Tuesday, March 24, 2015

It's about the fit


My March 24, 2015 column.
Any astute observer of political events in this country will tell you that the recent  activities of Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr are  attempts to test public reception to a potential presidential bid.  What they are doing is “floating” their names as possible presidentiables; in short, announcing their interest in being shortlisted for the highest post in the land. 
Duterte has embarked on what he calls “listening tour” - doing the rounds of key cities in Mindanao and the Visayas, purportedly to discuss federalism.  Marcos has been unsuccessfully trying to package himself as a thought leader in various critical national issues.   Senators Antonio Trillanes and Alan Peter Cayetano have been  preening like peacocks in heat and howling like monkeys engaged in a territorial squabble.  Of course we’ve already known that Vice President Jejomar Binay and local governments secretary Mar Roxas are already out there in the starting line, heckling and trying to disqualify each other. 
The messages they are putting out there may be conflicting – it would seem as if they alternate between playing coy and being assertive, blowing hot and cold, being gentlemanly and boorish, apparently depending on which side of the bed they woke up on for that day. Let us make no mistake about it, though: They are seriously putting themselves out there as possible candidates for the presidency. 
This is both good news and bad news.  A discussion on possible successors to Benigno S. Aquino in 2016 will hopefully neutralize the persistent demand of certain sectors to change the leadership of the country now – barely a year before the next  presidential election.  In fact, a review of the qualifications of the putative successors might make spook those aggressively calling for Aquino’s immediate resignation – my goodness, look at the pitiful bunch of clowns that are positioning themselves as possible successors.  Furthermore, this might just galvanize critical sectors to actively explore alternatives.  Surely, there are other more qualified, more trustworthy, better leaders out there?
This is my problem with the many groups who have many things to say about the way things are in this country.  Everyone is a critic who demands accountability and performance from our leaders; hardly anyone talks about what really needs to be done and the roles they can and must play to make things better.  If we really come to think about it, the more proactive course of action is to ensure that we develop, and consequently, elect the right leaders for the right posts at the right time.  If we don’t want a repeat of the blunders of the current and previous presidents, then we just have to stop electing the same types of people and using the same processes that catapulted them into office. 
Our problem is that we keep on installing people in leadership positions even when they clearly lack the competencies required to effectively fulfill the mandates of the position.  Worse, we tend to equate personality traits with abilities; just because a person is the progeny of morally upright people we immediately conclude that he or she will become a moral leader.     We also have this predilection for making shortcuts in judging the overall qualification of a person often by merely focusing on one key accomplishment.  For instance, many conclude that because a major has shown exemplary political will in running after drug pushers and criminals in his city he will be very effective in cleaning up the whole country of drugs and criminality.  
What we need to do is fix the system.  We need to put in place frameworks that help voters appreciate the responsibilities of key national positions and consequently, the key competencies that candidates must have to be able to perform them.  We need to ensure that those aspiring for critical positions such as the presidency go through a fair and rigorous assessment so that voters see through the sheen created by clever positioning and packaging.  We need to debunk the many myths perpetuated by traditional politicians about themselves that legitimize political dynasties.  And more importantly, we need to start promoting a more inclusive approach to identifying and developing leaders, allowing community leaders and non-politicians equal access to elective positions.
We can continue to elect leaders on a whim and then waste time and effort recalling them from office or we can invest in efforts to identify, develop, and elect the right people for the right posts.

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