Hope for Our Country in 12 Little Things

imageI have always been skeptical about self-help books that tend to generalize and over-simplify problems or the solutions to problems. Life has taught me that things are not always as they seem…I have always been skeptical about self-help books that tend to generalize and over-simplify problems or the solutions to problems. Life has taught me that things are not always as they seem… and that a lot of well-meaning advice meted out by popular gurus in overrated self-help books often hit the nail way off of its head. Not a few books offer “simple” steps to success that turn out to be far from simple and a real pain on one’s intellect. On some rare occasions, though, I do stumble upon a gem and my inner skepticism is challenged. Such was the case with a very small book with an even “smaller” title written by Alexander L. Lacson: 12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country.

The title sounds simple enough; too simple, in fact, that it took me a few weeks to decide if it was worth reading at all. Common sense and a deeply instilled desire to do the right thing won over my well-guarded resistance. This tiny book was also given by an acquaintance to my husband with the sincere intention of “spreading the word”, and I was not about to be the hindrance to anyone’s noble intentions for the country.

It is often said that we get the country we deserve. Whether we believe that our country is ailing or in robust health does not belie the fact that we, the Filipinos, make our country what it is today. A nation in constant anarchy eventually dies; whereas a country united by its people’s determined purpose keeps the nation’s heart and pulse beating. I did not fully realize how much I cared about our country until I read the first few chapters of the book. The first two points echoed my deep-seated sentiments and reassured me that I was not a lone crusader.

Lacson began his 12 little things with this: Follow traffic rules. Follow the Law. This is one thing we all can do right away without having to spend any money. Understandably, this willbe more difficult for errant drivers and stubborn pedestrians than it will be for those of us who stop on a red light on an empty highway in the wee hours of the morning. Apparently, it is more difficult to unlearn a habit than it is to learn a new one – but not impossible. Imagine how EDSA would look with all the buses staying within their yellow lanes and not swerving their long steel frames diagonally across three lanes! That alone would ease the traffic situation dramatically and calm the frayed nerves of us hapless drivers.

The bottom line is that following traffic rules and the laws of our land reflect our respect, or lack of it, for our country and for each other. We can, as individuals, begin this discipline by stopping on a red light, using the pedestrian lanes and overpasses, using our car horns and high beams only when necessary, staying on the slow lane when we are not in a rush and curbing our seemingly innate desire to cut on someone else’s lane. According to Lacson, “This simple act of following rules can go a long, long way in our march towards the kind of society we dream for ourselves and our children.” I could not agree more.

His second little thing is this: Whenever you buy or pay for anything, always ask for an official receipt. This may sound a bit simplistic, but its impact on our nation is enormous. In this second chapter, Lacson went on to illustrate how taxes from unclaimed receipts, reflected on each official receipt as a ten percent value-added tax (VAT), accumulate and add up to billions of pesos worth of un-remitted taxes to the government. To simplify it further, imagine ten thousand motorists not claiming receipts for their mall parking fees worth forty pesos per vehicleper day. In one day, those unclaimed receipts will amount to four hundred thousand pesos of undeclared and un-remitted taxes! And that is just for one mall on any given day! We, as a people, need to be vigilant in demanding for a receipt every time we pay for anything. We do a disservice to our country whenever we don’t. Just do the math.

There is another little thing I feel strongly about and which Lacson mentioned in his sixth chapter: Do not litter. Dispose your garbage properly. Segregate. Recycle. Conserve. I wish I could say that this is simple but it’s not. I only recently discovered, to my detriment, that a significantly large part of our society does not support this movement. My husband and I live in a relatively progressive community that promotes, as one of its programs, the collection of recyclable junk. The reality, however, is that our village relies on outsourced trash collectorswho, like most small roadside business operators, think small. They seldom show up on schedule, are very choosy about the junk they collect, and pay very little for them. These hold true for all the junk shop operators within a two-mile stretch of our village. My house is now filled with mounds of uncollected and undesirable segregated trash.

It is this small-mindedness more than anything else that promotes this utter lack of concern for our environment. But then again, maybe it is the other way around. We need to start looking at the bigger picture and understanding the negative impact of our irresponsible waste disposal on our country. Lacson cited in this same chapter that the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) acknowledged that garbage is one of the major problems in Metro Manila today. We only need to look outside our windows to be reminded of this tragic reality.

Throwing our trash in their proper disposal units is another reflection of how much we value and respect our country and our people. Lacson reiterated that this does not cost us any money (again) but requires a conscious and deliberate effort to do the right thing. Have you ever followed an expensive car on the road and see trash flying out of its rolled-down power window? It takes discipline and a whole lot of courtesy to hold on to that piece of trash until you get to your destination – a trash bin. I have always believed that one person, regardless of status in life,can make a difference; just as one piece of carelessly discarded plastic can make a difference.We have a choice, and I pray we choose well

Lacson continued to enumerate the other little things we can do to help our country such as buying locally manufactured goods, speaking positively about our country and people to others, respecting our law officers, supporting our church, doing our duty as voters, paying our employees well, paying our taxes, adopting a scholar or poor child and being a good parent.Most of these are things we can already do right this minute which is why if every Filipinowould just start doing one or two of them, our country will already be a better place.

There were a few points Lacson raised that do require more introspection than the others. For example, while I strongly oppose buying smuggled goods and do believe in supporting our local industry, our “pwede na” (make do) mentality, not to mention greed and the desire to earn more for less, prompt many of us buyers and consumers to look for quality, though not necessarily expensive, merchandise elsewhere. The proliferation of “ukay-ukay” (dig andrummage) outlets, pirated items and imitation brands does not bode well for our local industry. It will take a concerted effort from the manufacturers, vendors and consumers to catapult our local industry to new and greater heights.

Another point Lacson raised that demanded more serious thought was his statement,“They (referring to traffic and law enforcers in the fifth chapter) are what they are because of what we are. They are who they are because of who we are.” While I agree with him that our actions toward others usually beget similar reactions, I still firmly believe that our attitude, words and actions are our responsibility. We cannot, and should not, expect others to be nice to us first so that we will be nice to them in return. Our words or actions should never be hinged or dependent on what other people say or do to us first. In the end, we are all accountable to God and to each other for our thoughts, words and actions. I do understand where Lacson is coming from in this chapter, though, and I am all for respecting other people regardless of occupation, status or appearance. It remains a fact, however, that respect is earned, not demanded.

I admire Lacson’s courage and determination  to speak his mind about the things that really matter and the steps we can and should take, no matter how “little”, to help make the Philippines a better country than what it is today. No amount of wishing or promising will get us anywhere. We all need to take baby steps at first and gradually mature to be a united people with a sense of pride and purpose for our nation. We all need to start in our own homes, teaching and instilling these values and more to our children and grandchildren. It is crucial that we first livethe lessons we preach and set the best examples for our children. Lacson said it best when he stated, “Today’s children will someday rule and lead this world. But whether they will be bad rulers or good leaders, will depend largely on how we raise them today.” May the next generation inherit a nation that is truly proud and free, and deserving of us mere yet sincere mortals.

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