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It’s not too late

/ 12:19 AM March 26, 2015

Last week, I watched the semi-documentary “Churchill: 100 Days That Saved Britain.” Britain was about to fall in the face of the German blitzkrieg through Europe. France had surrendered, the British army had retreated in defeat at Dunkirk, and it was a matter of weeks before Britain would fall, so everybody thought.

Except that Sir Winston Churchill had been elected to head the government. And he had only one vision: To win, and never surrender; Britain never had and never will.

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Then the attack started. German fighters and bombers filled the skies, and its huge navy set sail for final conquest. The British were dispirited and resigned to defeat. But one man said NO—Churchill; with rhetoric that has become part of the English language, with statements that world leaders have repeated ever since in their own attempts to rouse their own people from helplessness, despair and sense of defeat. As Churchill did. His great determination, his iron will forced the British to fight back, and changed everything. And the German soldiers never got to set foot on British soil. And the Allies won the war.

Why am I telling you this? Because it made me realize something I never understood before: How important one man is in a nation’s development. Or how destructive he could be to a nation if not stopped and people joined him.

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Hitler is an appalling example. Some 60 million people were killed in the world war he started, and soldiers—simple, decent people—went along with him, not repelled by the horror of of it all.

Today there’s Bashar al-Assad who for four years has wreaked havoc in Syria, displacing half its population, slaughtering hundreds of thousands of its people.

Closer to home, the Kims have destroyed North Korea. Right here, Marcos brought one of the most economically promising countries in Asia (it’s why I came here in 1975 to build a factory) down to near the bottom of the heap through mind-boggling corruption, which put him on Transparency International’s list of the top 10 corrupt leaders in the world. (The Philippines is the only country that has two of its former leaders on that list. Erap Estrada is the other one.)

On the positive side, Lee Kuan Yew (who, sadly, died this week) is widely credited for leading Singapore’s transformation from a remote British outpost into a “global trade and financial center.”

Since Marcos, the Philippines has gone through ups and downs, much of it “downs.” At the moment, we are on an uptrend, but it seems volatile and the next leader could take it in the opposite direction.

And that’s why we are all asking: Who could he possibly be? No one seems to fully fit the bill, and those who do are so far off the political radar screen as to need a miracle to gain countrywide recognition and acceptance. Those on the screen have “essential (to us) issues”—on honesty and competence. I’ve talked to many people, no one has an answer.

Thus, “continuity”—which is one of the more critical factors in attracting foreign investments—is under a cloud of uncertainty again. Consistency of policies and procedures can’t be assured, and without such assurance, investors won’t come.

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What would help is if President Aquino acted forthrightly and met with Congress to rush through a number of laws that will institutionalize reforms—so the next president will have no choice but to be committed to them. The business community has been saying endlessly what these reforms are. All Mr. Aquino has to do is read their presentations and act on them accordingly. I must admit to being disappointed with his lack of resolve in doing so.

I believe that some really dramatic, positive changes could quickly offset the adverse impacts of the Mamasapano massacre. His unusual laid-back style of leadership may have worked—at least, we see the results: Competitiveness is up, so are the honesty levels, and the economy is growing although it hasn’t exactly lifted up the lives of the more than half of the population that needs help the most. The jobless and those wallowing in poverty are almost as many now as there were when Mr. Aquino assumed the presidency.

As it were, public support for the President is slipping—way, way down following his poor reaction to the dreadful Mamasapano massacre. Yes, it was a massacre. Calling it anything less insults the fallen, brave 44 policemen on a lawful mission. (Massacre, “the violent killing of many people”—Merriam-Webster online)

Mamasapano is a watershed in Mr. Aquino’s presidency, and with his term approaching its end, instituting long-needed reforms to at least improve a little the life of the poor has become difficult to achieve. But he still can do it, although the task will be more demanding now, or shall we say, he needs to be more dictatorial (in a positive way) than he has acted in the past.

Mr. President, don’t tolerate bureaucratic nonsense, just insist on the reforms.

And beg the courts to cooperate, it’s the least they can do. I still can’t believe that the Court of Appeals issued a temporary restraining order to stop the enforcement of the Ombudsman’s order suspending Makati Mayor Junjun Binay, despite the slew of evidence linking him to criminal transactions. Can’t the Supreme Court decide in a more enlightened way?

Today we have a leader in trouble and it’s only that leader who can get himself out of that fix.

Either he remains dispirited and resigned to defeat, or he can say, “We will win, we will never surrender.”

Fight, fight to put in place reforms that genuinely create jobs for the poor, and go out in a blaze of glory. It’s all up to you, Mr. President.

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TAGS: Allies, Bashar al-Assad, Benigno Aquino III, Britain, Ferdinand Marcos, France, Germany, Hitler, Joseph Estrada, Junjun Binay, Lee Kuan Yew, Makati City, north korea, Singapore, Syria, Winston Churchill
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