Leni: She grows on you

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

She has not been one to chase after interviews or chat up the press. I once mistook this for being “aloof,” but it turned out to be a misimpression. It took me several attempts and requests for an interview through numerous individuals but we were finally granted an interview last Wednesday, Jan. 12, and I discovered that if you give Leni the chance to share her story and her vision, she actually has a lot to offer as a leader and as an executive. I daresay that she actually grows on you in a positive way. It was a very relaxed but revealing interview, bits of which were even picked up by other media outfits and it’s worth checking through YouTube – Onenewsph – AGENDA.

From the word Go, I immediately noticed the Vice President’s sharp memory and eye for details as she recounted every crucial period in the last two years of the COVID pandemic and how the Office of the Vice President responded immediately to every challenge, beginning with providing health care workers much needed Personal Protection Equipment or PPEs. Setting up shuttle services and subsequently finding sites for dormitories, providing rides for workers, eventually enlisting a hundred or so volunteer doctors and health care workers, setting up tele-medicine consultation and, during this recent surge, providing care packages or boxes filled with essential medicines, masks, oxymeters and the like for individuals or families that may be undergoing home quarantine due to COVID. It’s easy to forget or move on from such unpleasant events in the past, but VP Leni does pay attention to details and remembers the important events and issues. In this regard, the Vice President says that she intends to prioritize the rebuilding or strengthening of the country’s health care system while pushing for the full operationalization of the Universal Health Care program of the Philippines.

When I asked her about the challenge she would face in terms of the huge national debt caused by health-related expenses and economic shut down resulting from COVID, VP Leni quickly pointed out that having debts is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as what we borrow creates income or benefits that are far greater in value than the borrowed amount: a positive ROI or Return On Investment, as she put it. VP Leni also stressed that debts must be honored, and we must pay back what we borrow. That perhaps is why even international economic analysts have given her higher reviews than other candidates. Alongside that, VP Leni emphasized that it is vital that we determine where the money was used, how it was used and, most important of all, the outcome of the projects or actions undertaken. Plans and projects and accounting mean very little if in the end the “outcome” or the results are not visibly beneficial to stakeholders or intended beneficiaries.

In terms of leadership and governance, VP Leni made it clear that she intended to lead a government towards building and earning the trust of the citizens as well as the private sector or business community. Only by achieving this, she said, can we expect leaders and companies to invest in the country, emphasizing that she was a strong believer in Public-Private Partnerships. She confidently expressed her intent to lead a team that would be cooperative in governance while leaving the business community sufficient space and independence to run industries.

As for the younger players, VP Leni pointed out that most of her staff and volunteers are in the late 20’s to mid 40’s and they provide her a wide array of innovative and creative views and ideas which has helped establish a system of cross referencing and consultation among various groups and individuals with differing views and solutions.

When I asked her about gender and age concerns in positions of leadership, VP Leni was very clear in saying that she respects all ages and while she appreciates the youth, that does not lessen her appreciation for the older individuals who bring with them experience gained through the years. I asked if she would be inclined to following the Swedish shift towards predominantly women in the Cabinet and VP Leni said she believes in a good balance but that she will be paying attention to the active participation of women. The one statement that seemed to have been picked up the most from the interview was who or how VP Leni would go about in choosing her Cabinet members.

The first requirement was for the potential Cabinet member to be an EXPERT in their field. Someone who has experience and working knowledge in the area that the Cabinet position would cover. The would-be Cabinet secretary must have a record of being an efficient manager, which means armchair experts need not apply. Aside from expertise and a reputation for being efficient, future Cabinet members must be respected by the sector they would lead. The selected members must also be adherent to the philosophy that governance is always about empowerment and inclusivity. VP Leni even cited former President Fidel Ramos as an example of a president who put a premium on harmony in the Cabinet by personally making sure that Cabinet members are able to settle disagreements or differences at whatever level.

As for the role of the media: “I recognize the role that media plays as far as government and public officials are concerned… What I am hoping for is that the media will appreciate us when we are doing good and criticize us when what we are doing is wrong. The relationship has to be of trust and respect. Not one where I am constantly praised, but professional respect for each other.”

Please try to watch the full interview on Facebook or YouTube via Onenewsph- Agenda so you can hear the actual interview because I’m sure you’ll appreciate what VP Leni said and she will surely grow on you.


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