The Long View: Statesman

The Long View
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:39:00 09/03/2009

I once asked Mar Roxas why he wanted to be president. His answer was simple: “I want every Filipino to have the sense of limitless opportunities I had growing up.”

It struck me as a supremely worthy ambition, and one, furthermore, grounded not in enabling an infantile dependence on leaders, but instead based on recognizing what leaders ought to do: provide opportunity, while mentoring excellence.

It may be that Roxas would have found it easier to do precisely what he hoped to set out to do had he stayed abroad. He could have taken in a promising Filipino intern or two, and helped them shine in the word of banking and finance. He might have done much for a few, and done his personal wealth a favor. After all, while bankers are generally viewed as prudent, never rash, and generally conservative people, we forget all too often that Roxas had built a career in venture capital, which is not far removed from politics in both its deal-making, and, as has gotten all too familiar in fiction, its buccaneering aspects.

He did the more difficult thing: he came home, to a life he never sought, in fulfillment of a sense of duty he could easily have escaped, with rivals and allies and an electorate so trapped in the many impossibilities of our present-day societies that it would be a perpetually painful, because at times all too implausible, effort to bridge the gap between his sense of limitless possibilities and our cynical certainties.

Consider how easy it is to caricature Mar Roxas whichever way one chooses to consider him, but always from the perspective of a sneering certainty in the vanity and avarice of our fellow man: a scion, endowed both with political and business pedigree, which carries with it both crushing expectations and, all too often, a sense of entitlement and impunity; an Atenean and a graduate of Wharton, propelled, by virtue of education, to be first in line in most undertakings and so, unsurprisingly, who ended up a New York financier. And of course, as we all know Roxas today: a politician.

But again, even in this, his latest incarnation, his identity as a politician, though politics was always inseparable from his very being, was not his first choice – nor the one in which he was ultimately best prepared, either by temperament, much less instinct. His entry into politics was because of a family tragedy: the untimely death of his brother. In a nation where nearly every calling, from the priesthood to the military, the bureaucracy, even arts and letters – indeed, where virtually all the professions, noble and ignoble – have their dynasties, what would impel him to enter government is something that needs little explanation.

But what is relevant here is that if he could move with self-assurance and be regarded as possessing integrity in his career as a banker, he could never be assured of these things. Indeed, outside his milieu, at times he could appear so cautious as to seem paralyzed, and when inspired to take a stand, seem calculated and thus, feigning passing, instead.

And yet what, in the end, is the proper way to judge a public man than to consider the absence of public sins? Never a whiff of graft, even the remotest scent of corruption; never any allegation of manipulation of government rules for personal or familial gain; no talk, ever, of putting self above country, or putting ahead family over community, or setting aside duty in order to heedlessly pursue personal pleasure.

Going into his campaign, these were – and remain – his strengths as a public man. They were and are, however, the things for which a public man can never ask for recognition, nor, if he is truly a virtuous man, can he even point them out. In the end this is the dilemma that confronted Roxas throughout his campaign: in a campaign full of poseurs, to call attention to one’s authenticity becomes a kind of fakery, especially in a field full of fakers to begin with. But the practiced faker appears more genuine than the instinctive conscientious man reduced to making maladroit efforts to be understood.

Having done his damnedest, it may be that Mar Roxas saw that the country could continue down the futile path we’ve collectively been negotiating like suicidal lemmings since 2005. Paul Johnson, in his book, “Heroes,” pointed out that “The Pagan Classical world had an empirical morality which celebrated the skilful and successful use of force. It feasted and immortalized those who were able to wield it. It averted its eyes from failure and regarded the weak and helpless with indifference.”

Our supposedly Christian country, then, has a pagan political culture, and, to borrow Claro M. Recto’s phrase, the “Neros and Caligulas” of our present plying the plebes with rice crises and political circuses were doing so in a manner even Ferdinand Marcos would have considered unbearably uncouth. But here they are – and the choice was starkly evident. In normal circumstances, Roxas could have undertaken a campaign in the ordinary manner and contested the election in all the ordinary ways, but this is not an ordinary time.

Today he is being damned with faint praise. His patriotism and self-sacrifice – his statesmanship – are being proclaimed by many of the same people who probably never liked him, who do not consider his representing anything but frustrated ambition, and who certainly had no intention of voting for him. So in a sense, when Roxas made history Tuesday night, his loss was not theirs. And the false praise resonating among their ranks is like a cloud of incense, a smokescreen to disguise their glee over what they consider his political death.

