As per the Constitution, the Executive branch’s power is vested in the president. He has control of all executive departments, bureaus and offices in that branch of government. Through the department of the budget he presents to Congress an appropriations bill which contains a budget of expenditures and sources of financing. He is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces and can make treaties with foreign countries subject of course to the concurrence of the Senate.
The chief executive of our country is also the chief magistrate through the Department of Justice who can persecute anyone. He is the chief financial officer who is in charge of financing development, the top military officer who can wage war and enter into negotiations with foreign countries with the consent of Congress and he is basically the chief architect of the nation’s foreign policy.
Given this job description of a president, it is ironic therefore that the Constitution only provides a minimum of qualifications – that he be a natural-born citizen, a registered voter, able to read and write, and at least 40 years old and a resident of the country for at least 10 years before elections! No wonder we have elected a housewife and a school dropout to head the nation in the past.
In a couple of years we will again be shopping for someone to head the nation. What kind of a person should we look for since the Saligang Batas has given us a very skimpy job description of the top executive of our country?
First, he must be God-fearing with the common good as his vision of development. It is not enough that at his inauguration address he comes up with some pious statements given that the road to hell is usually paved with good intentions as we had witnessed in the past. The choice of a president requires due diligence on the part of the electorate. It must look into the track record of the candidate. Is he known to be a mover or shaker with a good batting average and solid track record? If a legislator what kind of performance did he exhibit in Congress, such as bills filed and productive participation in committee work. If a local official what kind development projects did he accomplish. If a businessman, how did he contribute to the great performance of his company. And if an academician or social worker, does he have the respect of his colleagues in the profession. These are only some of the criteria. Above all he/she must be known for moral integrity.
In office the president must be expected to be above Caesar’s wife in his dealings. He must have his eyes turned to the skies as he visualizes a development paradigm that promotes development with equity while keeping his feet firmly planted to the ground so as not to lose the common touch. He cannot afford to closet himself in an ivory tower in splendid isolation surrounded by sycophants and bootlickers who cannot even muster the nerve to point out that the emperor has no clothes. We need a statesman who can place the interest of the nation above that of his own party, family or friends.
Since governance is a most complex task no president can be expected to excel in this activity in several directions nor can we expect to find so many competencies converging in this person. Clearly therefore he needs to be surrounded by assistants who can excel in the many tasks of governance – such as financing development, promoting agro-industrial growth, accelerating physical infrastructure development or social overhead projects, promoting macroeconomic stability, preserving peace and order, etc. To place the best and the brightest in the right positions he must not rely solely on the often biased recommendations of party moguls, lobby groups and the favorites of kith and kin.
The next president must break the politically entrenched economic elite once described by Ninoy as the plutocrats and vested interests. Marcos in his first term tried to do this but backed off against insurmountable odds and had to rely on constitutional authoritarianism (read dictatorship) to break their hold on the government. Unfortunately in the words of Lord Acton power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. In the end therefore Marcos substituted the predators of the past with his own cronies. We know the rest of the story!