National unity, mediocrity and corruption
THE PLAYER - Enrique Y. Gonzalez () - January 24, 2011 - 12:00am

My weekends are precious to me. I work 16-hour days Monday to Friday, so I aim to kick back and relax the moment Saturday rolls in. The activity menu consists of mainly me vegging out at home and catching up with all the mindless action movies that my fiancée can’t stand. 

So, you can understand that sometimes you should take those surprising curveballs as they come. I plied myself off my couch and attended a Philippine STAR event co-sponsored by National Bookstore with F. Sionil Jose discussing how relevant are Filipino writers today.

For those of you who don’t know F. Sionil Jose, he is a multi-awarded (including a Magsaysay Award) author and has published a plethora of well-read books some of which have been translated into 28 different languages. His common themes revolve around class struggles, plutocracy, colonialism and the weakened mental persuasions of our countrymen. He is modestly described as provocative and I was sparked by his astute way of thinking.

I thought to myself as I listened to him speak, “He is saying what everyone is thinking but are too chicken to spell it out.”

He would make a poor diplomat but he is an excellent writer and social commentator. I think I found a little bit of a hero for myself last weekend.

F. Sionil Jose opened up the forum with his State of the Nation Address (SONA). To everyone’s surprise/shock/chagrin (wise to keep all levels of reaction for such a textured discussion), this ended up being a no-holds-barred session on what is wrong with our country, its leaders and, of course, the political system. There was emphasis on the mediocrity of our institutions and people that I found both relatable and sensational. It was so painfully honest, that it ended up being funny at least for the enlightened masochists in the audience.

His talk basically imparted the following message (I thought I would summarize this for the benefit of readers):

The Philippines is being left behind due to our lack of national unity. My cousin Bianca Locsin asked a question during the panel discussion on why Filipino writers have not been as recognized as other writers in our neighboring countries. In a nutshell, you can say we lack a genuine national identity. This is not to put us down but we have been exposed to so many cultures we scrounge to find a voice or dream that is all ours. In today’s permissive times, we encourage mediocrity through our media. The TV shows and banal choices in local cinema seem not to only cater but also encourage a very minimal way of thinking. Game shows that exploit the dreams of the poor and soap operas that instill romantic but toxic values to our viewing populace.

Corruption has also been sadly institutionalized. The country is a tragic kingdom. This is one of the primary reasons why our neighbors such as Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia have easily overtaken us. They still use the fruits and gifts of their countries for their growth. We, on the other hand, now export our rice when once upon a time, we were one of the strongest agricultural countries.

The man is 86 years old. He saw the Philippines when it was $1 to P 2. We had the first flagship airline in Asia and Filipinos were second to only Japan in terms of development. He saw the Philippines at its peak, and as he sadly remarks, “It’s been downhill from there.”

How can we gain traction? Let’s find the solutions through sifting through our problems.

Problem #1: No national unity

This is an unfortunate byproduct of being colonized by three colonial forces (Spanish, Japanese and Americans). This wash, rinse and repeat motion flushed away any remnants of a common indigenous culture. We were broken and remade in whatever form suited the motives of our colonizers. While there have been benefits (English speaking & literate population, US-based accounting and legal system have benefited our BPO industry), there have clearly been downsides.

Like in a corporate setting, a common culture represents a common set of values that serve as a framework to direct people’s aspirations and desires. In the traditional sense, this structures society into a homogenous set. Modern cultures provide for sufficient flexibility to promote individuality. This congress of sorts encourages to drive people forward towards the same direction. It is to aspire for the same heroes and archetypes. The culture serves to support the institutions you build on top of it.

We cannot rewind the clock. We cannot erase the past. We must recognize this fact to embrace and shape our future. I think there must be an effort at a national educational level to teach and instill a common set of values among the youth.

In Korea, all students are required to learn tae kwon do (their national sport). Koreans as a result are one of the most unified people in the world. There is clearly a cause and effect here.

Problem #2: We promote mediocrity

As the saying goes, you are what you eat. Garbage in = garbage out. Content is food for the mind and soul. We seem to have a fascination for sensationalized news, gossip, scandals, and entertainment that promote mediocrity.

Writers play an especially important role here. Through their work, writers can promote an ideal. They can awaken the higher consciousness and intelligence that exists in each one of us. We may have lost our national identity, but through our writers we can still find the soul of our nation.

Problem #3: Corruption is institutionalized

The great irony here is we are in a country of Catholics and God-fearing people, yet we rank as one of the worst nations in terms of corruption. One has to measure the degree and severity of corruption, and how deeply embedded it is in the system.

Many years ago I had the task of cleaning out a company riddled with corrupt practices where managers and employees were making money on the side. The solution was unfortunately wholesale change of management, department heads, and personnel involved in the scheme. It is much easier to do this in an 80-person company, much more daunting to do this in an organization that employs close to two million people.

I’d like to think though that nothing is impossible and that the next generation of leaders and bureaucrats will, over time, be able to instill a cleaner and more responsible mindset in our government and not foster the damp and mossy side of the recent past.

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