Good pols, bad pols | Inquirer Opinion
No Free Lunch

Good pols, bad pols

My last article on politics and politicians being our biggest block to strengthening our economy and building our national character provoked readers to contribute their own thoughts on the matter.

“Corrupt local officials,” one wrote, “are not only a deterrent to foreign investors, but also dampen local entrepreneurial spirit/culture and industry/sector collaboration. The result is ‘economic capture’ by local politicians/clans who are clueless on business and just an extra overhead cost and barrier to growth. Instead of being an enabler of business, they are a constraint.”


“Everybody knows the problem and the culprits, but nothing is done, so nothing will change,” he went on. “A war on corruption and the patronage/padrino system will never happen. It is how the indolent politicians get rich quickly and easily through abuse of position/power. It creates cartels, closed shops and inequality. The foxes are guarding the hen house.”

I have seen his cynicism shared by many. Is there no hope for our country given the way politics has become a national disease?


Politics and politicians may have a generally bad image in this country, but we’ve had and still have enough good politicians to keep faith that the Philippines can overcome its stubborn history of backwardness. One example was Naga City Mayor (and later Interior and Local Government Secretary) Jesse Robredo, who was vested with the Ramon Magsaysay Award 18 years ago for having “demonstrated that democratic government can also be good government.” Best remembered for his “tsinelas leadership,” Mayor Robredo’s favored footwear symbolized his simplicity and close empathy with the masses he served.

Likewise, the president for whom that prestigious award is named exemplified the kind of political leadership this country badly needs, and the kind of good politicians that should permeate our government. Many consider Ramon Magsaysay as the country’s best-loved president, having been regarded as a leader with a heart
genuinely for the Filipino masses.

There are many more political role models around, at the national and local levels. Having once headed the national selection committee of the Galing Pook Awards for several years, I found inspiration in various winning good practices spearheaded by local chief executives at the province, city, municipal and barangay levels. These have spanned good models of improved governance mechanisms; financial management; conflict resolution; local economic development; provision of health, education, agricultural and environmental services; and more. I have written about some of them over the years, and while some of the awarded governors, mayors and barangay captains may not necessarily be squeaky clean, they nonetheless showed the role local politicians can play to promote the common good.

Even as we can go on naming more good politicians past and present, the sad reality remains that it’s politicians of the wrong kind who are more visible, and invariably get their way in our dysfunctional political system. Another reader wrote: “I hope you will take notice of the numerous and magnificent municipal and city halls. Please include the many integrated transport terminals and wet markets, which turned out to be white elephants.”

I have indeed seen city and municipal halls that seem inordinately palatial and excessive, but these have at least made it more comfortable for the citizens to transact business with their local government. One only hopes that, beyond better physical surroundings, the civil servants in those towns and cities do not behave like little autocrats, as if they are the ones who are to be served—as remains all too common in many a government office.

Local white elephants and failed local public enterprises are another thing. Too many local leaders still think the best way to enliven the local economy is to have the local government itself engage in business—often with disastrous results. What they really ought to do is to provide the environment for private enterprises, large and small alike, to flourish. And here, the first thing that’s needed is for them to keep their own fingers out of business.

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TAGS: No Free Lunch, opinion, Philippine politics, politicians
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