Friday, February 13, 2009

Filipino Culture and Public Sector Ethics Training


“Filipino culture, despite the influences of Spanish and American colonization, has basically retained its distinct Filipino flavor” (Varela, 453). Thus, is it not necessary to design a distinctly Filipino or a culture-sensitive way of ethics training as a component of an integrated approach toward ennobling the Philippine public sector and addressing the problem of corruption?

“Corruption in the Philippines is systemic and sophisticated; the approach to curb it must be holistic, comprehensive, integrated and innovative” (Batalla et al., 21). A World Bank Study in 2000 estimated that, in 20 years, the Philippines lost US $48 billion because of corruption, and this amount surpassed the entire foreign debt of $40.6 billion.

A holistic approach necessitates the following: credible leadership of agencies that enforce anti-corruption laws, strong partnerships among various sectors (government, business, and citizens organizations), improvement of the salaries and benefits especially of high officials and middle managers, focus on notorious agencies, and political reforms to enhance the check-and-balance mechanisms provided by the 1987 Philippine Constitution (Batalla et al., 22).

There are three (3) public agencies that can be considered at the forefront of the enforcement of anti-corruption laws: the Ombudsman, the Sandiganbayan (the anti-corruption court), and the Civil Service Commission. Unfortunately, these agencies are hampered by inadequate resources and personnel.
Specialized anti-corruption agencies can achieve success if they are truly independent and their work is supported by “complementary measures on regulatory simplification, legislation, personnel procedures, and judiciary efficiency” (Schiavo-Campo and Sundaram, 635).

Other principles and guidelines to address corruption are the following: expose and punish high officials and not just petty bureaucrats; “the swiftness and certainty of punishment are more effective than severe punishments with an extremely low probability of being imposed;” asset disclosure and public exposure can be effective disciplinary measures; support from international aid organizations is essential; prosecute aggressively the bribe-giver or the private corruptor; introduce ethics criteria in the recruitment and advancement process; “preventing corruption is far more effective, and cheaper, than punishing corruption after it occurs” (Schiavo-Campo and Sundaram, 634-35).

Every initiative to address corruption will be unsustainable, if one does not take into consideration the condition of the Philippines as a “weak post-colonial state” where “the interaction between powerful rent-seeking families and a correspondingly weak Philippine state has been synergistic” (McCoy, 19). Even among ordinary citizens, clannishness or tribalism is much stronger than patriotism. “Much of the passion, power, and loyalties diffused in First World societies are focused upon family within the Philippines. It commands an individual’s highest loyalty, defines life chances, and can serve as an emotional touchstone.” (McCoy, 8)

Like the Philippines, weak post-colonial states in Latin America and Africa are fragile associations of families and tribes in which corruption is the misuse of public office not just for personal gain but more so for family or clan gain. Many Filipinos are devoted to their families and friends overall, and do not recognize the claims of a larger social community.

Rance Lee has argued that the “incongruence of legal norms and folk norms” motivates Asian bureaucrats, specifically those in Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, to engage in corrupt practices especially graft, nepotism, and bribery. The universalism of legal norms and the particularism of folk norms are incompatible, for “to maintain justice among different groups of people, legal norms are bound to be impersonal and are supposed to be applied uniformly in all situations and to all persons concerned” (Lee, 77). The particularism of folk norms, however, requires loyalty to and special concern for “insiders” or kith and kin.

For Cariño, the bureaucracy and wider society give priority to different values:
The bureaucracy generally operates under the ethic of justice, while Philippine society may be classified under the ethic of care. The first ethic is of the mind and emphasizes abstract, objective and impersonal rules so that justice, fairness and equality reign. In the bureaucracy, this is manifested through norms of hierarchy, jurisdiction, scheduling, technical proficiency, professionalism, and equal opportunity. On the other hand, the ethic of care stresses the recognition of the humanity of other people and one’s solidarity with them. It is said to come from the heart. In the society, norms of cooperation, loving concern, and reciprocal exchanges manifest this ethic. (Cariño, “Socio-Cultural,” 51)

For Lee, the strength of folk norms and the prevalence of corruption are not simply proportional:

