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The heart of the country

It’s fashionable, hip even, for some of us to say bad things about our country. “The basket case of Asia” and “land of chimini-a-a (housemaids)” are some of the kinder cuts. But Alexander L. Lacson, in his great little book called 12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country shows us a way out of this perverse mode.

Published by Alay Pinoy many years ago and constantly reprinted, the book begins with a thundering quote from the national hero, Lolo Pepe Rizal himself: “It is enough for good people to do nothing for evil people to succeed.” Ruben Tanseco SJ, of the Center for Family Ministries of the Ateneo de Manila University praises the book because its ideas are “concrete, practical and doable. . . . To love our country and our people with deep passion and compassion – this is what can make our nation great.”

What, then, are these 12 little things one can do for the country?

1. Follow traffic rules. Follow the law. I agree – this is one thing we should do. When I was taking driving lessons ages ago and my driving instructor told me to go through the red light because there was no traffic and no cop, I gave him a look that would have turned him to stone. Lacson says: “When you cut the lane or right of way of another driver, you show complete lack of respect for that other driver as well as those following the line. When you do it, you are selfish and unfair to those who came before you. Literally, you step on their toes.”

2. Whenever you buy or pay for anything, always ask for an official receipt. When I dine out and I don’t get any official receipt, I would berate the cashier for failing to do so. I would tell them that their excuse – “The BIR has not yet given them official receipts, etcetera” – was already wearing thin. Ask for receipts – these are proof of purchase, which also helps the government collect taxes from these establishments.

3. Do not buy smuggled goods. Buy local. Buy Filipino. Lacson notes that “around P140 billion in customs taxes are not collected by our government from smuggled goods, according to a study by the Center for Research and Communications. That’s 15.5 percent of our national budget for 2005. (Moreover,) when we buy an imported product, perhaps 50 percent of the price we pay for that product goes out of our country. This means that if 20 million out of the 84 million Filipinos buy imported products at P1,000 a piece every month, it is equivalent to P20 billion a month, of which P10 billion goes out of the country as payment to the manufacturers abroad. In a year, that’s P120 billion. That’s a lot of capital that goes out of the country.”

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All very true. So Lacson advocates that we buy Hapee toothpaste instead of the foreign brands, since it’s 100- percent Filipino and it is good. I buy my pink polo shirts and jeans at Folded & Hung or Penshoppe, steering clear of the expensive foreign brands. I also buy locally-made shampoo and conditioners. When Lacson was writing this book, he was visiting Seoul and Gyuanngi, South Korea, and was impressed by the people’s patriotism: they bought cell phones, laptops and cars that were made in their country. In the end, he suggests a 50-50 buying attitude for starters – 50 percent local and 50 percent imported.

4. When you talk to others, especially foreigners, speak positively of our race and our country. This section leads off with a quote from the great leader and military strategist, Napoleon Bonaparte: “Every time we open our mouths, we expose ourselves – our weakness or our strength.” I plead guilty to this offense. Sometimes, I crack jokes or tell amusing nega stories about our country to my foreign friends, just to surprise them. But I guess after they’ve been surprised, an ugly residue is left with them regarding our country, so never mind na lang. I remember distinctly my conversation with Effie, a housekeeper at Hawthornden Castle in Scotland in 1993. She told me, “Scotland is a wee (small) country, but it’s pretty.” My jaw fell. I’ve never heard a fellow Filipino call our country beautiful when, in fact, hands down, it is, with its luxuriant physical beauty.

Notes Lacson: “We are a race of honest, decent, God-fearing people like Nestor Suplico, the Filipino taxi driver in New York who, on July 17, 2004, drove 43 miles from New York City to Connecticut to return the US$80,000 worth of rare, black pearls to his passenger who forgot it at the back seat of his taxi. Nestor even refused to be paid a reward. He just wanted to be reimbursed for his taxi fuel for his travel to Connecticut. At the time, he was just earning $80 a day as a taxi driver.”

Moreover, Lacson cites Manny Pangilinan of First Pacific of Hong Kong and PLDT, Tony Tan Caktiong of Jollibee, Diosdado Banatao of Tallwood Venture Capital of Silicon Valley, UP Professor Caesar Saloma who is a 2004 Galileo Galeli Awardee for his laser microscopic studies, Pablo Planas who invented Khaos, a fuel and pollution-reducing gadget, and Dr. Josette Biyo, who left university teaching and taught in a public high school outside Manila earning less than P15,000 a month because, “who will teach the children?” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in honoring her, named a small and newly discovered planet in our galaxy as “Planet Biyo.”

5. Respect your traffic officer, policeman, soldier and other public servants. True, some of them are the scum of the earth – potbellied, with fat and oily faces. But more of them are the real thing: quiet, hardworking, even if they get penurious wages. Lacson advocates the power of respect, since “it makes one feel honorable. At the same time, courtesy to others is good manners. It is etiquette. It is class and elegance. It is also kindest. It is seeing the value and dignity in the other person. It is, in fact, a mark of most profound education.”

I want to stop here and continue next time with the other little things we can do for our country.

Email: danton.lodestar@gmail.com


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