We must overhaul our values before we can move forward
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-02-04
Being a Baby Boomer is both boon and bane. It is comforting in a way to have seen those better days of the ’50s and the ’60s.

The younger Gen X and Gen Y generations do not even have the benefit of benchmarking on a better standard. They never knew what it was like to be held in high esteem as Asia’s democracy showcase and the second most prosperous economy, next only to Japan.

However, having lived through the better days, one feels helplessly cursed to compare the past with the present and having to decry the way we have sunk to miserable depths. One will not miss what one has never tasted. A vegetarian since birth will not covet the most succulent prime roast; neither will a poor man part with his tuyo for a morsel of Beluga caviar.

Given the present crop of leaders and the widening rich and poor divide, it will be hard for us to approximate those good ole days of the early ’60s. The absence of options drive many to quick fixes, most of which do not work. Trying to find a way out, many more are looking at the wrong direction and studying the wrong models.

More than economic formulas and a better crop of political leaders, our country needs an overhaul of our current set of values. More than a sound economic program and an enlightened leadership, we need to reboot and reprogram our mindset with a new set of values that will allow us to rediscover our lost Filipino soul.

By referring to the lost Filipino soul, I am not suggesting anything religious. I refer to the need for us to know our real identity by re-discovering true nationalism and patriotism. "Know thyself" was a maxim attributed to at least five Greek sages, including Socrates and Pythagoras. The broader version of this maxim goes like this: "Know thyself and thou shall know all the mysteries of the gods and the universe." Unless we re-discover our sense of self as Filipinos, not as others would want us to be, we will always be without form or shape and always vulnerable to the machinations of the crooked and the wily.

We are in the rut because we do not know who we are. We are running on pretenses. All our leaders lead by pretenses because we who vote for them are running empty of a sense of Filipino self. To quote the American social writer Eric Hoffer: "Our greatest pretenses are built up not to hide the evil and the ugly in us, but our emptiness. The hardest to hide is something that is not there."

If we sell our votes to the highest bidder, we should not be surprised if these leaders will later put our own welfare and future on the auction block. And having sold your vote, you forfeit the right to expect anything else.

If we continue to be indifferent to all the high crimes, abuse and corruption around us, we should not expect help when we become the victims. If we keep silent after witnessing an abusive cop murder a neighbor, we should not expect justice when our own children turn up the next victim to rape or murder.

Great nations are built pebble upon pebble, stone upon stone, and brick upon brick by the collective efforts of its citizens. There are no great leaders where there are no great followers.

On the contrary, the greater and stronger nations do not even have to showcase or parade the exceptional leaders among them. Japan is the best example of this model and the Japanese success is best appreciated when one considers its much bigger population and its less abundant natural resources.

Not inclined towards personality cult-worship, Japanese society is strongly founded on collective effort and team achievement. Japan is a successful economy not because of one or a few individuals. If you are looking to congratulate someone, you will have to give the 200 million or so Japanese nation a standing ovation for the accomplishment.

In contrast, leaders here are pathetically trying to amplify every little task as though people owe them for it. Big streamers and billboards extol the public servant’s normal work as if it was a historic accomplishment. These ads, of course, are paid by us, the taxpayers.

Remember those 27 war medals that Dictator Ferdinand Marcos claimed he was awarded for valor and bravery under fire? Most, if not all of those were found to be bogus claims.

How many times has Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo claimed credit for the strengthening of the Philippine peso and the improved fiscal situation? The rise of the peso resulted from the toils and sacrifices of our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who were forced to leave their homes because Madame Arroyo could not provide them with opportunities for a decent living standard here. The improved fiscal situation was the offshoot of the oppressive 12% EVAT which was squeezed out of the earnings of every law abiding Filipino. Meantime, the tax-evading, thieving rich get even richer.

Detaching ourselves from the foibles of amoral as well as immoral leaders, we find dishonesty and the same lack of values manifesting as counterproductive employee petty squabbles and intrigues all over Philippine organizations. They too are infected with the credit-grabbing disease. Instead of team work improving the Philippine organization, selfish interests drag it down. Bogged down by our intramurals, we find many of our companies ill-prepared to compete in the global arena.

Thinking only of present needs and uncaring for the next generation, we abused our environment, poisoned our fishing grounds, burned large tracts of our forests and polluted our rivers. Now we have less fish to catch, great floods that destroy our homes and more diseases than our meager finances can afford to medicate.

We produced great men and illustrious heroes. But instead of drawing inspiration from Jose Rizal, many of us opt to be awed by the illusions that showbiz pretenders like Joseph Estrada weave. Instead of emulating the patriotism of Gregorio del Pilar, we prefer to hero worship Manny Pacquaio.

The Filipino is hampered from greatness because we are a nation that cannot focus on our real task. Instead, we are sidetracked by a manic craving to be the driver and the owner of the vehicle that will take us to our destination. I, me and myself first – that is how we live and behave as a people, whether we are queuing up for a left turn, courting a stampede for TV prize bonanzas, or deciding on a leader.

Selfishness overrides national interest. Narrow family interest is placed over and above patriotism. Wealth is equated with social stature and esteem, never mind how it was acquired. Honesty and integrity are seen as stumbling blocks to getting rich.

We even have products of the finest Catholic universities like the Ateneo de Manila and De La Salle using their advantage in education to perpetuate poverty and injustice in its many other gruesome forms.

Ateneans were meant to fly high like Blue Eagles and be men for others. Yet some Ateneans chose to be Blue Vultures and are now among the biggest plunderers. On the other side, some La Sallians can’t even be trusted to play basketball by the rules.

The Titanic was sunk by an iceberg. The Philippine ship of state is being sunk by its own Filipino passengers and crew.

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