Wanted: Good Leaders

Now that the people of the United States of America are getting excited over the presidential candidates’ debates and the coming elections I thought about our own situation in the Philippines as far as leadership of the nation is concerned. I wrote a letter to the editor about this topic some months ago. Here it is:

On Sunday April 29, 2012 Catholics all over the world read the gospel of the Good Shepherd during the Holy Mass. The Lord Jesus explicitly said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”

One of the many lessons that can be drawn from the metaphor is about leadership. We know from life and from history how much good a competent and able leader can do. Calvin Coolidge was able to give the United States during the 1920s a degree of prosperity and development it had not known till then. Konrad Adenauer made Germany rise out of the ashes and ruins of the Second World War. Alcide de Gasperi did the same for Italy. Adenauer and de Gasperi were devout Catholics. They revered the family as the basic social unit and considered the rule of law which reflected the Natural Law to be the most important feature of civil society. The Emperor Meiji of Japan with his close collaborators brought Japan in the late 1890s from a backward, poor and divided country to become a major economic and politic player in the world theater. The examples can be multiplied.

What we need are good leaders. It is a trite enough statement yet very true and relevant. We must find a way to choose a person who is able and endowed enough to become the President of the Republic. The Constitution of the Philippines stipulates: “No person may be elected President unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, a registered voter, able to read and write, at least forty years of age on the day of the election, and a resident of the Philippines for at least ten years immediately preceding such election.” That is all that the basic law of our country requires of any person to become the President. Common sense tells me: that is not enough.

When we want to be treated by a doctor we require that he has the qualifications to do so. We ask him to pass a test that will give him the license to practice. When we want to build a bridge, we demand that the engineer who will design the bridge must have the skills to do so. The same is true when we seek the services of a lawyer, a dentist, an accountant, a pilot, and many more. How come we do not require a test of competence for someone to occupy the highest office in the land where huge decisions are made affecting the lives of millions of people, for many years???

The President, for instance, has to make decisions about military matters. He is the Commander in chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. And so, he must be knowledgeable about military science and tactics. He must also be well-versed on world and Philippine history, law, jurisprudence, ethics, economics, public governance, local governance, and management. There is so much to do and so little time to learn things on the job. The President lands in his job, running. If not, the work does not get done.

The President must be honest and ethical, but above all he must be prudent and wise. Plato said the ruler ought to be a philosopher. For the Greeks, philosophy meant love for wisdom (philia – love; sophia – wisdom).

Can we not amend the Constitution or enact a law that will require candidates for the Presidency to take a test whose results can give the people an idea of the degree of competence and suitability of the candidate to take on such an eminent office? Perhaps the schools or colleges of governance and public administration in our country can formulate the tests, measures and assessment tools that can give a scientific basis and index for a candidate’s adequacy or fitness for the job. At least with this instrument the Filipino people have an idea what sort of person they are voting for to lead our country, instead of just relying on popularity and recall power of the candidate’s name.

With this system perhaps we can hope to get the leaders we seriously need. May God help us.

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