Three conversations


    ‘Look around you, at Philippines, my Philippines. Names and faces change at the top but everything about our society remains the same.’

    RECENTLY, we held the first phase of long term strategic planning at the office and the first day was a day of personal sharing. Each of us was asked to talk about ourselves and what motivates us, in an attempt to help every member of the management team know each other on a deeper level (such as what makes each one tick, what ticks each one off) so that we connect both on a professional as well as a personal plane.

    I thought of telling the group how a couple of stories have shaped who I am, three of which I will share here today.

    The first story is about the time when my father gathered us three boys together in one room. I don’t know what precipitated the “focus group discussion” but he had something serious to say. He said something to the effect that we should grow up to be law-abiding citizens because, should any one of us fall afoul of the law, neither he nor my mother had any influence on any one to be able to bail us out, and even if he did have such influence on anyone there was no way he was going to lift a finger to bail us out. We were to rot in jail, in effect.

    Again, I don’t know what precipitated this discussion; I suspect it was an issue around one of my mother’s rambunctious younger brothers, but I remember saying to myself “I guess I’ll need to make friends of my own.” I was a smart aleck early in life, in thought, words and deeds.

    The second conversation was again with my dad. He was telling us that there was nothing he or my mother could bequeath to us, except one: a good UP education. Again I don’t know what triggered this but I suspect it was my not delivering as good grades as my older and younger brothers were – though I may be wrong. My father’s point being while he could not provide us with truckloads of cash, he was betting that giving us the opportunity to face life with good academic training under our belts would be good enough as we charted our own courses in life. I don’t remember much more about the conversation but I suspect I must have been thinking that a good education plus some cash would have been better, yes?

    The third one – which actually didn’t even include me – was between my mother and her mother. We used to live in one compound in Cubao, and one day my grandmother’s help came knocking on our door to tell my mother that her mother wanted to speak to her. So off my mother went, not knowing that I was tailing behind her.

    What I heard I have never forgotten. “Josie,” my grandmother intoned, “Bakit mo pinababayaang sagutin ka ng mga anak mo?” It seems my grandmother must have heard one of us talk back to our mom, a no-no for a certain generation in this country.

    But it was my mother’s reply that I have etched in stone: “Mamá,” she said, “Hindi ko pinapag-aral sa UP ang mga anak ko para lang mag-oo sa lahat ng sasabihin ko.”

    For my mother it was not default State policy to agree with everything she said. She believed that we had brains and she was sending us to a good school to train that brain and she was expecting us to use our brains in deciding for ourselves what the right and wrong things were.

    Pondering these three stories, I was imagining how different life would be in the Philippines if the privileged were devoid of privileges as far as the law was concerned – whether you were privileged because of your wealth or even because of your abject poverty? How many stories have you heard of someone powerful using that power to escape accountability, or someone poor using that poverty to justify the violation of the law?

    In this set-up, it’s the law-abiding who gets handicapped.

    And how different would life be if we inculcated in as many young Filipinos as possible the desire to seek out the fields that interest them and where they can excel, and then to allow them to excel with the least constricting practices and traditions of generations past that may no longer be of as much value today?

    Unfortunately, today’s environment does not contribute much towards achieving the above.

    As a general rule it is accepted that society today has a different set of norms and rules for different segments of the population. You follow the law at your peril when everyone else seeks first to find a way around it or a loophole through it. And when society rewards networks and pull as much as it rewards basic merit then people will strive to build networks and develop strings to pull because it is not as tedious to do that as having to spend decades honing your craft to excel on your merits.
    And the result?

    Look around you, at Philippines, my Philippines. Names and faces change at the top but everything about our society remains the same.