the last images on the streets and the malls of long lines of people betting for the Ultra Lotto 6/58 at a jackpot amounting to 1.18 billion pesos ($18.5 million) and that, as of this writing, has been won by two bettors. The amount is the record-highest in the history of Philippine lotto.

I place my lotto bet from time to time. It’s something I learned from my dad, who has won a few consolation prizes in the sweepstakes. Some people believe it's a form of gambling. I do it for the fun of combining six numbers and checking if it won. And the thought of always asking myself, "What if I win?"

I have never won anything before, and being in a profession that doesn’t promise a lot of money, my life has been spent on the simple joys of spending hard-earned hoards of writers' and editors' fees, or talent and professional remunerations that don’t stay long in my wallet or in the bank because yes, there are bills to pay.

When my friends knew that I place my bets on the lotto, they asked me not to forget them if I win. Friends as well as family are what makes life worth living. So if I were to become a billionaire, I will not enjoy having all that cold, hard cash all alone. I will share the pleasure.

I will make a nicer, better place to live for me and my family. I will see to it that the future is secure so I will let the money grow by investing it. I will travel the world. I will put up my own coffee shop where my friends can have space for their artwork and books and express their advocacies.

Perhaps, I will start my philanthropy to help less fortunate. I will help the poor and weak. I will help build places for the homeless and abandoned, some schools for the children of the very poor, some health centers, some green parks – my little contribution so that people can have a basic but decent standard of living.

I know how it feels not to have money to buy the things you want to have. So I will buy things I needed and wanted. But these are not expensive cars or designer things that, to most people, bring happiness. I'm not into that. I will have things that will help me function better.

They say the world we are in is a world of competition. If you're the one with more money, you can get ahead of the pack. I'm not competitive but more of an observer on the sidelines – a habit I earned from the profession I practice.

As I write this, too, the youngest billionaire in Tanzania was reportedly kidnapped. If I were a billionaire, I will be a good human being and change the world. I just don’t want to be kidnapped. Because if that’s the thing, then I don’t want be a billionaire so freakin' bad anymore. I'm good.

Diana G. Mendoza is a journalist based in Manila.

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