Instilling some necessary discipline


Similar to Italy, the Philippines has a mind-boggling array of laws and regulations, many of which people don’t pay the least attention to. It’s an endearing sort of characteristic in many ways.

There is much talk of the Filipinos needing “discipline.” In Makati, you are forcibly prevented by the barriers along the sidewalks from crossing the street where it suits you.

In Davao, a much worse fate may befall you if you transgress the rules—you could get shot. An iron fist is what Filipinos need, they say.

The way of addressing the lack of discipline issue has historically been to just spew out endless laws and regulations with the most draconian criminal penalties, which nobody really enforces. There are so many criminal acts that can result in jail time, even libel, which really has little to do with the public interest.

These endless, fearsome regulations are, however, a powerful tool for those inclined to a bit of extortion. Who wouldn’t pay a few hundred pesos in order to avoid the possibility of arrest and being thrown into a dodgy legal system for some trivial offence? But that, of course, would be yet another offence, a corrupt act.

To seek to instil public discipline through endless laws and regulations which just play into the hands of corrupt enforcers, or government officials who have the power to stop things from happening if they feel like it, is not an effective method. In fact, it seems very counterproductive. The penalty is frequently out of all proportion to the transgression.

But there is a need for discipline of some sort. Nowhere more than on the road, for example. It’s not just the drivers who need disciplining; it’s the pedestrians who just walk out into the road frequently with babes in arms and small children, holding up their hands to stop the traffic, or those who demand that jeepneys stop at the exact point they want to be in order to avoid having to walk 10 meters. Buses stop as we all know, occupying four and five lanes in their desperation to catch passengers in order to fulfil their boundary requirements. The traffic is a big mess, in fact according to some surveys, the traffic in Metro Manila is now the worst in the world.

So how to instil public discipline when mountains of regulations with draconian penalties, which are generally not enforced, are often counterproductive and just encourage corruption? You can physically restrain them and give them no option but to behave in a publicly responsible way like the pedestrian barriers in Makati, and of course you can terrorise people by the imposition of on-the-spot extra-judicial penalties—even including getting shot if you are thought to be guilty of a serious misdeed. But you really shouldn’t go around shooting people just because you think they have done something wrong. That’s not very good for the country’s international reputation apart from anything else!

Putting citizens at the risk of dire penalties for relatively minor misdeeds not only terrorizes, it also encourages corruption. The dire penalties can range from having some critical governmental approval necessary to make some contribution to the economy and job creation withheld, all the way to being shot out of hand [in which case, there is little chance of being able to buy your way out of the problem!].

It seems that, however, many laws and regulations are enacted that in themselves they do not bring about a level of discipline necessary to support a robust nationhood. The legal system is unreliable and so clogged up with cases that its functionality must be in doubt, but that is not to excuse extra-judicial actions by government.

The long-term solution must lie in education, and if there is simply no time to have a wholesale review of the laws and regulations, then at least, in making the legal and governance system more efficient, and above all, giving it enough good quality and objective resources to be pragmatic, with pragmatism being something sorely lacking in the regulatory arena.

Education should major on civic responsibility; think about the other person, not just yourself—there must be more to pakikisama than is sometimes obvious, particularly on the roads of Metro Manila!

Civic responsibility requires positive propaganda. Littering, or driving habits and public sanitation are examples of things that have been enormously improved by TV advertising campaigns in Europe and North America, even in Singapore and Hong Kong. Get people to understand and accept, and chances are, they will conform without the need for terrorism, on paper or by the gun.

Mike can be contacted at


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1 Comment

  1. Not sure if you’re fishing for Duterte followers, here, Mike. Which makes me wonder if getting shot for smoking in Davao actually happens. Or 1700 criminals executed. Like they say, pics or it didn’t happen. But anyway…
    Yes, drafting additional regulations is a kneejerk reaction to poorly-enforced laws. Infuriating, but then again, what’s a legislator to do? All they can do is legislate. The problem is with the departments tasked with enforcing said laws. Again, we go back to the problem of lack of political will, whether with the department head or the one in charge of the hiring and firing said department heads.
    This is why I would rather Duterte be DILG Secretary than President. The position is more for his hands-on two-fisted (literally) management style, yet he is kept in check by a (presumably) strong President.