Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Enemy of the Good is the Perfect

This article by Antonio G.M. La Viña, JSD, Professorial Lecturer, U.P. College of Law and Dean, Ateneo School of Government, was originally published in The U.P Forum, July 2009. We don't necessarily agree with all the statements here, but it is worth thinking about... and reprinting in full.


How to Choose a President in 2010: What Should We Look for In a Future Leader?

“The enemy of the good is the perfect.” This is the adage I will bear in mind when I enter the voting booth on the 10th of May, 2010. At that time, I will probably have four or five candidates, possibly more, to choose from. They are the ones who remain standing, with serious chances of winning after the longest campaign in Philippine history.

All of the choices will be imperfect: if the country allowed it, one choice would be a reform candidate - a non-“trapo” local government official, a Christian preacher, a young councilor or an environmental and sustainable agriculture activist. If the COMELEC or the Supreme Court allow it (which I cannot imagine them doing given the clear prohibition for any reelection under the Constitution), another choice would be an impeached ex-President. Three or four senators from varying backgrounds and perhaps a former Congressman turned Secretary of Defense would complete the spectrum of options.

How will I choose a President in 2010? It is tempting to do this in a very simple manner: to approach politics, like all things in the Philippines, as personal. But to say that politics is personal can mean two things. It can mean on one hand: Sino ang kakilala ko? Who is closest to me? Who is the one I am most personally connected to? Or it could mean: Ano ang alam ko sa kandidato? What do I know about a candidate? I suppose, as a good citizen, I would choose a President based on what I know about the candidate, rather than my personal connections to a candidate. But wait, this is the Philippines: what I know about a person comes not mainly from what she or he has done in her or his public life but largely from the fact that I know him or her personally.

Take for instance, one of the potential candidates, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro. I have known Gilbert for more than 20 years as we were classmates in the UP College of Law. As someone who studied for the bar exams in the same study group as Gilbert, I know him to be one of 2 or 3 of the most intelligent Filipinos that I have personally known, and I have studied and worked with and taught thousands from 3-4 generations in the last 30 years. More significantly, I know him also to be one of the most patriotic, humble and honest public servants (and I have known thousands as well), able to make hard choices even against his own family and class interests. The discipline, professionalism and leadership he has brought in his work in the Defense Department are good qualities of a future President for this country. But does the country have an appetite for a candidate supported by the present administration? Will Secretary Teodoro be compromised and become unelectable if he is endorsed by President Macapagal-Arroyo?

I also know Governors Ed Panlilio and Grace Padaca quite well. They inspire me and many others: I look up to them. Both governors, potential candidates for 2010, are founders and champions of the Kaya Natin Movement that aim to espouse genuine change and ethical leadership in our country. The movement seeks to promote genuine and lasting change in our government by promoting transparency, social accountability, people empowerment and electoral reforms. By upholding these values and principles, Kaya Natin hopes to help make our government and our leaders more responsive to the needs of the Filipino people and enable it to deliver basic services to those who need it most in the most efficient and effective way.

Together with Brother Eddie Villanueva, John Carlos de los Reyes, Olongapo City Councilor (Ang Kapatiran Party 2010 Presidential Candidate), and environmentalist Nicky Perlas, Governors Panlilio and Padaca are considered by many to be non-traditional politicians and reform candidates. All of these reform candidates will be running on a bare bones, volunteer-manned campaign fueled by idealism and hope. Their potential candidacies excite me but it is difficult to imagine any of their campaigns prospering unless they unite and form a unified front. Even then, the odds will be daunting.

We should also acknowledge that, given their lack or limited governance record, the country is also taking a risk with these reformers. I would have preferred that Governors Panlilio and Padaca finish three terms as Governors first and that Brother Eddie, Councilor de los Reyes, and Nicky acquire local executive experience before running for national executive positions.

The good is of course not monopolized by the reform candidates. To me, the candidacies of Senators Mar Roxas, Manny Villar, Loren Legarda, Francis Escudero, Richard Gordon are attractive and merit consideration.

Behind the hoopla of the padyak commercials of Senator Roxas has a solid record of implementing and legislating economic policies that have created jobs and have benefited the poor. Senator Roxas, as Trade Secretary and as Senator, has also been at the forefront of consumer protections and defending our trade interests in the WTO. For example, he has taken leadership, in the face of the opposition of the multinational drug industry, to ensure cheap access to medicines by the poor. His recent vote for CARPER (extending the agrarian reform law with reforms) is something I will count in his favor as I make my decision on who to vote for in 2010. Finally, I like the fact that Senator Roxas is supported by people I have the highest respect for – from veteran political and social activists like former Education Secretary Butch Abad to young and imaginative campaign workers like Rose Romero and Clare Amador.

