Last of 2 parts

WITH the fast approaching 49th anniversary of the proclamation of martial law, discussion is again rife about the need for more strongman rule. And because of the coming elections, the stakes are high. People talk about what kind of leaders we should elect. In the previous first part of this column, I posited that to have an idea of a Filipino brand of leadership, we can go back to the leader of our ancestors - the datu. But didn't the autocrats already use this template to justify their one-man rule? This stems from the perception that the datu is an absolute ruler who also automatically passes his authority on to his kin.

Having asked about what the model Filipino leader should be, I realized that to be a datu one must be the most skilled warrior, or "bagani," in the group. He has proven himself in battle and his victories are written in his body as batek, or tattoos, hence "batikan" (which is a Filipino term used today for anyone who is skillful). Their tattoos also served as their protection or anting-anting to maintain their kabutihang-loob.

But if the datu is the most skilled bagani, then as a bagani he was also the bayan's number one public servant. Linguistically, bagani is connected to the Tagalog word "bayani" and the Javanese "wani." Wani is an old term which means helping through one's skill in the fixing (pagsasaayos) of the whole society or of any task, to help with compassion (malasakit) without expecting anything in return. That is why our government workers are called "kawani."

In the Bagobo ethnic group in Mindanao, the anthropologist E. Arsenio Manuel described the bagani as someone who "does not serve, however, under any particular official or villager. His services are available to any citizen, lowly, or high, poor or rich, blood kin or not. He cannot refuse to perform his office if approached..."

If this is the character a bagani must have, and the datu is the most skilled defender of them all, then the datu should never be seen as someone enriching himself or someone who furthers his selfish interests but dedicates himself to the service of others. So instead of calling it "datu" leadership, I would like to call it "pamumunong bagani," to remind people that to be just a leader is not enough, one must also be heroic.

Even the perception that the datu was an autocrat and hence, autocracy or one-man rule is the model Filipino leadership, may be a misnomer. Fellow Manila Times history columnist Van Ybiernas has described our ancestors' political system as consultative, even democratic. The datu consulted the babaylan for spiritual matters and the ruma bichara, or the council of elders, for other things.

Some historians explain that the datu position is not automatically inherited by a son, even if this is the case most of the time. The heir must prove that he is also as skilled as his father as a warrior and as a leader. And if the people did not like them anymore, someone from the bayan will rise to challenge the datu by combat and gets to be the new datu if he wins. We also see this in Philippine politics today. Dynasties may even be desired and elected by the people for as long as they are seen to be serving the people's interests.

Even Apolinario Mabini warned us against autocracy in his "The True Decalogue": "In your country, do not recognize the authority of any person who has not been elected by you and your compatriots.... the person chosen and proclaimed by the consciences of all the individuals of a whole town is the only one that can exercise real authority. ... Strive that your country be constituted as a republic, and never as a monarchy: a monarchy empowers one or several families and lays the foundation for a dynasty."

More importantly, the datu may be the supervisor of lands and boats but he lets the people use them for the benefit of the people themselves. Hence, as historian Zeus Salazar points out, the datu is "tagapagpadaloy ng ginhawa" to the bayan. But our ancestors also believed that to achieve kaginhawahan, or the good life, the bayan must be good and look out for each other in kapatiran and mabuting kalooban. Hence, the leader should never be a plunderer.

But this doesn't mean the datu is soft on crime. Offenders of the bayan are met with punishment but only after due process and rituals, which is equivalent today to our justice system.

Therefore, as the highest bagani, our leaders should not be less than heroic. Nobody is perfect, but time and again, we are inspired by Filipino leaders who, despite difficulties and limitations, can urge people to unite as they lead with the best interest of the people in mind.