Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.
— American writer Warren Bennis
IN Athens, Greece, where Pope Francis arrived for a historic first papal visit in two decades, the 266th pontiff of the Catholic Church told journalists and officials that the world is seeing a scaling back of democracy, noting with concern how today—and not only in Europe—freedom-loving people are witnessing “a retreat from democracy.”
Speaking in the welcome ceremony held in his honor at the Greek Presidential Mansion, Francis cited the global migration issue as a “horrendous modern Odyssey” that aims to draw attention to the refugee crisis in Europe: “Europe continues to hesitate and the EU (European Union) has often fallen prey to forms of nationalistic self-interest, rather than being an engine of solidarity, and has appeared at times blocked and uncoordinated.”
He explained that although we realize the wide complexities of democracy, it is urgent that people initiate wider participation as he warned against the attractive easy answers of populism.
“Democracy would be the answer to authoritarianism,” the pope enthused.
In this, we can help but notice and laud the pontiff for his social sensitivity. Quoting from several Greek philosophers, he has pleaded (time and again) for the return of the common good in politics and to be wary of politicians with “an obsessive quest for popularity and unrealistic promises.”
It’s as if the pope is describing some of those who are now vying for elective positions in the forthcoming national and local elections in May next year as well as those who are currently still in power and have influence over the lives of millions of Filipinos until they step down and leave their seat of authority.
Take the case of those who are now campaigning (and will campaign come March and April the following year) by promoting their so-called political agenda while promising “the moon and the stars” just to earn the support of the electorate so they would gain their goal—no matter what.
Thus we are reminded of what Pope Francis had recently said and warned about politicians with “an obsessive quest for popularity and unrealistic promises.”
Actually, I am sure that most of us have experienced hearing many of our leaders promising the end of corruption in government and the promotion of policies and programs that would help bring back the glory days of our country when it had just been unshackled from ‘domination’ of a foreign country—first the Spaniards for more than 300 years, then the Americans who eventually ‘duped’ our supposedly first president Emilio Aguinaldo and then the Japanese during World War II and consequently back to the United States before attaining full and unhampered sovereignty independence in 1946.
My grandfather and grandma told me about those times. Money was really valued—you could eat a full meal for 5 centavos and even have yourself fully-suited for just one peso—from a sleek Stetson hat to coat, shirt and slacks made of silk or linen and down to hand-carved leather shoes or sturdy boondockers (the shoes, I mean).
Those were the glory times when life was easy in Manila and the provinces. Filipinos then had the time to be laid back and enjoy the ease and enjoyment of having independence and owning our own lives apart from erstwhile servitude under foreign masters.
But more than seven decades later, what has happened to us? From being Asia’s most accomplished and stable economy, we have become the ‘Poor Man of Asia’ and the Chinese, who we have been ridiculed as the lowly ‘magtataho,’ their nation is now the wealthiest country in the world and the second most powerful to the US of A.
So again we ask, what has truly happened to us?
Well, for all its worth, Filipinos have become complacent about our democracy and independence. We have grown insensitive to politicians who apart from their promises are actually in power to benefit and promote their own selfish interests.
To prove this, we ask another question: Have you ever seen any politician who has become poor from the efforts in public service, or has they actually enriched themselves with the power and influence bestowed upon them by the people?
Just look around us. We see a neighbor who was formerly an ordinary guy and when he became barangay chairman has suddenly morphed into a businessman owning several properties or investments in our community.
This is why there is so much value in what Pope Francis has mentioned about politicians having “an obsessive quest for popularity and unrealistic promises.”
I heard the former Davao City mayor and our incumbent president Rodrigo Roa Duterte saying that he had fulfilled the majority of the promises he had made before he became our country’s chief executive.
Prior to his presidency, illegal drugs were sold and seized in the hundreds of millions but now at the tail-end of Duterte’s leadership, the numbers are running at billions of pesos. Corruption, another issue among Duterte’s campaign promises, has not been eradicated—if not worsened under his stewardship marked with ‘utang-na-loob’ and the ‘padrino’ system.
This simply cannot be—now that we are faced with a myriad of problems brought about by the coronavirus pandemic and the economic downturn caused by the health crisis. So we look towards a new leadership. We look to new leaders. But can we still trust them like we did when Duterte was campaigning?
I hope the Man in Malacañang does not mind my frankness in telling what I feel is true.