Here is the capsule of President Aquino’s standard exhortation to the nation.
“Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Don’t cheat.” These words were also the highlights of his recent speech before the graduating class of the Philippine Military Academy. That was, by all benchmarks, his most important commencement address for this year.
The clarion call to return to the basic values of honesty and integrity, in fact, draws heavily from the central theme of his government.
”Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap,”remember, was also the central message of his 2010 successful campaign for the presidency.
In the view of the President, battling corruption is the miracle cure to his country’s many woes, including the deeply-entrenched problem of grinding mass poverty.
Pope Francis, I don’t know if this is all rooted in having a global (more than a billion) constituency, has not been too big on the themes of morality and values. Even on perceived transgressors of deeply-held Catholic values, like homosexuals, he refuses to either take a strident tone or cast the first stone. He is more forgiving of human frailties.
Instead, he is more concerned on what another global leader, President Obama, has called the”defining challenge of our time.”That issue is inequality, the dominant topic that is being debated in many parts of the developed world right now. And is now a major topic of serious scholarship and research.
“Today, we also have to say, thou shall not to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills,”he said.
He is also concerned about the plight of the jobless. He said: “The unemployed and underemployed risk being relegated to the margins of society, becoming victims of social exclusion.” He is very specific about the constituencies that he wants to uplift: the poor, the voiceless, the powerless. He has also categorically dismissed “trickle-down economics” as nonsense.
The Pope in the recent meeting with President Obama, according to most newspaper accounts, primarily focused on the growing problem of inequality and the plight of the poor. The gift Pope Francis gave to President Obama was a copy of his papal exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, “which proclaimed that the Catholic Church is poor and for the poor.”
Obama said he will read it “when I am deeply frustrated.” He added: “I’m sure it will give me strength and calm me down.”
In this part of the globe, the only Catholic nation in Asia, President Aquino would not draw strength from the papal exhortation. If we were to draw from his speeches, actual initiatives and policy preferences—and the people and institutions he prefers to associate with—The Joy of the Gospel is automatically out as a preferred reading material.
He would not jibe with the Pope in the definition of what a leader should be. In framing what leadership should place as its top policy priorities.
President Aquino, in dramatic contrast to Pope Francis, is big on morality issues. He has staked his presidency on his bedrock attribute of personal integrity. Another major priority of President Aquino is economic growth, that comes via nice graphs and charts representing surging GDP growths.
The generation gap is very apparent and you have a ready feeling on who the modern thinker is. President Aquino fits very well into the core values, policy priorities and competencies of a leader in the 80s. Pope Francis is essentially a leader of the 21st century. Proof? This requires an explanation.
If you tweak the Washington Consensus a bit, and search for the technocratic, straight leadership that would implement the sense of the Consensus, you have your ideal leader in President Aquino. The expansion of market forces in the economy, as you might have fully observed, is on the top of the “to do things” of the president.
Personal integrity is actually a complement of the program. Corruption drags down the heedless pursuit of growth as it distorts the market forces. Transparency of the bidding process is a must as the opposite would skew matters, whose net result would be lethargic growth or missed performance targets.
It all welds: personal integrity plus obsession with a market based reforms.
The human factor is not much a factor under the Washington Consensus.
That period was about the need for brutal efficiency to push market reforms to usher in growth, represented by GDP surges and fiscal and monetary reforms. If human well-being happened to be advanced, too, across the board, the better. But marginal lives were really not really a serious consideration under the Consensus.
President Aquino is actually reliving the 80s and the technocratic leadership to pursue market-based reforms and growth. It is all about growth and economic reforms. Unfortunate human lives are an afterthought. The creation of a dark underside to this 21st century Belle Epoque, would not really bother President Aquino.
Pope Francis, in contrast, is rooting primarily for this dark underside—wasted, drifting lives amid so much growth.
The irony is this is now viewed by many as the priority concern of a 21st century leader. The Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, the global conversation about the Great Divide, the debunking of trickle-down economics and ground-breaking researches on the rise of the patrimonial wealth are slowly turning global priorities upside down.
President Aquino, the ideal leader of the 80s, is pursuing growth at all cost. Pope Francis rides on this surging tide of global actions to avert the rise of a new Gilded Age. The contrast is very clear.