POSTSCRIPT / January 9, 2014 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Pope Francis advice: A good leader listens

MORE OF THE SAME: One New Year resolution of President Noynoy Aquino is to ignore critics.

That is not a resolution. The past three years, the President has been largely ignoring critical comments from outside his Cabinet and coterie.

It looks more like a hint to Palace watchers that this year and until he deigns to listen to diverse voices among his constituency, it will be more of the same from His Excellency.

This nation ravaged by natural and man-made calamities will just have to continue improvising from one crisis to the next crisis.

The onset of a new year at the midterm of the presidency would have been a good time to restart, or an occasion for laying out an updated road map, if any, for this year and on to the end of the road in 2016. But he showed us none.

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PAPAL ADVICE: This stubborn resolve to ignore critics calls to mind the words of Pope Francis quoted last Sunday in Postscript. To refresh our memory, we repeat them as reported by Deacon Keith Fournier in his recent article in Catholic Online.

In his homily of Sept. 16, 2013, Pope Francis was rather blunt when he used David of the Old Testament as an example for political leaders who, he said, must love the people whom they serve.

The Pope said that a leader who does not truly love all his people, not just his close-in coterie, cannot govern. At best, he added, such a cold leader can discipline and achieve some order – but cannot govern.

Fournier elaborated: “You can’t govern without loving the people and without humility! Every man, every woman who takes up the service of government, must ask two questions: ‘Do I love my people in order to serve them better? Am I humble and do I LISTEN to everybody, to diverse opinions in order to choose the best path?’

“If you don’t ask those questions, your governance will not be good.”

* * *

ONLY THE BEST: The compleat President, one blessed with the qualities of a good leader, is a rare specimen. It has become obvious after three desultory years that President Aquino is not as compleat as many of us want.

But that is not a fatal problem.

Riding on a wave of popularity and what in the beginning was a credible promise of reform, as Chief Executive he could have surrounded himself with the best and the brightest to make up for his limitations.

He would not have to dig into his pocket anyway, but from the barrel of public funds, to recruit the top talent that money could buy. He could have snatched up the best planners and operators instead of the amateurs that had tagged along since the presidential campaign.

Many times, the President was just a victim of wrong advice or bad company.

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SLOW TO TRUST: My impression is that the 54-year-old bachelor President is slow to trust. He finds it difficult reaching beyond his tight circle or venturing beyond his circumscribed comfort zone.

So his recruitment is slow and limited, to the point that – as in the case of the brood of Butch Abad – sensitive work is not spread around based on expertise but confined to members of the same favored family.

And when the barkada commit grievous mistakes – as in the case of Virgie Torres – he takes an awfully long time to lower the boom on them.

When he has to take competent executives from the outside — as in the case of Jesse Robredo – he hesitates to endow them with his full confidence. In Robredo’s case, there had to be a Rico Puno to watch over the police half of the Department of the Interior and Local Governments.

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LOOK AFTER THE MEN: But it is good that Noynoy Aquino sticks out his neck for his men. That is one quality of a good leader who sees his task as not limited to just accomplishing his mission but also balancing it by protecting the welfare of his people.

In such a situation, the President’s appointee who had caused him problems should take the initiative to quit. Those who have become a big headache for the President should spare him the anguish and just leave.

Some Cabinet members have offered to resign the last few weeks but are still around. When weighing their options, they should give priority to the President’s and the nation’s interest, not their personal reputations.

Reciting the tired line that they serve at the pleasure of the President is a cowardly and escapist response to the dilemma of staying or leaving.

* * *

DO SOMETHING!: Back to the question: What do we do now? We ask it of ourselves and of the President.

You look around, you read media commentaries, you talk to the man/woman in the street, in barbershops and beauty salons, to taxi drivers and MRT commuters… and you will not get a bright picture.

But many of us are still willing to believe Malacañang’s press releases about foreign investors scrambling to plunk in billions, of foreign money lenders and credit raters giving us superlative grades, of factories and jobs sprouting in the countryside, et cetera.

So the ever fatalistic Filipino simply throws everything to God. Bahala na! Something good may yet turn up at some point. And when the survey interviewers come around to ask if they are optimistic for a better 2014, nine out of every 10 Filipinos mutter “Yes po”.

But if I may add: Pangulong Noynoy, maawa naman po kayo sa amin. Let’s do something naman.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 9, 2014)

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