First of two parts
As presidential aspirants come out of the woodwork to file their candidacy papers at the Commission on Elections, Filipinos will get even more worked up over which candidate to support and who’s winning or losing. Voter surveys, campaign sorties, TV ads, social media plugs, and the shifting political alliances across the land will fuel much talk.
Let this article be a plea for some serious thought about what should occupy the minds of voters far more than poll ratings, media sound bites, endorsements and rallies: the qualities of presidential leadership that we should look for and to which aspirants to the Palace should aspire.
The good news is, past chief executives have amply shown these traits. To be sure, the leaders cited have their dark sides, as those who may dispute their inclusion here would quickly raise in comments following this forum.
But let us set those negatives aside for now, to distill what positives future leaders can emulate. Otherwise, we may commit the error of the present President, who thinks he has nothing to learn from predecessors other than his mother.
The qualities of PANGULO
Traits of the ideal President may be summed up in the acronym PANGULO, the Filipino word for president. Past heads of state have shown Patriotism, Audacity, Nation-building, Grassroots outreach, and Unyielding commitment. On the other hand, two must-have qualities are sorely lacking: Liberation of the poor, and Open governance.
PATRIOTISM, of course, should be the foundation of any Pantheon of presidential traits. Every leader and all candidates cannot but claim to love the motherland, even those who may have repudiated her under duress of enemy occupation or in pursuit of a better life abroad.
While exemplary acts of nationalism can rightly be claimed by many leaders, from war resistance to asserting territorial rights, the presidents who unceasingly fought for Philippine independence from colonial rule deserve mention.
Emilio Aguinaldo, president of the First Philippine Republic in 1898-1901, revolted twice against Spain, abandoning comfortable Hong Kong exile to reignite revolution and fight the Spaniards, then the Americans, the latter in a most brutal war. The freedom he could not win on the battlefield Manuel Quezon, president of the Philippine Commonwealth from 1935 to his death in 1944, negotiated in Washington.
Their determination to bring forth the Republic instead of letting the archipelago continue centuries of colonial rule, must count as gems of patriotism. Sure, many of our leaders have sadly delivered the governance Quezon cited, as his grandson Manolo recalls: “I prefer a country run like hell by Filipinos to a government run like heaven by Americans … because however bad a Filipino government might be, we can always change it.”
Asserting our identity and independence as a nation has challenges, yet assert it we did, thanks to Aguinaldo and Quezon.
AUDACITY can also be ascribed to the two leaders in seeking freedom from foreign rule. Audacious too were social and economic reforms instituted by Diosdado Macapagal (1961-65) and Fidel Ramos (1992-98).
Both faced entrenched vested interests in their push for change: the landlord class controlling Congress and opposing Macapagal’s agrarian reforms, and the powerful state and private monopolists and protectionists resisting Ramos’ liberalization of telecommunications, power, aviation, and international trade.
Today we need another president to propel new reforms against even tougher moneyed and potent sectors: the dominant political class abetted by unprecedented and unprosecuted sleaze, especially record smuggling and pork; and certain business and professional sectors blocking efforts to make goods and services better, the distribution of national wealth more equitable, and the country more environmentally responsible.
Building on yesterday for tomorrow
NATION-BUILDING, a shiboleth in many a presidentiable’s slogan box, is exemplified by three leaders who presided over public construction on a massive scale. Manuel Roxas (1946-48), the 1946 Republic’s inaugural president who died halfway into his four-year term, and his successor Elpidio Quirino (1948-53) mounted the gargantuan rebuilding program after the Second World War.
Along with Aguinaldo’s battle against two colonizing powers, raising the prostrate Philippines from the agony and ashes of conflict and conquest has to count as the biggest challenge for any Filipino leader in history. That after a decade, the country was Asia’s second most prosperous after Japan must count as a sterling achievement in nation-building.
Quirino, however, is remembered today more for the corruption and election fraud that tarred his rule. So is the other Chief Executive notable in nation-building: Ferdinand Marcos (1965-86). For all its faults and excesses, from top-to-bottom corruption to widespread arrests, torture and liquidation, the Marcos decades saw major national institutions, legal regimes, and infrastructure put in place.
The Pan-Philippine Highway from north to south, the nationwide electricity grid and generation system with pioneering geothermal plants, Manila’s culture and conference waterfront complex are among Marcos’s legacies. So is the overseas labor industry, one of the pillars of our resilient economy, despite its undeniable social burdens. And countless state organs and national laws underpinning our governance system, including precursors of major Cabinet departments, leading government corporations, and the law enforcement and justice system.
Yes, Marcos certainly did much damage to the nation with his cronies and his ill-advised policies sheltering or exploiting certain economic sectors. And he would not have been able to fashion so much of the physical, legal, and institutional infrastructure if he had not shut down Philippine democracy and ruled by decree for a dozen years beyond what should have been his last term. Still, he did have a vision for development, which he implemented with undoubted benefits for the nation, along with many failings.
Learning from and building on the good in previous regimes has to be among every leader’s governance principles, even as he or she avoids past excesses. Tomorrow we continue leadership lessons from presidents past with four remaining traits: Grassroots outreach, Unyielding commitment, Liberation of the poor, and Open governance.
(The last part will be published tomorrow, the last day for filing certificates of candidacy.)