Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A Nation for Our Children

This piece was written by Senator Jose Diokno and it was taken from the article, “Fighting for a Dream” of Professor Elfren Cruz in BusinessWorld dated 02/28/06.

There is one dream that all Filipinos share that our children may have a better life than we have had. So there is one vision that is distinctly Filipino, to make this country, our country, a nation for our children.
A NOBLE nation where homage is paid not to who a man is or what he owns, but to what he is or what he does.
A PROUD nation, where poverty chains no man to the plow, forces no woman to prostitute herself and condemns no child to scrounge among garbage.
A FREE nation, where men and women and children from all regions and with all kinds of talents may find truth and play and sing and dance and love without fear.
A JUST nation where whatever inequality exists is caused not by the way people act towards each other, but by differences in natural talents, where poverty, ignorance, and hunger are attacked, and every farmer has lands that no one can grab from him, every breadwinner a job that is satisfying and pays him enough to provide a decent standard of living; every family, a home from which it cannot be evicted, and everyone, a steadily improving quality of life.
An INDEPENDENT nation which rejects foreign dictation, depends on itself, thinks for itself, and decides for itself what the common good is, how it is to be attained, and how its costs and benefits can be attributed.
A HONORABLE nation where public powers are used for public good and not for private gain of some Filipinos and some foreigners, where leaders speak not only well, but truthfully and act honestly, a nation that is itself and seeks to live in peace and brotherhood with all the other nations of the world.


Friday, February 17, 2006

About What to Write for a Book

A friend of mine wrote in her blog the other day naming the top 5 things she liked, hated, etc. One of the things she wrote was what she wanted to do before she is gone. She wanted to write a book. Being a book lover, I naturally inquired as to what book/s she planned on writing. Her answer was that she doesn’t have an idea and ask me for a suggestion. Well, I hated to make this a subject of a blog article of mine but I felt answering in a comment box is inadequate. Anyway, I had my ideas as to what to write because I too harbor the thought of writing a book before my time is up and if this helps her or others like her get some ideas on what to write, then that will be just great. Former Georgian president and Soviet foreign minister, Edward Shervanadze once said and I fully agree that there are three things a man should do in his life. First, do something important, then, retire and write a book, and finally, buy and run a farm. People other than professional writers write books for a number of reasons. Take example my professor, Elfren Cruz. He recently launched his first book on family business. Aside from teaching strategic management, professor Cruz is into business consultancy handling specifically Filipino Chinese family businesses. Therefore, his book can be considered to be the crystallization of his life works. From this, we could gather the first of the reasons people write books and that is to impart the wisdom and experience they have gathered over their lifetime to others and in the process help the readers. Corollary to this is the second reason, which could be independent from the first and this is the desire to create their ultimate “masterpiece” or lifework, or “blood work” that people would remember them for as a sort of “fitting” monument of their existence. Yet, the third reason people in their advance state of age wanting to write a book is to present an “accurate” picture of themselves to be preserved for posterity, to “correct” any “misunderstanding/s” or “inaccurate” interpretation/s of the choices they made in their lifetime, and lastly, to provide the “real” history of their prime years. It is to this reason that we have the autobiographies of famous people. For who is the better authority on what really happened? You or your worst critic? Would anybody prefer their detractors to write about them and blacken their memories forever? The answer is quite obvious. The fourth and the last reason that I could think of is we write books because we want to inspire others. We want to convince them that life is not totally hopeless and life goes on and life always manages to find a way. One of the advantages of writing when one is his advance age is that one has already experienced through the thick and trough of life. Thus, this gave us (I’m speaking of the future, old us not the present) the “right” to tell the “young” ones that we’ve been there, we’ve done that, and don’t despair when things turn bad, keep on fighting, and forge the will to go on. Persevere, for there is always a light at the end of the tunnel and that things could turn out fine in the end. There is HOPE! There are a lot of people out there who don’t see any HOPE and they aren’t necessarily the “young” ones and if by our example, we could convince them to go on and eventually “better” themselves, then wouldn’t that be a fitting epitaph? I’m on the process of writing hopefully be a worthy story of mine that I could someday publish before my time is up but in the meantime, I’m saving some money for that farm I’m retiring to perhaps in 30 – 40 years time. What about you? Have you made up your mind on what to write?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

