Stepping up | Inquirer Opinion

Stepping up

05:11 AM December 01, 2014

This early, Filipinos are asking a question that has an “existential” bearing on their future: Who should lead the country in 2016?

It’s good that we’re thinking about it this early, not content with the currently listed aspirants, and searching for people who can change the quality of politics and governance. Our eventual choice will determine one of three outcomes: a bright future, more of the same, or a dark future.

Given our track record in the past two decades, will we make informed choices in 2016, fight for them and, more importantly, continue supporting them beyond victory? Will we unite to take the bull by the horns and change the course of our future?


We should give a damn. There is so much to do in so short a time in the trenches until a new dawn breaks. However, there are five roadblocks that prevent qualified and upright citizens from stepping up to the plate to get elected:

  1. Expensive elections work in favor of the status quo—political dynasties, their financial backers and minions.
  1. Political parties function like fraternities, choosing only the popular and wealthy at the expense of meritorious candidates.
  1. Self-interest and ignorance are great levelers of “intelligent” voters who’ll settle for “the devil we know” and “unintelligent” voters who’ll sell their votes or think like a “fans’ club.”
  1. Few media outlets seek out and project fresh faces that represent new politics and qualify for the positions they seek.
  1. A corrupted counting system and malleable gatekeepers that favor the highest bidders.

In that regard, I’ve been asked if I’d thought of returning to the public sector because of systemic governance and performance issues that impact nation-building and call for an awakened citizenry to step up. I’ve responded that I’m seriously considering the matter to fix what can be fixed, change what can be changed, and serve as many who can be served by good government.

But let me add that intent is one thing and winning is another. An awakened and united citizenry must surmount the roadblocks I mentioned and think outside the box to carry their choices to victory. Fish cannot swim without water, so those willing to step up need the citizenry to engage and stay engaged.

Society should emerge from its comfort zone to finally embark on its long-postponed journey to national transformation, liberated from its attitudes and behavior that divide and degrade the nation, and deny a large segment of the nation the opportunities for and benefits of economic growth. It must start doing the right things and doing things right.

I’ll cite two intertwined disasters that keep battering us—political disaster and cultural disaster. I’m referring to our self-serving politics and negligent governance that stem from a systemic sense of entitlement, corruption and impunity, resulting in social injustice, poverty and the diaspora that’s decimating family life and personal conduct. In summary, it’s about the things we do wrong, don’t do right or don’t do at all because of what we are.

The nation is bedeviled, exasperated and desperate for solutions that don’t come forth because, on the one hand, they elect into office mostly the wrong kind who perpetuate self-interest and self-service; and, on the other hand, they have not yet seen the nexus between self-reform and national transformation.

The breakdown in behavior and performance continues to raise political, social, economic, ecological and security risks. That’s why we’re being left behind in just about every kind of national report card—governance, competitiveness, human development index, Millennium Development Goals and foreign direct investments. And we’ll keep sliding for as long as the wrong kind stay on top of the food chain.


How do we build a nation worthy of respect by both friend and foe?

In my view, we must start by electing our next set of national and local leaders who possess the all-important mindset for inclusive growth, risk reduction and crisis management. These are crucial to secure the nation for the long pull.

Inclusive growth pertains to the equitable sharing of opportunities and benefits of a growing pie. It implies synchronicity between the macroeconomic and microeconomic determinants of the economy to narrow the rich-poor gap. It’s about social justice that serves as our passport to national harmony, durable peace and national development so essential to national security.

Risk reduction and crisis management require a mindset and aptitude that vigilantly mitigate the nation’s vulnerabilities and exposure to risk, natural and manmade, such as: armed conflict, narcopolitics, terror, economic sabotage, financial dislocation, extreme weather and pandemics; and, if impacted, steer the nation skillfully through its crisis survival paces, from immediate response to full recovery within the shortest time possible.

As for society, we need to firm up our backbone, live our values, draw everyone into the circle, and place common good ahead of selfish interests. Cultural change takes a long while but the journey is absolutely necessary. And it must be underpinned by a moral reawakening because the way we are today is preventing us from becoming the nation we want to be.

The generation I belong to will likely not see the final destination but if we journey well, if we mentor and communicate properly, if we stay focused on the objective, we will give those who will take our place a better chance to build a strong and respected nation to last the ages.

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Rafael M. Alunan III was interior and local government secretary during the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos.

TAGS: economy, leadership, national development, Philippines, politics

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