Why we fail to elect good leaders
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2009-07-05

Ask Filipinos if they are happy with the political leadership in the country during the last ten years and most of them will give you a resounding NO for an answer. In fact, public dissatisfaction with the political leadership, especially the national leadership, has deteriorated to the level of deep cynicism.

Since 1999, when Joseph “Erap” Estrada’s presidential mismanagement worsened the effects of the 1997 Asian Currency Crisis, the Filipino has had no respite from our downward economic spiral. The Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) regime has touted impressive economic numbers but the poor hardly felt the positive effects of the claimed improvement as hunger incidence rose and more kids are now out of school.

As if the economic situation is not heavy enough a cross to carry, the country is also plagued by a developing anarchy. We have Muslim Separatists waging war in Mindanao and a continuing Communist insurgency all over the country. In our streets, road rage, assassinations and other violent crimes are increasing — proof of the ever growing loss of faith and respect for the law.

The fact that less Filipinos are joining protest rallies and demonstrations does not mean there is less disenchantment. Most Filipinos are deeply resentful of the country’s sorry state but they’ve become apathetic because they also see no hope in the alternative leadership being offered.

You can liken Filipinos to milk consumers who have lost confidence in the number 1 milk brand. They don’t buy milk at all simply because they also do not like the alternative milk brands being offered.

This is, of course, a very dangerous situation. This is the type of a political situation that opens a country to out-of-the-box solutions which often come with very severe and unpalatable prescriptions. Possibilities of a military takeover, a civil war, a system collapse that can result in the dismemberment of a republic easily come to mind. We would not want to even think about these scenarios, much less embark on anything that will result in any of these.

Many foreigners are puzzled why we’re unable to replace our bad leaders with a new breed that can usher social justice and a better life for Filipinos. It becomes more puzzling when viewed from the perspective that Filipinos have twice utilized People Power within a span of 15 years to successfully oust two bad presidents, Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada.

The Americans were not even half as disillusioned with the Republican administration of ex-president George W. Bush but look at the landslide victory they gave Barack Obama. With half of the misery Filipinos are suffering, there would have been a quick political upheaval in a first world democracy.

But that is precisely the core issue — democracy. We cannot even claim to be a third world democracy. In truth, we are a democracy by name but nothing more than an oligarchy where the top one percent monopolizes the political and economic levers of power.

Two very big gaps prevent the Filipino from understanding and doing something about the country’s sorry state — the Education Gap and the Information Gap. The nation becomes enlightened (and empowered voters) once we address the Information and Education Gaps.
Solving the Information Gap alone will be more than 70 percent of the problem solved.

Foreigners can’t figure out why we keep electing bad leaders when there are so many potential good leaders available. This underscores the fact that we are a weak nation. A weak and unenlightened nation is prone to electing bad leaders.

Gawad Kalinga’s (GK) Tony Meloto, along with Nicky Perlas and Manny Pangilinan are far superior choices for president than most of those who are running in 2010. But they cannot hope to be elected under the conditions of the Information and Education Gaps most Filipinos suffer from. Good presidential materials like Tony Meloto, Nicky Perlas and Manny Pangilinan cannot even register a two percent rating in the presidential polls.

The problem is not simply the lack of public awareness of the available good candidates. Take the case of Senator Richard “Dick” Gordon and Quezon City Mayor Sonny Belmonte who are well known. Dick and Sonny are easily two of the best presidential materials we need most at this time. But they have never been in the thick of the presidential race because of the “loser” mentality of many of our voters.

This loser mentality subscribes to the notion that good candidates who do not have the money and the machinery cannot win. These losers who are forever on the lookout for “winners” haven’t realized that their votes — not money and machinery — elect public officials. Many of our voters have yet to appreciate that their oft perceived “winners” are the very people that make us a nation of losers.

This Filipino loser mentality requires values reform to address. The learning process cannot hope to begin unless the unlearning of counterproductive mindsets happens first.

It is heartwarming to see the efforts of civil society groups and media to rally voters to take a more active stance in the 2010 elections. But don’t you think many, if not all, of these efforts are a wee bit late in the day? Does it not strike you as attempts to store provisions for the winter when the snow has already started falling?

Why are we not seriously addressing the Information and Education Gaps — something that we should have been doing since the first day of the post-Marcos era? Had the top five percent of Philippine society focused on that effort conscientiously and consistently since February 26, 1986, don’t you think we would have elected good presidents instead in 1998 and 2004?

Developed through many decades, the failure of Philippine democracy cannot be solved overnight. It will require a dedicated, long term and extensive effort. We have no choice but to go down to the lowest segment of our society and bring them up — or else they will continue to bring us down.

When every poor community has been transformed to something like a GK Village where values reform is the centerpiece accomplishment — that will be the day when we will have an empowered electorate capable of electing good leaders.

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