Grassroots & Governance

Over a week has passed since the dismal, disheartening results of the mid-term elections, for both local and national posts. Having done all that hand-wringing, finger-pointing and resolves to henceforth stay away from politics, it is time for situation analysis. Why did that happen, and what can we do, going forward, to help our people choose better and worthier leaders?

It is obvious that majority of our voters seem to be attracted to media celebrities whether famous or notorious.

As a career teacher, business executive and development management consultant, I found that I usually had to force my work team to think, and to think critically. They had been so used to taking orders and carrying them out without question. I found this to be the case even among college graduates. I think this is the result of an educational system that emphasizes rote learning, memorizing data and feeding them back to the teacher or as answers to test questions. But I have also found that with determination, it is possible to convert a team or corporate culture from a passive, compliant one to a dynamic thinking and doing organization.

Clearly, we need a revolution in our educational system. To start with, we need to attract the best and the brightest among our graduates to spend at least a few years after college as teachers, especially now that college education is available for free. We also need to train our teachers to become skillful at stimulating independent and critical thinking, rather than rote learning among our students. After all, continuing knowledge education is now available on Google. Thinking skills should be emphasized among our students. This calls for extraordinary skills among our teachers. Teacher training should take advantage of “learning methodologies” beyond information “banking.” Therefore we must make teaching as a career worthwhile financially, and not just psychically. Our President has to appreciate this fact. Teachers must be rewarded for their highly skilled and arduous work, certainly more than policemen and soldiers. They are valuable investments in enhancing our human capital. Quality, not just quantity of time spent in school, has to be our focus. Now that we have lengthened basic education; we should use the additional years for sharpening critical and independent thinking, as well as responsible citizenship among our youth.

The other gruesome observation for me is the widespread vote-buying, especially at the local level. Perhaps many LGU candidates also received funding support from national candidates who were generously funded. The success of vote-buying as a campaign strategy signals our dismal citizenship and weak value systems. But also the widespread poverty that every government has known about,but failed to reduce significantly. In the 1970s, Malaysia was a poor country. Today, they have almost zero poverty. And here we are, with about a third of our people suffering involuntary hunger.

Selling their votes means our voters do not seem to think beyond their noses. Some squatters in the neighborhood near my home held a drinking party after the elections. They openly bragged that they were enjoying the reward for their votes.

My fellow activists, we have several choices on what now we can do for our country. We can of course continue to raise our voices to protect our shrinking democratic space as we have been doing. And there have been some constructive results, as we have seen in the bold leadership of super senior public servants Albert Del Rosario and Conchita Carpio Morales who have stimulated more courage and new initiatives on the West Philippine Sea issues.

We can also aggressively advocate radical reforms in our educational system and increasing emphasis on values education and responsible citizenship.

There is much to do in fighting poverty, which is one of the root causes of the continuing dynastic and feudal power structures in our communities. The business community has been making its contributions with its corporate social responsibility initiatives. But it can do much more through job creating investments that impact on poor communities. They can also make significant contributions to enhancing education with donations to the schools, as the Ayalas, Gokongweis and Aboitizes are doing.

Withal, despite our President’s often irresponsible language and shameful behavior on mass media, there are constructive options for helping to build our democracy and helping our flamboyant political system to mature and become more responsible. We just have to keep pushing back to protect our democratic space; and invest time and energy on helping our people to “grow up.” It is getting harder and harder to do these things; but there is still enough space.

We also have to become more knowledgeable and aware of the language and culture gap between our highly educated, Westernized and more prosperous elite. Aspiring and present leaders need to be conscious of this gap and learn how to cross it. After all, we are in reality, a culture damaged by centuries of colonialism.

We can choose to leave things as they are, which means our country and people will become more and more worse off. Or we can choose to be development activists in addition to being political activists. Certainly, if we love our country and our people, or our children and their children, we cannot just give up.


Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and an independent development management consultant.