POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 8 July 2010, Thursday
A Culture Change Is In The Wind
Even before his proclamation, when it became clear that one Benigno Aquino III won the most votes in the recent national elections, a torrent of well-meaning advice and suggestions by way of mass media flooded him, most of them having to do with much-needed societal and governance reforms.
In the newspapers, on TV, and in the social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), the issue of government corruption tops the list of items that need to be addressed. Commenters unite in saying, “President Noynoy, crack down on the corrupt!” For changes to occur in the structure, the leader has to bring them about both by mandate and by example.
It is inspiring to see how P-Noy started with simple changes that had a personal impact – no wang-wang (sirens) and other traffic privileges for himself; no more presidential plane, he says he can fly commercial (in contrast to his unlamented predecessor who was prevented from buying a P1.2 billion executive jet by public outcry). He arrives early for appointments and beats traffic by leaving his house earlier than he’s used to.
It is appalling to see how the new vice-president, Jejomar Binay, was caught by news media blatantly ignoring traffic rules by running a red light and turning left on a “No Left Turn” street. His comment? “But I didn’t use wang-wang.” He also said that even if he left early, traffic would have been heavy anyway. Yeah, right. Seems to me someone just doesn’t want to give up the “privileges” he’s been used to. Ignoring the rules mandated for others sets you apart from the majority and makes you feel special and powerful. Insecure much?
Binay with Erap on the campaign trail in 2010. Image here.
P-Noy has been criticized for focusing on “insignificant” matters while bigger issues require solutions, now na! Come on, give the guy a break. It’s his first week on the job, yet already his actions have triggered a perceptible shift in the culture of privilege. Hope for fairness has lifted many hearts. Ordinary citizens are using digital technology to take pictures and videos of wang-wang and traffic violators and uploading them to the Internet. Perhaps public shaming will result in a change of behavior. For a test case, we’ll see if it has an effect on V-Nay.
University of the Philippines communication professor Dr. Joey Lacson calls this “a shift in the communication environment” – policies emanating from the top will trickle down and bring about changes in society, where new knowledge and awareness may lead to a change in attitude and practice.
Yet how effective as a catalyst for behavorial change can P-Noy’s example be? To return to the issue of endemic government corruption, will the way the president lives his life be enough to foster better behavior among unscrupulous government officials and employees?
My sister Aileen arrived for a vacation last week from Dubai, where she has been based the past 15 years or so as an overseas foreign worker. She went to the National Bureau of Investigation in Quezon City the other day to obtain a police clearance and was dismayed to see the shabby building, obsolete fingerprinting equipment, and long lines that snaked in three coils to another building. “On what does the NBI spend its annual budget?” she asked.
At Window 1, she was required to pay a fee for the clearance. At the next window, she was assessed another five pesos for “fingerprinting”. “The man taking the money,” she said, “had stacks of coins in front of him. And he wasn’t behind the counter. He did not issue a receipt. What was the extra five bucks really for and why is it not included in the amount I was charged at the first window?”
Fixers asked for P350 to enable her to jump the line and get her clearance faster. They swarmed around her and the other people in line as security guards and employees watched, obviously aware of the system. Since they do nothing to stop it, it leads one to assume that at least some of them are in on it too.
I rode a cab to school yesterday. The taxi driver, Virgilio T., complained that when he went to the Land Transportation Office at N. Domingo to renew his driver’s license, he was told to return after ninety days for the card. At the same time, he was approached by a fixer and told that for a fee, he could get his license in just two weeks. “If they can print the card in that short a time,” he said, “why do they make us wait three months? Why do they have to extort money from us for them to do their job?”
These are just two instances of how deeply embedded the culture of corruption is in government, at all levels from top to bottom, the difference being a matter of scale – the big fish take billions from government contracts, the small fry are content with the steady trickle of coins.
How do you tweak the communication environment in this situation to bring about a positive cultural change? For starters, P-Noy and his team need to craft clear policies that spell out the types of unethical behavior and their corresponding penalties, then strictly enforce them without fear or favor. Consistency in implementation is necessary for credibility.
Next, P-Noy needs to be true to his policies by living a squeaky-clean life and continuing to be a good example, to enable changes in organizations to occur via the trickle-down effect. It’s a tough act, but then who said being president was easy?
We as citizens can to do our part by not giving in to the desire for convenience by refusing to engage in graft and by exposing the corrupt. Like P-Noy, no more wang-wang, no more fixers, no more getting out of traffic violations by showing the card of this or that government official. Or showing the face of a government official – that means you, V-Nay.
“A change is gonna come,” sang Sam Cooke, and we can share that optimism, for we can already feel the winds of change blowing. How refreshing they are. ***