Pressures of a President

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FILIPINOS DEMAND president Aquino to tackle a multitude of issues such as land reforms, the Reproduction Healthy Bill, and regaining people’s trust in the government. In similar respects, other countries are burdened with identical issues: India with overpoppulation, and the United States with their questionable health care system.

With a year in office under his belt, little progress has been seen by the Philippine public. Perhaps, Aquino should turn to his fellow presidential counterparts to gain a tip or two on how to address such issues—what can our president learn from the experiences of other nations’ leaders?

Obama’s burden

Both Aquino and US President Barack Obama sit on platforms of change. However, with the portraits of their controversial predecessors behind their backs, getting too comfortable on their leather seats is not an option.

The two have a common burden: they both inherited their predecessor’s failures, which continue to cast a shadow on their own terms of office. Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo left Aquino with a P177 billion debt and a long list of failures in the fields of human rights and good governance.

Aquino’s grace period is nearing its end—for some, in fact, it ended a long time ago. The issues spilled over from the past regime will no longer be able to serve as an alibi for Aquino’s lack of progress.

Gaddafi’s wang-wang in Libya

Whether it is caused by revolutionary riot or ruthless repression, thousands of people have died under the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. An exercise of what Aquino would call wang-wang mentality characterized Gaddafi’s cultivation of absolute power, which thrived on a regional tradition of absolute respect for the father. Gaddafi is the Rais, the father, the inescapable head of state—and the ordinary Libyans were left with no choice but to follow.

Gaddafi is reported to have said that he will leave Libya only by divine will. Fortunately, there’s also a great power that exists within the reach of the people and can be strengthened with the collective voice of the international community—a force that is bulletproof to Gaddafi’s weapon of mass oppression.

As proven by the now victorious Libyan uprising against Gaddafi, and our own People Power Revolution 25 years ago, the people are capable of mobilizing against the abuse of power and of holding even the cruelest tyrants accountable for their actions.

Lessons from a neighbor

Singapore is one of the smallest nations in the world. The first Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew used an authoritarian leadership style to transform an underperforming nation into a highly developed and thriving city-state. His son and successor, incumbent Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, continues to push the already remarkable First World economy to greater heights.

The younger Lee has been known as a president who listens to his people’s pleas. Perhaps distinguishing him from his father’s firm governance, he is known for apologizing for the government’s shortcomings. As a result, he has developed trust among his people.

Where to go next

In spite of Aquino’s shortfalls and missed opportunities, his efforts have seen minimal success. One of his efforts include the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino program, which is a nationwide conditional cash transfer program geared to reduce poverty.

“Because we have another elite president,” Political Science Instructor Gino Trinidad says, “it’s a very promising project of making the government closer to the people.”

Yet Filipinos are starting to wonder: is this all he can do? The cash transfer program, for example, has been repeatedly criticized as a stopgap measure. “Governance is not just about anti-corruption—you also have to focus on your services,” comments Philip Recentes, a human rights project officer from the Ateneo School of Government (ASoG).

Even though he is committing to his anti-wang-wang policies, the president still holds a long to-do list that includes addressing controversial issues. “I think he has to feel that people are getting impatient,” said Rechie Tugawin, a human rights training officer from ASoG.

After one year in office, Aquino’s best bet to a better five years are accountability in all issues he will deal with, and better habits other than just his anti-wang-wang mentality.

Aquino may be better off in focusing on results rather than reputation, to practice political will rather than leniency, and to spend more time listening to the people on the streets rather than pleasing government bureaucrats.

Indeed, what he needs to do is to deliver more visible results, rather than just inspiring speeches.

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