Alfred A. Araya Jr.
Filipinos have certain characteristics that make them Filipinos.
How do you call a Filipino abroad? You say, “Sssst,” and the Filipino in the crowd responds. Filipinos, it is said, also cannot resist buying items on sale even if they don’t really need them; use outlines of feet drawn on paper for buying shoes for friends, like everything imported, and take more time having wedding pictures taken than for the wedding itself.
When the foibles of Filipinos are pointed out, Filipinos laugh at themselves and say, “Yes, that’s us. Why? Pinoy kasi (Because it’s Fililpino),” observed Fr. Albert Alejo, SJ, at a July 7th book launch held at the Ateneo de Manila University, as the audience, noting the truth in it, broke into knowing chuckles and outright laughter.
Just as easily as the giggles started, however, they quickly died down when Fr. Alejo continued, “You also know you are a Filipino if your roads are like moon holes. You know you’re a Filipino if there are more patients than beds in public hospitals, and in state-run schools, students share one old textbook. If you’re being solicited for a bribe, and you don’t relent, you’re told, ‘Para ka namang hindi Pinoy (It’s as if you’re not Filipino)’.”
Amid these common observations, Filipinos tend to simply shrug their shoulders and say, “Pinoy kasi (Because we’re Filipino),” he said. From there, Fr. Alejo asked the audience composed of representatives from academe, civil society, government, and business: “Is this really the best type of being human that we can be? Are you sure this is the best way of being a Filipino?”
Alejo’s opening remarks on how corruption has become a way of life for most Filipinos, and the pressing need to do something about it, kicked off the launch of a new book, “Ehem! A Manual for Deepening Involvement in Combating Corruption.”
The concept of “ehem,” according to the manual, “is a gentle but powerful hum to caution and make one’s presence known, which brings forth some sense of embarrassment among those who will commit corruption.” According to Alejo, it is a subtle but effective signal that reminds people to be vigilant and mindful of one another’s roles and actions to counteract corruption.
The manual, published by the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus’ Committee for the Evangelization of Culture is a follow-up effort to the committee’s research on corruption in the country, “Cross-Sectoral Study of Corruption in the Philippines,” that was launched last year, also at the Ateneo campus.
The launch was organized by the Ateneo Center for Social Policy and Public Affairs (ACSPPA), the social research and advocacy arm of the Ateneo, the Institute of Church and Social Issues (ICSI), the social and research advocacy arm of the Jesuits, and the Transparency and Accountability Network (TAN),a group of NGOs and academic institutions that work together for programs to combat corruption.
Experiencing, analyzing, reflecting
The Ehem! manual, says Fr. Alejo, who oversaw its production, “offers a series of exercises to make people more intensely experience, analyze and reflect on the gravity of corruption in Philippine society, leading to a deep commitment in combating corruption at the individual, group and institutional levels”.
In other words, the manual is not so much at working on corruption involving government, but rather “on the other side of things—our side,” observed Fr. Jose Magadia, SJ, ACSPPA executive director.
He noted that many anti-corruption activities are concentrated on checking government and monitoring power holders, whether it means developing whistle-blowers, conducting lifestyle checks or investigative reports. This manual is more geared toward changing the mindsets of ordinary people, who appear to have become tolerant, if not downright supportive, of corruption.
“It is meant to work on our side of the equation: the lower side, the community, the grassroots, the citizenry—you and I,” Magadia said.
Useful for civic anti-corruption initiatives
The manual will thus be useful for civic anti-corruption initiatives in schools, government offices, parishes, religious organizations, professional associations, business chambers, social development agencies, cause-oriented and political groups, non-government organizations, cooperatives, people’s organizations, and sectoral and community-based movements.
Apart from lectures and workshop modules, the manual also offers prayers and passages on anti-corruption from the Holy Bible and the Holy Qur’an. It even has songs, poems, and caricatures that deal with combating corruption on a cultural level.
The manual also contains a comprehensive dictionary of terms and concepts of corruption, a list of anti-corruption laws and polices in the country, and a directory of government offices, groups and organizations combating corruption. It also has answers to frequently-asked questions about corruption, and recommendations for reducing corruption and modules designed for two to three days of workshop, said Fr. Alejo, who is also executive director of the Mindanaoan Institute of Cultural Dialogue, and Office of Research and Publication in the Ateneo de Davao University.
Part of the kit are posters, one of which reads, “Corruption is a crime against the poor”, along with a list of recommended films and case studies.
Experience, analysis, action
The manual follows a framework that lets participants in the workshop “feel intensely” what corruption is, and how they are vulnerable to its many forms. The framework begins with experience, then deepens into analysis, leading into action, Alejo said adding that participants “don’t just point their accusing finger at other people”.
In “experience,” the participants are led to tell stories of their own victimization as well as their participation in corruption. In “analysis”, they are led to examine the historical political process of corruption from the Spanish period, to the American period, and then the Martial-Law era. In this stage, participants also learn the different roles played by different people in a corruption situation—who is the mastermind/instigator, who is the willing collaborator, and who are the victims.
In “action”, participants look back at these experiences and analyses, and are made to reflect on how these interplay with their moral principles, the highest Filipino values, the laws of the land, and the Christian religious principles and passages from the Muslim’s Holy Qur’an.
Coming up with ‘do-ables’
“Participants are led to come up with possible ‘do-ables’: ‘I-doable,’ ‘You-doable,’ and ‘We-doable’,” added Fr. Alejo, who wrote “Tao Po, Tuloy: Isang Landas ng Pag-unawa sa Loob ng Tao” that won the National Book Award for the Social Sciences from the Manila Critics Circle.
Fr. Magadia told the audience that the organizers “(brought) you here because we know that it is you who get in contact with people whom we have to begin changing, especially our young”.
The end goal is to make people realize they have to become intolerant of corruption. “We must learn to be more intolerant, because we have become more tolerant…more accepting of the way things are because they are [already] that way,” Fr. Magadia said.
It is said that Filipinos have a high threshold for pain and suffering, a high tolerance for corruption and a short forgiving memory when it comes to history, Fr. Alejo said adding his observation that the general response to the anti-corruption movement is cynicism: “It’s all over the place, it’s culture already, it’s second nature, we cannot do anything about it.”
But “we can do something,” said the priest as he implored the audience, “Let’s just start doing something.”