State of the nation’s leadership

I did not think it was serious until my own children began to talk about it as an idea whose time has come.  Many years ago, at the peak of the Marcos years, we were presented with a chance to live abroad, but my family scoffed at the idea.  The other day, one of my daughters asked if I would object if she started searching for better opportunities abroad.  I was startled by her question and I began to reflect on the issue from the perspective of young people.

I am convinced that thousands of young and productive Filipinos are leaving the country to settle abroad not because they have lost all hope for the nation of their elders but only because they are fed up with the way the country is being run.  They love the land and its people but they are terribly demoralized by their leaders’ repeated failure to put the country in the right course following the rebirth of democracy in 1986.

Few intend to reside permanently and die in foreign lands.  They hope to come home someday.  But for now, all they want is a chance at personal development, and a decent future for their children.

In the one hundred years that we have been a nation, we have had good and bad leaders.  Some of them had foresight and championed quixotic causes that were not easily understood during their time but were crucial to the country’s long term development.  We hail them today as our heroes.  But many others brought nothing to political life except personal ambition and were content to just take over the roles vacated by the foreign masters.  We continue to suffer from their misrule.

Throughout all these years, Filipinos’ expectations of what their leaders should be have not changed.  They don’t expect their leaders to be perfect, for indeed they often identify with their flaws and lapses, but they do wish them to be infinitely better than they are.  A self-governing nation does not sprout overnight, and a hundred years is not a long time.  In their hearts, most of our people still ask to be taken care of and be given the opportunity to grow before they can fully take up their obligations as citizens. They are aware that their limited knowledge of the world has become even more inadequate in the complex times in which they live.  They want to increase their learning so they can live autonomous and responsible lives.  I think these are justifiable expectations.  Unfortunately, our leaders have exploited this dependence and have used it as a warrant to make feudal rule a permanent arrangement.

Leaders have a moral obligation to be mature and high-minded. While they are sprung from the same culture as the communities they lead, they cannot afford to indulge in the trivial and selfish pursuits of everyday life.  Their focus must ever be the survival and growth of the community.  Their special attention must be for the socially excluded and downtrodden.  Filipino leaders know this rhetoric so well but their conduct is another matter.

Over the last so many years after the first Edsa, our national leaders have mostly behaved either like petty thugs with no sense of nation or clueless clowns lost in the folds of time. They don’t inspire awe, only ridicule and despair.  Watching them at work and listening to them talk, we are seldom rewarded with the feeling that the nation is in competent hands and that we need not worry for our children.

I refer to the entire political leadership of the country, not just the President. In the final analysis, it is not so much the number of executive orders or laws they pass that the public remembers, but the impression they leave on the nation’s collective psyche. Nietzsche once remarked that people are engaged in a “constant falsification of the world by means of numbers.”  A Filipino leader’s ultimate manifestation of her value is not through numbers but through character.

Maybe it would not be like this if we were a modern society.  In such a society, leaders would be chosen mainly by instrumental rational means, and they would be periodically assessed by their concrete measurable achievements.  But in traditional societies like ours, leaders are chosen differently and evaluated by other means.  The accent is on trust rather than on performance.  The question that is asked is not how much a leader knows and has done, but what kind of person he or she is.

This is not as irrational as it may seem, and politicians are wrong to draw the conclusion that therefore leadership is synonymous to impression management by public relations experts.  Filipinos instinctively know the difference between image, which is studied, and “loob” which is intrinsic.  You cannot fake “loob”.  In the metaphysics of the Filipino, “loob” holistically emerges from a person’s deeds, speech, and appearance notably during unguarded moments.

I have crudely translated “loob” as character, but it is really much more than consistency in thought and deed.  It also encompasses generosity, humility, compassion, and wisdom – virtues that are highly prized in a society that has gone through so much pain.  A leader with a good “loob” is rewarded with trust.

In some ways, emigration is a withdrawal of trust.  On certain occasions our people have felt betrayed not just by one particular leader, but by an entire leadership.  These are such times I think, when a citizen is presented with only two options: you either move to another country or you act to change the system in your own country.


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