Choosing a president

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

An American FBI operative once told me: “The Philippines never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Although these words piqued my patriotic sensibilities, upon reflection, it is the truth.

From the time we became a self governing republic in 1946 up to the late 1960’s, the Philippines had all the ingredients to become an economic and geopolitical superpower. We had the most advanced financial and banking system in Asia, a democratic framework of government, a market driven economy, advance learning institutions with educational standards that were the highest in the Pacific rim, a burgeoning manufacturing sector and relatively advanced infrastructure. We also had the strongest armed forces and one of the best military schools in Asia. The future could not have been brighter for the republic.

Fast forward to 2021 and we have plummeted to become one of the least competitive economies in ASEAN (6th out of 10). We were recently overtaken by Vietnam in per capita income such that today, Filipinos are only wealthier than the Cambodians, Laotians and Burmese. Our educational standards are dead last among 79 countries ranked by the United Nations. No surprise, our human development index is also in the lower rung among market-driven economies. Our democratic institutions have eroded and so has the rule of law. Once a burgeoning manufacturing economy, the Philippines today is dependent on imports for practically all its needs, including rice.

The uncomfortable truth is that the Philippines has been a perennial underachiever. Sure, there have been occasional bright spots, but there is no denying that we lag behind in the region’s development race. Statistics show that we peaked in most development indices in 2017, but it has been downhill since then. The recent mismanagement of the pandemic only put us further behind.

The Philippines’ story is a mild tragedy. The worst part of it is that it was self-inflicted by the very leaders we elected.

History has taught us that fates of nations are dependent on their leaders. Good leaders govern with the view of achieving sustainable growth, inclusive wealth generation, food self sufficiency, technology advancement and good financial stewardship. They empower their citizens with quality education, health care and social services. They work to strengthen governmental institutions. They lead their nations to be responsible members of the international community, but never fail in building credible military defense capabilities.

Corrupt, self-serving and/or ill-equipped leaders do the opposite, the result of which are underachieving or failed states. While our neighbors were blessed with competent, forward looking leaders like Lee Kwan Yew, Truòng Chinh and Mahathir Mohammed, fate dealt us a bad card in Marcos. The despot plundered the country for two decades, inculcated a culture of corruption and killed our once formidable industrial sector. It has been a struggle to get our political and economic house in order ever since. The presidents who followed Marcos achieved varying degrees of success but no one has really succeeded in breaking the vicious cycle of boom and bust.

At the heart of the problem is our flawed system for vetting a president. Unlike other democracies whose presidential candidates are selected through a series of caucuses and primary elections within political parties, presidential candidates in the Philippines are selected by the party seniors based on their winnability. Little regard is given to their capability or platform. Exacerbating matters is that the leaders who influence our votes – our senators, congressmen and local government officials – support candidates not based on qualifications but based on who best serves their political interest. We end up with presidents who are the best in political horseplay, but not necessarily the best as leaders.

Until we enact electoral reforms, our leaders will always be products of political jockeying – and the country’s development will always be compromised by it. But this does not mean that Filipino voters are helpless. We can counter this flawed system by voting intelligently.

Miriam Defensor Santiago was right when she said that there are three fundamental requirements to be president. They are: academic excellence, professional excellence and moral excellence.

If a private corporation requires only the most academically qualified and experientially prepared to be its CEO, what more a nation of 110 million people.

The candidate we support must be adept in economics, diplomacy & foreign policy, geopolitics and social development because these are the issues he/she will face on a daily basis.

Those without academic credentials will argue that academic excellence is unnecessary so long as one is surrounded by the best and brightest. This is only partially true. The reality is – everything starts and ends with the president. He/she must be the architect and the driver of their own reform agenda and must be able to discern between good and bad advice. Without academic competence, one can easily be manipulated and be inclined to make the wrong decisions.

On professional excellence, the candidate must have a track record of remarkable accomplishments or an extraordinary achievement to lay claim to. Being an heir is not an achievement.

On moral excellence, the candidate must have a record bereft of corruption, entitlement, nepotism or abuse of power. More importantly, he/she must not be compliant to people who commit these moral affronts. Being an abettor of crime is just as bad as being the committer of crime.

And if I may add to the sagely advice of senator Santiago, the candidate we select must also be of good physical and mental health; respects the rights of women, nature and culture; have a progressive vision for the country and working plan to achieve it; realize the need to shift from a consumer and spend-driven economy to one that is production-led; realize the importance of soft power and country branding; one who is a defender of democracy and whose sense of patriotism is unquestionable.

Over the last six years, government has led us towards an attitude of indecency, misogyny, a disregard for human rights, a disregard for due process and the basic tenets of democracy. We need to get centered again. Not to do so could cause our institutions (and society) to swing to the extreme where non-democratic principles, corruption and incivility become the new norm. Let’s not forget, when certain traits become a part of culture, it is extremely difficult to reverse. Take the culture of corruption instilled by Marcos.

May we not miss the opportunity to elect a good president in 2022.

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Email: andrew_rs6@yahoo.com. Follow him on Facebook @Andrew J. Masigan

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