I worry that we are leaving our children, and their children, a world far worse than what we inherited from our predecessors. There is no doubt in my mind that there will be a tipping point at some time. When, where, and how, no one can predict. But, going by what is currently happening around us, it seems that point is nearing.

We are failing as stewards of the environment, and as vanguards of what is right and just. We are squandering what we have inherited from our ancestors, and, sadly, there appears to be little opportunity for our redemption. We must urgently endeavor not to completely fail our children and their descendants, and strive harder to make them better than us.

It is in this regard that I support the House of Representatives’ approval of the bill seeking to revive the Good Manners and Right Conduct (GMRC) subject in the grade school curriculum. The Philippine Star had reported that Congress had voted unanimously to pass House Bill 5829, on requiring GMRC as a separate subject from Kindergarten to Grade 3.

I support the bill not because it is a comprehensive solution, but because it is a start, an initiative to move in the right direction. And, also because it seems that many households, particularly in the urban areas, have already abdicated to schools the education of their children with respect to values and how to best conduct themselves particularly in public.

HB 5829 defines GMRC as “basic social values and etiquette,” and notes the need “to develop the character of the youth by making them recognize their intrinsic human value, enabling them to cultivate their ability to make excellent choices for themselves in relation to the greater community, thereby creating a culture of respect and love for oneself, for others and the country.”

I believe school instruction of GMRC should be supplemental. It is there mainly to complement what should be taught primarily at home. But, if it tends to contradict what is actually practiced in households, then it has the dual purpose of introducing the child to “good practices” — all in the hope that seeds of change can be planted in their young minds.

Instructing the young on “basic social values and etiquette” should be taken as a challenge by barangay leaders in particular, who can be more useful and relevant to their constituents by providing venues and opportunities for people to know more about GMRC at the grassroots level. People are never too old to be taught, or to learn, GMRC and its benefits.

People can be incentivized to attend instructional sessions and to practice the ideas conveyed. Compliance can be tied to assistance or welfare programs. Competitions can be hosted among barangays, and prizes can be offered as rewards for examples of good behavior. Awards for “friendliest,” or most “respectful,” or most “courteous” communities can be developed.

I recall a time when broadcast stations ran advertisements on radio and television related to good behavior, and the social values that Filipinos were supposedly known for. The advertisements were part of a major campaign supported by the state-run Development Bank of the Philippines. And then there was also the Ministry of Energy campaign regarding energy conservation, highlighted by the use of the Asyong Aksaya caricature by the late cartoonist Larry Alcala.

No man is an island, it is said. We all live in communities that we share with other people. Yes, there are inequities. This seems to be inevitable in any societal structure. However, living in communities necessitates the ability to live with others. GMRC plays an important role in this regard. To live peacefully with others requires mutual respect and a strong sense of others.

In more developed communities, particularly in urban areas, we have people living right next to each other for years but do not even know each other. New residents do not bother to introduce themselves to their neighbors, nor do older residents bother to welcome the new neighbors as they move in. People pretty much keep to themselves.

Even technology has had a heavy impact on how we deal with each other, as we can opt to socialize constantly on “electronic communities” but decline to spend more than a minute with other people face-to-face. If people lack strong social values strengthened by additional GMRC instruction, then their use of technology can also pose dangers to their ability to interact socially with others.

To be expected by society to behave a certain way, or to conform to certain norms, should not be seen as a limitation on freedom, or free will, or free expression. It is simply the appreciation that one does not live alone or in a vacuum, and that exercising freedom, free will, or free expression entails the responsibility of recognizing and understanding that such exercise can also affect others.

GMRC is not just about being right or wrong, or being proper or improper, or practicing socially acceptable behavior. People are always free to be “anti-social” if they choose to do so. But this should not, in any way, diminish their sense of others. GMRC is primarily about learning to respect one another, and recognizing that we live with others, and that we should also be mindful of them and not just ourselves. It is all about being a considerate human being. Now, pray tell, what will be the harm in teaching our children that?


Marvin Tort is a former managing editor of BusinessWorld, and a former chairman of the Philippines Press Council.