No more New Year's resolution!

No more New Year's resolution! Featured

I WRITE my first column for 2023 at Heavenly Village in Lake Tahoe while on Christmas skiing holiday with my six grandchildren, ages 3 to 10, two pairs of parents, and a pair of grandparents. While Lolo and Momsie (Lola) are ambulant and don't require wheelchairs, we will ride the downhill runs — where Lolo is known as the "killer of the kiddie slopes," not risking our osteoporotic bones to serious fractures.

As tradition dictates, one uses the year-end to review one's failures and successes against last year's resolutions, embarking on a new list for the coming year. As I wrote in 2021, toward the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, "I claim expertise at crafting beautiful and well-thought-out year-end resolutions — on weight loss, smoking, alcohol intake and diet — that I adopt seriously for a day or two and promptly discard. Thus, I save myself from undergoing similar experiences of friends who forge their own lists, religiously sticking to them for weeks and even months while putting themselves under tremendous stress, anxiety and panic attacks, before surrendering to the inevitable. A lesson well learned every year is to avoid the same mistake. Do a list, if you must, but give them up after a day."

This year, I do away with personal resolutions. But still I intend to accumulate more wonderful experiences with the little ones and deposit them into my memory banks later to be retrieved at leisure, maybe withdraw them in trickles, during my years of dementia and onslaught of the dreaded Alzheimer's, God forbid!

Approaching my life's four-fifths of a century, while my grandchildren's are just in their first decade, I will instead indulge in the usual preoccupation of retired seniors of my generation and examine the carcasses of my past yearly resolutions with regrets but convert these into reflections of my wishes, hopes and aspirations for my own grandchildren and their generation. Using my modest experience in business, government and civil society, overarched by my education and training in political technocracy, I am drawn to musings of the type of society they will be growing in, given the country's being stuck in the policies and methods of governance shaped by a dysfunctional system.

My articles and pronouncements over the years have always reflected my public position on the type of government we Centrist Democrats have advocated passionately for decades: to shift our government from the unitary-presidential form to a parliamentary-federal structure.

These ponderings are prompted by two related occasions this month, the Harvard-KSG Alumni celebrating their 33rd year in the Philippines; and the other, the prodding of an alumni stalwart, Willy Villarama, who sent me video clips of Singapore's founder Lee Kuan Yew's (LKY) pronouncements about how he has elevated Singapore from a backward state — less developed than the Philippines — to emerge among the best economies in Southeast Asia in four decades.

LKY and parliamentary govt

Contemporary accounts attribute Singapore's rise to what LKY himself declared was his basic credo: good governance! In the 31 years as prime minister under a parliamentary system, this is what LKY, and his government delivered. Primarily, anti-corruption policies were instituted, where government dealings are transparent and aboveboard, and the rule of law reigns supreme. A system of meritocracy was put in place governing the choice of people taken into the bureaucracy where bureaucrats are hired and promoted regardless of race, language, or religion. This resulted in the establishment of a superb civil service comparable to that of the United Kingdom's original.

All these are underpinned by political pragmatism where the three cultural components of Singapore's society — Malays, Chinese and Indians — have a fair share of responsibilities and duties and fruits of good governance. He disdained short-term populist policies designed to serve only a segment of Singapore society, opting for long-term socioeconomic planning. His government embraced globalized trade transforming the island of Singapore into a developed country, with high income and sustainably high growth. Though influenced by Western democratic concepts, he was an advocate of Asian values where his three decades of leadership were described as authoritarian with some elements of freedom allowed within some democratic space. His champions characterized his regime as a hybrid or a guided democracy. His critics, mostly advocates of westernized values, censured him for "...curtailing press freedoms, imposing narrow limits on public protests, restricting labor movements from industrial or strike action through anti-union legislation and co-option." (Wikipedia)


Perhaps Willy Villarama was giving a not-so-subtle hint that somehow, the KSG alumni must look up to LKY as a model for the Harvard alumni community to emulate. There is, in fact, a certain logic to this as LKY is an alumnus of some of the best universities; London School of Economics, Cambridge (Fitzwilliam College) and the National University of Singapore — reputedly the Harvard of Asia. But the comparison ends here. I don't assert that one needs to be an alumnus of these venerable institutions or similar ones to be a great political leader.

No educational institution guarantees a pathway to the highest leadership of any country, not Harvard, not Yale or for that matter our own UP, Ateneo, La Salle or UST — just a few of many great educational institutions in the Philippines. What a great university guarantees is to simply provide a venue and an atmosphere where undergraduate students are allowed to get a glimpse of their full potential in whatever profession they so choose. It is unfortunate that this system for many generations has imprinted in the minds of our people that university education is a sine qua non for advancement, top employment, and the highest echelons for all professions. This mindset has resulted in an elitist view of higher education.

Thus, graduates of these local universities seek higher learning in postgraduate fellowships abroad not so much to gain more knowledge — which could be incremental and marginal — but to acquire a patina of prestige conferred by a diploma as evidence of an expensive training from venerable institutions. Harvard's post-graduate professional schools, undoubtedly the premier academic institution with world-class credentials, are coveted. Kennedy School (HKSG), Business (HBS), Law (HLS), Medicine (HMS) and its other professional schools, are Harvard's legitimate offspring; sharing and dispensing a fragile modicum of its reputation for excellence, that Harvard so painstakingly accumulated over the centuries as a great institution. And a synergy is thus created as these Harvard disciples who have been recruited already competent, accomplished, skilled and overqualified, are stamped with its aura, sent forth to the world and called Harvard's own. Thus, this symbiosis could enhance the reputation of both. But Harvard does not guarantee good performance. They just have to prove themselves better.

My final wish, therefore, having thus imbibed from this great institution myself, is for my colleagues in the KSG and the Harvard community, especially those currently in sensitive and responsible positions in government and in the private sector, to explore alternatives to this dysfunctional system we've had for generations. On this, we Harvard people should initiate this conversation and help shape the debate.

Happy New Year!

Read 390 times Last modified on Wednesday, 04 January 2023 11:14
Rate this item
(0 votes)