“Our Leaders, Our Problem”

by Alex Lacson
Philippine Daily Inquirer
June 20, 2014

“When our politicians sleep, our nation moves forward.” You will find this message in many of the streets in Rio de Janeiro these days.

When you reflect upon what’s happening in our country today, with many senators and congressmen and other high government officials implicated in the pork barrel scam, it is easy to agree with that maxim. It sounds true because there is so much truth to it.

In fact, I have personally come to a conclusion that today’s “biggest obstacle” to our nation’s progress is our own leaders. I refused to verbalize this in the past, much less, write about it. It is very tragic. But consider the following facts.

Let me begin with Ferdinand Marcos. He was brilliant and intellectually superior than many of his peers, not only in the Philippines but also in Asia. In 1968, then US President Lyndon Johnson called Marcos “his right arm” in Southeast Asia. When Marcos ruled the Philippines from 1965 to 1986, Lee Kuan Yew ruled Singapore from 1959 to 1991. Park Chung Hee ruled South Korea from 1961 to 1979, while Mahathir Mohamad ruled Malaysia from 1981 to 2003. They were all contemporary dictators, only varying in shades and degrees.

But how come Lee Kuan Yew transformed Singapore from being one of the poorest countries in 1959 to one of the most prosperous in Asia by 1991? How come Park Chung Hee was able to elevate his South Korea from being an “impossible country” in 1961 to one of Asia’s economic miracles in 1979? How come Mahathir was able to do the same to Malaysia?

And to think that our Philippines had a great head start in 1965, when Marcos became president. That year, the Philippines was ranked second only to Japan in the entire Asia in terms of economic performance.

What went wrong? Leadership. Sincere, committed leadership. In the 2004 Global Transparency Report, Marcos was second on the list of “The World’s Most Corrupt Leaders.” He was alleged to have stolen $10 billion during his presidency. In contrast, when Park Chung Hee died in 1979, he left only one property, an old apartment that he bought before he became president in 1961. Some Koreans put up a trust fund to support his family.

In 1948, then Philippine Senate President Jose Avelino was alleged to have said “What are we in power for?”

Whenever I look at our present Congress, it is very difficult to see any hope. Of course, there are a few good senators and representatives. But as a constitutional body, it is not performing its mandate of passing laws to promote the common good. Last year, it passed only one law of national significance, the postponement of the national SK elections. And we spent over P35 billion for that! The present Congress has become a major obstacle for the much-needed reform legislation, like the antipolitical dynasty, the freedom of information bills, to cite two. Most of the lawmakers seem to be merely promoting their own interests and big business’ interests. They are not promoting our people’s interests.

According to a 2014 study by AIM Policy Study Center, around 75 percent of the members of Congress belong to political dynasties, while around 80 percent of the governors and mayors nationwide belong to political dynasties.

Under the 2014 national budget, P27 billion is allotted to Congress while P342 billion is allotted to all governors, mayors and barangays. Almost 80 percent of all these funds will go to political dynasties nationwide.

In 1992, then President Fidel Ramos and Gen. Jose Almonte said that one of the biggest problems of our country is monopoly—monopoly in politics by political dynasties, monopoly in business by the oligarchs, and monopoly in land ownership by the landlords.

But the monopolies in business and land ownership can only be addressed by laws—through Congress. Thus, we must first find a solution to political dynasties, before we can even address the monopolies in business and land ownership.

What’s wrong with our leaders?

Is it formal education that is lacking? But most of our top government leaders are graduates of the country’s top schools: e.g., Juan Ponce Enrile, Edgardo Angara and Jinggoy Estrada from UP Diliman. In fact, most of our senators, congressmen, Cabinet secretaries, and governors are alumni of top schools. Perhaps, at least 75 percent of them. Many of them studied abroad too. So if our top leaders are graduates of the so-called top schools in our country, why is our country the way it is today?

Is it lack of fear of God’s wrath and justice in hell? But most of our top government leaders are Christians, many of whom are Catholics. Most likely, at least 80 percent of our government leaders went to a Christian school either for primary and/or secondary education.

Ah, perhaps many of them have not learned the fundamental teaching of Jesus Christ when He said: “Whatever you do to the least of your neighbors, you do to Me.” God is in every person, essentially that is Jesus’ message. But many of our leaders do not see God among their fellow Filipinos. That’s why fooling them, or stealing from them, or taking advantage of their weakness does not bother their conscience.

At school and in media, there’s too much emphasis on personal success. The common good is seldom discussed. As a result, many of our graduates become too individualistic, too focused on getting ahead of the rest.

“Everything rises and falls with leadership,” says leadership guru John Maxwell.

Celebrating our Independence Day, our people need to know that our enemy is no longer the Spaniards, or the Americans, or the Japanese, or the Marcos dictatorship, but our own leaders who promote only their selfish interest.

Alex Lacson (alexlacson12@gmail.com) is the author of the book “12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country.”