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The Long View: Three aspects of the presidency Three aspects of the presidency
By mlq3 Posted in Daily Dose on January 11, 2010 22 Comments 5 min read
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The Long View

Three aspects of the presidency

By Manuel L. Quezon III

Philippine Daily Inquirer

First Posted 23:26:00 01/10/2010

LISTENING to last Saturday’s Presidential forum in De La Salle Zobel, where Benigno Aquino III, Richard Gordon, Gilbert Teodoro and Manuel Villar Jr. answered a series of punchy questions expertly presented by Mike Enriquez, something Dr. Jose Abueva told me kept coming back to my mind.

If we assume that the presidency as an office is molded as much by the personalities and vision of individuals, as it is by the rules imposed by the Constitution and tradition, then pondering the answers given by the candidates requires an insight into the potential that acquiring presidential office represents not just for the candidates but the country.

Dr. Abueva points to three aspects – three potentials – of the presidency, that we should bear in mind. Several years ago, in our book on Malacanang Palace, I described it as “prize, pulpit and stage”: a prize, as power is contested and fought for, symbolized by a new administration moving in; a pulpit, because of the manner in which presidents can nudge public opinion toward great goals and national ideals; and a stage, because it’s where the panoply of governance plays out.

Abueva adopts a similar perspective.

First, a president, he says, can be “A Great Teacher.” By personal example and the manner in which he wields the powers of the office, a president can demonstrate leadership and not just undertake management of the executive branch. There is a deep difference between the two, and the public ideally has to identify the candidate who can lead, while being able to create a team that can manage things well.

Much has been made of Barack Obama’s enthusiasm for the book “Team of Rivals,” Doris Kearns Goodwin’s account of how Abraham Lincoln turned a divided cabinet composed of strong personalities with ideas not only very different from his own, but skeptical of his character and abilities, into a team that ended up loyally serving him and whose members became his admirers.

He did this knowing the encumbrances of the job. Lincoln famously remarked, concerning the legions of politicians besieging presidents for the pork barrel and patronage, that his daily dilemma was “too many piglets, too few teats.” And yet even as patronage was par for the course for any political job, it didn’t dominate his presidency or his subordinates’ or the public’s perception of how he viewed his office and wielded his office.

Second, a president can be a “A Great Nation-Builder.” This involves strengthening and not weakening institutions. It requires the vision and understanding required to foster and nurture the rank and file in the bureaucracy so that what is the citizenry’s due – services, programs – are provided not as favors but as the taxpayer’s due. Garry Wills in his book on the Kennedys contrasted Franklin D. Roosevelt, for example, with John F. Kennedy. FDR, he argued, was a true leader because he used his personal charisma and executive authority to create bureaucratic institutions that transformed people’s lives long after he left office. JFK, on the other hand, he criticized because he viewed the bureaucracy as the enemy, to be circumvented, sidestepped and confronted (to be subdued), which eroded institutions.

And finally, the president can be “A Great Transforming Leader,” meaning someone who upholds and promotes the nation’s positive values and high ideals of governance. A president must get subordinates and even rivals to change their methods and behavior.

At last Saturday’s presidential forum in De La Salle Zobel, candidate Benigno Aquino III recounted how the passage of the 2010 budget made his blood boil, because bureaucrats didn’t even pretend to consider the opinions of legislators. Never, he said, has he seen such a mentality of impunity among officials serving the chief executive. This is a clear demonstration, he argued, of how contempt of institutions at the top ends up parroted by those below; conversely it suggests how the bureaucracy can be galvanized by a change in orientation at the top.

I’ve heard that the President, through the Department of the Interior, has taken to reassigning provincial police commanders, even if they’re supposed to enjoy something of a fixed term; the reshuffle comes on the eve of the 2010 polls and is being perceived as a partisan undertaking. The President enjoys the broad power of supervision, meaning she has oversight over all local government units in a government that is by its nature, unitary and so, highly centralized. Everyone knows the limits that are supposed to apply to her power of supervision; and everyone knows how she has and continues to abuse her powers; it remains for the public to determine whether candidates have pointed out these shortcomings enough and pledged to demonstrate how different he will be compared to her.

Sen. Francis Escudero, for example, likes pointing out that the President of the Philippines has the power to appoint several thousand officials, up and down the bureaucratic line, and the power to create agencies as he sees fit, besides merging and consolidating them as required, under the Administrative Code. A president cast in a pragmatic mode will make neither excellence nor competence or even integrity the gold standard for appointments.

In that sense, character is paramount: a president who recognizes no limits, or for whom everything is negotiable, cannot become a teacher, nation-builder, or transformative leader. In that sense, too, past accomplishments require greater scrutiny, for they have to be understood in terms of whether or not these accomplishments were accompanied by demonstrations of character, of integrity, by the leader; and whether the leader turned achievement into teaching moments for subordinates and peers; and whether these accomplishments contributed to nation-building or merely personal, political or financial advantage.

