The Long View
Two to trust
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:53:00 05/05/2010
THE FUNDAMENTAL CHALLENGE FACING OUR next chief executive is whether he will confuse the good of the state with his own political and financial well-being, and whether out of a sense of genuine devotion to the country or the temptations of wielding power, he will consider every formal and informal limitation on his ambitions as an irksome burden or a solemn obligation. The first decade of this century has seen us lurching from one extreme to the other: slothful laxity on one hand, and remorseless Machiavellianism on the other.
There are three quotes that best distill my beliefs in terms of our aspirations—and limitations—as a people and what this requires of our leaders. The first dates from a talk between two senators in 1922 with regard to public expectations of leaders: “All they want is to have the present problem solved, and solved with the least pain. That is all.” Another, from 1938, where the same senator (by then president) told an American friend, “The people care more for good government than they do for self-government… the fear is that the head of state may either exceed his powers, or abuse them by improprieties. To keep order is his main purpose.”
For good or ill, this about describes to me our expectations of the presidency and the parameters that define a president’s room for maneuver in terms of the law and public opinion.
While many have come to the painful conclusion that representative government cannot be based simply on a periodic referendum on leaders, the overall reality is that most citizens lapse into apathy in between elections. While our NGO culture thrives on the assumption that public participation improves governance—keeping citizens involved and officials on their toes—it also seems clear to me that while a great many take civic affairs seriously, an even greater number desire peace, quiet and stability at all costs. And that they would prefer a highly imperfect rule of law with an inherent potential to uphold life, liberty and property rather than risk extreme situations or solutions that imperil any of the three—or all of them.
The preservation of life, liberty and property is why government exists; but this also means, as Randy David has pointed out, that so long as impersonal rules don’t fully hold sway, we have to entrust governance to leaders for whom personal honor remains something to jealously protect, and for whom a deep sense of responsibility instills a commitment to exercising self-control in the face of the frustrations inherent to presidential office.
For this reason, this means by which order is kept and authority maintained also represents a problem, as identified in the first State of the Nation Address in 1936: “The army is a double-edged sword. It is the arm of the government which is the last resort for the enforcement of the laws and so compel obedience to constituted authority, for the maintenance of peace and order, and for the defense of the national integrity and liberty. But as contemporary history proves to us, the army can also be a disturber of peace and the enemy of law and established government, and in many instances it has been the instrument for the overthrow of constitutional regime. In building up our national defense, and in organizing the regular armed forces of the Islands, these tragic lessons of history must be constantly borne in mind, and it behooves us, who are for the time being entrusted with the responsibility of leadership over our nation, to be forever watchful and vigilant lest we sow the seeds of a possible future misuse of our armed forces.”
Every president since 1935 has taken an oath to “do justice to every man and consecrate myself to the service of the Nation.” We are now called upon to select who will next take that oath—and who might, in an emergency, be required to succeed to the same office as vice president.
Together, Benigno Aquino III as president and Manuel Roxas II as vice president, have the necessary personal characteristics of leadership and managerial ability to provide an administration characterized by self-control: one that can bring our country back from the brink of executive self-aggrandizement, legislative cynicism and reckless legal experimentation and institutional subversion that has been the path of choice of the present dispensation.
Theirs is a political partnership forged from the deep frustrations we have all felt: whether exasperation with petty scheming of the present gang, or alarm and outrage over the relentless empire-building of its principals and associates. They are at the head of a deeply Centrist coalition that represents the centrist values the majority holds; and because of this, offer the best prospects of healing and stability.
Both men have a keen sense of the balance that needs to be restored—and which needs to be struck—so that the government does its job while at the same time according the public relief from a decade of divisions and scandals. Temperance, justice and mercy—these, I believe, are fundamental qualities of both men, achieved, not because they were born perfect but rather because they have seen how politics must have a larger end in sight than merely the accumulation of power.
We cannot tell what the future will bring. We can only discern whether, all things being equal, in the hysteria and din of the campaign, we can determine who, as of now, are deserving of our trust. Aquino and Roxas are two to trust, because from start to finish their campaign has been anchored not on doubting the Filipino, but on faith in the Filipino as better than those currently claiming to lead us.
Give them the tools they need to do their jobs: your vote on May 10 and your sustained vigilance thereafter.