This is from the graduation speech of a Grade 7 student on our country’s situation:
“To me, the moral crisis in the world today is more alarming… armed conflicts among nations and within nations, the spread of terrorism, assassinations, drug addiction and lack of respect for human life.
“Our country also faces a moral crisis of its own. We too have to reorient our values if we are to move ahead as a nation… I believe that:
- We have to relearn the true meaning of democracy and the institutions that characterize and guarantee democracy;
- We have to recognize and respect human rights;
- We have to distinguish between the truth and what appears to be the truth and accept only the truth;
- We have to strengthen and reinforce our concepts of integrity and honesty, and practice them consistently even in a nonconducive environment…
“Lastly, because we, the young people, inevitably learn our values from our elders and leaders, I think it is very important that they teach us and lead us, not only by words but also by example.”
If you think that speech is a fair description of what is happening in our country today, it was actually delivered in 1982. Yes, 1982, during the dark days of the Marcos dictatorship. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
We have come full circle, but perhaps in a more insidious way, since we are still supposed to be in a democracy, one we had reclaimed many years ago, and not under authoritarian rule.
During the tumultuous years following the death of Ninoy Aquino in 1983, I wrote an article, “Values: Cornerstones of a Society’s Destiny.” I focused on the values of integrity and justice, my thesis being that a nation’s predominant values determine not only its character but also its destiny.
Although it was an obvious dig at the dictatorial regime, which I held responsible for the deterioration of these foundational values due to its institutionalized corruption and its endemic disregard for human rights, I made the article as positive as I could and dared to submit it to the “approved” largest circulation newspaper at that time.
Surprisingly, the newspaper’s editor, whom I didn’t know, published my very long article over two consecutive days.
Because of the mounting protests against the government, in which I was an active participant, I was prepared for negative official reaction. But what I received instead were supportive and encouraging calls and letters from friends and strangers from all over. Even my daughter, who was then in college, reported to me that my article was posted on her school’s main bulletin board for the students to read.
A few days later, as head of my ad agency, I was invited by my biggest client, a top US multinational, to the firm’s annual managers’ meeting in a Makati hotel. As I entered the ballroom with the CEO, a distinguished-looking American gentleman, we were met with a standing ovation and nonstop applause.
Impressed, I told the CEO, “Alex, your people must really love you!”
To my great surprise, he said, “Gil, their applause is not at all for me. It’s for you. Many people have read your article. They appreciate what you wrote, because you spoke for them.”
Because of that incident, and other experiences that followed, I have come to believe that many Filipinos do care about espousing strong positive values, because they know these values greatly influence where their society is headed.
For example, when democracy was restored in our country, our advertising industry voluntarily embarked on a massive media campaign promoting nation-building values, collectively and through individual companies’ initiatives, to get the Philippines back on track after many years of disastrous authoritarian rule.
Today, some of our core values and the institutions that protect and promote them are again under siege. Without going into the well-documented details, people are now concerned about:
- “The culture of impunity”—illegal or unethical actions taken without fear of punishment or retribution.
- “The culture of death and violence”—the apparent short-cut solution to actual or perceived criminality, resulting in thousands of lives lost, many of whom are alleged drug pushers and users, but also including priests, local politicians, journalists and innocent civilians.
- “The culture of vulgarity and uncivility”—we have come to expect, and at times accept or merely shrug off, vulgar language, cursing and insults against respected personalities and institutions coming from the very top, and ridiculously justified or explained away by the state’s apologists. Lately, even God has not been spared. Hopefully, our people, specially the young, will not accept this as the “new normal.”
If I were to try to put all these under one label, I would say that the fundamental value under attack today is the value of respect, and this encompasses:
- Respect for precious human life;
- Respect for human rights and due process;
- Respect for the dignity and reputation of people, of high or low station in life;
- Respect for institutions, specially those created for the benefit of humanity in general, and of Filipinos in particular;
- Respect for God, as worshipped in various religions, and even in the personal versions of individuals.
Throughout history, the value of respect for others is best expressed in the universal Golden Rule, taught by every enlightened world religion and philosophy. Here’s one version:
“To do unto all men, as you wish to have done unto you, and to reject for others what you would reject for yourself.” —Muhammad (c. 570-632 C.E.) —CONTRIBUTED