On Monday as I write this was the national day of prayer and solidarity. While this may have been an opportunity to demonstrate a national faith in divine power and while some of the unfortunate events of 2013 were indeed caused by extreme natural phenomena, most of the other unfortunate events were the result of human failure.
Despite the obvious church-going nature of Filipinos and the proclivity to believe that prayer will somehow solve problems, combined with a seemingly national fatalist view as espoused by the President himself—“Our unbreakable spirit and ability to recover find root in our firm belief in a benevolent God who has the perfect plan for all of us. These tragedies tell us that despite all our efforts, we are indeed powerless without God”—divine intervention should not be relied upon to solve the problems of the Philippines.
Too much reliance on prayer, faith and the hope of miracles underpinned by a good dose of fatalism can remove or lessen not only the requirement to take responsibility, but also the ability to actually address and overcome if possible the problems which are faced. Miracles rarely happen.
One of the problems of the Philippines is the flimsy moral code; Filipinos are prone to temptation—just look at the shoppers around the malls for example and the demand for the latest gizmos. Church-going and prayer are not substitutes for a moral code. A murderer can confess and be granted absolution. That does not make the murder morally correct. Was the use of the Malampaya royalties for disaster relief following Typhoon Ondoy in 2009 morally correct, albeit such fund utilization was technically and legally proscribed as Malampaya royalties were specifically to have been used for work in the energy sector?
Reliance on the Church and the law is an inadequate foundation for a society. There must also be an ethical and moral code, which transcends those other two important pillars and in the Philippines this comes from a tenuous link to the old tribal ways. Generally though in today’s society “If it is legal it is okay” is the prime criterion and is where it all goes wrong. This is the sort of approach taken by banks; they do their business by pushing the law to its limits without ever considering what may be morally right or wrong. Business, particularly in the Philippines is much the same, the Manila Electric Co. doesn’t really need to make the profits that they do in operating a public service. Is it right that people should be without electricity because its costs take such a high proportion of their income?
In the Philippines, there is no question that there are not enough opportunities for everybody to make a reasonable living, the State’s level of provision is derisory and living costs remorselessly increase. There is an acceptance of corruption. There is a widely held fatalistic view of things, which breeds an accepting sort of mentality “that’s the way things are, nothing I can do.” Perhaps it’s just the belief in the power of the powerful; the hacienderos and the politicians who everybody seems to think [not without justification!]can never be overcome whatever happens. Resorting to the law is unlikely to bring about much in the way of change, because there is a belief that judgments can be “fixed up,” so prayer [or becoming an overseas Filipino worker]is about all that is left.
There is a general mistrust fueled by the bureaucrats who need to keep their jobs where in many cases there aren’t real jobs, so many just seem to exist to make life difficult for everybody else by always demanding those pieces of paper which are difficult to find.
The problem with all this depressing sort of stuff is that the cycle just continues. The powerful take everything and people just accept pending a hoped for miracle, because they truly believe that there is nothing they can do, they feel themselves powerless. Their sense of right and wrong becomes corrupted.
The people need to be forcibly led down a straight path [“daang matuwid”]. To make the path straight is the challenge and it can only be straight if societal values change. Margaret Thatcher aside from being the great proponent government privatization [a mistake]was also a proponent of bringing back “Victorian Values” characterized by hard work, social responsibility, honest and fair dealing, and personal character building—”a sense of moral values and of the responsibility people owed to each other did seem to be pervasive” [during Victorian times].
In Margaret Thatcher’s world, given that Victorian values could indeed be reimposed on British society, then the excesses of her free market capitalism would be controlled by the “sense of responsibility that people owed to each other.” But just to be on the safe side regulators were also introduced, and the need for them has proved absolutely critical.
Here in the Philippines, we have government privatization and rampant free market capitalism unconstrained by effective regulators [the Energy Regulatory Commission for example], combined with a lack of this sense of moral values and societal requirement or expectation for people to be of good moral character. I can remember the time when in references for jobs, it was not unusual to comment on people’s character. The ability to swindle other people seems to be more of a relevant recommendation these days and as can be seen from the antics of the political leadership of the Philippines good moral character, and a strong sense of responsibility to one’s fellow men does not seem to be an important criterion for gaining positions of power.
While it is open to everybody to pray that this situation will not continue, it may be more practical and effective to actually start inculcating to young people a sense of moral values and of the responsibility people owe to each other, and clearly demonstrating this by those who have made it their business to become powerful.
Mike can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org