By FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JEJOMAR C. BINAY
Nick Joaquin wrote an outstanding essay in the 1960s about our “heritage of smallness,” and how, in his view, it could explain why progress has eluded us for so long. We not only “buy small and sell small,” he says; we also “think small and do small.”
“Society for the Filipino is a small rowboat: the barangay. Geography for the Filipino is a small locality — the barrio. History for the Filipino is a small vague saying:matanda pa kay mahoma; noong peacetime. Enterprise for the Filipino is a small stall: the sari-sari. Industry and production for the Filipino are the small immediate searchings of each day: isang kahig, isang tuka. And commerce for the Filipino is the smallest degree of retail: the tingi.”
Joaquin notes: “The trend since the turn of the century, and especially since the war, seems to be back to the tradition of timidity, the heritage of smallness. We seem to be making less and less effort, thinking ever smaller, doing even smaller…One writer, as he surveyed the landscape of shortages — no rice, no water, no garbage collectors, no peace, no order — gloomily mumbled that disintegration seems to be creeping upon us and groped for Yeats’ terrifying lines:
“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold:
Mere anarchy is loosed…
“Have our capacities been so diminished by the small efforts we are becoming incapable even to the small things? Our present problems are surely not what might be called colossal or insurmountable–yet we stand helpless before them. As the population swells, those problems will expand and multiply. If they daunt us now, will they crush us then? The prospect is terrifying.”
It’s hard not to sympathize with Joaquin. I was a young man when Joaquin wrote his essay and the problems that we faced at the time Joaquin wrote his essay have grown, as he had feared, from bad to worse.
I would venture to add that the smallness also applies to the smallness in our attitude.
Take for example the lack of discipline, which seems to be a national affliction. Most Filipinos complain about corruption and the breakdown of law and order, yet it cannot be denied that if given the chance, they prefer to break the rules than obey them. Traffic signs and traffic rules are ignored when there are no traffic enforcers around. But when they are caught, they either bribe or bully their way out.
Such an affliction is also prevalent among those who are supposed to enforce the law: policemen and traffic enforcers who violate traffic rules, do not use seat belts, smoke in public or ride motorbikes without helmets.
Tardiness is also a manifestation of this lack of discipline.
How many times have we rushed to make it on time for appointments, meetings, or official functions only to be made to wait for minutes, if not hours, owing to the tardiness of some, if not most, of the participants? How many times have we been given appointments with a government office, only to be be made to wait for the person in charge? What makes it worst is when those who arrive late do not even give a perfunctory explanation for his or her tardiness.
Punctuality is a habit that needs to be inculcated. Various essays on etiquette describe punctuality as respect for the value of time, yours and others.
Being late shows disrespect. It tells people that your time is more valuable than theirs.
I recall that a few years back, a civic organization started a movement to promote punctuality. A proclamation was even issued, Proclamation No. 255, declaring April 9-15 as National Consciousness Week on the Value of Time and Respect for the Rights of Others. Other than issuing the proclamation, I have not seen any effort, especially on the part of government, to promote punctuality.
It’s about time we get serious on punctuality. And we should start with government.
Public servants must be made to realize that their official time is the taxpayer’s time. The least that they can do is to report for work on time, start official functions on time, finish their work on time. Making taxpayers wait shows not only disrespect. Tardiness, especially if habitual, conveys to the public that government officials and employees occupy a privileged status. Their time is more precious than the taxpayers’. Such thinking is absurd, yet it is a thinking that seems to afflict some people in government.
It’s about time we change this mindset among public servants. It’s about time they arrive on time.