In his dedication of Noli me Tangere to our country, Dr. Jose Rizal, wrote these moving words:
“In the catalogue of human ills there is to be found a cancer so malignant that the least touch inflames and causes agonizing pains; afflicted with such a cancer, a social cancer, has your dear image appeared to me, when, for my own heart’s ease or to compare you with others, I have sought, in the centers of modern civilization, to call you to mind.
“Now, desirous of your welfare, which is also ours, and seeking the best cure for your ills, I shall do with you what was done in ages past with the sick, who were exposed on the steps of the temple so that the worshippers, having invoked the god, should each propose a remedy.
“To this end, I shall endeavor to show your condition, faithfully and ruthlessly, I shall lift a corner of the veil which shrouds the disease sacrificing to the truth everything even self-love – for, as your son, your defects and weaknesses are also mine.”
Jose Rizal, Europe, 1886 (from Leon Ma. Guerrero’s translation)
Striking the head of Goliath
Rizal wrote these words and his novel 128 years ago, at the remarkably young age of 26.
The novel, Rizal told his friends, strikes “the head of that two-faced Goliath that in the Philippines is called friar rule and maladministration.”
Rizal wanted to open the eyes of his countrymen to their true condition, and those of the Spaniards to the errors and injustices committed in their name.
Today, we Filipinos face an analogous cancer in our society brought on by four years of maladministration by a president who is arguably the most inept we have ever known. The malignancy has to be exposed in the light so that our people can comprehend what has gone wrong with our country and why it is an ordeal to live in our country today.
A breakdown of order and values
The cancer is so advanced, that we can see it, smell it, feel it. All around us, large sections of the nation’s physical, political, and ethical infrastructure are sagging or crumbling down. From Malacañang to Congress, from corporate boardrooms to our streets, from schools and churches, from mass media to entertainment, there is a pervasive breakdown of order and values.
The Lipa declaration of religious and civic leaders last August 27 captured the mood of the times when it said:
“A crisis of unprecedented proportions has befallen our nation. The life of the nation is in grave peril from the very political forces that are primarily ordained to protect, promote and advance its well-being, but which are aggressively undermining its moral, religious, social, cultural, constitutional, and legal foundations.”
The situation is demoralizing because government is not fulfilling its very reason for being —to provide collective goods that individuals alone cannot produce—such as infrastructure like highways, airports and ports, public utilities and basic services, promoting peace and order and ensuring national security, providing social services such as the public school and public health systems, and managing the economy to promote high employment, foster economic growth, and thereby improve incomes and living standards.
In recent weeks, government failure is in our face every day. Crime has risen to unprecedented levels, and men in uniform are more and more involved in perpetrating crimes. Public transport has become a danger to those who use them. Traffic gridlocks are a daily nightmare for commuters. And now, the nation is threatened by a severe power crisis next year arising from lack of sound planning.
Searching for our moral bearings
While the decay of the physical and political infrastructure is indeed disturbing, we should be even more alarmed by the disappearance of ethics and public morality.
In the tsunami of stories of corruption, sleaze, scandal and hypocrisy, we are now a people searching for our moral bearings. Ethicists and religious leaders correctly diagnose this as a crisis in values. We are becoming numb to corruption in our public life. Instead of trusting our leaders, we are cynical about them—about Aquino most of all.
Rebuilding the ethical edifice
Many now feel the urgent need to start rebuilding the edifice of public ethics and morality. The work of the National Transformation Council could be “transformational.”
Its work will cut across churches, across classes and across sectors.
Congressional inquiry into the DAP, now taking place in the House of Representatives is proving to be encouraging. Abad is finally being put on the defensive. Facts are coming out. The disclosure of the bribes will humble those who are named.
The pressure being put on the Commission on Audit to audit where DAP funds went is laudable.
This is how ethical rebuilding can move forward. We have to work at recovering time-honored values that are part of our culture and tradition.
Filipinos are taught ethics at an early age. We learn at home and early in our schooling those values that we know as personal responsibility, honor, self-reliance, perseverance, industry, fellowship and patriotism.
The recovery of public ethics will grow with citizens’ demand for better leadership, leaders who are qualified and equal to the task, leaders with better credentials than just name recognition, leaders who can generate and sustain trust because of a consistent pattern of behavior.
From my readings on leadership, I have learned that among the key qualities of leaders are:
1. – leaders maintain loyalty and continuity.
2. – Leaders walk their talk. There is no gap between the values they profess and the ones they practice. Their morality is found in their behavior.
3. – leaders are there when it counts; they support their co-workers in the moments that matter.
4. – leaders honor their commitments and promises. They are ethical in their relationships.
The author John Gardner, in his book, , underscores the role of good leaders in rebuilding values and ethics in society:
“Leaders have a significant role to play in creating the state of mind that is the society. They can serve as symbols of the moral unity of the society. They can express the values that hold the society together.
Most important, they can conceive and articulate goals that lift people out of their petty preoccupations, carry them above the conflicts that tear a society apart, and unite them in pursuit of objectives worthy of their best efforts.”
The elections in 2016, by necessity, will be a search for leaders who can help rebuild the ethical edifice of our public life.