If there is one thing that keeps a person from success, that one thing would be the failure to see the big picture. It is not lack of talent, nor lack of resources nor lack of drive but rather, it is this ailment of perception called tunnel vision that stymies a person from comprehending the entire spectrum of any given situation.
In management courses, we keep discussing the importance of seeing the big picture. The big picture, simply put, is the comprehensive appreciation of a situation - be it a problem or an opportunity - as it applies to personal, industrial, social or political realities. To see the big picture is to comprehend all the vital ramifications, significance and implications of a situation. It is only by having a total sense of a situation on hand can one be able to act with strategic effectiveness.
But the big picture it seems is too elusive for Filipinos. Or is it because they simply choose to conveniently coast along with the current in a fatalistic sort of way? The lesser educated amongst us, unfortunately, would even have more difficulty relating to events in our history, much less respond to calls of action that are intended precisely to uplift their sorry condition. I have written at length on this subject in a previous column titled "Why we can't get to our future."
Not knowing the roots of one's problem prevents the crafting of an appropriate solution. Majority of our people, who are engulfed in poverty, keeps looking forward to every presidential election for salvation. But a cursory review of our past presidents shows that, except for a handful - Quezon, Magsaysay, and Cory Aquino - the rest were seen as disappointments by most Filipinos. And all three of them, Quezon, Magsaysay, Aquino are remembered with fondness not because they've really improved the people's economic conditions but because of other reasons such as:
1. Quezon for steering us into independence,
2. Magsaysay for saving democracy and gaining the empathy of the common man, and
3. Aquino for dismantling the Marcos dictatorship and the restoration of democracy.
But no Philippine president has really emancipated the Filipinos from economic bondage. Look at the history of people here living below the poverty line and you'll see a consistent increase up to the present when it has never been this desperate.
Why? Because when we voted, we never understood the real reasons why in our country there is always that situation of the few who have too much and the many who have too little. We, as a nation, never understood the system of exploitation that passed on from our colonizers to our oligarchy. Save for a few who understand the exploitation syndrome, most of our people do not have an idea as to who are the privileged few who are benefiting from the exploitation. Many in fact do not even know how they are being systematically exploited.
If the majority of Filipinos who are poor knew how the exploitation operates, how the oligarchs control the levers of economic and political power through their proxies in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government - then a real people's party would have evolved by now and with the majority vote that they represent, they can take over the powers of the state. Our democracy remains a sham because Filipinos do not know what they have to institute through their voting power in order to effect the structural changes that they need in order to rise above their present conditions.
The political selection process has degenerated to a hunt for crowd favorites. It is so much akin to a talent variety show where the one who gets the loudest applause wins. Never mind if the choice cannot measure up to the demands and expectations for competent public administration and moral conduct of the highest officials of the land. We must remember that the crowd chose to free Barrabas over Jesus Christ - so much for crowd favorites.
We are on a continued downward spiral simply because we keep electing the wrong leaders. We look for plumbers when what we need are carpenters. Note how our people keep choosing presidents from the ranks of congress and the senate when we may be better off choosing presidents from exemplary local government officials (like governors and big city mayors) and department secretaries. Congressmen and senators are experienced legislators but the job of a president is executive in nature - like that of department secretaries, governors and big city mayors.
Note how in the United States they keep electing mostly governors for president. Since 1976, 24 of the 28 years of the past five US presidents were those of former governors and these are the terms of Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and G. W. Bush.
Our Southeast Asian neighbors Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia went on an economic tailspin during the 1997 Asian currency crisis and all three of them, but not our country, have bounced back. They saw the big picture and they coped accordingly. But we took the opposite path. Instead of using elections to select better leaders - the ones we really need - we chose to be led by fumbling quacks.
The examples of Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo prove my point. Their combined six-year term left the Philippine peso in its worst ever exchange rate. Their six-year term placed the Philippines in its worst ranking in the roster of the perceived most corrupt countries in the world. Their six-year term recorded the highest ever budget deficit and indebtedness.
It took Ferdinand Marcos all of 20 years to log 28 billion pesos in foreign debt. By the time Joseph Estrada was ejected from Malacanang, our foreign debt was already two trillion pesos. Now after three years with Macapagal-Arroyo, it has ballooned to over 4.0 trillion pesos. And what do we have to show for it? I can only recall the many new houses of the Estrada women and the fabled hoard of Jose Pidal.
Comparing fiscal management track records, Quezon City Mayor Sonny Belmonte has more right to be president than Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. When Belmonte assumed the job of Quezon City mayor in 2001, the city was bankrupt. But after the three years under Belmonte, Quezon City now enjoys the biggest budget surplus among all local government units. While under the last three years of Macapagal-Arroyo, the country now faces its worst budget deficit.
More unfortunate is that our middle class and the so-called elite (outside of the oligarchy), having enjoyed the privilege of higher education, are so ensconced in the comfort of exclusive environments that it is rather difficult or even inconvenient for them to reach out and try to understand the situation underlying their own country's worsening poverty.
Our oligarchs are short-sighted and pathetically petty. This includes many of the big businessmen who like to posture that their interests reflect the economic well being of the nation. Yet through the years, they became richer while Mang Pandoy became poorer - to the point that the economic stagnation has now also affected their personal interests.
Owing to their education and their voice in society, we would have expected the middle class, traditionally the intellectual elite of most societies, to lead the way in the proper selection of public officials during elections. But we didn't see that last May. Instead, what we saw was a middle class that gravitated to the same "winnability" and "lesser evil" mindset. Instead of going for who can serve us best, they gravitated to the one who can damage us less.
When the big businessmen encounter trouble in their companies, they will spare no cost and effort to acquire the most capable executives to reverse their predicament. So why is it that they cannot apply the same principle of survival urgency when they select the right crisis manager for our sinking country?
Neither the country nor the future of the next generation is of primary concern to many of them. It matters not to them that by compromising their better judgment they are in fact condemning the country deeper into hell. They see only their business interests and do not see the connection between having qualified leadership and long-term national viability. They see only short-term personal relief for their woes, even if this means savoring their last few moments in a luxury suite in the doomed Titanic.
Rather short sighted and stupid really considering that the dreaded imminent scenario is so much in the offing and an event like this will spare no one. In the French Revolution, good and bad aristocrats shared the same fate - they all got a very close shave in the guillotine.