A question of trust

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By Arnold Alamon

Wrapped in Grey

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


I THINK it was one of those after-class conversations with pioneering rural sociologist Dr. Manuel Bonifacio way back in my undergraduate days that this germ of an idea was discussed. Or it could be in those chance encounters at the academic oval when I joined him in his walking sessions that always ended up as a mobile mini-class on applied Sociology. But what I distinctly remember was how the Professor Emeritus in Sociology in Diliman raised the issue of social trust and the lack thereof as central to our problems as a people. I believe he was commenting on the lack of discipline in our streets and how this condition is related to the corruption scandals that rock our political institutions with regularity.

Of course, the concept of social trust is something that is, we can say, endemic to the discipline of Sociology. There are synonymous terms such as social solidarity, citizenship, and social cohesiveness; although these concepts emanate from different schools of thought and redound to divergent social prescriptions. But social trust and its practice is crucial in any society for without it, the social order and its different components will collapse.

If Doc Boni, as we fondly called him, would have his way, he would perhaps say our problem is the lack of “tiwala” or “pagsalig” not just in our major social institutions such as government but also in how we regard each other as Filipinos in everyday life. Over time, what we have seen in fact, and these here are my own observations, is the continuing erosion of the social fabric that ties us all together as members of a society.

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This condition is apparent in the simplest things in our social life such as taking the daily commute to work in public transport. Will the driver purposively fail to give the correct change before my destination? Will he follow the assigned route or take a shortcut missing my stop? Who are my seatmates? Could they be pickpockets, robbers, or terrorists? The distrust is two-way. The jeepney driver also wonders if all the passengers paid notwithstanding the sticker that declares god knows “judas-not-pay.”

When you enter an establishment, you are asked to remove your cap, your bags are inspected, and CCTVs watch your every move. The same distrust is present in our schools where everyone is asked to wear their IDs like leashes on our necks to separate the bonafide from the suspicious. Even the open roads are punctuated by checkpoints and there is always a moment when you wonder if these are legitimate or whether you will be taken in for extortion by robbers in uniform.

The anxiety that one feels in our public spaces is symptomatic of this lack of social trust among us. It has come to pass that the taken-for-granted nature of everyday life has been replaced by a constant and deep paranoia toward one another. Did the waiter tally the correct order on the bill? Was I just scammed by that online transaction I just did?

When we turn on the news or watch television, we scoff at who we see – politicians at one another’s throats accusing the other of wrong doing while propping themselves as paragons of saintliness. As they speak on the podium of the straight and narrow, their lieutenants maneuver to bulldoze the huts and farms of peasants on land that they have claimed as their birthright. They do the same in the cities so that real estate development of their cohorts can now commence on prime government land.

Meanwhile and elsewhere, South African miners come out to the streets in the tens of thousands to demand for a living wage and commuters in Rio de Janeiro occupied their trains in protest of their government’s plan to increase fares. Here in these parts, it has come to the point that in the midst of harrowing events in Hacienda Luisita, North Triangle, Samar and Leyte, our best response has been to shrug our shoulders, confirm the futility of public life, and retreat into the illusion that our families are insulated from all this horror. But for how long?

This lack of social trust has diminished our spirit as a people I believe. There is hardly anything that binds us together now save for practices of family survival in the midst of one social crisis after another. The failure of our public institutions and with it the quality of our public life has placed at the forefront the Filipino family once again as the fail-safe social institution.

We endure the paranoia of everyday social life because we are in a daily mission to shore up our families for survival. The Filipino home remains the only place where practices of trust are still undertaken by gallant mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, and actually provides the only social base upon which the current gasping state of Philippine society is still made possible.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on February 11, 2014.

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