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.

It’s time to move out and move on…

Have you ever been living in a place where more bad experiences happen than good? I am not superstitious, but I do believe that some places harbor more bad people than others, and therefore, more bad incidents and unpleasant experiences. I also believe that if the intentions for every action are not pure, then bad things can only follow them.

I just came from walking our two well-behaved dogs, as I do every morning. This particular time was the worst yet. I make sure they do their “business” in areas that are relatively accepted as “business areas”, and not on people’s front yards. If the dogs do have their occasional “accidents”, I do pick up the mess. Without elaborating on it, I had a confrontation with a selfish and boorish man who didn’t even have the right to claim a space that belonged to a school. It was a very unpleasant, to say the least, experience. I can hardly wait to move out! Thankfully, it is just a matter of weeks. This is not a good place for pets.

And this is not the first time. The people in this neighborhood are mostly selfish, boorish and uncouth. Stray dogs abound because the owners just let them be. These dogs chase people and other dogs, bark incessantly, especially at night, and harass our dogs. If not for the many lessons I learned from Cesar Milan, I would have had several anxiety attacks.

This is the place where we experienced the most stress. The noise level is unacceptable. All types of vehicles pass in front of the place (the road has become a bypass road for buses, trucks, loud tricycles and motorcycles, and even heavy equipment!). Smog levels are high.

People still burn their trash regularly here which means our clothes and just about everything else smell like smoke. Our lungs don’t fare well either. People blatantly throw trash on the streets and even right on the driveway. The whole place smells of putrid trash most days of the week, especially before trash pick-up. I literally wake up from the stench in the middle of the night.

Neighbors on the left, right, front and back of this place blare out their bad singing with their videoke machines quite frequently in a month. They don’t care that they keep us awake ‘til the wee hours of the night, as long as they are entertained. There is no care or regard for others anymore.

The neighbors behind us have about six children who scream and play at around 6-7 am – while we are still asleep. We stay up pretty late because it is simply difficult to fall asleep in this place. You can imagine what I’ll say next.

There have been robberies here as well – in this apartment and the next. We have never felt safe here.

And then there are the many unpleasant personal experiences related to this place – the pain, death, loss, betrayal, abuse. Again, if the intentions are not pure, bad things will surely follow. We moved here not of our own volition. And now we are being driven away with very little time to prepare for another move.

Yes, it’s time to go. It was time to go the day we moved here, because we moved very reluctantly from a place we were happy living in for eight years. I always knew this was very temporary, and I’m grateful it is. In fact, I never fully unpacked. This is the first time. I did not place all my magnets on the fridge because I did not want to stay long. The term “I never felt at home here” certainly applies. There are no good associations or memories here – quite the opposite, in fact. I pray this nightmare of a place will end soon. I have been praying this the past two years we stayed here. It is finally answered.

The Pinoy’s Mess in a PAL Flight

I know, what a way to start this blog. Perhaps just like most Pinoys, I don’t feel comfortable about criticizing my own countrymen. It bothers me no end, however, whenever bad habits come out, “en masse”, for most of the world to see. In this case, for other plane passengers to see.

On our flight from Manila to Los Angeles, CA via Philippine Airlines (PAL), it shocked me and my husband to see used blankets and pillows on the floor as well as peanut wrappers and crumpled newspaper strewn all over the once clean seats and pristine carpets. We distinctly remember being asked to return the blankets, pillows and headsets lent to us and flight attendants going around to collect our trash before the plane landed. So what on earth were our fellow Filipinos doing all that time? Which part of those instructions did they not understand? Or did they simply not care?

We witnessed the same shameful mess on our way back to the Philippines. Just like the previous flight, this one had perhaps 99% Filipino passengers as well. I don’t know why I still hoped to see something different, only to be sorely disappointed and ashamed once again. Why can’t we keep our spaces clean? Is this a reflection, perhaps, of the state of uncleanliness in one’s personal abode?

We did not see this mess in six of the US interstate flights we took. I guess, I had hoped to see the same mess from the American passengers  just so our fellow Pinoys won’t look too bad. I peeked under seats to find any sign of glittering peanut foil or candy wrapper but didn’t find any. I had to swallow hard and admit that the Pinoy passengers are a messy lot!

It would be good for us to learn some simple lessons from the Americans. This is not an article to glorify them in any way, but to learn some better habits from them.

Have you ever noticed how we leave our food wrapper, plates, utensils and trays on our tables after eating in a fastfood joint like McDonalds. or Jollibee? Well, in America, they clear up their tables and throw their mess in the trash bin. It’s really quite simple and requires very little effort. That’s why it astounds me that even our security guards go and clear tables when their job is to guard the establishment! Are we so insensitive already?

If we just magnify this trash situation one hundred times, we’ll easily see the reason for all the soaked and muddy rubbish all over our streets after the terrible floods in our country recently. One piece of candy wrapper thrown on the pavement is one million pieces of candy wrappers from one million irresponsible people, and eighty million pieces from eighty million people who don’t give a damn about our country and the environment.

Just like corruption, bad habits do start in the family. Lets nip this nasty habit of carelessly throwing trash in the bud. It is not only a crying shame but our impending downfall as a people. And please, lets keep our airplanes clean people!