What freedom demands of us

The population has been conditioned to depend on government for everything, including jobs.

Commentor “Uncle Pinoy” made that remark commenting on a proposal to reduce the size of Government to help improve the country’s fiscal position.

He may as well have been commenting on the general attitude Filipinos take with regard to their future prosperity. This is an especially important cultural issue considering that we are a “free” society, for freedom entails one taking more than a little bit of responsibility over one’s fortunes.

I believe that there is a broad range of work and thinking that productive participation in a free society demands of us, and I attempt here to capture as much of the essence of that range and organise them around three points:

(1) Reliance on independent critical thought applied to a clear understanding of the specific given situation

Whereas anyone can wear a shirt with a slogan, wave an “L” shaped hand, or tie a yellow ribbon, what separates Sapiens from Erectus is an ability to consider in a deliberate manner the consequences of one’s actions and remain personally accountable for said consequences.

That is what freedom truly entails: a freedom to think and a freedom to act on the basis of said thinking. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino Jr, for example, is running on a pedigree “platform” he inherited from his illustrious parents. The Aquino name, of course, commands an emotional appeal to the Filipino mind on the basis of its being virtually synonymous to the 1986 Edsa “revolution” that toppled the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

That this era’s most popular contender for that coveted seat in Malacanang trumped two candidates — Mar Roxas and Gilberto Teodoro, among others — who each have highly-developed platform statements to bring to the chronically intellectually-bankrupt national “debate”, all but sets the theme for the looming sameness of the coming six to seven years. Notwithstanding Aquino’s sister Kris’s involvement being a no-brainer, famous and noted relics of the 1983-1986 “glory” days have come out of the woodwork to get behind Aquino’s bid with the usual song-and-dance:

The venerable blogger Rom observed how…

[…] On teevee, a noted blogger practically giggled like a school girl when he said “the Yellow Army is back,” implying that the legions of faithful that Cory commanded had all but transferred their allegiance to her son.

Jim Paredes got on the bandwagon publishing Aquino’s legislative record on his blog and his concert with the Apo Hiking Society in support of that “Yellow Army” was capped by Noynoy Aquino himself getting up on stage to assure the audience that “his Mom and Dad were looking down from the heavens and would be proud of the support generated by this campaign”. One thing’s for sure, Noynoy remained consistent to his campaign “platform” that night.

Ironically that other major relic of 1980’s style “people power” — the Philippine Catholic Church — is at loggerheads with these anointed politicians on the issue of “reproductive health”:

Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III will be getting the votes of the bishops provided he abandons his support to the controversial Reproductive Health Bill.

The point is that, even then, the Church’s opinion also matters significantly nonetheless. The common denominator here is the obvious reliance of Filipinos on or deference to pedigreed, elderly, or celebrity edict above their better individual judgment.

Marriage is a microcosm of that cultural syndrome that stands out as a stark reminder of just how backward Philippine society remains. Marriage or choosing a lifetime partner is therefore a good example to use. In the most primitive societies, one’s lifetime partner is largely determined by prior arrangements/contracts made between one’s parents (or worse, as a result of a debt owed by one clan to another). In modern societies, on the other hand, most adults make that choice based on free will using their independent evaluation faculties to the best of what is available.

In primitive societies, the partnership is entered into with a resigned state of mind or in deference to the established order of things. In advanced societies, it is a relatively deliberate and conscious decision based on the best information available at the time.

(2) An ability to apply due process in the application of the Law

The “scandals” and “improprieties” highlighted by the Philippine Media in recent weeks aren’t too different from those highlighted by that same media folk in the last two decades. Some of them, like former President Joseph Estrada’s link to the ten-year-old Dacer/Corbito murder case, are aces kept up various politicians’ sleeves, now strategically played as they become potent weaponry in the coming elections. Others come across via the same kinds of flaccid “investigative journalism” and then go no further than those Congressional “hearings” and “inquiries” that become stages for the same politicians to gain a bit of media exposure.

Still others (and my gut tells me these are in the majority of cases) fall victim to ineptitude and lack of rigour in the investigation and research work performed by our law enforcement agencies.

I recall summing all this up in a comment I made a while back:

We’ve also seen it in the way “scandals” get mired in endless cash-burning (and media-exposure-building) congressional “inquiries” instead of the whole thing playing out properly in a real court of Law.

So while there are horrible crimes committed, it still takes rigorous investigation followed by competent prosecution to bring these to justice.

Where is all that?

