Business Matters

Lenten musings: the chosen people (2)

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I had originally intended to compose a synopsis of a speech I delivered last Feb. 26 at the Second Annual Arangkada Forum of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce, hoping thereby to make my life easier. However, the Management Association of the Philippines featured virtually the entire speech in the March 4 issue of the Inquirer, and while I felt honored, I also realized that my lazy ploy had been thwarted.

As I pondered what to write instead, I remembered that almost exactly two years ago (how quickly time flies!), I had written a piece titled “The chosen people,” which received numerous and wide-ranging comments. It was only tangentially about economic matters but then, I figured, with Holy Week approaching, perhaps a respite from the mundane would again be appropriate.

In that column, I observed that the continued and ever growing influx of Filipinos to just about everywhere on earth was subtly spreading the Filipino influence more widely and deeply than would readily seem. I noted that with this phenomenon, there must be thousands of cradles being rocked by Filipino hands worldwide, and as the saying goes, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” I concluded the piece with the observation that just about every major Catholic church particularly in Europe, Hong Kong and the Middle East would be almost empty without devout Filipinos.

Since that column two years ago, the number of overseas Filipino workers has risen from 10 to 12 million and their remittances, which remain the principal pillar of our economy, have increased to a level representing 27 percent of GDP. There doesn’t appear to be any letup despite the economic troubles in the West and continuing unrest in the Middle East. Filipinos continue to be in demand.

The usual reason advanced for this is that Filipinos are educated, skilled, English-speaking, and wage-competitive. But it has been increasingly observed that an equally important reason is that Filipinos sense the difference between just doing a job and performing cheerful service. Filipino nurses or caregivers comport themselves with an inner sense of the difference between treating a patient to wellness and treating a patient well in the first place. Filipinos’ instinctive affection for children easily makes them care for the children of others as they would their own. And at the heart of remittances is Filipinos’ continued love and respect for family, an institution under relentless assault in supposedly progressive societies.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, non-Filipinos tend to notice and appreciate this more than Filipinos do. I had the honor of recently meeting one such individual, Ambassador Roberto Mayorga of Chile, who is among those at the forefront of Calidad

Humana, a movement that focuses on this Filipino trait of human compassion that gives priority to concern for others rather than material things.

In so doing, Calidad Humana raises the question of why people of many wealthier countries appear to drift toward becoming less humane. This is not intended to be a sweeping indictment but just an observation of a tendency in such societies to sometimes confuse being liberal with being a libertine, conservatism with intolerance, and individual freedom with outrageous behavior in pursuit of the proverbial few minutes of media fame. It then raises a parallel question of how can we more precisely identify the essence of this “calidad humana” exuded by our people and preserve it as an intrinsic part of the Filipino identity.

It would seem that our Christianity is an important element of it, but not all of it since even non-Christian Filipinos display “calidad humana.” But to deny the impact of our being the only predominantly Christian country in this part of the world in shaping our national psyche is to bring ourselves along the same mistaken path as our off-and-on attempts to diminish our identity of being the third largest English-speaking nation on earth on the grounds of its being a colonial residue—only to find ourselves now racing to restore English proficiency to the fullness of the opportunity and global positioning it represents. And now, with the mention for the first time in history of a Filipino cardinal possibly becoming pope, minimizing our global identity as a predominantly Christian Asian nation would appear clearly unsound.

Calidad Humana is taking steps to identify, reinforce and preserve those humane elements of our national character that are universally noticed and admired. This is a welcome antidote to our penchant to unquestioningly copy trendy developments regardless of their potential to dislodge us from our moral compass. Even as we take steps toward better material well-being, we must not forget the valuable priority of values formation and infuse this into our K-to-12 educational system, as well as our mandated training for OFWs.

There was a time in recent years when we justifiably objected to a Western-dictionary definition of the Filipina as equated with servitude. The time has come for us to not only object but also to proactively create and amplify a definition of the Filipino based on a “calidad humana” that can manifest itself as a positive contribution of our humble nation to the continuing civilizing of society, even in an increasingly hedonistic world.

Roberto F. de Ocampo, OBE, is a former finance secretary. He was Finance Minister of the Year in 1995, 1996 and 1997.

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