Values or system change: Which comes first?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-07-01
I was one of the panelists invited to the March 30 forum organized by the Barangay San Lorenzo Business Association. The topic was “In search for a national consensus” and it was held at the My Cinema in Greenbelt 3, Makati City.

The other panelists included University of Asia and the Pacific president Rolly Dy, taxation specialist Nonoy Oplas, Swede tax specialist Bjorn Wahlberg, Academician Dennis Gonzales and fellow columnists Rene Azurin and Bernie Lopez who both write for the BusinessWorld.

My former Ateneo classmate, Vernie Atienza invited me to the event which was televised later on Harry Tambuatco’s Insight Inside 11:30 p.m. show over my former network, RPN-9.

Each panelist provided very useful suggestions for a strategic national consensus that will move our country forward. These suggestions are as follows:

1. Less government and more governance which includes the participation of key sectors of society.

2. Electoral reform.

3. Judicial reform.

4. Tax reform.

5. Zero corruption.

6. Values formation.

7. Ethical standards for promotions.

8. Accountability, transparency and good disclosure mechanisms.

This wish list reveals what’s so glaringly wrong with the country. Indeed, if all the eight suggestions were achieved, we will not only eradicate the wide scale poverty that has hounded the country for over five decades but we will likely be in step with regional achievers like Singapore.

Bernie Lopez and I believed that we must first overhaul our values as a people before we can bring about a more stable and equitable society. I was for attaining Filipino appreciation of his real history and our core problem which is the wealth gap.

My thesis is that as a people, we find it very hard to even agree on a solution because we ourselves do not have a clear idea on what the real problem is. And we won’t appreciate our real problems until we know our real history, recognize who our real friends and enemies are and learn what exactly stunts our development.

A marketing strategist will first need to trace the history of the brand, how it was born, its evolution, from its rise to peak popularity to its present lackluster state before he can start to prescribe solutions. In the world of medicine, a doctor can only heal a serious disease after evaluating a patient’s medical history.

Bernie made a superb outline of the elements and dynamics of the clash of values before a good and strategic national consensus can be reached. He delivered an excellent outline of the interplay between mind and heart, knowledge and virtue in evolving good values and arriving at a consensus.

Bernie identified the dynamics of external and internal elements in the forming of consensus.

Rene Azurin stressed the need for electoral and judicial reforms and the elimination of discretionary powers of government officials over the allocation of funds. Rene cited official discretion in the allocation and disbursement of funds as the root cause of corruption.

The discussion thus entered the realm of the chicken and egg conundrum: should it be values change or system change that must happen first?

Rene thinks that we must try to accomplish what can already be done and that system change eventually accelerates value reformation. I am of the thinking that system is a mere reflection of the values of a society and that unless the values change first, there is little or no hope for real system change.

The motor car was produced because society demanded a faster mode of transport — people wanted to junk the horse and carriage. Likewise, democracy evolves from a people who have realized the inequities of the old monarchy. There can be no democracy where there is no burning desire for a government for, by and of the people.

But more than just wanting democracy, people must also know and understand the reasons why the old system failed. People who love to be ruled by a monarch cannot want democracy bad enough to be willing to fight and die for it.

We were under martial law for 14 years because many Filipinos then thought that we were better off under a totalitarian regime.

In the Philippine context, we end up repeating our mistakes because too many false prophets have filled our people with the wrong information, the wrong analysis of the problem and the wrong solutions. Our people have been promised solutions to such immediate problems as education, employment and the like but they have not been led to understand the broader dynamics that create our major problems.

Most Filipinos are oblivious of the oligarchy, the monopoly of economic and political power and the absence of people empowerment. Many so-called educated Filipinos are not even aware of the real roots of our problems. We are so easily misled to adopting polices that are detrimental to us.

Embracing globalization and joining the Iraq War are two such examples. Take a look at what globalization did to our agriculture industry. We joined the Iraq War without realizing it was against our best interest which is to protect the Filipino overseas workers in the Middle East. We realized our folly only after a Filipino overseas worker — Angelo de la Cruz — was abducted and was about to be killed if our government didn’t change its Iraq policy.

We were given our independence and democracy in 1946. We had to win it back in 1986 from Marcos. And yet we continue to suffer today from a failure of democracy.

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