A fantast cast of new leaders

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

After months of absence, a good friend of mine and I met for coffee to catch up. He had just arrived from the US after completing a public leadership course at an Ivy League university. Attending that fellowship were up and coming leaders from some 40 countries, many of whom are already installed in key government positions. My friend was the only Filipino.

True to form, my pal impressed with his intelligence and affability. Educated Filipinos always excel in forums like these. So I asked him – was your class equally impressed with the developments in the Philippines? After all, much has been written about the Philippine economy being the fastest growing in the region. Plus BBM has been traveling the world to preach the Philippine gospel.

“The truth is, Andrew, we don’t even register in the world’s consciousness,” said my friend. Sorry to say but the Philippines is not spoken about as a success story – not like Vietnam or India who are now renowned as emerging economic and geopolitical powers, respectively. We are just not spoken about at all.

In the global sphere, the Philippines is unremarkable. We don’t manufacture anything unique or vital to global supply chains. We are in the mid- to lower-level in most development indices. Metro Manila is not a world city – rather, is infamous for its traffic and urban blight. We are a diplomatic lightweight. Our soft power is not given the attention it deserves. And outside one or two outliers, we don’t even excel in sports or the arts. We are unremarkable.

Wow….talk about a reality check. It was an apt metaphor on how our political leaders have failed us, I thought.

Hearing these words was deflating to me. So in defense, I quipped back and said, “At least we are not criticized, mocked or scoffed at.” My friend reminded me that not too long ago, we were known as the extrajudicial killing capital of the world for the war on drugs that was a complete and utter failure. Feeling persecuted for my country, I tried hard to think of a redeeming factor.

“At least we are no longer spoken of disparagingly. So unremarkable is good, all thing considered,” I said.

“Yes, unremarkable is good,” quipped my friend. We both knew we were scratching the bottom in term of our standards.

He then said, “I don’t know what’s worse, Andrew – being unremarkable or having squandered all our opportunities to become a great nation.” They both hurt, our heads shaking in unison.

I then told him about my recent experience in Japan where I had the opportunity to sell the Philippines as an investment destination before the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO). I wrote about it a few weeks ago. For those who missed it, my presentation went well. But all the audience could talk about was the political squabble between Presidents Duterte and Marcos. Instead of dwelling on the country’s reforms and improving conditions, I spent the better part of the session convincing JETRO that the Philippines is not a political risk. It was a hard sell, considering the viciousness of Mr. Duterte’s words.

Our leaders today

The antics of Mr. Duterte and his cabal robbed the country of precious investments and jobs yet again. But are we surprised? Most of our political leaders today have lost sight of the big picture, instead preoccupied with partisan politics. None of our politicians today are statesmen in the caliber of Claro M. Recto, Pepe Diokno or Manuel L. Quezon.

Our statesmen of yore were brilliant, forward-looking, dignified and genuine men for others. They strived for Filipino leadership in all realms, be it in socio-economic development and in the humanities. Since our liberation up until the late 60s, the Philippines was the second most developed Asian nation. That was our golden age. Since then, we vacillated from “downright incompetently governed” to “unremarkable.”

I blame our politicians for our underachievement… because the fate of the country rests on their leadership and the policies they advocate. Our political leaders today are corrupt, entitled and really not that intelligent. The vast majority, anyway. Worse, they treat politics like a family business.

So how can our beloved country ever be great again when our leaders themselves are unremarkable?

Let’s face it. In the upcoming elections of 2025 and 2028, we will be offered the same menu of low-quality politicians, each belonging to either the side of President Marcos or Mr. Duterte. Elect them and expect nothing to change.

Alternative leadership

Allow me to fantasize. What if a third political force emerges – one that represents the best and brightest among us and true men for others. Real patriots who work for national interest and not their own. This is a fantasy so it need not be realistic. What if this third force is supported by or composed of these great Filipinos:

Ramon Ang for his vision and business savvy. Jaime Zobel de Ayala and Bong Consing for their business acumen and ability to build professional bureaucracies. Leni Robredo for her inner strength, work ethic and selflessness. Bro. Bernie Oca FSC for his expertise in education. Dado Banatao for his technological prowess and entrepreneurship. Mayors Benjamin Magalong and Vico Sotto for their incorruptible leadership. Retired Justice Antonio Carpio for his legal brilliance and insights. Chel Diokno for his legal mind, kind and patriotic heart. Bam Aquino for his intelligence and ethics. Leila de Lima for her principles and conscience. Delfin Lorenzana for his military leadership and expertise in defense. Ernesto Pernia for astute economic planning and virtuous impatience. Ronald Llamas for his political mind.

Again, fates of nations depend on leadership and policy. Elect the right leaders and we will cease to be unremarkable.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @aj_masigan

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