Barak Obama Benigno Aquino III Doris Kearns Goodwin Francis Escudero Gilbert Teodoro Jr. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Jose Abueva Manuel Villar Jr. Philippines politics presidency Richard Gordon The Long View

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  1. Bureaucratic resistance of Congressional intervention in the budget process is not necessarily a bad thing, nor is it impunity, as Congressmen have traditionally used the process of oversight to insert their pet projects within agency budgets or take the opportunity for grandstanding on specific line items.

  2. What’s so hard about being an honest president, a good leader, who won’t tolerate corruptions and abuses at all levels of government, and implements governance based solely on what are good and advantageous for the nation and the people, and who will dispense with justice fairly and effectively? That simple.

    Ganun ba tayo ka-malas na bansa, na hindi tayo makahanap ng ganoong klaseng tao na uupo bilang presidente natin?

  3. I thought Gordon sounded the most presidentiable of the four candidates in the Kilalalanin Forum.

    He can truly inspire the Filipino !!!

  4. NoyNoy didn’t do too well in that forum. The question — what has NoyNoy accompished over the past 20 years? NoyNoy continued his debate via news articles like the one in the Inquirer.

    Defending himself on the issue of competence, Aquino pointed to his experience in the private sector. He said he was a member of the team that helped Nike become popular in the country in the mid-1980s.

    He said he also helped implement reforms in sugarcane production in his family’s Hacienda Luisita.

    NoyNoy also says he tried to improve procurement practices by the Armed Forces. “Fiscalizer!!”, he says.

  5. Slick talk is cheap. Do a background-and-credit-check before you vote for your National Government CEO.

    Gibo: “We did not anticipate that Ampatuan private army CVO will become a problem during election time.” DUH??? Filed to impeach Davide when SC ruled in favor of Danding’s UCPB shares?

    Villar: ask your favorite land developers if it is advisable to deal with him. Ask C&P bondholders. Ask his creditors and industry insiders. There are many reasons why Daang Hari Road and C-5 extensions is filled with his subdivisions… “Sa amin ang C-5 extension at Daang Hari Road e.”

    Noynoy: Deputy House Speaker 2004-6. Co-authored RH Bill. Senate-approved Bills on police chief appointment system and JBC term limits. Fiscalizer? Very important. Knows national budget up and down. Can’t say any private company he worked for wasn’t in stellar condition when he left. Endorsed by Belmonte and Robredo (officials who always reject bribes, with cleanest records)

    Slick talk is cheap. Do a background-and-credit-check before you vote for your National Government CEO.

  6. Amando Doronilla writes :

    Have you fixed your town?

    Gordon told Aquino: “The record of service is important. Can you really do your job? Before you left your province, have you fixed your town?” Aquino had no answer.

  7. Gordon, Bayani, etc. who claim to have done so much during this administration must have done so much kowtowing, offering their backsides, kiss behinds, because thats the only way you can get things done here…what with the purse strings in the hands of the leader-sent-from-heaven…

  8. Gordon, Bayani, etc. do not need to claim what have they done in their respective towns, cities, or the whole archipelago for that matter… because actions speak louder than words. So is INACTION.

  9. What’s so hard about being an honest president, a good leader, who won’t tolerate corruptions and abuses at all levels of government, and implements governance based solely on what are good and advantageous for the nation and the people, and who will dispense with justice fairly and effectively? That simple. – nick
    This is a view expressed by those who believe in a benign state with an altruistic social planner determining the best allocation of resources to optimise social welfare.

    Unfortunately, the ideal of a benign state is hard to produce. The allocation of resources is more likely the result of a complex bargaining process that involves diverse and powerful stakeholders including the state, whose motives are more often than not, suspect.

    As for not tolerating corruption “at all levels”, this could prove to be a very costly exercise. What percent of GDP should we spend on enforcing “rule of law”? Nobel economist Douglas North estimates that the US spends up to 40% of its multi trillion GDP on this (and still is unsuccessful in eradicating abuses). Can a developing nation afford that? Shouldn’t it target instead the most damaging forms of abuse?

    Bottom-level corruption can be constrained by transactional leaders at the top who have a cohesive development strategy. On the other hand, you can have non-transactional leaders at the top who are unable to prevent rampant corruption below because they lack executive capacity.

    Who would be best for a developing country such as ours? It is an agonizingly hard choice to make I’m afraid. No, not that simple.

  10. i agree with nick: it’s ‘that simple’.
    the rest are details that can be worked out but the really important stuff? it’s that simple.

  11. jemygatdula, you and nick may perhaps be basing your belief about the candidates on a blind leap of faith. That’s fine for most people. As the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with noble intentions.”

  12. ““the road to hell is paved with noble intentions.””


    Can you imagine what hell would be like if you build a path to it full of evil intentions? You think the path would lead to heaven?

  13. Markets and economic power are based on the political framework.

    A leader is who fully cognizant with the economic powers both locally and foreign who knows how to get what is beneficial for the country is rare in the Philippine setting.