The only thing buried last Tuesday is the false assumption that nice guys finish last. While Mar became a statesman, he did not raise the bar for himself – he set it, after all – but for others. A standard he could reach is one he can sustain, but fundamentally beyond the reach of his so-called peers.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

65 thoughts on “The Long View: Statesman

  1. “I’m not totally convinced of Noynoy’s capabilities to lead, I’m not totally convinced he can put his honest foot down in the face of the powerful sycophants and meddlers, I’m not totally convinced he has the balls yet (or will ever develop them), but I know one thing for sure: He isn’t like any of the others. And maybe, just maybe, that’s what we need.”


    I’m inclined to believe that, maybe, that’s what the country presently wants. But I’m not sure that it’s what the country needs.

    But, given the present crop of presidentiables, there seems not to be too many good choices. It’s a crapshoot, but life is a crapshoot anyway!

  2. SoP: “…laws can be wrong and shouldn’t be applied at all times.”

    – Now you’re not just being nutty. You now seem to be the kind of person J-AG says you are. I can’t feeling a bit guilty though. I share some of your views. Hehehe.

    Maybe you’re right though. Therefore, Gloria attempted to go beyond the short list submitted by the JBC. So she effectively ignored the recommendations for National Artists. So she appointed an ombudsgirl friday instead of an Ombudsman. So she filled vacancies with favored generals instead of career dipolomats, and appointed non-eligibles to career positions. So the PNP can’t find an obiquitous fugitive like Lintang Bedol. So she withheld funds intended for LGU’s.

    Does a president have an option to choose which law to implement or not? Maybe. That’s probably why she chose to ignore RA 2873 which was meant to promote the welfare of indigenous people, and instead opted for dramatic but useless and costly negotiations with armed groups. Maybe she also has the right to choose which cases to pursue and which to ignore until it lapses legally as in the case of Nani Perez.

    I must admit though that there are laws that are passed to satisfy certain pressure groups or for political expediency. They are generally unenforceable for lack of funding since they were never really meant to be implemented in the first place. A case in point is AFMA and Land Reform. But that is another story.

  3. I just read the Liberal party platform, and some of it is not Liberal but really socialist.
    everyone gets same SSS regardless of payment in?
    SSS on all income, which effectively brings the income tax to 50%?
    paying women to stay home and make babies?

    security systems are long overdue for reform. Our objectives are to simplify and integrate the two systems, to mount a determined assault on poverty and dependence, and to protect our citizens from want. We will work towards an eventual creation of a new Citizen’s Income – a living wage, as mandated by the constitution which shall be payable to all irrespective of sex or status. For pensioners, the Citizen’s Income will be well above the present pension. Unpaid work will be recognized as valuable. Women caring in the home, for example, will receive an independent income from the state for the first time. The Citizen’s Income will be buttressed by a single benefit for those in need, unifying income support and family credit, with supplements for people with disabilities and for childcare support. These reforms will ensure that every citizen is guaranteed a decent minimum income, whether or not they are in employment. Our immediate priorities, which will act as steps toward the Citizen’s Income, include:
    • Immediate improvement in benefits. We will increase Child Benefits for each child. We will establish a Social Fund Network, setting realistic cash limits and allowing access to soft loans and grants.
    • Increase the basic pension benefits immediately. The higher pension will be paid to every pensioner, regardless of their contributory record, to end the indignity of means testing. After this, we will update the basic pension every year in line with average earnings.
    • Creating a comprehensive disability income schemes. We will provide a statutory framework of protection, including employee representation on occupational pension trusts.
    • Unifying income tax and employees’ insurance (SSS/GSIS) contributions so that the two taxes are collected and administered together and paid on the same income, whether from earnings, investments, capital gains or perks.

  4. If Noynoy has character, he might just be the one. As SOP pointed out, I too believe that we have to look into this seriously. He may not have the everything else, but at least he will do the right thing (or not do, or hesitate, to do wrong). It doesn’t have to be the president alone who must carry us to the promise land, its a national effort.
    Do we really want to always find blame every single term? Or are we prepared to re responsible this time and work together?
    What Mar did was admirable, no matter how others read it, I still believe he had good intentions. Bottomline, he did something at least, so many people blab, write, etc., but could never get the gumption to actually do anything…just too many…and they’re not helping at all…

  5. Can someone explain to me why the opposition is trying to coalesce and what they will be opposing against in 2010? GMA won’t be running this election, nor does she have a viable manok who will win (Noli? Puhleaze).

    Is the idea of fielding a single opposition candidate for the purpose of getting a getting a president up there who will pursue corruption charges against GMA?

    As far as I know, Mar, Noynoy, Villar, Among Ed, they’re anti-GMA. Erap-50/50. He feels scorned for being displaced by pandak, but owes utang na loob for the pardon.

    So is this coalescing about beating Erap?

  6. Carl: “…there seems not to be too many good choices.”

    – How lucky you are. Most of us would be content with finding one. So why go for a blank sheet of paper which most of us are anyway? It merely reflects what he has between his ears. No talk, no mistake. He is a son. He is not Ninoy or Cory.

