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Love the Philippines

12:08 AM February 14, 2015

In his little book, Alex Lacson encourages every Filipino to endeavor to do simple things that can lead to genuine and sustainable change. As the book’s title says, these are “12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country,” and if done by more and more of us, these can actually become game-changers.

Lacson asks each one of us to follow traffic rules, always ask for a receipt, avoid buying smuggled goods, speak positively about our country, respect traffic officers, policemen and soldiers, avoid littering, support the Church, vote, compensate employees well, pay taxes, adopt a scholar, and be good parents.

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Corporate Philippines can do much to push this simple yet powerful campaign forward. Focusing on all employees and their families as well as the communities they live in, corporations can help create the needed critical mass so that the little things become a habit, become cool, become culture. In partnership with schools and Church communities, this campaign to help our country—to love the Philippines—can gain irreversible traction. Just put the little book into the hands of every Filipino employee, ensure it is read, discussed, and shared.

The private-sector-led and -driven Integrity Initiative is actually a very similar “for the love of the Philippines” type of campaign. When a corporation signs the Integrity Pledge, it makes a commitment to prohibit bribery, adhere strictly to a code of conduct, train employees in ethical business practices, institutionalize values of integrity and accountability in its operations, set up a whistle-blowing mechanism, enter into integrity pacts with the government and other corporations, and refuse to do business with unethical companies.   But the commitment does not stop with a pledge. The corporation must assess its current integrity practice, allow third-party validation, address gaps through an integrity action plan, and, subsequently, get integrity certification.

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How will these translate into love of country? Through adherence to the highest standards of ethical business, corporations will help build a level playing field for business where the best price for the best product or service becomes the norm for every consumer, for government procurement, and for business-to-business transactions. Better infrastructure will be built, consumer welfare and protection will move way beyond PR, and service levels will improve substantially. All these and more will ultimately contribute to more opportunities and a better life for all.

But, like the “12 Little Things” campaign, what is needed to build the critical mass and achieve irreversible traction?

First, we need government buy-in. The government must provide the incentive for good behavior. Competitive advantage must go to ethical firms and not to those that pay bribes, evade taxes, or engage in smuggling. Many SMEs (small and medium enterprises) have complained to us that if they sign the Integrity Pledge, they will be unable to do business as they will not even acquire their business permits. The government must make signing the pledge and, ultimately, full integrity certification a requirement for bidders of government projects. If an SME has signed the pledge, local government units must give them fast-track lanes for permits and licenses. Export and import processes must be simplified for firms that achieve full integrity certification. Least priority audit status may be offered by the Bureau of Internal Revenue to fully compliant companies.

Second, the Church must help build circles of integrity in its communities. These circles must help dismantle the culture of corruption and build a culture of integrity, beginning in homes, parishes and schools. Training sessions, discussion groups, forums and other activities must be organized at the parish level to strengthen the foundations for this new culture that we seek to establish. Already, Cardinal Chito Tagle has made a call for integrity circles, and Pope Francis himself mentioned integrity circles in some of his messages when he visited the country last month.

Third, the youth must get involved. The youth-led and social-media-based Bantay.ph program that taps young people to monitor frontline government service levels is a good model for integrity action opportunities. We must build these venues for cool and hip involvement. Integrity Initiative is now organizing annual film festivals and concerts, hoping to more effectively reach out to young hearts and minds.

In the 1990s, human rights advocates connected with Amnesty-International-organized Education for Freedom with support from the Norwegian Operation-a-Day’s Work Fund. Today, we keep finding individuals reached by that ’90s campaign still thanking Education for Freedom for bringing them to where they are now and still helping to build a better Philippines.

For us to build Ka Pepe Diokno’s vision of a nation for our children, we must learn to truly love our country. Lacson’s “12 Little Things” advocacy, Integrity Initiative and Bantay.ph are just a few of the “for the love of country” efforts that need greater support from other sectors, and more and more individuals.

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With the exposé of the posh kubol of drug lords in the national penitentiary and the most recent tragedy of the Fallen 44 in Maguindanao, I have been hearing the words “Only in the Philippines!” being uttered everywhere. As Lacson says, we should stop belittling ourselves and our country with those words because the challenges we face beset other countries as well. Rather, we should proudly and more often exclaim the opposite: “I love the Philippines!”

Peter Angelo V. Perfecto is executive director of the Makati Business Club.

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