    Noble intentions for familial interest is still the main thrust of Filipino politicians. Nothing wrong there as it is still the way brains are wired in the country.

  14. Are any of the candidates May2010 in the caliber of Abraham Lincoln???

    Juancho above reminds: familial … is still the main thrust of Filipino politicians.

  15. Can you imagine what hell would be like if you build a path to it full of evil intentions? – nick
    No one would bother going down that road in the first place.

    The problem is when people with good intentions attempt to correct a problem, only to make it worse because they have totally misjudged the nature of it.

    What happens when the pursuit of good governance and rule of law at all costs does little in delivering the people from the evils of poverty? Disillusionment, discouragement, and despair?

    Our neighbors, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, China and India, all grew and are still growing despite a high level of corruption. So did the advanced economies of Europe at the start of their development. Obviously there is something more to their success beyond the governance/rule of law panacea which we have yet to realize for our country.

  16. nick says: “Ganun ba tayo ka-malas na bansa, na hindi tayo makahanap ng ganoong klaseng tao na uupo bilang presidente natin?”

    We did have bad luck with all our presidents. The most promising was Marcos, and he turned out to be the worst.

    We never produced “A Great Teacher”, nor “A Great Nation-Builder”, nor “A Great Transforming Leader”. Marcos had the charisma and the intelligence to be that leader, but hubris and corruption overwhelmed him.

    It only takes one exceptional leader to change things for the better. And, if he is truly exceptional, he can leave a legacy that can last through generations. The U.S. had it under Franklin Roosevelt, who created institutions that survived through decades and laid the groundwork for America’s future prosperity and well-being.

    On a lesser scale, and in more modern times, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan also provided transformational leadership.

    The much-maligned Bill Clinton, despite the scandals, reversed the deficits that were the legacy of his Republican predecessors and brought back financial sanity to Washington. Only to be reversed again by his successor, George W. Bush, who brought financial ruin.

    In the third world, Deng Xiaoping, Nelson Mandela and, lately, Inazio Lula da Silva, have provided inspirational leadership that changed the paths of their country for the better. Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir Mohamad, despite being branded as autocrats, did bring prosperity and stability to their nations. In the case of Mahathir, there was development and progress inspite of corruption.

    Not one of the present crop of presidential aspirants is in the league of those transformational leaders. Roosevelt, Deng, Mandela and Lula earned their stature and their gravitas by working their way up the institutions and learning the ropes. In the case of Mandela, he learned to organize from the ground up and suffered tremendously as a political prisoner for many years. They paid their dues.

    Noynoy, Gibo, Gordon – they were born with silver spoons in their mouths. None of them ever had to dirty their hands to feed their families or their workers. Noynoy’s stint in Hacienda Luisita or Central Azucarera de Tarlac wasn’t even stellar, as these were marred by labor strife and the farms and the sugar central were very poorly managed. Central Azucarera de Tarlac has consistently underperformed other sugar centrals in the country and has basically been a milking cow for the Cojuangco family.

    The Philippines will still have to wait for a good leader to come.

  17. Gordon, Bayani, etc. do not need to claim what have they done in their respective towns, cities, or the whole archipelago for that matter… because actions speak louder than words. So is INACTION.

    So its better to dance with the Arroyos and play dirty rather than not do anything at all…(?)hmmmmmm…..

  18. Gordon, Bayani, etc. do not need to claim what have they done in their respective towns, cities, or the whole archipelago for that matter… because actions speak louder than words. So is INACTION.

    Whats it like? 3 million for me, 2 million for you, a billion for me, share and share alike? Its good to be on top so we can share the loot, right? Who cares if these were overpriced, at least we have achievements?

  19. I don’t think a good leader will just magically plop on our laps in the near future. If anything, good leaders were transformed into one by experience and environment (mostly adverse conditions).
    Whoever we choose will have to decide later on if he wants to be good or bad (but rich)…

  20. ramrod, the founder of the often cited, Corruption Perception Index, Johann Lambsdorff has found that foreign investors prefer that kind of corruption on a grand scale to petty corruption (if it is a choice between two evils).

    That is because there is greater predictability under the former, and they can actually use it to their advantage compared to the latter where predation is random and endemic.

    If that is true, then it means job generating investments will flow faster with even with a corrupt leader, but one who is able to guarantee permits, protection, etc, compared to an honest leader who is unable to curb petty corruption and predation in the bureaucracy (remember, it is perception that counts!).

    If that is the case, and if job generation is to be the highest priority, then we should be asking the leading candidates to show us proof that they can curb petty bureaucratic corruption and do so within our means, right? But how can you do that in a developing context without resorting to undemocratic or somewhat dictatorial means ala Gordon in Subic and BF in Marikina?

  21. cusp,

    Sad, but I have to agree…the leader will have to manage whatever situation he and his organization is in and produce positive results…