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Broken system not damaged culture

When Filipino social scientists or intellectuals talk about the negative behavior and habits of Filipinos, they will ultimately use the term “Damaged Culture” to summarize their conclusion that our situation is hopeless.

The beauty of shoveling manure in a pigsty is that the stench and the stark reality of pig poop tends to put an end to pessimism and negative thought. The environment tends to make your mind amenable to positive thoughts.

Perhaps that’s why, the story of the Prodigal Son highlighted his eureka moment inside the pig pen just as I did.

Last weekend, the hot topic was about our laws and jail terms as a result of the conviction of Congressman Ronald Singson to an 18-month jail term in Hong Kong. The general comment was “he got off easy” while some were “glad” that it happened in Hong Kong because they have a Justice system that works.

The idea of appropriate punishment is of course, relative.

To the Jailer who takes custody of the convict, the sentence must be aimed at reforming the prisoner because the longer the term the greater the burden to the jailer and the state. In addition, prolonged exposure to a “negative” environment guarantees that the prisoner becomes like those around him. Remember the “Stockholm syndrome” and the theories on survival of the fittest.

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For the judge, the sentence must be based on the provisions of law. Society on the other hand wants the punishment as a means of being rid or removing the threat to society. The victim understandably wants both justice as well as revenge.

We of course generally don’t care about the convict’s opinion because we tend to think he deserves it. Unfortunately, most of us have never been behind bars or had a relative either detained or imprisoned justly or unjustly.

Reflecting on most of the negative comments about our laws and our culture while cleaning a pig pen, I surmised that it is erroneous to say that the Philippines has a “damaged culture”. What we do have is a “Broken System”.

For instance, how did Ronald Singson go through NAIA Customs and security system without being caught in possession of cocaine? Simple: because the system is broken. How did he come by the drugs? Because we have a broken system. Why did he even dare use and bring drugs, because he was as “broken” as our system.

Filipinos will obey the law when the law is enforced and done so equitably. Filipinos conform to social or cultural norms when the community practices, requires, and expects us to do so. In good or bad, we generally conform.

The best argument against the assumption of a “damaged culture” would be the fact that when placed in “areas of discipline” such as a foreign country, In Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, Davao City, The Fort or exclusive villages in Makati where they enforce discipline, Filipinos behave.

Rather than surrender or take the easy way out by declaring ourselves as “damaged goods”, what needs to be done is to address the “broken system” starting with our laws, many of which are bizarre or draconian.

Our laws make it just as hard for law enforcers to enforce the law and arrests, as much as it makes it difficult for citizens to defend themselves.

While many countries have learned to make a difference between hardcore criminals and simple offenders, our laws are still written in the language and spirit of severity and complexity because they were written or crafted by lawyers whom you go to for translation or defense.

Today in the Philippines, most traffic accidents start under “Reckless imprudence resulting in…” Immediately you are accused of willfully being reckless and imprudent even if the incident is or was an “accident”.

Time and again, people have been charged with “possession of a deadly weapon” because they had a “bolo” or a “large knife” both of which remains to be a tool or a farming implement.

You get a flat tire and immediately they slap you with “obstruction”.

You use a figure of speech or editorial license and you end up guilty of Libel and sentenced to two years in prison or more!

While the nations we copied our laws from have learned to rewrite the laws, we insist on carrying on with their mistake. In Australia and some parts of America and Europe, they will charge you with a misdemeanor or fine you for minor vehicular accidents or for possession of a limited quantity of drugs.

The philosophy is that if you want to teach people a lesson, do it by hurting their pockets or their wallets. That is how Singapore earned the title a “Fine” city-state. They fine you for every violation.

Instead of conducting investigations in aid of legislation, it is time for members of the Senate and Congress to investigate their own products and the system they have entrusted to implement those products or those laws.

Before writing this article I asked Senator Chiz Escudero to kindly read the short column in the hope that he as chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice might be able to spearhead a serious review of our laws, the establishment of a system based more on “fines” rather than imprisonment, as well as a review of how law enforcers conduct the “legal” part of their jobs in terms of filing reports with fiscals, warrants of arrests that never get served, cases that are passed on or abandoned by them.

Considering the depth and impact of such an overhaul, Senator Escudero would no doubt, fully appreciate the great injustice our “broken system” is doing to our people and our nation. Let us prove that we are not a damaged culture by helping to fix the broken system.

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