Local Solutions to National Problems

Keynote address of retired Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban during the opening of the World Bank-sponsored Philippine Development Innovation Marketplace, Panibagong Paraan 2008, held on April 9, 2008 at the SM Megamall, Mandaluyong City.

I thank World Bank Country Director Bert Hofman for inviting me to be the Keynote Speaker during the opening of the Philippine Development Innovation Marketplace, Panibagong Paraan 2008, here at the SM Megamall. Inasmuch as I have already retired from active public life as a member of the Philippine judiciary, I have refrained from accepting speaking engagements. However, I am very impressed by Panibagong Paraan’s search for innovative ideas as well as by the theme of this year’s program, “Building Partnerships for Local Governance,” that I decided to accept the challenge of facing you today and to share a few ideas on the topic at hand.

Although I have not had the pleasure of personally meeting Mr. Hofman prior to today’s program, I have nonetheless worked closely with his predecessor, Joaquim Von Amsberg, and the World Bank as an institution during my stint in the Supreme Court. The Bank was the lead partner of the Court in pushing our Action Program for Judicial Reform or APJR. Like the Panibagong Paraan, the Philippine judiciary’s APJR – which began 2000 – is anchored on the core values of innovation, integrity, transparency and accountability. I participated actively in our APJR during my eleven years as a Supreme Court justice and later as Chief Justice. I fondly remember that the World Bank hailed theAPJR as the model for other developing countries, especially if these countries wanted to obtain the bank’s support. For this, I am very grateful.

A Country in Crisis
Let me begin my keynote with an assessment of the present state of governance in our country. To make my assessment as objective as possible, let me quote from the official statement issued by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) after its whole day meeting on February 26, 2008, titled “Seeking the Truth, Restoring Integrity.”

The CBCP said that we are in the “midst of restlessness and confusion,” facing “a crisis of truth and the pervading cancer of corruption. We must seek the truth and we must restore integrity.” This statement was followed on March 16, 2008 by a Pastoral Letter signed by Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales and 15 other bishops in the Ecclesiastical Province of Manila composed of Metropolitan Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite, Laguna, Palawan and the Military Ordinariate with a similar assessment, “We are experiencing a social and political mess! We are unhappy and feel betrayed.”

I began my address with these formal statements from our spiritual leaders not because I consider our gathering religious in character, but because their assessments reflect their nationwide network. As many of us know, the Catholic Church is organized nationally down to the grassroots level. Its hierarchical structure covers every nook and corner of our country. It is organized as extensively and as pervasively as the government machinery itself.

But the Catholic Church’s relevance to us today goes beyond mere assessment of the critical problems facing the nation. It also merges with our theme of going to local governance for solutions to the problems of the nation. The CBCP asked the faithful who compose some 86 percent of the total Philippine population to go back to “circles of discernment at the grassroots level, in our parishes, Basic Ecclesial Communities, recognized lay organizations and movements, religious institutions, schools, seminaries and universities. It is through internal conversion into the maturity of Christ through communal and prayerful discernment and action that the roots of corruption are discovered and destroyed! From the grassroots will come out a culture of truth and integrity we so deeply seek and build.”

Grassroots Solutions

Today in our Panibagong Paraan search for innovative ideas for development, we also turn to local governance for cooperative solutions to our national problems, to the crisis of confidence spoken of by the CBCP. But instead of calling on parishes and Basic Ecclesial Communities, we look into public-private partnerships between local government units or LGUs and the civil society/private sector. And instead of using spiritual discernment, prayer and communal action, we look into more secular concepts and processes to promote and perpetuate the same goals of integrity, accountability and transparency in governance.

Also, instead of the usual Filipino method of solving problems from the top down, we invert the organizational pyramid by starting good governance innovations from the base going up to the apex of government. Indeed, this year’s Panibagong Paraan basic methodology of solving the nation’s problems from the base up rather than the traditional directions coming from the top going to the grassroots is itself the big innovation in our marketplace today. This great innovation would surely serve to empower communities as they participate in the programs and decisions that will propel their lives. If for this alone, the organizers of our project deserve our congratulations and claps already.

Principles and Values

Let me now share with you some principles and values that I think will help us in our search for ideas to solve our nation’s ills. I hold these principles and values non-negotiable and immutable, whether the solutions and programs are local or national.

First, uphold truth and integrity at all times. Truth can never be sacrificed in the name of the economy or convenience or need. Truth is the basis of credibility that in turn is the indispensable ingredient of successful governance. Integrity goes beyond mere honesty or the refusal to tell a falsehood; it is the moral courage to denounce a wrong and to promote the truth; to punish the greedy, to chase the robbers and to prosecute the tyrants.

