, February 9, 2005 (STAR) By Ann Corvera  -  More than corruption, the lack of a well-developed civic culture has kept the Philippines from developing 18 years after freeing itself from dictatorship, according to United States diplomats.

Contributing to this lack, says US deputy chief of mission Joseph Mussomeli, is insufficient civic education.

Noting that the Philippines finds itself "stuck" from time to time in the face of challenges, US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone called for the "subversion" of education as a means to move the nation forward.

Treating education as a "subversive act," he noted, is different from the kind of subversion that undermines democratic institutions.

Teaching should be "the way to liberate" the country, and the challenge for Filipinos is to free themselves from the "shackles" of ignorance that stall development. Ricciardone made his remarks to participants of the annual Tagaytay Seminar sponsored by the US Embassy which this year focused on fostering civic education in the Philippines.

While Filipinos enjoy democracy, Mussomeli, who also welcomed participants to last weekendís event, said "the processes of democracy in and of themselves are not enough."

Mussomeli recalled it was during the final years of the Marcos regime that he and his wife last stayed in the country. "When we left 18 years ago, we believed that the Philippines was on the threshold of great things."

Although the country has come a long way since then, he said it has "in other ways" remained where it was even before democracy was restored.

Corruption, inefficiency and incompetence in government were the usual suspects, practices that go back as far as colonization by Spain and the US, Mussomeli said. But none of these "excuses" are satisfactory, he remarked.

The crucial ingredient of "active, involved citizens" ensuring good governance is still absent, Mussomeli said.

"Civic life creates an atmosphere that ensures the healthy functioning of state institutions that combat corruption and respect the rule of law," he told the participants, mainly educators from around the country, both from the public and private sectors.

Education Secretary Florencio Abad, on the other hand, said Filipinos need to develop an "affinity" for democracy so that civic education can flourish.

In his keynote address, Abad acknowledged Filipinos have grown weary of corruption and incompetence in government, so they become apathetic about the nationís many social problems.

Calling this a "decline of society," Abad said at the same time there is too much "dependence on government." Above that, government itself has to undergo reform and "set an example" to the citizens, he said.

He called on the media to make more responsible contributions to educating society, especially the youth.

Although civic education in the country is now "underdeveloped," Abad said the strong civic tradition among Filipinos could be revived by "institutionalizing community involvement."

Democracy thrives in the country, he added, but its benefits of social equality are still lacking in Philippine society.

The Philippines ranks 121st among 192 countries that meet the criteria of "authentic functional constitutional democratic republics," according to Dr. John Patrick, an expert on civic education who discussed how civic participation works in the American society.

Patrick defined civic education as "teaching and learning knowledge, skills and dispositions that enable students (and the rest of the citizenry) to become responsible and effective participants in a constitutionally representative democracy."

"Character formation," he emphasized, is the foundation of civic education, which when harnessed will improve the conditions of society.

Mussomeli called on Filipinos, particularly the youth, to "actively engage in the life of the nation," and noted the government itself must succeed in stamping out corruption, especially in the scandal-ridden armed forces, "to prove that the Philippines can strengthen all its other institutions."

He cited the Philippines Defense Reform initiative as the "clearest example" of US support for this effort.

"This program will enable the Armed Forces of the Philippines to perform at its highest potential, and will greatly improve the AFPís transparency and accountability from top to bottom," he said.

"Filipinos must lead, but you can count on the United States to help," the US envoy said.

For his part, US counselor for public affairs of the US embassy Ronald Post said the concept of "self-interest" seems to be misunderstood in this country.

Post, in closing remarks, noted how Filipinos have "so much love for family that there is little love left for the next town, or island."

Fostering civic education, he said, means "going beyond who we are" to thinking of society as a whole.

"We are part of a society larger than ourselves," Post said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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