Presidential traits to look for: honesty and decency

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan (The Philippine Star) - February 24, 2021 - 12:00am

Fates of nations come down to the quality of their leaders. Inasmuch as it only takes one transformative leader to set a nation on a path of prosperity and strength, so does it take only one broken leader to relegate successive generations to poverty and struggle.

The respective sagas of South Korea and the Philippines illustrate my point. The South Koreans are a proud, affluent people today thanks to their highly industrialized economy and immense soft power. All these are fruits of the visionary leadership of Park Chung-Hee, who served as president from 1963 to 1979. With a militaristic hand, the Korean leader laid the foundation for South Korea’s rapid industrialization, military build-up and ever increasing importance in global affairs. In contrast, we Filipinos lost the industrial leadership we possessed from the 1940’s to the 1960’s. Our people have been banished to poverty and cursed to accept jobs that no one else in the world is willing to do. Once viewed with admiration, we Filipinos find ourselves on the receiving end of racism today due to our economic status and for having successive governments who have earned global notoriety. The systematic breakdown of our industries, our culture of corruption and weak institutions are all consequences of Marcos’ self-serving leadership.

Next year’s election will be a turning point for us. Our fate can go three ways. First, we can elect the candidate who is vastly popular but glaringly unprepared for the job. Beneath his seeming religiosity, however, is hubris so large that he thinks he can assume the role of Chief Executive of the republic. Such hubris (or vanity) is his downfall. Rather than build, this man will run the country to the ground, given his propensity to be manipulated by political vultures.

Second, we can elect either of the candidates that represent the status quo. Sure, we may grow economically under their leadership, but we will continue to struggle with the same problems that plague us today such as runaway corruption, an economy that relies on spending rather than production, a low regard for human rights, underinvestment in health and education and a dangerous bias towards China.

Or third, we can elect a transformative leader who has both the moral fortitude and political will to enact the painful but necessary reforms to extricate the country from its perennial underachievement.

A lot rides on our next president. On his (or her) shoulders rest the task of rebuilding the nation following the economic and social blowback of the pandemic. I have thought long and hard about the characteristics we should look for (and require) in our next president… and it comes down to two traits – honesty and decency.

I purposely excluded intelligence. While I concede that brainpower is important, the ability to discern right from wrong as well his (or her) personal convictions, strength of character, pureness of intent and vision carry more weight. Besides, an astute president will surround himself with the best and brightest.

Why do I consider honesty a vital trait? I use the word “honesty” as the antithesis of one who is corrupt. Corruption is the basic evil that has consigned our people to poverty and the reason why we have been on a steady decline in all development indices since the 1960’s. Corruption is the reason for our great fall – from a nation second only to Japan to a nation that has recently been overtaken by Vietnam.

Corruption is why we lost our leadership in such industries as textiles, steel, auto making and even in agro-industries. It will be recalled that Marcos sequestered every profitable industrial concern for himself and his cronies, most of them fell to bankruptcy due to mismanagement. Those that survived were finished off by smuggling. Corruption killed our industries and continues to do so.

Corruption scams like ZTE, Northrail, pork barrel, the SEA Games Caldero and PhilHealth have deprived the Filipino people of the resources due them. Adding insult to injury is that plunderers go scot free.

Corrupt politicians allow themselves to be “bought” by big business. They work to protect the business interests of their patrons even if doing so works against public interest.

Corruption has weakened our justice system since court decisions can be bought for cash or political favor.

Without doubt, corruption is the country’s malignant tumor.

Decency is the second vital trait of a transformative president. In the first place, a decent leader will only aspire for the highest office in the land if he/she genuinely believes they possess the competencies to meet its challenges. Just because a politician has the popularity to win doesn’t mean he should run. Decency dictates taking honest stock of one’s capabilities and realizing that public office is not a platform to gain fame or fortune but to improve the lives of our countrymen.

A decent presidential hopeful is not a credit grabber nor is he one who engages in self-promotion using public funds.

A decent president will enact reforms that are necessary for the country’s long-term development even if they work against personal interest or that of allies. A decent president will do everything to pass the Anti-Dynasty Bill, the Campaign Finance Reform Bill and the Anti-Political Turncoatism Bill.

A decent president will ensure that the national budget is appropriated equitably and according to priority, clean of dubious insertions.

A decent president will restore the tenets of humble servitude among government employees and banish the sense of entitlement that is prevalent among them today. It means declaring “wang wang” in our roads taboo and outlawing special favors in obtaining government concessions and contracts. It means taking the high road instead of using the might of the presidential office to inflict personal revenge. It means the equal enforcement of the law regardless of whether one is friend or foe.

A decent president will never gamble with the sovereignty of the nation and will protect it like a good parent would its young.

A decent president can be counted upon to consistently do what is right, to decide according to the greater good and enforce policies that are morally correct, even if it dispenses political equity.

As we contemplate who to support in the 2022 elections, let us remember that honesty and decency are the traits to look for.



Email: andrew_rs6@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @aj_masigan

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