Chalk Marks

Getting rid of ‘lusot’

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It seems easy enough to rant about the multitude of problems the Philippines faces and blame everything from history to cultural influences to explain them. Solutions seem futile because many of the hindrances to our industrial and social progress are too ingrained or acceptable that nothing is being done about it.

Take “lusot.” Loosely translated as wiggling out of a predicament or a dilemma, this habit can be a treacherous cultural shortcoming that can compel citizens to cut corners, bribe law enforcers, or simply violate the simplest of rules or ordinances.

Consider for a moment these common everyday scenes: A motorist steps on the gas pedal to beat a yellow and then subsequently red light on a busy thoroughfare.  Pedestrians play patintero with speeding vehicles even if a huge sign says, “Bawal tumawid. May namatay na dito.” Jeepney drivers stop almost everywhere to speed up passenger turnover. Cars are parked on small side streets under the excuse that the front of their house is part of the vehicle owner’s property.

And there’s more: Supposedly flustered and rushing customers try to sweet talk their way into grocery or department store cashier lines. Applicants in a congested government agency look for acquaintances or “fixers” to speed up the process. “Singit” is done in even the most innocent movie ticket lines, fast food counters, and concert or sports events.

These are just a few of the times when discipline and the rule of law are ignored or sidestepped to gain some form of advantage. “Lusot” or getting an edge through crafty or deceptive moves seems ingrained deep in our way of life. “Lusot” is fine for wiggling out of difficult personal challenges or on a basketball court, but is probably not entirely good for our growth as a people.  

Because of the desire na makalusot, laws are violated and a hatred or phobia for any form of waiting develops. It seems easy enough to break codes of discipline with a simple lusot to get through life.

Friends on Facebook consulted for this article repeatedly pointed out lack of personal self-discipline as one of the culprits why we cannot truly move forward.  The scenes mentioned above often translate into larger transgressions: Bullies shortchange suppliers in our farmlands, law enforcement officers on the road are bribed to get a violation over with quickly, security forces are asked to look the other way when heavy containers or large deliveries are not properly accounted for.

The lack of discipline would not be so widespread if laws were implemented fairly, evenly and strictly, and if there were simply more efficient ways of doing things.  For example, road law enforcement officers often catch motorists “swerbing” or swerving without them truly understanding the rudiments of the violation. Underpaid and cranky clerks at government agencies are in a rush to go into their snack breaks. Lines at agencies where citizens want to avail of benefits become disenchanted or simply suffer through the excruciating experience of trying to get what is actually already theirs.

How can we remedy this?

Consistent, fair, and clear implementation of laws in various facets of life is imperative.  Many wonder why Filipinos do well when they work abroad and are often the choice hires of foreign contractors. The industry and intelligence of Filipino workers are a given but there is also that inherent desire to obey rules and regulations in foreign places of work because non-compliance would be costly and could mean fines, jail time, or even deportation.  

Filipinos will follow as long as laws are implemented consistently and explained clearly. Trying to cut in or allowing fixers as stand-ins will disappear if people at desks or counters do their tasks quickly and on time. How many times have we suffered through long lines as the airport or a government office because the people manning the counters are late, and then work slowly and sluggishly?  

We have often heard that education is the solution to many of our problems and contradictions. However, it’s not enough to tell our children or students to be patient in long lines and obey rules and regulations. If the lines they stand in refuse to move or leave them in the heat of the sun or if the rules they try to follow are ignored by many, then the cultural layers will remain. We simply have to do better now to encourage discipline that results in fairness and benefits for all.

Hindi natin malulustan ang problemang ito. We need better law enforcement and ways of doing things.


Sev Sarmenta, PhD, is an Assistant Professor at Communication Department, Ateneo, where he has taught for the last 32 years and served as chair for two terms.  He has also covered sports on television and writes a weekly sports column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

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