It’s all hopelessly muddled as people prefer to focus on the spectacle of parading mere suspects instead of doing the real work of laying the groundwork for a successful conviction.

The question therefore remains: Where are the results?

At the end of the day, a test of a people’s resolve to seeing justice served can only be passed if this resolve is channeled via their own tax-funded institutions and legal processes. Indeed, due proces is developed, implemented, and operated using our taxes. Compare the purposefulness of due process to the the utter lack of any resolution plan inherent in all these traditional approaches to “calling” for “justice” — on-line “petitions”, calls for “expressions” of “indignation”, making “symbollic” gestures, etc. These traditional “initiatives” all arise not from the sovereign authority of the State but from the machinations of this or that politician or “cause-oriented” group and merely aim to further the individual political agendas of their instigators. Yet Filipinos continue to dance to those tunes while upholding their right to be “free” of such machinations — an irony lost in a society that consistently fails to grasp the ironic.

You’d think that by now that we would have seen enough of the kinds of trial-by-media, trial-by-hearsay, trial-by-statement-of-indignation, trial-by-ocho-ocho, trial-by-yellow-shirt, trial-by-“laban”-hand-gesture we have grown content with. Filipinos need to realise that those are just the fun parts. The parts that get us the results are the parts where one needs to hunker down and do real work and deliberate thinking. Next time we see videoloids like Bandila spending 90% of programming time on hearsay reporting around “scandals” and “improprieties”, let’s ask ourselves these questions:

So what if all this is brought to light?

– Is this going to lead to a proper court procedure?

– Is this going to lead to a prosecution?

– Is this going to lead to a conviction?

– Is this going to lead to someone serving his/her sentence in full?

Next steps, plez.

It’s time we applied a bit of thinking and re-gurgitate less of the kind of horsemanure that decades of traditional “political debate” and “investigative journalism” had fed into the collective psyche of Filipinos.

(3) From “fighting” to building, from betting to investing

A failure to rely on our own better judgment (in favour of deference to that of those perceived to be authoritative) in combination with a failure to see things through to resolution leaves our society paralysed when faced with the only relevant challenge today, which is to build.

We are indeed long overdue for the emergence of a new set of guiding principles to help us along the next twenty years. For now we are still stuck onto applying the yellow adolescent “laban” romanticism of the 1980’s to the more grown-up imperatives facing our society in the 2010’s. Despite the basic institutions and processes now being in place (flawed as they may be), the imperative to build upon these seems to have not captured the spirit of the society. We are pretty much still looking for a fight where there is none.

This isn’t too different from a gambling addict who is always borrowing money and promising that his “big win” is just around the corner. No amount of money will solve this person’s fundamental problem — a failure to imagine a different approach to using money. In the same way, while “democracy” and “freedom” were things that Filipinos have enjoyed for the last several decades, the way we make use of it follows the same approach that we take in the utilisation of most other assets Filipinos have been “blessed” with, whether they be our forests, our headstart over the rest of Asia in the 1950’s, or our large numbers. We place bets on endeavours that afford us no control over once underway.

No control over something once underway.

From that perspective, consider a most fundamental military challenge: hitting an enemy target with a projectile. Before the invention of gunpowder, archers would shoot their arrows into the air in the general direction of an advancing army, hoping for the best. When catapults and then gunpowder-fired artillery was developed, the science of ballistics was applied to the new weapon systems lending a bit of determinism around where a projectile would hit even if no control could be exerted on it after it was launched. Today, modern guidance systems applied to modern rocketry and jet propulsion technologies now enable control to be exerted over projectiles while in flight after they are fired.

Think now about where we are in our efforts to take better control over our future.



Ben Kritz shows our polticians how it is done in a high-level outline of a sample “platform” he recently developed and then published in his article It’s not Rocket Science. Indeed it isn’t, as he’s gone one step further and dived into the detail of the Economy aspect of that platform. Seeing that Kritz demonstrates a willingness to take suggestions on-board in his on-going efforts to develop his platform, I am presenting the above as my proposed input to its Culture aspect once he gets around to that part.


About benign0

benign0 is the Web master of GetRealPhilippines.com
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7 Responses to What freedom demands of us

  1. BenK says:

    To me, the only way to characterise these aspects of the Philippine personality is to call it simple immaturity. The salacious way they approach scandals, their callous lack of regard for anyone’s comfort but their own, the way they bow unquestioningly to authority — it’s as if I live in a nation of 5-year olds. Really, what is so different between being a “resource person” and a “tattle-tale”?