Senator Villar also has a solid pro-poor and pro-development record, as a businessman and a legislator. The passion with which he is conducting his campaign is also attractive to many. I can personally attest to his commitment to local development as reflected in the manner with which Senator Villar supports capacity building of local governments all over the country. I have met many local government officials who have told me that find in Senator Villar someone who understands the challenges of development that their local government units are facing. Finally, to the extent that political courage and will is an important quality for me in our future leaders, I will always remember Senator’s Villar’s actions the night the House of Representatives impeached former President Joseph Estrada.

Senator Legarda is also a real option for me as I decide who to vote for in May 2010. Indeed, on substantive issues that I care deeply about, such as peace in Mindanao and environmental issues, her record is admirable. Through many years, I have personally seen how she has been a passionate advocate for sustainable development. Through these years, I have also been quite impressed with the work ethic of Senator Legarda who has clearly put at the center of her life a passion to lead the country to better times.

I do not know Senator Escudero as well as others in the UP College of Law, not having the opportunity to teach him. But a viable candidacy of a 40-year old politician who is explicitly appealing to the youth vote is very tempting to support. The clarity and passion with which he articulates his positions will serve Senator Escudero well if he is elected as President.

While I see the positive aspects of the candidacies of Senator Roxas, Villar, Legarda and Escudero, I am concerned that they do not have local governance experience. Through the years that I have worked on governance issues, not just in the Philippine but all over the world, I have come to believe that the heart of governance, the place where it matters most, is local governance. My hope is that one day, we will have a President or a head of government that comes from the ranks of local government officials. For this reason, I will include Senator Gordon among the options I will consider, given his record as long time Mayor of Olongapo. For the same reason, if the candidacies of MMDA Chairman and former Bayani Fernando and Mayor Jejomar Binay became viable, I will not necessarily rule them out as I make my choice.

Reflecting on these choices for President, I actually feel good about what is in store for us in the 2010 Presidential elections. I think we have a number of good options. Of the candidates I have mentioned in this article, I could easily vote for any 3 or 4 of them.

So how will I choose a President in 2010 among the three or four that I like? The Movement for Good Governance developed and the Moral Force Movement has endorse a criteria that would enable us to select transformational Leaders. They have also recommended a score card to use to evaluate the 2010 candidates, for President and other options. It is this criteria and scorecard that I will use and encourage others to apply in answering the question - What should we look for in a future leader?

Our future leaders should be transformational leaders who bring about change in individuals, institutions and the country to build a just, humane, prosperous and genuinely democratic Philippine society. Transformational leaders promote the moral values of integrity, social responsibility, and love of country through their practice of effective, empowering, and ethical leadership.

An effective leader is competent, decisive and proactive and has the track record to support this. As Kapitan ng Barko, she/he has the ability to steer the ship of government, to arrive at the destination of a prosperous and just society. Sample indicators for effective leadership are:
• Does the candidate have a vision of society with a clear, comprehensive and viable platform of government? Does this translate to consistent and clear positions on key issues (e.g., human rights, agrarian reform, education , etc.”
• Does the candidate work hard, get things done, and demonstrate political will?
• Does the candidate have a sound and effective record
• As a legislator (in terms of number and quality of bills);
• As an official of the executive department (in terms of effective, innovative and sustainable programs)
• As a leader of citizen organizations or business enterprises (in terms of effective, innovative and sustainable programs)

An empowering leader is participative/engaging, inspiring, and is committed to social justice. As a servant leader, a Lingkod ng Bayan, she/he sets a good example for all to follow and work together. Indicators include:

• Does the candidate involve stakeholders in decision-making, and in implementing and evaluating policies, programs and projects?
• Does the candidate promote social justice? Addresses basic needs (food, health, education, shelter) and promotes interests of the disadvantaged (women, indigenous people, handicapped, etc.)?
• Does the candidate inspire unity, trust, and hope in people?
• Does the candidate prepare others to be leaders to succeed him/her?

Finally, an ethical leader is a Katiwala ng Bayan: God-fearing, has moral ascendancy and integrity, a clean and honest track record, and has proven integrity. Inidcators are:

• Does the candidate demonstrate good moral character (lifestyle); have a circle of associates (allies, backers, party, broad-based volunteers) who are people of integrity and are pro-reform; and transcend self-interest and sacrifice personal/familial/vested interests for the common good (political dynasty, conflict of interest, nepotism)?
• Does the candidate: advocate and practice meritocracy in government; personally comply with laws (self, family and subordinates); prosecute/punish offenders; potect and promote human rights; and tke responsibility for his/her actions?
• Can the candidate be trusted, based on his/her record and background, to use the national wealth and resources for the common good and to practice transparent use and accounting of public funds?
• Has the candidate acted to expose injustice and corruption and has this led to prosecution and/or enactment of a law or other concrete actions?

“The enemy of the good is the perfect.” I will remember this principle when I vote on the 10th of May, 2010. But I will vote with confidence and optimism. I do so knowing that I will vote not for the least or lesser evil but for the best among a number of imperfect but good choices. If many of us do this, if enough of us do this, we will change the country.

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