SEOUL—The victory of Rodrigo Duterte kept getting me thinking about that clarion call Ferdinand Marcos used: “Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan” (For a nation to progress, discipline is needed).
Initially the call had great appeal, but it soon fell away because people saw how selective it was—a way to reinforce the privileges of the already powerful, at the expense of the poor and the disempowered.
In the last few weeks we heard the word being bandied around, part of the expectations of a new order under a new presidency. The model is Davao City, where discipline is credited for gains like much less littering and more civil driving.
As for criminality, it’s hard to say. If you use the 1980s as a benchmark, when parts of the city were like war zones (even with names like “Nicaragdao,” on the perception that Agdao had become like Nicaragua, which at that time was being torn apart by civil war), then Davao City has indeed become very quiet.
But there’s a pregnant silence when people discuss peace and order in the city. The fears of human rights advocates are built around vigilante “justice”—shoot now, ask questions later. Advocates of this approach argue that there is a need to build discipline… through fear. Only criminals need be afraid, Duterte and his supporters have said, but human rights advocates say that vigilantism will make us all vulnerable… and fearful.
It’s unfortunate that there is now a perception that discipline and human rights are opposites. It need not, and should not, be so.
Discipline is a vital “soft skill” for success, whether of individuals, institutions or an entire nation. In a sense, Marcos’ slogan was correct: We do need discipline to move forward. We do see the many consequences of a very real lack of discipline in the country. For example, exporters tell me about how they lose contracts because of the inability to deliver goods on time. Beyond exports, we know how long it takes for an infrastructure project to be completed, in part because of the plodding bureaucracy, but in large part because deadlines and targets don’t seem to exist.
Let’s look at something as simple as littering—one of the major headaches I have as a university administrator. Alumni complain constantly about it and are incredulous when I tell them that even students and faculty members litter, or that upper-class joggers who come on weekends bring along their garbage to dump on campus, and not in trash bins.
I once gently chided a group of students for smoking. They apologized, dropped the cigarettes on the ground and squashed these with their feet, said sorry again—and asked to be excused.
Now that’s where you want to do a Duterte by commanding them: “You pick up those stubs, or else.” I know people will scoff if I say they would have to perform community service. That’s deemed too soft. Make them eat the butts, a
fellow faculty member advised.
Discipline, unfortunately, is seen as the goal, to be maintained through fear.
We have to recognize that discipline is a skill to reach a goal, and that we need to motivate people to be disciplined. The easier motivation is fear, which is so much part of our culture. We raise our children with never-ending threats, and note how we tend to invoke a power figure for the threats: “Magagalit ang pulis” (The policeman will get angry).
We need to change our mind-sets, convince ourselves (and the children we’re raising or educating) that it’s good to be good, it’s good to be disciplined, without threats of a scolding, of being caught, imprisoned or “salvaged,” of going to purgatory for a few thousand years or hell for eternity.
Discipline builds confidence: I am in control, I am responsible. And that leads to strength of character: If something goes wrong, I will take responsibility and not blame others. I like the simple antilittering admonition: Ibulsa mo (Put it in your pocket). We can’t keep complaining that there’s a lack of trash cans, or that the janitors will sweep up after us. That tiny candy wrapper is our responsibility, so crumple it and put it in your pocket for now.
At the University of the Philippines, I’ve seen the discipline among our students: science majors working overtime in the labs to make sure they get the needed results, or artists rehearsing and athletes practicing at night, after long hours of academic studies. I talked with two of our basketball players the other day and at one point they asked if a boot camp could be organized for them. They’d heard about how South Korean basketball players are sequestered for a week, for intense practice as well as motivational workshops.
I shuddered, knowing of some of the controversial youth boot camps that come close to indoctrination, but I was impressed that they saw the need for some kind of boot camp to discipline body and mind. I thought of the Zen retreats I’ve attended, where we sit for hours on end, motionless, to still the spirit.
Beyond individual motivation, though, we need to see discipline as part of social solidarity. It’s especially important in the Philippines, where we do not like doing things alone, particularly when the task is challenging. That has come through with our athletes. You see the contrast between basketball, where there’s a stronger tendency toward individual siga (hotshot) antics, and football, where it’s team defense and offense that bring those elusive points. And I’m glad UP excels in football (note, too, how we didn’t get too many of the trophies for individuals, but won the championship).
Social solidarity is excellent motivation for discipline: We’re in this together, and so we’ll overcome together.
It’s also social solidarity that maintains discipline with a sense of fairness. Walang iwanan: No one left behind.
That brings me back to the early days of President Aquino’s term, when he ordered a stop to counterflow on the roads and to wangwang (police sirens) for VIPs. Most people welcomed those moves as acts of discipline … and fairness. People were weary of being caught in traffic gridlock and seeing someone, usually in a late-model car with VIP plates, speeding down the wrong lane, with a self-installed wangwang wailing away.
The Duterte administration would do well to keep those bans on counterflow and wangwang as a sign of discipline, and fairness.
Beneath the Filipino sense of social solidarity is hiya—no, not just shame, but also a sense of loss of face, of the individual or of the community. We need to get to the point where it’s “nakakahiya” to have a litter-filled environment, or to pee on the wayside, or to be late. Peer pressure is important here, to remind others that we feel the hiya even if they don’t.
Peer pressure, too, is needed to remind each other about how good it feels to be disciplined, on our own volition. Why do you think we exercise, and in big groups? Remind each other, when we’re in a clean environment (litter-wise, corruption-wise) about how good it feels, as individuals, as Filipinos.
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