"The incongruence of legal and folk norms does not necessarily make people behave according to folk rather than legal norms. Under certain conditions, however, people may have greater wants and/or opportunities to let folk norms take precedence over legal norms, i.e., to commit corrupt acts as defined by law. These conditions include (1) the socio-economic status of the bureaucrats, especially low salaries, perceived relative poverty, and the inconsistency of wealth with power and prestige,
(2) the structures and functioning of the bureaucracy, particularly bureaucratic dominance (e.g., the elitism of the bureaucrats, the idealism of the legal framework, and the imbalance between supply and demand of government resources) and the lack of institutional control on the performance of the bureaucrats (e.g., the great discretion power of the bureaucrats, the inadequacy of the internal checking mechanisms, and the lack of extra-bureaucratic control), and
(3) the social reactions to the bureaucracy, particularly the situations where a) the government is regarded as politically illegitimate, b) the leadership is considered immoral, c) the society is relatively unstable, d) people are ignorant of the laws, or e) the government is applying discriminative policies toward different ethnic groups." (Lee, 106) 

Lee suggests that, where the incongruence of legal and folk norms exists, bureaucrats will still tend to choose to conform to the legal norms if these negative conditions are effectively addressed: (1) unrealistic salary scales, (2) monopoly power, unclear discretion, and lack of accountability of bureaucrats, and (3) adverse social reactions to the bureaucracy owing to situations like political illegitimacy or social instability.

Lee has not considered the possibility of reconciling legal and folk norms. These norms “must be reconciled to make the Filipino values work toward the attainment of bureaucratic excellence” (Varela, 466). Adherence to cultural norms is the second highest ranking value among Filipino civil servants, while discipline is the first, according to a psychological test conducted in 1994 among personnel of five (5) agencies, three (3) of which are prone to corruption (Tapales et al., 889).

For followers of modernization theory, however, no real reconciliation is possible between legal norms and folk norms, and what is necessary is the neutralization of folk norms so that a modern nation-state with democratic institutions and an efficient economy can be firmly established. In “development administration” theory, “culture became an important explanatory variable and was often viewed as a hindrance to the attainment of Western style development” (Cariño, “Administrative Accountability,” 815).

Lee, however, recognizes that, with economic and political activities becoming more competitive, particularistic ties “compensate for the increasing bureaucratic and impersonal life in contemporary complex societies…[they help] satisfy the emotional or expressive needs of individuals, which cannot be met by the impersonal bureaucracy” (Lee, 82).

Developing nations ought to pursue an alternative path to development in which, among other considerations, damage to the local culture and the environment is minimized, local solidarity networks are maintained or reconstructed, certain traditional values like commitment to kith and kin are preserved reflexively, self-reliance and integrity are promoted, and prominence is given to emotive and ethical concerns and to the enhancement of self-respect and social reflexivity (Giddens, 159-63).

Traditional Filipino values like solidarity, personalism, and nobility ought to be used reflexively as resources to overcome corruption. “The more management can use the traditions, values, and beliefs of a society, the more it will accomplish” (Drucker, 20). In the Philippines, the CSC conducts training on the application of ethical standards in government, but since 2001, less than ten percent (10%) of the public agencies have been exposed to such training primarily because of budgetary constraints. Furthermore, while the ethical framework of the training rightly identifies the core values as those laid down in the Constitution and the Code of Ethical Standards, the training modules do not relate folk values with the core values of public service.
Better training modules to combat corruption can be found in a manual created by the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus in 2003. This manual was originally intended for sensitizing schools, communities, and non-government institutions on the problem of corruption, and the Ombudsman has made use of it in conducting seminars in some corruption-prone agencies.
The Jesuit manual contains perhaps the most culture-sensitive modules that I have seen among anti-corruption modules. The third (3rd) module in the manual is particularly interesting for it recognizes that there are indigenous cultural values such as loyalty and family honor which can be used to reinforce personal integrity. The module, however, needs to give more examples and elaborations of the positive cultural values.

Fundamental to a culture-sensitive approach to ethics training among public servants is the orientation of participants to a positive interpretation of selected folk values in order to achieve the goals of public service and of their particular agency. For example, solidarity can be interpreted and promoted in order to establish among civil servants a strong sense of identity both with their agency and with the public. A civil servant who identifies herself closely with her organization is more likely to practice teamwork and co-operation. Furthermore, solidarity can be easily connected with core ethical values like patriotism and loyalty (to the organization and to the public).

Solidarity, as empathy with one another, can make a whole group feel proud when a member does something noble and feel shame when a member does something ignoble. Strong solidarity that is reflexive and not mind-blind can be a deterrent to corruption, as every member becomes aware that an individual act of corruption can put to shame everybody in the organization. Demoralization ought to be seen as one of the reasons for the immorality of engaging in corruption, which demoralizes co-workers, clients, and the general public and generates an atmosphere of distrust.

