I am quite amazed as to how the Special Task Force of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) conducts street-clearing operations over the past few months. Complemented by media coverage of major networks and a British blogger that goes by the name of Gadget Addict, the Task Force has been dealing with a barrage of all kinds of difficult people, from the arrogant rich to the defenseless poor, from an argumentative prosecutor to a wisecracking street vendor, from a threatening policeman to a sarcastic yet humorous tricycle driver.
What I find admirable, however, is the conduct of the commander of the Task Force, retired Armed Forces of the Philippines officer Edison “Bong” Nebrija, a member of Philippine Military Academy Class 1991. After serving 20 years in the Navy, Nebrija leads this small MMDA unit created purposely to clear roads of illegally parked vehicles, dismantle all kinds of obstruction in the sidewalks and apprehend irresponsible drivers, especially those who disobey the simplest traffic regulation—driving with a valid license. Bong leads by example and encourages everyone to observe common courtesy and traffic discipline. He says, “If we have a common standard of discipline, that’s the brighter Manila and that’s the brighter Philippines.” In the many videos shared online, I always find Nebrija patiently explaining to pompous and raucous drivers. Nebrija’s way of disciplining these violators is undoubtedly courageous. He has received quite a few threats.
On the other hand, what I find appalling in the videos posted online is the number of Filipinos utterly disrespecting the traffic enforcement team of Nebrija. They argue with, shout at and mock our law enforcers. I have had my own share of encounters with all kinds of law enforcers. But I always make it a point to either ask them to swiftly issue me a ticket whenever warranted or ask for leniency by letting me go without a ticket. I never disrespected any of them, since I too was a law enforcer at one point. In the Bible, Romans 13:1-2 says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. God has established the authorities that exist. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” Considering that a large majority of the Filipino population are believers and Bible readers, obeying duly constituted authorities should come as second nature. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, there was a breakdown in discipline in the country principally due to the gradual erosion of trust in some government agencies. I think it will take one colossal cultural transformation, if not a major spiritual upheaval, for Filipinos to again respect, not fear, those men enforcing the law.
When it comes to imposing discipline in the army, sergeants are the enforcers in any unit. In Latin, sergeant is serviens, which means “one who serves.” One sergeant who I worked with was a certain Sgt. Bacalso. He played a significant role in leading, training, caring for and motivating soldiers in our infantry battalion in Bataan. He walks the talk by doing all the things he demands from our soldiers—wakes up early, wears the uniform with pride, keeps himself fit and, most of all, follows my orders. He was my “big stick.” All of my men feared him. In the Bible, Romans 13:3-4 says, “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in
authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” I say that Col. Nebrija, Sgt. Bacalso and the other servant leaders in government service are agents of kindness to those who do good. We need not fear them. We need more of them.
Yet discipline is easier said than done. History tells us that fear is the foundation of discipline. Without fear, people will not follow their leaders. But do we really need a big stick to make us follow the law or basic traffic rules?
The obvious yet costly solution to our urban traffic congestion is more roads and less cars. The lasting yet inexpensive solution lies within each road user in the country—discipline. But must we replicate Nebrija’s task force to impose disciplinary measures to the millions of people using our roads and sidewalks? In the Bible, Romans 13:5 tells us, “Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.” Would it be a pipe dream if all Filipino drivers will obey traffic rules, not out of fear from the MMDA but due to their spiritual belief and civic duty to respect authorities? Our common standard of discipline is not what the law says but what our conscience tells us to do. And I am sure most of us know it already.
For questions and comments, please e-mail me at [email protected]
His professional degrees came from the United States Military Academy at West Point in New York, Ateneo Law School, and University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA.
Now a corporate executive for a major airline, Siegfred is a former soldier and a lawyer by profession, a teacher and and inspirational speaker by passion, and a book author and a writer with a mission.