THEORY AND PRACTICE: Mixing philosophy and development to make society work

In the Philippines, public programs and projects do not usually go through ethical scrutiny. The proposals and subsequent implementation of projects are based on the interests of people in position of power although this should not mean that public officials do not put in mind the interests of the public. However, much is left to be desired when it comes to ethical governance and human development. It is important to consider the consequences of projects or whether these follow the main thrust of a democratic government, which is the good of the people.

While it is clear that goals must be set, it is also crucial to look into other aspects as well, including sustainability and justice. Philosophers can help in policy making, to be precise about our intent here. Projects have an impact in the environment and society as a whole. For instance, the resort built in an area declared as a natural heritage should not have been approved in the first place if public officials and bureaucrats were mindful of the ethical aspect of a proposal. When the only consideration is economic, the shortsighted perspective of both proponents and those in government appear obvious. The same should be the case when we talk about the sacred land of the Lumads.

There is a reason why we need to ethically assess government programs and projects. For one, we need to avoid wasting resources. Second, we need to be future-oriented and see the long view when it comes to government programs. Dr. Rec Eguia refers to it as “futures thinking,” which advanced mechanisms and technological perspectives on economic growth and human progress. Third, inclusiveness is always critical. If programs benefit only a select few or put others at a disadvantage, then such is worth a reexamination.

Academics are important in the pursuit of good governance. Such role is being done well by the likes of Dr. Julio Teehankee of De La Salle University. Dr. Teehankee helps the Bangsamoro government in the democratization process. The same is also done by Dr. Lourdesita Chan and Fr. Joel Tabora of Ateneo de Davao University. By putting Mindanao as one of the thrusts of the research agenda of the University, the school is doing its share in rectifying decades of historical injustice. Other local academics have also played a role as well by being consultants of Local Government Units. Dr. Rogelio Bayod of Cor Jesu College is doing his part in Davao del Sur.

I am not just talking about the analysis of problems. I am talking about the actual work of academics in making society just and equal. It is something that is beyond advocacy. This has something to do with the advice and ethical recommendations we give to public officials and bureaucratic leaders. Such is something important if we desire the good of the people. Disruption in society happens because of the lack of foresight. We cannot just blame those in positions of authority. All who uphold unjust structures and institutions are equally guilty according to Yale Professor Thomas Pogge.

But the difficult job of making democracy work happens to be that act of reaching out to ordinary folks who do not have the patience and only want to gain immediately from the goods that any government provides. The same attitude makes them susceptible to political manipulation and exploitation. As a result, there is a lack of empowerment on the part of the people. In this sense, community-based organizations should be guided by ethical framework and must align with sustainable development goals to make their work effective and worthwhile.

Jurgen Habermas says that will-formation in a democracy is critical in order to realize a healthy public sphere. People from the background culture should be allowed to express themselves and their voices must be heard. Politicians often portray a public persona. That is understandable. But the job of aligning society to the moral compass of good governance and human development is the job of people behind the scene whose advice is crucial to make any government program work for the good of the people.

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