    – Coalescing is all about winning. It not about making anybody lose. Noynoy can beat ERAP hands down.

    – Villar, anti-GMA? He is pro himself. Whatever it takes to win, or amass wealth.

  7. “So why go for a blank sheet of paper . . . ”


    The blank sheet isn’t my choice. I have only observed, after discussing with some political handicappers, that there’s a powerful sector out there that thinks he’s the one to beat right now. He’s riding on a wave. A wave of emotion. And a wave of people fed up with controversies and political noise of the past few years.

    The other major Presidential aspirants have better curriculum vitae, better personalities, better leadership potential. Alongside Mar Roxas’ credentials, for example, Noynoy pales in comparison. But the gods of fate sometimes play cruel jokes on us mortals. The word on the street is that the gods have made their choice. It seems like a joke. But it’s real. And it seems to have struck a responsive chord, because a good amount of smart money is ready to place huge bets on the annointed one. Watch the Lopezes. Watch the Ayalas. Watch Manny Pangilinan. Watch Danding Cojuangco. Watch Tony Boy Cojuangco. Watch the Concepcions. Watch Jojo Binay. Watch Louie Villafuerte (are the gods watching over this guy, or what? The timing of his disaffection with the administration alliance was impeccable!). Watch Fidel Ramos. Watch Joe de Venecia. The endorsements will be forthcoming.

    Among Ed and Ping Lacson have already signed up. Even the delusional Bro. Eddie Villanueva may later sign up, although he could be hampered by his star complex, especially with so many large egos backing Noynoy.

  8. What Mar Roxas did was remarkable. He gave up his political ambitions just to give way for Noynoy. If Noynoy would pursue his candidacy for President, I would support him. I just hope that in case he wins, he can live up the expectations of people on him.

  9. J_AG: We do not need to produce anything for our own consumption. We can depend on more advanced economies around us to produce it for us.

    – We are an agricultural country. We can produce all our needs, and more. All we have to do is abolish the DAR and give the funds to cities and provinces. No need for the inutile AFMA.

    Land reform ties the poor farmer to the rice crop even in areas where rice production is not economically feasible. It also stifles private initiative and capital generation by putting bars to land conversion. We can always turn to our vast idle lands to compensate for the loss.

    Local governments know or should what crops or animals to raise; which farmers group to help through loans which include machinery and initial operational expenses; and what industries to promote. Juice extraction for pineapple, kalamansi or ilang-ilang is one.

    Labor displaced by machinery should not be a problem. America’s farmers constitute less than 20% of its population but produces grain supplies while our 80% who are farmers can’t feed even their own families!

    There used to be at least three wannabes who are former LGU executives. They could strenghten local governments accordingly. However, my first bet, Binay, and Among Ed have opted out. Gordon has exposed his weakness in part 2 of his own NBN-ZTE deal investigation. That leaves BF alone. I hope though that the MMFF “gift” does not ruin him.

    Noynoy’s experience as haciendero won’t count.

  10. I FEAR that Nonoy will be our Obama. but nonoy would be better than Bayani or Teodoro.. just as Obama was the lesser evil than McCain

  11. I fear that Ninoy will be the man to beat. He too has ERAP’s masa, plus the elite’s support. But I fear failure of elections more.

    I’m rooting for BF though. He can abide by the law while making the rest do the same. A president can’t do wrong this way. That’s about all that there is to the presidency.

  12. “Labor displaced by machinery should not be a problem.”

    The problem is the lag from when farmers turn into urbanites. The transition should be supplemented by other forms of living. Thus your English peasants worked in Dickensian industrial factories, American farmers working in the gold rush and for the robber barons, Chinese farmers working in outsourced factories. Ours is to ship them farmers to overseas as OFWs (or as urban slum in the Metros).

    As you can see, the transition is never easy and fraught with hardship for the farmers turning into urbanites. And our obsession with land reform is not helping any. American farmers and English landlords had the backing of their legal system guaranteeing the private ownership of the landed aristocrats. Should we follow this lead? Or should we follow the lead of Taiwan and South Korea who went through the steps of redistributing farm lands to peasants, only to have those disperse farm lots coalesce again as the farmers abandoned them for urban living/professions and have big farms regain ownership?

    I think “big farming”, that is, owning 200 to 400 hectares of land, as opposed to the CARP policy of land owners owning no more than 7 hectares, will always be the inevitable end game. This is so because it is the most cost-effective method. So why go through the hoops of breaking up land ownership and redistributing, knowing in the end these little farm lots will morph back into big farms? Dangling the CARP carrot to farmers make them antsy. Our legal system should tell our farmers “hey fuck you, we’re not gonna give you free land. You better find other ways of making a living because there’s no future in being a farmer”.

    Just accelerate urbanization I say.

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