How about Filipino personalism? Can this folk value become a strategic match for a core value in public service? Does personalism simply mean upholding personal interest over public interest? A respected Filipino anthropologist contends that Filipino personalism includes personalization or the special way of dealing with another as a fellow person (Jocano, 171-72). It also “has to do with the degree of emphasis Filipinos give to interpersonal relations or to face-to-face encounters” (Varela, 454).

With some imagination, leaders, managers, mentors and trainors can try to channel personalism into personalized service that is courteous, friendly, prompt, adequate, and open to suggestions, and which does not discriminate against anybody especially a citizen who belongs to the lower classes. Such personalism can be matched with a core value like responsibility (and responsiveness to the public).

Most ordinary citizens are unhappy with an impersonal bureaucracy. “The culture of arrogance associated with bureaucracy…cannot be attributed to the elitist character of the top and middle bureaucracy alone, but also to the ingrained characteristics of western bureaucracy such as the requisite values of impersonality and universalism” (Varela, 465).

Lee points out that personalism and particularism can be advantageous for an individual to gain resources and influence, and thus he mentions that, in some contemporary Asian societies, people form “pseudo-kinship bonds.” For example:
In letters or conversations, friends usually address each other in kinship terms, such as “elder brother,” “young sister,” or “uncle.” Employer and employees in the same firm often perceive themselves as a team of “brothers.” Government officials are often called “parent officials,” whereas the people are “children-people.” Persons who are not blood-related may go through a ceremony of a sacred nature and become “sworn” brothers or sisters. With the use of a sacred ritual, two individuals may, by mutual consent, form a “sworn” father-son or mother-daughter relationship. (Lee, 82-83)
It is unfortunate that Lee describes the bonds above as pseudo-kinship, which might suggest that their formation involves fraud or bad faith. Although sometimes the use of kinship terms within an organization can be mere flattery, some people do it sincerely and with beneficial effects. For sincere people, these kinship bonds are not pseudo but “spiritual” in the sense of being formed in the spirit of shared values or common goals.

I have personally witnessed how the friendly use of kinship terms, by some frontline public employees toward various citizens who, patiently and impatiently, are transacting business with them, helps maintain a pleasant atmosphere in a busy agency. This is one ordinary example of how personalism can be advantageous to an agency and its public.

In the bureaucracy, the formation of bonds of kinship in the spirit of shared moral values such as solidarity, loyalty to the public, love of country, and accountability will greatly help the campaign against corruption. The formation of bonds of spiritual kinship ought to be one of the objectives of ethics training, but this cannot be done without solemn ceremonies or rituals. Workshops, group discussions, case studies, and interactive learning techniques in ethics training are all helpful but are not enough. Bonds of spiritual kinship need to be celebrated or ritualized periodically.

The weekly flag ceremony, for example, is one occasion of which many Philippine managers and heads of agencies do not take full advantage to form spiritual bonds of kinship among their personnel. All government offices are required to start with a flag ceremony every Monday morning after which important announcements are sometimes made to the assembled employees. Unfortunately, many heads of agencies do not attend the ceremony supposedly because of their busy schedules, although a few dynamic heads and managers make it a point to be present and to give short inspirational talks to their fellow workers in government.

It would make a difference to the campaign against corruption if more heads and managers of agencies were to make extra effort to attend the flag ceremony and give well-prepared talks that inspire and motivate their personnel, go beyond the promotion of slogans and the preaching of platitudes, include true-to-life stories about admirable civil servants, and remind co-workers in government of their spiritual kinship owing to their common oath to uphold the Constitution and the values it espouses.

Even on the matter of the common oath of public servants, which has to be signed upon entry into the civil service, most employees do not actually recite the oath. Heads of agencies usually take their oath before the President in a ceremony at the Palace, but it is enough for the lower officials and employees to sign their oath and start working. This has to change. Managers ought to schedule short but solemn oath-taking ceremonies for every new public servant even if he or she is a lowly clerk, and the oath-taking ought to be witnessed by as many employees of the agency as possible.

A renewal or mass recitation of the oath should be done by the whole agency periodically or during proper occasions like the anniversary of the organization. If explained properly and done with adequate preparation and in a solemn manner, such small acts can greatly help public officials and employees to form a strong kinship bond in the spirit of ethical public service. Leaders and managers need to exercise their imagination to discover or invent other small activities that can strengthen spiritual kinship in the bureaucracy.