During the martial law years, the country was besieged by officials who arrogated absolute powers to themselves, plundered the treasury and used their public offices to amass ill-gotten wealth. There were, however, a handful that – even while serving under the authoritarian regime – kept themselves personally pure, discharged their functions efficiently, and refused to join the corrupt in raiding the public treasury. While these few good men and women can be described as honest public servants, they did nothing to stamp out the evil around them, contented as they were in distancing themselves from the evil conspiracy.

Towering above them were those who kept themselves clean and honest, but who also worked fervently and actively – at the risk of their own safety, earthly possessions and careers – to restore freedom, to denounce the plunderers and to make truth and justice prevail. More than being honest, they were persons of moral courage; they were men and women of integrity.

Second, practice transparency and exact accountability. Those who govern must be ready to endure the sunlight and the scrutiny of their public as well as private lives. They must be held accountable for all their actions and decisions all the time and in all aspects of their lives.

Third, strengthen the rule of law. The rule of law reigns when the actions and decisions of government are made and done in accordance with the Constitution and the laws, not pursuant to the wiles and whims of the governors. It prevails when leaders and followers are treated equally, and when the law is interpreted and obeyed according to its spirit and intent, not according to convoluted technicalities and legal hocus-pocus.

Fourth, practice responsible citizenship by being constantly informed of national and community affairs, participating in communal activities, and helping in the transformation of our culture of patronage to a culture of integrity. Vote honestly and responsibly, and participate in activities that insure honest and clean elections. Better still run, or otherwise encourage men and women of integrity to aspire for public office for the public good.

Fifth, adhere to and fortify democratic institutions like due process, civilian supremacy, and checks and balances. Habitually follow regulations in every day life, like falling in line at bus queues, observing traffic rules, coming on time, and awaiting one’s turn. The observance of these seemingly little rules not only provide good examples to the young but also evoke order and peace in the community.

Visionary Leadership by Example

Sixth, always start with a vision; have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish and the specific ways of accomplishing them. I call this visionary leadership by example. If one is embarking on a journey, one must have – prior to departure – a pre-selected destination, and a specific mode of how to get there. Airline passengers often hear their pilots announce the destination over the cabin audio system, and the specific route to reach it. So must every leader have a vision-mission statement.

I believe a vision-mission statement must be specific and quantifiable, not a mere collection of motherhood principles. It must also include core values and principles that the person or organization stands for. Equally important, it must be achievable within a declared period.

In this manner, the leader commits to specific goals, values, methods and timetables. And the followers have general directions to guide them through. The leader’s role is to inspire and motivate the followers to work unceasingly, to rise above their puny limitations, to excel beyond themselves and to achieve collectively their loftiest dreams and highest aspirations.

George Patton once said, “Wars may be fought with weapons but they are won by soldiers. It is the spirit of the men who follow and of the man who leads that gains victory.” This is true not only in the military battlefields but in all human endeavors.


As I close this address, let me go back to the theme of our marketplace and to the audience that is composed mainly of leaders of local government units and the private sector/civil society. There is a common denominator in all organizations whether large or small, whether government or private, and that is, the need for effective, responsible leadership.

There are many ways to lead: by delivering motivational speeches, by sporting an iron fist, by dispensing patronage and by belonging to a dynasty. It helps to be a great orator and a financial wizard. Patting backs and rewarding good work have their uses. Charisma, media exposure, good looks, genes, science, passion, opportunity and greed have propelled many people to center stage but have failed to bring the desired results.

Committing to and aggressively pursuing a clear vision, mission, core values and principles are an essential beginning. However, leading by example is the best, if not the only, way to accomplish your vision-mission.

Let me tell you a true story to illustrate leadership by example. On his first day in office, the new chief executive of a huge Philippine company asked how many cars were assigned to his office. He was stunned to learn there were more than five dozens. He retained only one and ordered the immediate sale of the rest.

On his second day, an assistant visited his office with a big briefcase full of cash that, he was told, was his personal share of the commissions for the advertisements placed by his company in several media outlets. He ordered his assistant to issue an official receipt and to deposit them in the company’s bank account.

On the third day, he noticed that many of the executives under him arrived in their offices only about 10:00 a.m. Without commenting on the dismaying habits of his subordinates, he asked his secretary to make arrangements to bring him to office at 8:00 a.m. daily.

In those early three days, Manuel V. Pangilinan led his subalterns in practising the prudent use of corporate assets, integrity in money matters and on-time office arrival. After a few years of leadership by example, the market worth of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company multiplied tenfold, and its corporate ethics a hundred fold. Now, for the year 2007, it declared Ph36 billion as net income, the biggest of any Philippine company ever!

Ladies and gentlemen, leadership by personal example of integrity, transparency and accountability, not by mere rhetoric and certainly not by double speak and hypocrisy, must top every innovative proposal to solve every organization’s developmental problem and need. That, in a sentence, is my keynote message today. Maraming salamat po.


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