    One of the responses I made to Uncle Pinoy was that I don’t believe that a government can or ought to legislate “manners”, and I’m convinced of it, but another comment he made got me thinking. Filipinos in the US don’t litter, or callously violate traffic laws, or urinate all over the place, he says, because of the fear of getting caught; but here they revert to old habits, because there is no enforcement. That’s plausible, but if that’s all there is to it, then why do I — or any other foreigner — not engage in the bad behaviour once here? After all, we are free of the threat that keeps us in check, are we not?

    The reason, of course, is that our laws against those things are not a reaction to the public ethos, but an expression of it. Which has grim implications for the Philippines: if it is necessary to structure the laws and the functions of government to enforce a public ethos of rational decency, it will take an entire generation or more before ‘good behaviour’ — everything from not throwing trash on the ground to having a respect for the due process of the legal system — will even begin to be ingrained in society. The Philippines, it seems, may not be simply behind in development in the capital sense, but in even being civilised human beings. Very sad.

  2. There’s a well-worn joke among African-Americans in the US about how failures WISH while winners ACT and HOPE. Hope has that preceding condition of action. That is what, according to the saying, separates wishing from hoping. Unfortunately, wishing is part of a “magical” mentality that is rooted in Filipino culture. The latest example of this magical thinking is the NoyNoy phenomenon–thinking that his parents’ ‘achievements’ (huh?) and character (yeah, okay) magically transfers over to him simply because they share DNA. This magical thinking isn’t that far removed from that laughable logic that produced the anti-Camelot that is the Erap regime–he plays a good guy protecting the poor on the big screen therefore this transfers to his role as president or legislator. I am not sure if the people bandying the “Cory Magic” term are even aware of this. Regardless, “magic” surely fits the mentality.

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  4. benign0 says:

    @ Filipino culture:

    failures WISH while winners ACT and HOPE. Hope has that preceding condition of action. That is what, according to the saying, separates wishing from hoping.

    I used to admonish people who call themselves “business analysts” working on IT and/or transformation projects in various companies I work for to come up with proper requirements analysis documents rather than mere wish list documents. The earlier incorporates a proper vetting and synthesis of input from various business stakeholders, while the latter is a mere transcript of stuff mentioned by participants in brainstorming sessions.

    Not surprising therefore that many IT implementation budgets get blown — because the requirements were gathered but not properly analysed.

    Same thing with Philippine society. Pinoys are pretty clear on what they want. But as to turning those wants into a coherent vision framework, identifying realistic goals based on said framework, and then developing a plan to achieve these, we are hopeless.

    @ BenK
    The temptation to “legislate” manners is always there as Lee Kuan Yew met success in that field to some extent. But I think it is because of (a) LKY’s almost unchallenged role as “social architect” of that time and (b) the small size of Singapore that enabled him to:

    (1) virtually re-engineer the very social fabric of Singapore;

    (2) Develop a new code of conduct that enforced cultural strengths and replaced non-productive aspects of it; and finally,

    (3) Developed the legislation to enforce the new cultural regime.

    Works well with one cook in the kitchen. But in a country like ours where there are hundreds of cooks (and crooks), we need to get creative in our approach. The parallels with Singapore end where their dabbling in ‘grand design’ begins. Ours needs to take a more grassroots and guerrilla-style approach to driving change. I think the key lies in Filipinos’ beholdenness to celebrity and spectacle.

    The 2010 to 2016 administration will have to either

    (A) draft celebrities into service to lead or serve as resources for a broad and aggressive drive to change the society; or,

    (B) set aside a significant chunk of the national budget to get into showbiz — by directly producing or providing to the private sector incentives (such as tax breaks) for the production of entertainment (channeled thru cinema and television) that carries a consistent message (engineered centrally, say, by a team or agency within the Department of Education).

    The same administration can then bolster the above two by pushing legislation that enforces behaviour in a way that complements the messages delivered and behavioural cues imparted in the above initiatives.

    Some of the legislation may be straightforward, such as ones related to:

    – primacy of English as a medium of instruction

    – incentives to improve savings rates and measures to force savings

    But then what I consider to be the essentials are real head-scratchers; how for example do we:

    – strengthen critical and lateral thinking faculties of the population (or the future generations);

    – improve Filipinos’ sense of aesthetics (at the very least so that we get out of the habit of trashing our surroundings, at best to get us in the habit of routinely beautifying it); or,

    – imbue a Total Quality (do it right the first time, see things through to completion, etc.) ethic?

    The devil is in the implementation and most certainly in its detail! 🙂

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