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There’s The Rub

About time

/ 01:12 AM October 19, 2011

I did say some weeks ago I had a few ideas on how we might push back “Filipino time” despite the formidable cultural obstacles to it. When this column comes out, I’ll be out of the country till the weekend, which is a good time for me to indulge in these ruminations.

Fighting “Filipino time” is like fighting corruption, and requires pretty much the same strategy. It requires first off the authority figures setting an example for “Juan time,” which is what the Department of Science and Technology wants us to have.

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This country has not lacked for campaigns that have been doomed by the lack of that. The most notable among them being the ones we had during martial law. Two particularly earnest ones were the campaign for discipline at the start of martial law and the one against profligacy in the early 1980s.

“Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan” was the mantra immediately unleashed by the martial law regime. You saw it in posters, in streamers, in newspapers, and you heard it all the time in media, newscasts ending with that reminder to audiences. In the second case, Asiong Aksaya was the character created by the brilliant Larry Alcala to give a face to government’s anti-profligacy drive. He was the absolute wastrel who drove a fleet of gas-guzzlers and had several air-conditioners turned on at the same time. He became a fixture in daily life, people saying, “Para ka namang Asyong Aksaya” whenever they saw someone watering the lawn indiscriminately or leaving the lights open in the daytime.

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These campaigns did gain some headway at first. Aided in no small way by the spectacle of a drug smuggler being executed by firing squad, people started crossing streets on pedestrian lanes. Warlords surrendered their illegal firearms by the truckloads. Crime fell. Just as well, Asyong Aksaya became so popular Chiquito even did a movie on him. People started conserving water and electricity and even doing carpools.

Neither one lasted long however. How could anybody be encouraged to show discipline when Marcos and his cronies did not have the discipline to keep their hands off the public till but was looting it like there was no tomorrow? How could anyone be encouraged to show discipline when the military did not have the discipline to refrain from terrorizing hapless villagers but would massacre them every so often out of pique? And how could anybody be encouraged to stop being wasteful when Bongbong and friends could be seen partying like sheiks on yachts at the Manila Harbor till dawn or drunken stupor whichever came first?

The point is simple. You can exhort a people to be disciplined and austere as much as you like, and even mount campaigns along those lines, but no one is going to heed you if you yourself are lawless and profligate. And you can exhort people to meet appointments on time, finish work on time, and arrive and leave the office on time, but no one is going to follow if you yourself are always late.

P-Noy sets an example of getting to appointments on time, meeting deadlines on time, doing everything on time, and he will have done more to push “Juan time” than all exhortations in that respect. His example has always had a strong impact on this country—for good or ill. His call for an end to wang-wangs on one hand and his buying a Porsche on the other have been so. His running after crooks on one hand and his tolerating assault rifles in cars on the other have been so.

Second off, getting Pinoys to observe “Juan Time” requires cultivating a culture that reinforces it.

Like corruption, not being on time needs a culture to flourish. Corruption itself feeds on a culture that props it up. That is a culture that tolerates it, or even extols it. Which is what we have. While we frown on corruption in public, we really envy it in private. Certainly, while we call the corrupt names in public, we call upon them to become sponsors of our children’s baptisms and weddings in private. Certainly while we rail and expostulate at the corrupt who are not our relatives or friends, we rail and expostulate at those who are not corrupt who are our relatives or friends. We get angry that they do not make it a point to hire us, tip us, and share the bounty with us.

To stop it, you must have a culture that counters it.

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The same is true with not being on time. That too feeds on a culture that supports it or props it up. That culture is the one that says everybody does it anyway and I’d be a fool to be on time just to waste my time. That culture is the one that says only suckers and ordinary mortals go to gatherings on time, gods and winners get there late.

To stop it, you must have a culture that counters it. You must have a culture that says, to use a term much favored by the kids, it’s not cool to be late.

I don’t particularly mind that that takes on the form of penalties. Such as the door being closed to people who come in late at meetings, the equivalent of students being considered absent when they are late by more than 10 minutes. Or being penalized during socials by being made to stay longer than they intended to. Or downright being fined on various occasions for it.

But it’s insult added to injury that should be much more effective, which is really what culture does, it adds the weight of judgment to things. It’s time people who are late for appointments are left behind, the way airplanes leave behind people who do not make it to the airport on time. It’s time people who are late for meetings are told politely, if not bluntly, “Please do not waste our time, it is just as important as yours, if not more so.” It’s time people who are late for gatherings are scoffed at or ignored or laughed at as being thoroughly un-cool instead of being made important.

About time we got serious about time.

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TAGS: Asiong Aksaya, Bong-Bong Marcos, Department of Science and Technology, Filipino time, juan time, Larry Alcala, late arrivals, marcos, party animal, wrong Filipino values
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