Ethics-gazing on Ayala Avenue
“Are we seeing the demise of ethics and values?”
This was the gloomy question posed by the Management Association of the Philippines in its recent forum.
Why the brooding on Ayala Avenue? This must still be a bad hangover from the last years of GMA, when we saw the blurring of the divide between what’s right and wrong. There used to be a line but, somehow, GMA and her cohorts kept moving it until, like mist, it faded from view.
One vivid example is the Office of the Ombudsman. The country’s top anti-corruption office did not have a clear idea of what corruption, the enemy, is. Instead, it entered into an anomalous deal with a general who, by all accounts, violated our laws and enriched himself.
The other examples range from pabaon in the armed forces to ethical breaches and breakdown of values in the highest court of the land (including plagiarism, meeting with litigants to discuss pending cases, and breaking their own rules) to packing government institutions with people who have a feeble sense of the public good.
On a steaming hot day, the MAP assembled a panel of experts from various disciplines to address this malaise. Talk such as this is partly encouraged by the call
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for honesty of the new administration. Mercifully, the tone of the forum, held in the Ayala Triangle, was not all negative.
My sense is: like many others, these corporate citizens want to reclaim the line and lay it out clearly and boldly. The challenge, they say, is for us to “live virtuously” in this century buffeted by a crisis of ethics, not only in our country, but in other places as well. The global financial crisis, after all, was caused by depravity.
This kind of discussion always takes place but it has its surges. Wall Street is an easy and prime target.
Recently, in the aftermath of the earthquake that jolted Japan, reports about collusion among regulators, politicians and the Fukushima nuclear plant officials surfaced, showing that safety became a victim. The “culture of complicity,” it is said, is the culprit.
But, in other countries, ethical violations and breaking of the law are taken very seriously. These have led to resignation of high public officials and even suicides. In these cultures, they recognize that wrong behavior has consequences and they pay for it.
In our country, that is not the case. The task is thus huge. But, as the MAP forum shows, we all know what’s in our to-do list. It begins in the most basic of units, the family.
Clinical psychologist Honey Carandang, one of the panelists, put it well: “Parenting is nation building.” The values that parents embed in their children translate into responsible citizenship and good leadership.
She reminds us that children learn values subliminally, in an “unconscious and effortless way,” as if they were breathing air. The stories parents tell around the dinner table, for example, are “powerful in invading the subconscious.” So if we talk approvingly of a cousin, who works in government, and made his wealth chopping off 30 percent from government public works contracts, and we aspire to have a brand-new SUV like his, the child gets the message.
Carandang, who was sued for libel for speaking her mind on the offensive TV blockbuster, “Willing Willie,” equally stressed the importance of telling the truth. While it’s supposed to be the norm, today, “truth telling has become hazardous to our lives,” she said. “Lying, manipulation of truth has become normal.”
Justice Teresita de Castro, the working chair of the Supreme Court ethics committee (Chief Justice Renato Corona heads it), first took the audience into a theoretical plane and landed on the ground with a lament on the societal problem of tolerating corruption. She was emphatic in saying that government alone is not responsible for fighting corruption: “Breaking the chain of corruption is our concern, not just one government agency.”
The two other panelists—Rex Rex Drilon, a retired CEO, and Roque Carballo, who heads the Institute for Values and Professional Development, an NGO that conducts ethics training in companies—shared their experiences in the private sector and remained hopeful that positive values will trump the negatives.
A number of companies, for example, have joined the Integrity Initiative, a campaign to reduce corruption by conducting business ethically. How? By refusing to pay bribes and not doing business with the corrupt, among others. Led by the Makati Business Club and the European Chamber of Commerce, this looks like a promising endeavor.
Integrity, after all, is the big catchword. As Carandang said, integrity is something “solid and cannot be swayed.” It is not just honesty but a “wholeness” that will remain with a person inside out. – Newsbreak
TAGS: Honey Carandang, Integrity Initiative, Justice Teresita de Castro, Management Association of the Philippines