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Opinion

Capacity and intention

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

The country’s economic and democratic fundamentals have spiraled down to such an extent that it cannot withstand another six years of less-than-competent, graft-ridden leadership. This is the uncomfortable truth, according to economists and political analysts alike. Too many industries have been severely damaged and the economy has dropped in competitiveness; corruption is ingrained anew at the highest levels of government as well as in the grassroots of the bureaucracy; the justice system, particularly the Office of the Ombudsman and Supreme Court, have lost their purpose and have become politicized; and our democratic institutions have been undermined by the will of Malacañang.

The next administration will have to act quickly to address these clear and present threats. On the economy, the gaping budget deficit and high debt levels must be addressed. Not to do so will put pressure on the value of the peso and on government’s spending program. In terms of social development, income inequality and poverty are at their highest levels in over a decade. The lack of safety nets for the D and E classes threatens social unrest.

In health care, even after 18 months, we are still unprepared to deal with COVID, given the absence of a functioning nationwide testing, tracking and tracing mechanism. Neither has government significantly augmented medical capacities. Worse, public health insurer PhilHealth will run out of funds in a few years and must be re-capitalized.

In education, our children suffer the double-edged sword of learning with the lowest educational standards while also being deprived of face-to-face learning for nearly two years. If not mitigated, the emerging generation of Filipinos will become the least capacitated members of the global workforce. And in national security, China will continue to expand its territorial grab since this administration permitted it to do so without consequence. A pushback on the Philippines’ part is not only necessary, it is imminent.

Given the enormity of national wreckage, we must select a leader who has the faculties to repair our broken nation. Let us no not be duped again by popularity, by bravura or those who make extravagant promises.

At this juncture, it appears that there are five plausible candidates. Isko Moreno Domagoso, Manny Pacquiao, Ping Lacson, VP Leni Robredo (pending her announcement on Oct. 8) and Sara Duterte. Although Mayor Sara has “withdrawn” from the race, the likelihood of her announcing her candidacy in the 11th hour, citing public clamor, is highly likely. We have seen this schtick before.

In selecting the next president, we must look at two aspects – capacity and intention.

Capacity refers to a candidate’s intellectual bandwidth. Let us never believe those who say that good intentions are enough to assume the presidency. Neither should we believe those who say that if a candidate has the best and brightest by his/her side, they can surmount even the most complex problems. This is a lie. The reality is that the country’s reform agenda starts and ends with the president. He/she acts as the engineer and the driver of what has to be done. That said, he/she must be cognizant of the problems and must have the capacity to discern the best solutions from less favorable options. Their insights must be so profound that they are able to view policies with a long-term horizon, beyond political considerations.

As I said in my column two weeks ago, our next president must have more to offer than the best of us. He/she must have a keen understanding of economics, social development principles, foreign policy, defense, technological trends and the law. This is fundamental since these are the issues he/she will deal with on a daily basis. More importantly, he/she must respect our democratic processes, our institutions and the rule of law.

A candidate’s body of work is a fair assessment of their capacity. Be wary of those who are perennially absent from duties and those with no notable accomplishments of their own.

The second aspect we must look at is a candidate’s intentions. Intentions are what dictate future actions based on one’s conscious and subconscious mind.

Getting to the bottom of a candidate’s intention is tricky, given the insincerity of the spoken word, especially among politicians. I have learned that the best way to discover a candidate’s intention is to identify his/her benchmark of success.

For example, South Korea’s Park Chung Hee benchmarked against Japanese Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida. Yoshida was responsible for rebuilding Japan into an industrial powerhouse after the devastation of World War 2. For his part, Lee Kwan Yew benchmarked against Dutch Prime Minister Willem Drees. Drees established the Netherlands, the air and maritime logistics center of Europe. Years later, Lee and Park performed in parallel lines as their benchmarks.

Indeed, the benchmark of a candidate is indicative of his/her intention. Such intention manifests in their long-term goals, economic policies, social development priorities, foreign policy, style of governance and caliber of leadership.

It is crucial that a candidate benchmarks himself/herself against luminaries who’ve been successful in changing their countries for the better. It only means that the candidate is aspiring higher. It also means that the candidate is willing to be measured against world standards.

The real danger is if a candidate benchmarks against himself. This means he/she will not stretch performance. What they offer are what they are, who they are.

This was the case of President Duterte in 2016. Mr. Duterte’s benchmark was himself and what he had done in Davao. True enough, he governed the entire country like an inward-looking feudal provincial city.

As much as we love Davao, it is only the fifth most prosperous region in the country. It is not a bastion of industry, nor is it a center for tourism or higher learning. It cannot be matched against progressive secondary cities like Busan, Penang or even Surabaya in terms of competitiveness or quality of life. This is because all the emphasis was placed on peace and order while other aspects of development took the back seat.

When Mr. Duterte became president, the Philippines was managed like Davao. Instead of moving forward to greater heights in development, we regressed. This is not subjective conjecture. Statistics show that the Philippines began to drop in most development indices beginning 2018, way before the pandemic.

Intellectual capability and progressive intentions are what we need from our next president. We simply we cannot afford to make a mistake in our selection.

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

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