“The crisis of leadership today is the mediocrity or irresponsibility of the men and women in power, but leadership rarely rises to the full need for it…The fundamental crisis underlying mediocrity is intellectual. We fail to grasp the essence of leadership that is relevant to the modern age.”
James Macgregor Burns, Leadership
THE recent arguments, over whether Sen. Grace Poe- Llamanzares and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte should be seriously considered for election to the presidency, have focused mainly on the minimum constitutional requirements for anyone to hold our highest office, such as citizenship and residency; and whether they have satisfied the procedural and technical requirements of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) such as deadlines and process of candidate substitution.
All these issues are important in their own way.
But I believe they fail to ask the more important question which our people are asking in their homes and their offices, whether the presidential candidates are really fit for high office, and whether they can do the job at this challenging time for our people and our country.
If public questioning does not rise to a higher level, if followers and voters do not demand more from the candidates, we will surely get the mediocre and irresponsible leadership that leadership guru Professor Burns warns about.
We will fall short of the strong leadership that Reader Hector said in his recent analysis that is so gravely needed by the Philippines today.
Lowering the bar for the Presidency
The fact that there are substantial numbers of people who feel that there should be no further investigation of Senator Poe’s long train of misrepresentation and lies in her pursuit of public office, and the fact that certain senators have pronounced her a natural-born citizen without investigation and legal reasoning, provide an indication of how far our bar for the Presidency has been lowered.
Yesterday we needed men of achievement like Marcos, Macapagal and Ramos to fill the office. Now it is suggested that a total foundling can adequately discharge it.
At last week’s Saturday forum at Annabel’s, I asked Chito Gascon, chairman of the Philippine Human Rights Commission, what the CHR has to say about the fact that Mayor Duterte has made the killing of people a fundamental part of his program of government. I suggested that if the commission merely busies itself with wondering whether Duterte did indeed kill 1,700 people, it would not be doing the nation any good. It would be abdicating its duty.
The fact that the mayor has moved on into a public spat with Liberal Party presidential candidate Mar Roxas, which turned into an exchange of challenges (slapping and fisticuffs and even a gun duel) has plunged the run up to the 2016 elections to the level of the grotesque.
A reflection on Filipino judgment
What does it say about the prospects of our people and our country, when we allow such an important political exercise, as next year’s elections to be diminished and trivialized in this way?
The Philippines is the 12th largest country in the world. We maintain diplomatic relations with the great majority of nations in the world. And our voice and views carry weight and influence in the councils of nations and in the resolution of international problems, of which the dispute over the South China Sea is surely one.
What does it say about our judgment as Filipinos if we hold presidential elections without insisting that candidates answer publicly questions about their character, programs and policy ideas? What answers will we get if instead of forcing them to debate publicly under serious questioning, we just allow them to insult each other?
All this is disturbing because 2016 could be a watershed year for the Philippines, if we truly hold free, fair, orderly and credible elections next year, and if we succeed in making the transition to a new president and administration, who we all pray will be better than BS Aquino.
A politics of problem-solving
The search for the next president is a process of finding the man or the woman who is best fit for the job.
When the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. said that democratic politics is a “politics of remedy,” it means precisely that electing a president is finding a leader who can provide solutions to the major problems facing the nation. We are looking for a leader who can make the right decisions and adopt the right policies that will advance the national interest and promote the public’s welfare and well-being.
When we demand that presidential candidates should present the nation their programs of government, we mean that they should spell out their broad governance philosophy, and their specific policies for the economy, society, politics and the bureaucracy, and our relations with the world.
We should not allow them just offer us fancy slogans, and programs on a napkin, because once they get to Malacañang, they will make decisions and choices that will fatefully affect us individually and collectively.
We have seen how grave presidential decision-making can be when President Aquino unilaterally took the step of concluding a separate peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and agreed to the creation of a Bangsamoro sub-state, and when he embarked on a policy of confrontation with China.
What the President of the Philippines must provide above all is sound judgment, not whimsical flights of policy and experimentations in politics.
If we, the Filipino people, the media, and the political class and our social institutions consent to a diminished presidential campaign and elections, then we will reap a stunted president and mediocre administration.
If we agree to downgrade the process, we will get what we deserve – a low-grade president and administration.
This is the time to raise the serious questions, because crucial questions about the presidential elections still remain to be resolved by the Comelec and the Supreme Court.
We do not want to be told that we are too late in our intervention for a purposive and meaningful presidential election next year.
When campaign strategists and politicians are still huddling on how best to present themselves to our people in order to win, it is wise to remind them that our ambitions and expectations from the balloting are high, and will not be satisfied by lies and humbug.