Leaders exeunt, please!

is the subject of my Trade Tripper column this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

A friend recently went to a Makati building for a business appointment. She looked up its directory, prominently displayed at the lobby, to check the company’s floor she was supposed to go to. A guard quickly went up to her and tried to shoo her away, saying -- bizarrely -- "bawal tumingin sa directory." This made me think: is there something in our water that makes people here dumber by the minute?

This thought continues after reading two excellent books over the weekend. The first is Homobono Adaza’s Leaders, which details the presidencies of Ferdinand Marcos to Gloria Arroyo. Indubitably, there are lawyers and then there are lawyers. Mr. Adaza is clearly the latter. A fearless parliamentary warrior, he was once jailed by Marcos, then later almost singlehandedly stalled the KBL juggernaut in the Batasan during the 1986 presidential tabulations. So it is with quite an interest that I read his judgment on Corazon Aquino’s presidency:

"The Cory presidency was a mistake. We should have done our best to prevent it because Cory did not have the training, experience, knowledge and the intelligence to be President just like some others who also became President of the Philippines. But we did not know any better since we did not know the lady that well. We really did not know her at all. Only the events revealed the basis for regret."

Actually, one could substitute "Cory" with another President Aquino and the entire paragraph would still be valid. With one exception: this time, we can’t say we didn’t know any better. Inasmuch as there are lots of books demonizing Marcos, it would be but fair in a democracy to objectively examine the history of the first Aquino presidency. Adaza’s Leaders is a fine addition to excellent references such as Gleeck’s Sainthood Postponed, Arillo’s Greed and Betrayal, and San Juan’s Conspiracies & Controversies.

Mr. Adaza is a frank writer, thoughtful but aggressive. But the aggressiveness lends an energetic charm in the writing and his opinions on certain public personalities like Cecilia Muñoz Palma, Franklin Drilon, Aquilino Pimentel, or Chiz Escudero, of Ninoy Aquino cheerily giving young Salvador Laurel a piece of advice that some would say is quite Marcosian ("brod ... in politics, gentlemen finish last"), are not to be missed.

Carmen Guerrero Nakpil’s Exeunt, on the other hand, is an altogether different book. But they essentially say the same thing. The difference comes from the fact that Mr. Adaza and Ms. Nakpil are two different persons and see the world from different lenses. But the situation of the Philippines is so glaringly obvious that they can’t perhaps help having a similar view.

Surprisingly, the elegant, thoughtful, witty Exeunt closes on a shatteringly depressing note, which Ms. Nakpil’s last page invocation of hope in the divine doesn’t exactly salve. And the fact is, I totally agree with what she says:

"For many years, I have believed that we Filipinos are moving inexorably toward fragmentation, not only of Mindanao but of the entire Philippine archipelagic state. Since the ‘peace-making’ activities of the Arroyo administration, the shocking Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain for the Muslims and the promotion of federalism will very likely continue to lead us into partition, secesion or drastic breakdowns... The US will try or is trying to do here what the British did to India, a vengeful partitioning into three countries, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. I get a creepy feeling watching US diplomats in Manila and Mindanao that they haven’t finished the dirty work they started in 1898. They’ll get us yet."

"Here at home, the rot has come from within ... People don’t read newspapers anymore, but not because only a few can afford them in this brave, new, poverty-stricken world, but because people no longer think they need what newspapers provide. Their horizons have shrunk ... Knowledge is no longer power."

However, it must be said that both books ultimately do wind up being depressing because reading them one realizes how inadequate and pathetic our leaders are, how the same insane people and families keep leading in business and politics. And the tragic stupidity of Filipinos is that they keep allowing these same people to remain in power.

When one reads back on all the instances of our leaders selling us out, the collaborators, the scandals and the corruption, the incompetence and self-serving government policies, one sees that all these were instigated by the oligarchic elite, the self-described "de buena familias." Read the newspapers and then read our history textbooks: it’s the same people and families screwing the country over and over and over again. We don’t even realize how damaging our cavalier disregard for academic or individual merit is, giving importance instead to political or social connections. Try telling kids to study and work hard from now on.

This country’s rot is right in front of us. We just refuse to see them for who they are.