“Transforming Leaders” for in a Functioning Democracy

A Boholano’s View by Jose “Pepe” Abueva                                                            

   The Bohol Chronicle, March 25, 2012

“Transforming Leaders” for in a Functioning Democracy

According to James MacGregor Burns (Leadership, 1979), a “transforming leader” purposely achieves substantial and “real change in the direction of ‘higher’ values’ (p. 434) “that meet people’s enduring needs (p. 461).” For Filipinos these higher values would include our constitutional vision of building “a just and humane society” and a “democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality and peace.(Preamble)”

“Transforming” leaders and followers raise each other to higher levels of motivation and morality (p. 20).” We have examples of transforming leaders in Manuel L. Quezon, Ramon Magsaysay, Emmanuel Pelaez,  Jovito Salonga, Fidel Ramos, and Antonio Meloto, among others.                                 

Without transforming leaders and functional institutions (effective and accountable elections, political parties, executive, legislative, judiciary, bureaucracy, local governments), we cannot reduce our endemic problems of massive poverty, joblessness, corruption, injustice, violence, rebellions, bad governance, and a failing State.

Corruption and bad governance have many and deep causes. They thrive when we continue to be ruled by a largely self-serving political oligarchy of family dynasties that control the levers of governmental power.

When the President and his/her administration, the Senate, and the House of Reps, and the government bureaucracy cannot be held accountable by the people for their corruption, lack of transparency, and mal-governance.

When there is a culture of impunity sustained by such weak institutions, unaccountable leaders, and our political culture.

When lack of transparency of our leaders and their lack of accountability to the people are due to the inherent weaknesses of our political institutions—our dysfunctional elections, political parties, the presidency, the Senate, the House of Reps, the judiciary, and the departments and agencies of the national government.  

Actually, the fact that many of our citizens are poor, uninformed, dependent, and vulnerable in our unjust society also make good governance difficult. If we had a much larger middle class of employed or self-employed people who are educated, informed, and involved in public affairs we would also have a more capable and accountable public service. This is true in the industrialized, democratic countries.

The high, corrupting cost of national elections. National election of our president and vice-president and our 24 senators is very expensive because of the high cost of campaigning and holding the election: the media ads, nationwide campaigning, and the support given by national candidates to congressional and local government candidates and even the election personnel. The temptation to recover the huge investment in their election can lead to corruption and abuse of power. Moreover, the election of these national leaders depends much on personal popularity, celebrity or star power, and win-ability rather than on proven competence and leadership.

Gridlock, paralysis, and lack of accountability in our Presidential Government. In our presidential system we have the separation of powers and checks and balance among the president, the Senate and the House of the bicameral Congress, and the judiciary. Very often the President, the Senate, and the House are at odds and their continual conflict weakens or slows down the passing of laws and their implementation. When there is mal-governance or corruption in the national government, there is a lot of buck-passing, or avoidance of accountability among national officials. No one seems to be accountable for corruption and mal-governance. Even honest leaders are compromised and unable to function effectively.

Our President is guaranteed a term of six years, without reelection, and cannot be removed from office except by impeachment which is almost impossible; so how can the people make the president accountable for lack of leadership, corruption and mal-governance?

Weak, unaccountable political parties. Our political parties are organizations of politicians, without mass members as in the mature democracies. Our party-list system fragments representation. The political parties are weak organizations dominated by their leaders. They do not campaign on the basis of a platform of government that they will carry out when their party members are in power. In other words our political leaders and their parties are not responsible and accountable to the people for their corruption and governance. In the mature democracies the ruling political party is held responsible and accountable for the quality of governance.

Need for Parliamentary Government. In a parliamentary system the members of parliament are elected in parliamentary districts similar to our congressional districts, not nationwide. The lower house of Parliament elects the tested leader of the majority party or coalition of parties as the Prime Minister or Head of Government. The Prime Minister and his cabinet of ministers are responsible and accountable to the Parliament as a whole for the effective governance of the country and the level of honesty or corruption in that governance. The ruling party is accountable for governance. The opposition parties and the media, civil society, and vigilant citizens will make sure it is.

Highly Centralized Unitary System. Moreover, our government is highly centralized in the National Government in the National Capital Region, far away from most of our citizens in most local communities and their local governments. Most governmental powers, authority, and revenues are concentrated in Imperial Manila. Many of the regions and local communities are poor and underdeveloped, and very dependent on the national government for decisions and for revenues even if they are rich in natural resources.

The people who are supposed to be sovereign in our democracy cannot really exert their control and influence on the President and Congress and local governments because most citizens are not organized as members of political parties, civil society organizations, labor unions, or professional organizations. Many citizens are so poor, insecure, and dependent on their political patrons. 

Citizens lack control and influence on leaders and institutions. What I have tried to show is that the lack of effective citizen control and influence on our leaders and officials and the latter’s lack of accountability to the people for the quality of governance, including official honesty and integrity, are related to the structure and functioning of our various political institutions and the condition of many of our impoverished citizens.

We therefore need transforming leaders and reformed and functional institutions and other conditions that will compel our head of government and legislature and our national and local administrators to be responsible and accountable to the people nationwide and in the localities.

Our urgent need for transforming leaders.  We therefore need a Head of Government and legislators who are “transforming leaders” because they understand the complexity of our problems and the urgency of  institutional reforms, in order to bring about good governance marked by responsiveness, effectiveness, efficiency, transparency, honesty, and innovativeness. Good governance that will lead us to our constitutional vision of “a just and humane society” and “democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality and peace.”

We need “transforming leaders” in the executive and legislature who will lead the nation in proposing badly needed constitutional reforms to reinvent a modern political system: by changing our Presidential Government to a new Parliamentary Government and by changing our highly centralized Unitary System to genuinely autonomous regions and local governments in a decentralized Unitary System, possibly in transition to a future Federal Republic. We will abolish our expensive and corrupting national elections. If we retain the Senate in Parliament, the senators should be elected in the regions.

We must see through our leaders who deceive our people with beguiling promises and naive and simplistic solutions to our complex problems. They put our failing State and impoverished nation at risk of reverting to an authoritarian State, like the Marcos dictatorship of 1972-1986.

President Corazon Aquino endowed us, Filipinos, with the lofty vision of “a just and humane society” and “an ideal democracy,” but that ideal democracy turned out to be very dysfunctional. So we have suffered dearly for it. 

President Benigno S. Aquino III faces the supreme challenge of becoming a “transforming leader” by seizing the moment and leading the nation in reforming our basic political institutions through constitutional amendments during his one and only term as President of the Philippines. If he seizes the moment, he will be truly a man of destiny with a transforming and enduring legacy to the Filipino nation.

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