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Sunday, April 17, 2005

Leadership influences basic values

By Ramon J. Farolan
Inquirer News Service

Published on page A15 of the April 17, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

AS I mentioned a few weeks back, the Philippines will soon be hosting the Southeast Asian Games. Much attention is being focused on preparing our athletes, on sprucing up the different venues for the Games, and on setting up security measures necessary to protect all the participants.

Somehow as we move closer to the opening day of the Games, I am reminded of an incident dating back to more than 10 years ago, when the members of the Philippine delegation to the 12th Asian Games in Hiroshima, Japan paid a farewell call on President Fidel V. Ramos just before their departure. Part of the program for the day was the singing of the national anthem. Apparently, it was done in a lukewarm, halfhearted manner that it resulted in a public scolding by the President. "What's the matter with you? You will represent the country in another land and you cannot even sing the national anthem properly," Mr. Ramos said. An attempt to recover lost ground was cut short with a curt "Don't bother, you
should have prepared for this earlier."

Here were the top athletes of the nation bidding goodbye to the chief executive, and they couldn't belt out the national anthem with the enthusiasm and spirit that the occasion called for. It was possible many of them were not familiar with the words and were just going through the motion of mouthing the lyrics. Some were slouching instead of standing erect with head held high and chest full of pride in being sent to represent their country at such an important and prestigious sports event. Some were not familiar with or accustomed to the practice of placing their right hand over the left breast while singing the anthem. All these may have raised the hackles of the President and his sharp tongue put them on notice that he expected much more from the young people assembled before him.

During my service in the Armed Forces, I have witnessed flashes of this presidential temper on a number of occasions. Just when you think things are moving comfortably, he would remind you of your shortcomings to keep you on your toes.

I was not surprised that something like this happened. It is symptomatic of how we carry on in many of the activities that we undertake in our daily lives-from the way we behave in traffic situations to our inability to set aside partisan interests for the national good. We take too many things for granted, and we place individual concerns over and above community interests.

The system does not seem to sufficiently inculcate basic values like respect for the flag and the national anthem, discipline, civic duties and responsibilities. It is in the homes and in the classrooms where the kids start to learn about the history of our country, where they develop respect for the flag and anthem, where discipline can be instilled while preparing them for useful roles in the community. A lot depends on the educational system, but just as important is the role played by the national leadership.

In Singapore, energetic campaigns for simple civic duties like cleanliness, environmental awareness, polite behavior and courtesy for others, are spearheaded at the highest levels of the national leadership and have inevitably turned out to be huge successes.

One of the things that impressed me most during my stint in Indonesia many years ago was the sense of nationalism of its people. For one thing, there were no endless queues of individuals at the Dutch or US embassies applying for immigrant visas. Their athletes being sent abroad always returned home, unlike some of ours who disappeared after the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. If my recollection is correct, the entire cycling team opted to stay behind.

Perhaps, this can be explained partly by the fact that Indonesia has a national ideology known as "Pancasila" or "Five Principles." These principles, which form the nation's political philosophy, are (1) belief in God, (2) a just and civilized humanity, (3) nationalism or love of country, (4) sovereignty of the people, and (5) social justice. Since its independence in 1945, close to 60 years ago, this national ideology has been drummed into the minds of every Indonesian child-from the formative school years all the way to adulthood with no letup in emphasis and dissemination. Many of the official programs attended by the Indonesian president start with the recitation of the "Pancasila" by a group of youngsters, and this would set the tone for the day's activities.

During the Marcos years, there was a 10-point national ideology that was formulated by the government, but like many projects which we start, there was no follow through and continuity that could have ensured lasting success. I know the cynics and the so-called intellectual sophisticates among us would smile at the idea of having a similar set of guiding principles for the nation. But the fact remains that some of our neighbors, who in the past appeared to be less accomplished than us, are now the ones smiling as they leave us in their dust.

Perhaps if the national leadership devotes more time and effort to the inculcation of basic values among our youth, then the spectacle of our President having to scold our national athletes for not singing the national anthem with more pride and spirit will not be repeated. Maybe, we might yet harvest our first overall championship in the coming Southeast Asian Games and take home an Olympic gold medal from Beijing in 2008.


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