‘Transforming leaders’ | Inquirer Opinion

‘Transforming leaders’

(Global studies show that leadership is a key component of education quality, but there are many kinds of leadership as there are leaders. Dr. Jose V. Abueva, the esteemed educator, shares his views on the subject. This is the first of two parts.)

President Aquino should uphold the honor and example of our heroes and martyrs, including his revered parents and over a hundred others memorialized in the Bantayog ng mga Bayani, for resisting the tyranny and corruption of Ferdinand Marcos and his authoritarian regime. Their message to our incumbent President is to be a “transforming leader,” not merely a “transactional one.”


James MacGregor Burns describes “transforming leaders” as those who – with their purpose, vision and example – do much more than just bargain with fellow leaders and followers and “purposely achieve substantial and real change in the direction of ‘higher values’.” I’d say that these would include our lofty constitutional ideals of democracy, justice, good governance, the rule of law, truth, love, human rights, public accountability, and the common good.

Notable examples include Ramon Magsaysay, Emmanuel Pelaez, Benigno S. Aquino Jr. and Corazon Aquino, Jose W. Diokno, Raul Manglapus, Francisco Soc Rodrigo, Jovito R. Salonga, and Jessie Robredo.


On the other hand, “transactional leaders” use their power and patronage to gain the support and loyalty of their followers, and little more.

Ferdinand Marcos was – and remains – our most notorious “transactional leader.” In 1965, Marcos vowed: “This nation can be great again.”  Set against this vision of national progress and effective leadership, he virtually admitted his own failure by 1972 – the third year of his second term – when he proclaimed martial law purportedly “to protect the Republic of the Philippines and our democracy” that were “imperiled by the danger of a violent overthrow, insurrection and rebellion” and “criminality and lawlessness…[and] anarchy that had paralyzed the functions of the national and local governments.”

As unraveled by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), the schemes and techniques of presidential plunder by Marcos are mind-boggling. They include creating monopolies in vital industries and placing them in the control of his cronies; awarding huge behest loans to favored individuals; outright takeover of public or private enterprises for a minimal payment; direct raiding of the public treasury and government financial institutions; issuance of presidential decrees to enable his cronies to amass wealth for their joint benefit; skimming of foreign aid and other forms of assistance; and depositing money with the use of pseudonyms and numbered accounts in domestic and foreign banks to conceal its real ownership.

Through martial law, Marcos effectively extended his presidency indeterminately under the 1973 Constitution tailored for his self-aggrandizement. As revealed in Jovito R. Salonga’s memoir, Marcos needed to destroy the democratic institutions of constitutional governance and the rule of law established for the public welfare and the common good – Congress, the judiciary, the free press and media, and the citizens’ political rights and civil liberties—in order to indulge his unbridled dual passion for unlimited power and wealth. The state of the nation that he depicted merely rationalized his inner motives and overt actions.

Lord Acton is often quoted for his famous dictum: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” He saw corruption as the consequence of the unbridled exercise of power. But that is not always the case.

It appears that Marcos’ corrupt nature preceded his acquisition of absolute power and apparently motivated him into seeking it. This political cynicism makes some politicians assume that everyone has a price, and a person’s loyalty or acquiescence can be bought at that price.

Therefore, with enough wealth, you could gain power and indefinitely enlarge and perpetuate it. You could then use such power to force the people’s submission and obedience to your will, with some degree of trade-off and incentives. You can also try to keep them ignorant of the real condition of the nation and the government, or fool them with lies and propaganda. Never mind morality, the human spirit, and social conscience.


The cumulative outcome and the costs of the Marcos dictatorship that added over 13 years to his seven years as a constitutional president are incalculable. However egregious, his plunder of the nation’s wealth is only one of the costly consequences of his evil rule. During his two decades in power the Philippines fell far behind several neighboring countries in East Asia in the pursuit of development, and became “the basket case” in the region. Democracy was destroyed, the economy was in ruins, and the culture of corruption, violence and cynicism aggravated.

The Philippines was arguably better off than our neighbors in East and Southeast Asia as we emerged from the devastation of World War II and centuries of colonialism. Our rampant corruption and bad governance, and social and economic backwardness today have been brought about mainly by leaders whose drive for power and wealth make them mostly self-serving in office, instead of being loyal public servants and moral leaders as well.

Dr. Jose V. Abueva is the president of Kalayaan College and UP professor emeritus of Political Science and Public Administration, a trustee of the Eggie Apostol Foundation, and a former president of the University of the Philippines.

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TAGS: Aquino, Benigno Aquino III, education, heroes, leaders, politics
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