Thursday, June 3, 2004

The Noy-pi redux

I was with some friends last Saturday, leisurely driving toward C-5. A car with government plates was ahead of us. When traffic slowed down, the car’s driver tossed an empty plastic cup outside the window. We took note of the car’s plate number and model and the time and place. (SEK214, black Excel Hyundai, Katipunan corner Santolan Road, around 11:15 a.m.)

So why do many Filipinos think the road is their trash can? Why do many Filipino males urinate wherever they please? Why is it that where precisely it says, ``Bawal Omehi Deto’’ (sic), it stinks? (Think of the many versions and spellings of that warning.) And where ``Huwag Tapon Basura Dito, Fine P50, By Order’’ is scrawled, a garbage mound arises?

Are Filipino drivers color blind that while the traffic light remains red, many zoom past it? Why do commuters wait for their ride in the middle of the road and not on the sidewalk? Is it coincidental that many employees in some government offices come from the same family tree, town or barrio?

And why is it that despite the extent of poverty in the Philippines, the suicide rate is low compared to that of economic giants? How could a tragic event, such as Ninoy Aquino’s assassination, unleash so many jokes and so much laughter--directed at his killers, of course--from grieving millions? Why do we spend so much for fiestas then fast the rest of the year? How do we make do with so little? Why do Filipinos generally do well in foreign countries?

Why are we always smiling? And gosh, what are we smiling about?

And what’s wrong with us? Is it cultural, structural, moral, spiritual? What is the problem? Is it the home, the church, the school, the state, the weather, the food and water? Is it our genes?

Much is being made of the Presidential Commission on Values Formation that was recently set up. Is it the answer? Will this work in prodding us to economic progress and, uh, eternal happiness? Will this increase our Filipino pride and self-respect? Already, not everybody agrees on the same thing concerning this new commission.

Remember the government’s Moral Recovery Program more than 10 years ago? Two senate committees--on Social Justice, Welfare and Development and on Education, Arts and Culture--commissioned a study of the strengths and weaknesses of the Filipino character ``with a view to solving the social ills and strengthening the nation’s moral fiber.’’

I dug up the magazine piece I wrote on this years ago, with Jess Abrera’s cartoons spicing up the article (``What’s Wrong/ What’s Right about the Noy-Pi?’’ Sunday Inquirer Magazine, Oct. 2, 1988). I had a good laugh. Reading it again, I thought, we have been at this (the values thing) for more than a decade. If the disgusting comportment of our lawmakers in the canvassing of votes that is going on right now is any indication, then we have not moved forward in the values department, we have regressed. It also says a lot about those who elected them.

To remind, the 1988 study tapped experts in the fields of psychiatry, psychology, sociology and other social sciences, that is, the shrinks and the behavior modifiers, to figure out the Pinoy. Social psychologist Dr. Patricia Licuanan, then Ateneo vice president, headed the project. Nine task forces, composed of big names from different disciplines buckled down to work. The result of the study were based on interviews and a nationwide survey. This involved some 2,000 respondents.

According to the study (``A Moral Recovery Program: Building a People, Building a Nation’’) the strengths of the Filipino could be classified under these categories: Pakikipagkapwa-tao, family orientation, joy and humor, flexibility, adaptability and creativity, hard work and industry, faith and religiosity, ability to survive.

The Filipino’s weaknesses are a drama in themselves: Extreme personalism, extreme family centeredness, lack of discipline, passivity and lack of initiative, colonial mentality, kanya-kanya syndrome, lack of self-analysis and self-reflection.

Project director Licuanan said then that her group shifted through a lot of data and had to fight their academic instincts when they put the results together. They wanted to come across as simply as possible. They could have come up with an endless list of traits with fancy and technical names, but they chose to limit themselves to a few major ones under which other traits could be classified.

Critics could have reason to harp that the study dwelt mainly on the cultural factors rather than on the structural. Licuanan explained that they were not denying the structural factors. In fact, they started with the premise that we have structural defects, that we cannot wait for that comprehensive revolution to happen before we do anything about ourselves. We have to start somewhere.

The roots of the Filipino character as identified and classified may trigger not only much debate but also reflection. These roots, as identified by the study, are: family and environment, social environment, culture and language, colonial history, the educational system, religion, the economic environment, the political environment, mass media, leadership and role models.

There had been proposals of strategies for change, among them, the development of ``a national ideology that can summon all our resources into the task of lifting national pride and productivity.’’
Licuanan and her group had proposed teaching modules for the long term. She said then that she would rather not entrust the task of moral recovery and its implementation to a single institution. Well, yes, otherwise it would look like brainwashing.