Corruption in the Philippines is rooted in flawed organizational systems that cannot be changed without an integrated approach, sufficient competence, imagination, strategic moves, and sustained effort on the part of a critical mass of people both inside and outside government. An integrated approach to corruption has to be both preventive and punitive. Owing to the culture of impunity in the corruption-prone agencies, prosecution and punishment should be pursued with vigor.

An integrated approach to corruption recognizes that vigorous enforcement of administrative and criminal law is unsustainable in the long run in a post-colonial nation where clannishness or tribalism is much stronger than patriotism, and where there is no critical mass of persons of integrity and courage within the bureaucracy.

Leaders can help form the critical mass by introducing and promoting, with enthusiasm and determination, a clear ethical framework that provides guidance and support to officials and employees on how to work, manage, exercise leadership, and motivate people. An ethical framework should be considered indispensable for training in good governance and public management, and such training ought to exercise and strengthen skills in ethical reasoning and self-reflection among public servants.

The ethical framework ought to be based on the core values laid down in the Constitution and with enough emphasis on responsibility, loyalty (to the public) and patriotism, in light of the continuing strength of traditional values and folk norms like personalism and solidarity. Furthermore, to make ethics training in the bureaucracy more effective and culture-sensitive, the reflexive and selective incorporation of folk values has to be done.
Finally, the formation of bonds of kinship in the spirit of shared values among civil servants in our country and, perhaps, in other post-colonial states with struggling democracies, will help in remoralizing the public sector and overcoming corruption. Meaningful rituals have to be experienced periodically in order to develop and sustain such spiritual bonds. To lead people, or to inspire and motivate them, in the context of expressive rituals and core values, including selected traditional values that are interpreted in a reflexive way, will contribute significantly to efforts to enforce administrative and criminal law and to pursue the comprehensive reform of government
Sources Consulted:
Alfiler, Ma. Concepcion. “The Political-Administrative Accountability Continuum in Philippine Public Service.” In Introduction to Public Administration in the Philippines. 2nd edition, 839-51. Edited by Victoria Bautista et al. Quezon City: National College of Public Administration and Governance, 2003.
Batalla, Eric, Fernando Aldaba, Men Sta. Ana, & Nepo Malaluan. “Governance and Corruption in the Philippines.” Unpublished paper, 2001.
Cariño, Ledivina. “Administrative Accountability: A Review of the Evolution, Meaning and Operationalization of a Key Concept in Public Administration.” In Introduction to Public Administration in the Philippines, 805-38.
__________. “Socio-Cultural and Administrative Norms and Values.” In Graft and Corruption: Endemic HRM Concern, 54-58. Manila: POAP, 1996.
David, Randolf. Nation, Self and Citizenship. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Department of Sociology, 2002.
Drucker, Peter. Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.
Giddens, Anthony. Beyond Left and Right: The Future of Radical Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994.
Jocano, F. Landa. Towards Developing a Filipino Corporate Culture. Revised edition. Quezon City: Punlad Reasearch House, 1999.
Lee, Rance. “Bureaucratic Corruption in Asia: The Problem of Incongruence between Legal Norms and Folk Norms.” In Bureaucratic Corruption in Asia: Causes, Consequences, and Controls, 69-107. Edited by Ledivina Cariño. Quezon City: JMC Press, 1986.
McCoy, Alfred, ed. An Anarchy of Families: State and Family in the Philippines. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1994.
Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus Committee on the Evangelization of Culture. Ehem! A Manual for Deepening Involvement in Combating Corruption. 2nd ed. Davao: Ateneo de Davao University, 2003.
Schiavo-Campo, Salvatore and Pachampet Sundaram. To Serve and To Preserve: Improving Public Administration in a Competitive World. Manila: Asian Development Bank, 2001.
Tapales, Proserpina, Virgilio Enriquez, and Oliver Trinidad. “Value Profile and Corruption Propensity: Correlates among Employees in Two Types of Government Agencies.” In Introduction to Public Administration in the Philippines, 875-901.
Varela, Amelia. “The Culture Perspective in Organization Theory: Relevance to Philippine Public Administration.” In Introduction to Public Administration in the Philippines, 438-72.
World Bank, Philippine Country Management Unit. Combating Corruption in the Philippines. Manila: World Bank Office, 2000.

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