my Trade Tripper column in this 6-7 November issue of BusinessWorld:
By coincidence (or not), the questions asked of me by news outlets last week were my views on the qualifications of the presidential candidates. Or, put another way, how important are qualifications in choosing our president? And do our voters even care about these things?
My response was that qualifications do matter.
But sometimes the “qualifications” sought by our voters are of a different nature, for a different purpose, and occasionally without any relevance whatsoever to the position being voted for.
In 2010, our country had the following to choose from as president:
> Richard “Dick” J. Gordon (1971 Constitutional Convention delegate, lawyer, Procter and Gamble executive, Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority Chairman, Tourism Secretary, and Senator);
> Gilbert C. Teodoro, Jr. (Bar topnotcher, Harvard graduate, Congressman, Defense Secretary); and
> Manuel “Manny” B. Villar (UP Business Administration, self-made successful businessman, House Speaker, Senate President).
Instead, we chose Noynoy Aquino III (son of Cory and Ninoy Aquino).
Forget surveys and government statistics.
Just look out the window and commonsensically see the consequences of that 2010 vote: Filipinos paying among Asia’s highest income tax with the world’s lowest wage rates for the longest work hours; world’s worst traffic, world’s worst airports (with bullet planting), slowest Internet speed; 23.2% unemployment, nearly 26% poverty incidence; 3.5 million families hungry, deteriorating education; increased crime, increased smuggling, 1.3 million illegal aliens, China’s territorial grab, Quirino Grandstand massacre, Yolanda rehabilitation, Bangsamoro, Mamasapano.
All messes left to the next president to clean up.
And it comes with a further asking price of a proposed P3-trillion 2016 budget, amidst a nearly P6-trillion national debt.
All this because people got weepy in 2010.
Now with a 2016 vote just a few months away, some are toying with the idea of letting those who got us into this humongous wreck to fix it. That’s lunacy.
Others, meanwhile, are under the insane delusion that we’re currently doing fine and that previous governments are to be blamed for whatever problems there are.
The president elected in 2016 faces incredibly complicated international security and economic problems.
Aside from the West Philippine Sea, there’s a possible oncoming global recession, trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and overseas Filipino workers.
So, quite reasonably, we should be concerned that the person we choose to represent us can at least match up with the following:
> Prayut Chan-o-cha (Thai prime minister; Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, former Army chief of staff);
> Joko Widodo (Indonesian president; successful businessman, former Governor of Jakarta);
> Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak (Malaysian prime minister; University of Nottingham, corporate executive, former deputy prime minister, as well as former minister for defense, education, finance, and culture);
> Lee Hsien Loong (Singapore prime minister; Trinity College, Cambridge, a Brigadier General, and former minister for trade, finance, and defense, and deputy prime minister);
> Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah (Sultan of Brunei; Royal Military Academy Sandhurst);
> Xi Jinping (Chinese President; Tsinghua University, multiple government posts);
> Shinzo Abe (Japanese Prime Minister; Seikei University, University of Southern California, Kobe Steel executive, and a number of government positions, including executive assistant to the Minister for Foreign Affairs);
> Narendra Damodardas Modi (Indian prime minister; Delhi University, and Gujarat University MA in political science.
> Malcolm Bligh Turnbull (Australian prime minister; Oxford, Rhodes scholar, journalist, lawyer, investment banker, and former environment minister.
Now the point of looking at the academic credentials and work experience is not for some sort of mathematical process, of whoever has most is best qualified.
What a lengthy resume does is to allow our people to get to know the candidate more and somehow gauge from past performance how that person will be as president.
The problem with a slim resumé’d candidate is that such person is practically an unknown, a risky investment for a logical people. Such a person would not make sense in a field of experienced candidates.
Objectively, what our people should be looking for in a candidate’s past are clues as to judgment, humility, and the ability to get things done.
Judgment: because a president needs to be steady (not prone to emotional hysterics under stress or tactless insensitivity); and the ability to make right decisions, quickly if need be and, as if often the case, with imperfect information.
Humility: because a president needs to be able to form a good working relationship with the other co-equal branches of government. A politician who ends up unnecessarily having to bully others is simply not presidential material.
And finally, the ability to deliver.
Of what use is a lengthy resume, great speeches, and charisma if that person only ends up botching every assignment he (or she) took over?
Yes, integrity is an indispensable trait.
But additionally the Philippines also needs (specially after the last five years) a president in whose hands things flourish, people perform better, and with a clear sense of correct direction.
In short, a president who obeys his oath and can get the job done.