On Greatness; A Conversation between Brothers

My brother likes to ask questions a lot. In fact, he asks so much that it is annoying to me at times. I felt like I am his instant “talking” encyclopedia that he could ask anytime and expects an answer immediately after. There are times however, when he asks a question that is so deep and meaningful that I cannot help but answer it. He did that sometime last week. He was reading an article over the net about the life and works of Augustus Caesar, the first Roman Emperor back then. After reading the article, he asks me that isn’t it unfair to the person who have achieved so much in his lifetime to just be simply “talked” or even “discussed” about in an hour or two or even just a few pages? He went on to elaborate that that great person spent his entire lifetime, shedding blood and sweat, going through agonizing pain, despair, and sorrow, surmounting the unimaginable obstacle and overcoming the overwhelming odds and literally, investing his entire life to accomplish the feat that he is remembered for and what did he get in the end? To be a mere subject of a casual conversation? Somehow it “belittles” his achievements, his life, and his effort. When my brother said that, I fully understand what he was saying. Somehow, it wasn’t enough to be just “talked” about. Great men should deserve our gratitude, our respect, our admiration but they seemed to be short changed. I remembered a poem that exactly captures my brother’s dilemma. It is the preface of the book, “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, written by Lo Kuan Chong in reference to the great battle of the Red Cliff. To loosely translate it, “The violent waves of the gushing great river flows to the East, to a distant land, carrying with it the memories of the legendary past. The waves have erased the footprints of heroes, washed away the bodies of the defeated along with their armors, as well as the victor’s arrows and sword. Nothing is left except for the mountain where the cliff hangs, the silent boulders sit, the quiet tree rest. I wonder if the sunset looks the same as now as it was then? I gazed my sight down on the shore and found a party of fishermen drinking and merry making. In their raucous revelry, they talk about the past, about the great battle that had happened centuries before, about the heroes and the villains, about victors and defeated only to be forgotten when they woke up from their drunken stupor. I cannot help but lament, is this what they worked for (everything they worked for is gone by now)? To be a subject of a drunken debate?” I thought about my reply to my brother’s question for a while and then I asked my brother, how many people have lived or existed in the last thousand years? Billions perhaps. And of the billions that have lived through the ages, only a handful got to be talked about not by one individual or for a couple of years but by many for years after years, centuries after centuries, and generations after generations. Isn’t that fair for what they did, even if their “monument” didn’t survive till now? “Well, yeah.” My brother replied. “But, is it worth it? To stick your neck out only to be criticized, lampooned?” Indeed, there are people who weren’t “there”, who couldn’t understand “why”, and who doesn’t know “what happened” but had the gall to criticize the “one who sticks his neck out” as if he could do any better. It is always easy to know what to do in the past based from hindsight in the future. My reply at that time is, “Well, great men have their admirers and detractors. It’s the price of greatness.” Even so, I somehow am not convinced of my own answer. Is criticism a fair price for greatness? A person is great because he has a “great” responsibility or a “great” task. Bungling the task or a simple mishandling of it would create disaster for multitudes and therefore, great men should accept the criticism thrown against them by posterity. Then again, I remembered these words that is taken from a science fiction novel (Star Trek, The Next Generation, “The Forgotten War”) wherein Captain Jean Luc Picard “assesses” a legendary Starfleet commodore and this is what he said, “There was once a legend and his name was Commodore Lucian Murat. There were things he did that were glorious, things he did that evidenced bravery beyond all expectations of bravery. And there were mistakes that showed just how human he truly was. For within every legend, there cowers a man.” Nothing is more truer said that this! Remove their cloak of invincibility, their aura of greatness; a great man is no different from all of us. However, his virtue, his strength were greatly expanded by a hundred folds and blown out of proportion while his folly, his weakness were magnified a thousand times and all the blame were place on him. It is really quite unfair for they are just like us, human, prone to mistakes but capable of redeeming itself and of doing great deeds. Having convinced myself, I turned to the other statement that my brother said that day and that there are people who weren’t willing to stick their neck out and be “lampooned”. Quite right, there are those who shunned the limelight, who “avoided” greatness and even feared it. The truth is greatness is neither to be sought after nor to work for but it was bestowed upon those worthy of it. The famous phrase of Wen Tien Shiang said it all, “Ren sheng cher ku say wu sez, leo chee tan shin chao han ching.” In my own understanding, this translates to “Since time immemorial, no man has escaped death. Why then bother with the fleeting pleasures of life (power, wealth, influence). Instead, leave a ‘radiant heart’, a clear conscience that one has done its best for his dream, for his principle, for his belief, for what is right, and for humanity to illuminate the pages of history.” Never mind what other said, what is important is what we do. The following day, in between work, I told my brother these words, “Life could be a 10 volume DVD or a few lines that dirty the otherwise clean white sheet of paper, what is your life?” To which, my brother gave a curt reply, “Not even a dot!” That was his answer, what about yours?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Revisiting Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

