Think pyramids and one usually thinks of Egypt, but the Philippines has discovered it also has them. The most recently unearthed one, authorities say, cost the equivalent of HK$3.6 billion and was built by 10,000 people who were conned. A monument to greed, the pyramid scam allegedly run by Multinational Telecom Investors (Multitel) promised fabulous returns to investors who included generals, journalists and, it is claimed, senators. Multitel claimed the money would be invested in little-known, but hot, telecom stocks in Scandinavia. Instead, authorities said, the funds went to fund a lavish lifestyle for company president Rosario Baladjay. According to news reports, she bought a mansion, diamonds, a facelift and even liposuction procedures. Baladjay disappeared after her victims went to the authorities last year, complaining they were seeing none of the promised riches. She resurfaced last week to proclaim her innocence and blamed her husband for misusing the funds. Investigators think scores of similar pyramid scams are flourishing in the Philippines, swindling up to two million gullible citizens out of as much as HK$15 billion. 'We have more pyramids than Egypt,' a government official said recently. It seems that not only are Filipinos easy prey, they also never learn. Just six years ago, the wife of a close associate of then president Joseph Estrada fled after the media exposed how she had allegedly conned friends, businessmen and military officers in a massive pyramid scam. She recently returned, but no case has been filed. Despite such high-profile cases, many Filipinos are still willing to be convinced they can get rich quickly. Their gullibility lies in a culturally embedded desire for instant gratification, which goes back to the country's colonial history. For more than 300 years, the Philippines was a Spanish colony and for much of that time, it existed for only one reason - the galleon trade. Every year, from 1565 to 1815, Manila was the entrepot where the riches of China and India were traded for the silver of Mexico. The result was a gigantic lottery where huge fortunes could be made instantly. The Spaniards disdained the hard work of developing the Philippines' resources (later, the Americans discovered large gold deposits), and for nine to 10 months of each year, they did nothing. They set an example eagerly followed by their subjects, and the result can be seen in all the pyramid scams littering the landscape. Not even the crooks are immune. Investigators say one reason why investors in one scam never recover their money is because the pyramid operator has invested it in another scheme.