Philippine’s true size (source:

The focus in the Philippines is always, and too much, on the President. He or she is expected to be a paramount datu, rajah or barangay captain to deal with all problems in the Philippines, a country of nearly 100 million people, in an archipelago of over 7000 islands with the land area of Spain and stretching more or less, from North to South, at a distance going from Oslo to Rome.

This is crazy. The last President able to handle those expectations was Ramon Magsaysay, the mambo-dancing paramount datu of 20 million people whose burial was attended by 2 million. The Philippines in those days was not only smaller, it was simpler. Those who had a voice then thought similarly and spoke similarly. Now, there are many different groups in the country that speak with different voices and think differently. Mindanao is only one of the places struggling to be heard more, nationally. There is nobody who can be everybody’s national barangay captain anymore.

Mahar Lagmay

Dr. Mahar Lagmay

Well, at least today’s Presidential campaign, which the media is heavily focusing on, is also focusing on the Vice-President. That is an improvement. There is some focus on Senators as well. But is that really the right way to go? Who makes the laws – and drags it feet on lawmaking by rarely having enough attendance for a quorum? Right, the Congress. Who does the actual work of national government? Right, the Cabinet. Good Cabinet members like DFA Secretary del Rosario do good work, mediocre cabinet members like DOTC Secretary Abaya tend to mess things up, quiet leaders like DOST Secretary Mario Montejo are at the forefront of innovation with initiatives like the Automated Guideway Transit and the Roadtrain as well as Project NOAH for disaster preparedness. Quiet organizers like Dr. Mahar Lagmay of Project NOAH are crucial for making the country ready to deal with disasters, and are behind how Lando was handled, which even the UN praised. There are institutions like the PNP, which has shown how far it has changed during the Pope’s visit and APEC, and in dealing with INC recently – and in community policing and Oplan Lambat-Sibat. Inspite of problems, progress is there.

Then you have the local governments. Much of what is done well, or is messed up, depends on local governments. Good local governments, such as Albay under Governor Joey Salceda, or Davao under Mayor Duterte, do their jobs in making things progressive, inclusive and safe locally. Who elects good local governments? The people do. Of what use are good performance metrics for LGUs such as the LGPMS which the DILG has put in place if they are not followed by LGUs? Some LGUs allegedly embezzle money or depend on loansharks, how crazy is that?

It is the people who vote their Congressmen, their governors, their mayors. It is also the people who can check them through citizen’s groups like the Citizen Action Network for Accountability or CANA which I mentioned in an older article. It is the people who can press charges against corrupt officials by going to the Ombudsman. It is also the people who are at fault if  all they do is hope for saviors and then complain if they are not saved. Those who hope for miracles from rulers are living in a mindset that belongs to the Middle Ages. The old belief in Germany was that rulers had magical powers, known as Heil. Heil means healing magic or luck in this context. Something akin to the galing attributed to Filipino faith healers. Something like being “Strong with the Force”, to use Star Wars terminology.  Nobody is that strong with the Force to heal (Heil) the country nowadays. Not Duterte, not even Magsaysay. Besides, Star Wars warns us of the dangers of the Dark Side.

Antonio luna PG

General Antonio Luna

What would Heneral Luna do? He would build solid institutions. He would make sure that professionals like him are at every level. He would make sure laws are followed, without shortcuts. General Antonio Luna was way ahead of his times. He was infected by modern ideas. His countrymen still thought in terms of “I am from Kawit and Aguinaldo is my kababayan”, and even worse, “I take orders only from the President”. Anything bigger than a barrio requires formal, anonymous structures and rules, plus people that simply do their job and follow their designated superiors. Heneral Luna expected this from his countrymen. Being way ahead of his countrymen, he was frustrated and often got mad. I watched the movie in Berlin recently. He was much nicer than most Filipino reviewers made him look like. He did not shoot Captain Janolino when he could have done so, legally, by Artikulo Uno which was a martial law article. It was war, so martial law made sense. Constant emergency solutions – Martial Law, People Power and the like – are symptoms of a system that does not work, and of people who do not follow the system. Only a system that works, and people that follow it, work long-term.

And what would Mabini do today? In his Decalogue, he wrote that people should strive for a Republic, not a Monarchy. A Republic means that people take responsibility for whom they vote. This is something that goes at all levels. It also means following the rules the elected representatives have created for everybody. Voting based on popularity is something for beauty or singing contests, voting people (PLURAL!) who can do the job well is the right way to go.

So voting the right Congressmen, the right mayors, the right governors is just as vital as voting the right President. Making sure all do their part in putting together a modern state machinery is also important, making sure more managers and modern leaders like Dr. Lagmay are there to proactively deal with issues. The days of ancient barangays are definitely over, the days of wannabe datus or rajahs should also be.  The days of always playing it by ear are hopefully over as well.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, 5 December 2015, München