It’s been more than a decade since I first read Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. Back then; I was just a high school history enthusiast with little knowledge of “serious” history. Although the book was an eye opener to me in terms of studying “serious” history but I remember getting “bored” at times while reading the book of which I had little understanding. However, reading the masterpiece in the past few nights was a totally different experience to me. Somehow, I genuinely felt that I was reading a book that I haven’t read before. It happened a few days ago in my leisurely research of Roman history that I came across the “full” version of Gibbon’s masterpiece over the net (www.ccel.org/g/gibbon/decline/home.html) (my old book edited by Moses Hadas was an abbrebriated version). Armed with a mature understanding and a better grasp of the subject matter, I find the book a delightful read. Edward Gibbon’s masterpiece is considered by many as the greatest historical work written in English and indeed, it’s reputation is well founded. To me, Gibbon writes less about analysis and emphasizes more on narration or story telling (J.B. Bury’s monumental work, “A History of the Later Roman Empire”, which cover similar topics is more analytical in nature) making reading his work less of an intellectual pursuit and more of a pastime. His writing style is “flowery” (and hence less analytical) yet concise and dignified and not overtly flattering. It is also vivid especially in his depiction of tyrants and virtues of worthy Roman emperors. Best of all, it is so fluid that one would be surprise to know that after reading several chapters in one sitting, he has already read through centuries of Roman history and several generations of Roman emperors. To understand the importance of his master’s work, Gibbon’s book covers 13 centuries of Roman history and everything we learned from our history classes about the Roman Empire came from his writing. His book is the foremost authority on the subject matter and is considered as the “traditional” source of Roman history teaching worldwide. And what makes it even more fascinating is that, it was written in the late 18th century (1776). One of his most celebrated and often quoted paragraph by historians is as follows:
"In the second century of the Christian era, the Empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilized portion of mankind. The frontiers of that extensive monarchy were guarded by ancient renown and disciplined valour. The gentle but powerful influence of laws and manners had gradually cemented the union of the provinces. Their peaceful inhabitants enjoyed and abused the advantages of wealth and luxury. The image of a free constitution was preserved with decent reverence: the Roman senate appeared to possess the sovereign authority, and devolved on the emperors all the executive powers of government. During a happy period (A.D. 98-180) of more than fourscore years, the public administration was conducted by the virtue and abilities of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the two Antonines. It is the design of this, and of the two succeeding chapters, to describe the prosperous condition of their empire; and afterwards, from the death of Marcus Antoninus, to deduce the most important circumstances of its decline and fall; a revolution which will ever be remembered, and is still felt by the nations of the earth."
This is why Gibbon wrote his book, to deduce the circumstances that led to the destruction of a mighty empire, the chastisement of a proud race, and the ruin of a once invincible city. The Roman Empire at its height comprises most of Europe, Middle East, and North Africa, including the territories of modern nations of Britain, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Austria, part of Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Israel, part of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and of course, Italy. In fact, one could say that these nations especially Europe wouldn’t be here hadn’t been for Rome. To name a few, modern institutions were ultimately derived from Roman institutions. As an example, the title Chancellor was a minor Roman notary called cancellari. The modern day title of Count was derived from the Roman “Comes” meaning companion or to be more specific, the companion of the Emperor. The Latin language was also the mother tongue of the European language. I could guarantee that one could “fairly decipher” Latin. Best of all, Rome bequeathed to us it’s famous Roman Law. In fact, Gibbon devoted a chapter to Roman Law and there, one could find the genesis of our present “Western” legal practices and traditions in marriage laws, criminal laws, etc. The Roman Law was adopted by the barbarian kingdoms who succeeded the Empire alongside their own Germanic law. Eventually, the Roman law was amalgamated with the German Law to produce two modern legal traditions, the British Common Law, which ultimately produced the American Law, and the French Law as represented by the Code Napoleon. With this in mind, the foremost question that begs for an answer is “What happened?”. The Roman Empire was forge with fire and sword and in the end, it was destroyed by fire and sword. But what forces “weakened” the Empire that it was eventually swallowed up by flames? How could a happy period of four score years of five good Emperors end up like this? According to Gibbon’s thesis, the decline and fall of Rome was due to:
1. The inherent defect and weakness of a one – man rule wherein a system of government relies on the quality of a man, the Roman Emperor and his understanding of the situation which is in turn clouded by the lies and intrigues of his courtiers;
2. The danger of military dictatorship wherein a restive army jealous of its rights and keenly aware of its power wouldn’t hesitate to revolt and place an Emperor on its throne only to depose him later when another gave them a “better” offer;
3. The luxury and vices that pampered the Romans leading them to moral decadence which in turn softened their will and diminished their martial spirits. It was not long ago when Romans were the terror of the ancient world but in their decline, they tremble at everyone that knocks at it's gate;
There is also a fourth reason according to Gibbon, the rise and predominance of Christianity, and it’s effects on the Empire. (Of course, these are Gibbon’s thesis. Modern day historian has a plethora of theories on the decline ranging from economic to military to social theories). Interestingly, Gibbon is an Anglican Christian. On a side note, reading the book on the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, I cannot help but drew parallels with the state of politics in this country of mine. The exactions of a bankrupt government, the corruptions of the elite, the tumultuous and divisive politics, and the restive military are all too familiar to me. I cannot help but lament at our situation while reading the book and express alarm at the state of our affairs and where we are heading if Rome is our guide. Somehow, the phrase “history repeats itself” is actually happening to us except that Manila is not Rome, the President is not a "worthy" Emperor, we are not Romans, and definitely, our country is no Empire. What would have become of us? Perhaps in a hundred years, somebody would write “The Decline and Fall of The Philippine Republic”. Too bad, I wouldn’t live to read it, .........................I hope.