MY son had to run off one night last week because -- as one of the judges for the prestigious Anvil Awards -- he had to be present for the awarding ceremonies of the Anvil Awards sponsored by the PRSP, the umbrella organization of public relations practitioners. Not long after, a close friend sent me a text informing me that his company had won and that, to his surprise, his godson -- my son -- was presenting the award to him! My son had not even made the connection between the award and the fact that his godfather was the head of the company to be awarded. Needless to say, the only admonition I gave to my son when he was busy going through the various scrapbooks was to exercise the greatest objectivity and not to be swayed by the corporations or their owners. He is already quite independent-minded, and my reminder only served to reinforce the need to be above the fray when it comes to sensitive matters like the giving of prestigious awards. The occasion of the Anvil Awards reminded me of a trophy I saw last December during a dinner hosted by an aunt to commemorate the life and times of her spouse, my uncle, who served with distinction in both the private and public sectors. The trophy was for a Grand Anvil won sometime in the ‘90s by the institution I worked for. The project was a multi-year effort at uplifting a depressed community in Metro Manila. Why the sense of déjà vu? Sometime in '83 or ’84, I wrote a concept paper which suggested that the firm “adopt” a depressed community and send a team of people from the company to do a “needs analysis” with the end in mind of uplifting said community by way of a multi-year partnership. The idea was to help the community without resorting to the usual hand-outs, but to find ways and means to get target beneficiaries out of the perennial cycle of poverty that most depressed communities are rooted in. I remember one suggestion I made back then, which was to take a look at some of the items being bought on a regular basis by our company, and which could be produced on a small scale by the community. Other possibilities included sponsorship of skills training and vocational education for those capable of working, and the offering of scholarships for promising young children. The program was implemented after I had left the firm for my in and out stints in government and stabs at entrepreneurship. It was a pleasant surprise, therefore, when I got a call from my former staff to tell me that they had won the Grand Anvil based on a concept I had written years earlier. The concept is valid till this day, and is -- to a very large extent -- finding fruit in efforts like the Gawad Kalinga program which provides housing and a combination of social and moral upliftment to boot.
February 2008 Archives
THE EVENTS of the past few months validate what many jaded observers have seen and noted as a hallmark of many who serve in government these days. Gone is the concept of service above self (as a civic club is wont to profess as one of its governing principles). Instead, we now have a proliferation of people eager to enter government, hoping to enrich themselves in the process. And, from what is being revealed by the current Lozada testimonies, the proponents have become incredibly greedy and voracious. I still remember vividly Ka Jaime Ferrer (who was certainly a paragon of honesty and integrity when he served as Comelec chairman!) recounting to me how he would react when asked by a constituent to be recommended to the revenue agencies like BIR or Customs. He would lash out at them and scold them for asking for those appointments, knowing that they had only one thing in mind: to get rich! Some two decades back, while the countryâ€™s accounts were being put back in order and the international debt pared down, the policy of using Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) and Build-Own-Operate (BOO) became the norm, and the tendency in the past to borrow to fund capital expenditures was discouraged. That is why the brazen (but foiled) attempt at borrowing to fund the government broadband project really strikes one as yet another attempt at personal enrichment at the expense of future generations of taxpayers. But even more stunning is the thought that the basic cost of the project at about $100+ million would have generated more than $250 million in stolen profits for the proponents, using borrowed money at that! My family has just laid our mother to rest after a life well lived and well spent. My mother belonged to a generation of old-school practitioners who believed in God and practiced honesty in their public and private dealings. They also instilled their hallowed beliefs in us, their children, and we -- in turn -- have not tired in pointing to our own children the need to put the Commandments and Beatitudes into practice in their own daily lives. There were so many of my motherâ€™s friends from her childhood and civic action days who passed by to express their sympathies to the family. These were people I had long looked up to and admired over the years, and whose own lives served as formative models. Some had remained purely in the private sector, while others pioneered in education or set the tone in selfless civic involvement. Many of them lamented the apparent loss today of core values and wished for the days when they and my parents would get involved in projects that would help many others without any thought of self-aggrandizement or self-enrichment. And we wonder why our country canâ€™t seem to get off its collective feet and progress like our neighbors are doing?
WHILE walking through a mall located in Metro-South, I happened to notice one particular store that brought a happy thought. This store -- I forget its full name -- is called San Jose and deals in kitchen cabinets and the like. It is owned by a neighbor and his wife, casual but good friends. Why did the sight of their store evoke a pleasant thought? The couple started typically as small entrepreneurs in a related field. Then, they ventured into this other field and encountered the usual problems that budding enterprises fall prey to. They managed to grow over the past few years, however, and their success is evident in the opening of new outlets like the one I saw in the mall. What distinguishes this couple from others like them? The owners, Oscar and Mel Chan -- who have no idea at all that I am writing this piece about them and their business, thank goodness -- are a God-fearing couple who do not merely mouth platitudes about social responsibility. They put it into practice every single day. For example, each working day starts with a group prayer, offering the day up to God and thanking Him for His many blessings. The Chans share their profits with their employees, and make every effort to let them know how the company is doing -- and how much it is earning -- so that each feels like a personal stakeholder in its fortunes. As a result, the company enjoys high employee morale and a great sense of involvement and achievement. Perhaps, because of their sense of social responsibility, the good Lord has seen fit to reward the company with increased business even during tough times. This is yet another example of how business persons can walk the talk without much fanfare.
SOME months back, some friends in the NGO community told me of a petition going around to annul Executive Order 671, a document coming from the Palace which sought to remove the accreditation process from the PCNC and transfer this function to some government agency. Naturally, the NGO community became alarmed because of this unwanted intrusion into a function that is already properly addressed by the private sector. I did a little sleuthing and sent some inquiries to friends "up there." At first, no one seemed able to locate said document, as if it went missing. Finally, a very close friend told me that, not only did he locate it, but that it was undergoing close scrutiny. I gave him an earful on what both I and many in the NGO community thought and he promised to take a closer look. Later on, he informed me that EO 671 was to undergo review and that consultations would be undertaken both within government and with representatives of NGOs. Good! Better yet, I found out a few days ago that this much-maligned EO is now being reviewed by the office of this same friend. Since I know him to be a career officer with an honest and objective mindset, I am hoping that government will see fit to leave things as they are. In the first place, NGOs precisely exist to fill a need or to cover for the inability of government to perform certain functions. While government typically takes care of big ticket items like capital expenditures and prays for a trickle-down effect to the marginalized sectors, an NGO usually tackles niche segments of society, each with its special set of needs with a minimum of resources. The problem probably came up when government began to confuse the typical NGO with other groups they brand as POs (Peoples Organizations), Political Organizations, et al. Maybe the tendency of the government to see Red every time an NGO appears in the picture adds to this sense of insecurity. My ten centavos' worth of advice -- which is usually ignored anyhow -- is for government to let the private sector do what it does best with a minimum of interference. Once the bureaucracy steps in, the effectiveness of the average NGO will be neutralized. God forbid!