With relief we welcome tomorrow’s elections, if only to close the chapter of the bitter, sometimes hateful, campaign that has driven a wedge among Filipinos who all just love their country anyway.
As the focus shifts from the campaign to the election results and then to beginning the next administration at high noon on the last day of next month, here’s my wish list of the traits of the next president, whoever it turns out to be from among the five candidates and their respective backgrounds—and baggages.
Be the president of all.
The Philippines does not have the good fortune of having a legitimate two-party system where each party nominates its bet to the top post. This has deprived us of a majority president for many years, and has left us to just contend with one elected through a plurality.
But an elected leader is exactly that, and after the inauguration, he or she must become the president of the entire country, with the responsibility for everybody whether or not they voted for him. There must, therefore, no longer be a distinction that this person is an ally or that the next fellow comes from the opposing camp and has been critical of past actions.
Behave in a presidential manner within and outside of our borders.
We like a folksy demeanor, sure. We like leaders who are accessible and who do not take themselves too seriously. On the right occasion, that is. At the end of the day, the presidency is a difficult job that requires making numerous decisions every day. We would totally understand if the president would not be such a wisecrack. If he were, he would probably have another job—a stand-up comedian, an action star.
Likewise, before the international community, some restraint is in order. The president, head of state, chief executive is the face of the country. The only way we can get other countries to perceive us with respect and with no condescension whatsoever is that if our representative talks and acts in a manner befitting the office.
The presidency, they say, is a matter of destiny, and destiny may not follow logic or reason.
This is arguable, but what is certain is that a chief executive of a nation needs to have a good head on his or her shoulders. He must be slow to provoke, and is deliberate and receptive to all sides of the story before making a decision for the good of the many. Sound bytes are captivating, sure, and they may be enough to stage a good campaign. They are not enough to run a country. Every word that comes from the mouth of the president is policy, or an indication of policy. Policy has to be based on evidence and backed by research, not just uttered based on one’s mood at the moment.
It is a tough job, no doubt, to lead and manage a country of more than 100 million. There are numerous fires to be put out whether or not they are of the leader’s own doing. There are equally pressing concerns. The issues have long histories, deep causes and far-reaching prospects. And then, of course, there must be personal and family time to balance and provide relief from the madness.
Ordinary people sometimes feel like 24 hours are not enough to accomplish all the things they want to get done. Presidents who take their jobs seriously, especially because they themselves sought out the office—nobody put a gun to their head to make them run—would recognize the great demands of the job and would put in as many hours as possible working and learning and improving.
Be humble and be secure.
It is easy to get intoxicated with the perks of the office. Imagine the vast powers of the executive. One will have six years to determine the direction of the country. Imagine, too, the discretion that comes with it. Think of the way your subordinates will say “yes” to whatever it is you would say.
But what leader wants to surround himself with yes-men? Insecure ones, that’s who.
Our next president must be secure enough to acknowledge that he does not know everything and that there are people out there who are better than he is, on certain specific areas. He or she will not have issues hiring smart team members. They will pose no threat to him even as they may occasionally disagree with him or even shoot down his ideas.
Finally, be the president of our children and our children’s children.
The president that we will elect tomorrow will not just be our president. Because of the consequences of the decisions he or she will make, he will determine to a large extent the kind of world that the next generations will live in. And so we pose the question back to ourselves: What scenario do we want our children to have? What kind of choices will be available to them? How much will they be able to live up to their potential? What would be the quality of their lives?
We’re in for a challenging next few weeks. Let’s stay tuned. It’s not the fate of the candidates we are deciding tomorrow— it’s ours.