Responsibility and discipline

Nov. 03, 2015

Watching the  early morning TV newscast a day after the Kalag-kalag commemoration and seeing the gigantic heaps of basura at the cemeteries, my wife loudly clacked her tongue followed by a quick scathing comment, “Pagkawala gyuy disiplina sa atong katawhan oy!” [How can our people be so indisciplined!]

After a little while she summarily supplied an explanatory remark, “That is supposed to be a responsibility of the barangay officials!”

I could not help but begin to philosophise on the issue as I slowly retreated to the dining table for a cup of coffee. “Why should a people’s indiscipline be a responsibility of barangay officials”?  Later on,  while lingeringly romancing with my breakfast of corn porridge and tulingan paksiw, my mind tinkered on the intriguing issues — responsibility and discipline—two concepts which I thought properly belong to the domain of psychology(?) Or political science ba?  Certainly, not literary arts!

Discipline has often been construed as a behavior or norm of conduct imposed by some authority symbol, such as parents, elders or guardians. A disciplined act may also be a gesture of obeisance to a certain legal injunction—something imposed by an authority figure, maybe a public official, a police officer, or a court of law.  In short, any authority figure vested with some power over the actions and or conduct of members of society by virtue of a political fiat which may be brought about through an election, appointment or any other deed of authorization.

But discipline becomes a moral question when, irrespective of any injunction from an authority figure, it proceeds from an individual act of the free will, or when it is a volitional undertaking of a person free from any influence, order or commandment outside of his own self. It springs from a purely subjective process, an operation of the mind that freely commands the person to perform an act in response to a self-induced obligation or moral responsibility.

For example, engaging oneself to wake up at five every morning in order to make a few rounds of jogging exercise as part of a healthful lifestyle.  Or voluntarily quitting smoking and avoiding alcoholic drinks as a way of prohibiting oneself from the pleasure of hazardous  habits. Or the simple act of picking up a litter on a public walkway—perhaps a banana or mango peeling—and throw it into a garbage bin so that no one can step on it and stumble down and break his head.   Or simply because it occurs to one’s mind that the little basura constitutes an eyesore, and it is his civic responsibility to clear the walkway of it, perhaps, for some vague aesthetic considerations(?).

Such form of discipline that derives its rationale from a sense of responsibility is salutary. It is the formidable principle at the bottom of what we call “iron discipline”—a phenomenon very much wanting in so many levels of our national community.  Ah, here we have arrived at the seemingly elusive connection, an experiential reality that can bridge the distance between the two concepts, discipline and responsibility.

And now, to proceed with our rumination— “What’s wrong with us Filipinos?  Why haven’t we as a people cultivated the discipline and responsibility of dealing with our problems, even on such simple matter as how to handle properly our basura?  Do we need to be told at every instance what and how to deal with our basura? Isn’t there a sense of community in our concept of nationhood that would prick our conscience to behave and act in the name of social responsibility? Is indiscipline ingrained as a pernicious trait in our national psyche that such  simple matter as the problem of basura seems an infinite menace?  Or could it be that perhaps in the realm of our collective consciousness lurks a “basura mentality” that we haven’t quite successfully disposed of?  And which at certain crucial moments in our affairs as a nation does manifest itself in scandalous proportion it disparages us infinitely?

The intimate relationship between responsibility and discipline can assume an unpleasant basura smell of  habit in an equation namely, irresponsibility begets indiscipline.   And it derives its infectious microbes from somewhere in our long long colonial experience.  After the  more than 300 years of Spanish colonization, apparently we haven’t extricated ourselves from the colonizer’s imposition of  its will on our national affairs.  As a matter of fact, our nationhood grew out of an arbitrary integration of several island-nations into a so-called Philippine State which later was to become a Republic of the Philippines. We emerged as an artificial State  not out of our own deliberate act as a people but as an “whip” of colonial bondage.

Until now our colonized mind nurtures a culture of subservience to our former colonizers. This colonial mentality is the spring of irresponsible attitude  and undisciplined trait among our people. And nowhere is this more markedly glaring than in the  official conduct (read ‘misconduct’) and affairs of our leaders. Colonialism has instilled into our cultural mold an undesirable trait of dependency which from regime to regime over the last 70 years lights up in the utterly subservient acts of our leaders vis-à-vis our former colonial masters. But, as is always the case, the attitude of the leaders is reflected in the acts  and deeds of the followers. “Follow the leader”, so to speak.

The actuations of the top national leadership are a waterfall that flows down the bureaucracy as lake-mirrors and down to the rivers and streams of the general citizenry with the force of disagreeable cultural tradition or as negative examples of behavioral traits.

Undoubtedly, there is a logical connection between the indiscipline among our citizenry and the  unseemly attitude demonstrated by our national leadership in the matter of basura. Certainly, it is a signal act of irresponsibility on the part of our government leadership to hold and keep the many container vans of basura dumped by Canada into our lands. In spite of crying demands by concerned sectors to send those hazardous wastes back to Canada,  never did President Noynoy twitch his nose in displeasure of the basura smell nor did he lift a finger to push a symbolic paper boat to ship back even just a minute grain of such foreign waste, if only to show to all and sundry that we are not a dumping ground of some other country’s garbage!

It seems our government has a particular inclination for basura as part of its bizarre appetites?  Yes, the Noynoy government has a proclivity to acquisition of garbage.  Recall the purchase of a a supposedly combatant ship from the US which it promptly renamed USS General del Pilar?  That ship has been relegated to long un-use for several years and it has been divested of its essential equipment, which makes it as good as junk (basura)!

The culture of dependency engendered by years and years of colonialism has made of our leaders puppets of foreign interests, specifically the US imperialist government, so much so that it abandons its responsibility to safeguard and promote the well-being of  the masses of our people, so much so that it has consistently failed to resist the policy impositions of the US on our  economy, politics, culture and military.  Our government cannot discipline itself to act with honor and independence in its foreign policy.  Neither can it harness discipline in face of life-and-death situations that  continually visit the masses — the squander and misuse of the funds for the victims of calamities, the detestable impunity for the savage acts of violence and human rights violations by its own military against the Lumads and peasants! And other innumerable acts of irresponsibility and indiscipline, including the Luneta hostage crisis and the Mamasapano fiasco!

The citizens’ lack of discipline is a natural extension of the irresponsibility and indiscipline of the national leadership.  If only the leaders of this country have acted with moral responsibility and strict discipline called for in every occasion and situation that the welfare of the nation is at stake, the public would have behaved accordingly.

But behold!  Behold the nauseous manner the politicians have demonstrated in their campaign activities as candidates for elective posts this coming elections!  Is there a departure from the Trapo politics obtaining in our political life since 1946?  Is there a prospect for change— a change from the paroxysms of scandalous irresponsibility and indiscipline to one of moral uprightness  and integrity in the conduct of our national leadership?

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