My choices for May 10

MANILA, Philippines—“Chief Justice, whom will you vote for as president and vice president?” So readers often ask me. With May 10 just days away, let me now answer, not by naming my choices but by describing the attributes I am looking for; attributes I spelled out during the recent induction of the Management Association of the Philippines at the Peninsula Hotel.

Trust, first and foremost. In a democracy, good governance begins with the trust of the people. Without trust, conflict, stagnation and degeneration ensue. This is true in every democratic organization, public or private, big or small. When constituents no longer trust their leader, goals become impossible.

It is not easy to lead a democracy. True, the majority prevails. But before decisions are taken, the minority must be heard; due process observed; public opinion heeded; constitutional rights respected. When human rights are transgressed, one individual prevails over the entire government.

Many are frustrated with the tedious processes of democracy and look to authoritarian regimes for economic salvation. When advised that our people will never exchange their freedom for food, they ask: will democracy ever work in our country? Will our people ever follow the rule of law? Will they ever embrace the discipline required by freedom? I say Yes! Most certainly, Yes!

As proof, let us look at the Filipinos abroad. They strictly follow the law; stop at red lights even in deserted street corners; honor their obligations; pay correct taxes. They are industrious and productive. Indeed, in democratic societies like the United States and Canada, Pinoys prosper more than the average American or Canadian.

Trust in the new president begins with his/her credible election. That is why May 10, 2010 is critical to our political, social and economic future. On the election depends the very survival of our democracy and the rule of law. Let us elect a president we can absolutely trust, first and foremost.

Integrity, not just honesty. There are three kinds of government officials. The first are those who arrogate absolute power to themselves, plunder the treasury, and use their public offices to amass ill-gotten wealth. We abhor them and consign them to the darkest pits of history.

The second are those who serve under abusive regimes but who keep themselves personally pure, discharge their functions efficiently, and refuse to join the corrupt in raiding the public treasury. While these few good men and women can be described as honest public servants, they however do nothing to stamp out the evil around them, content as they are with distancing themselves from the evil conspiracy.

Honesty is a virtue taught in grade school. I am not critical of those who sincerely exemplify it. But beyond honesty, our country needs during these challenging times the third type of public officials—men and women of integrity, who will not merely refuse to tell a falsehood, but who possess the moral courage to punish the greedy, chase the robbers, and prosecute the tyrants.

Our country needs patriotic leaders who not only keep themselves clean and pure but who work fervently—at the risk of their own safety, health, earthly possessions and careers—to safeguard liberty, to denounce the plunderers, to vindicate the poor and to make truth and justice prevail. I look for a president with integrity of the highest degree, integrity that does not compromise with evil, integrity that underlies all canons of professional ethics and integrity that backstops the Ethical Standards Law for public officers.

Probity—not mere intellectuality. Probity is the third attribute. It does not mean mere intellectuality or academic intelligence. Neither does it refer to practicality nor to superior knowledge. Webster defines it as “uncompromising adherence to the highest principles or ideals.”

I agree, except that I would add to Webster’s definition the ability to discern various alternatives and to select the best in a given set of facts and relationships. Probity requires one to do the right thing in the right way at the right time and for the right reasons. Process, timing and motive are as important as substance.

An example is the move to amend our basic law. Our 1987 Constitution is not perfect. So, there is hardly any debate as to the need to change some parts of it. Essentially then, Charter change or Cha-cha is the right thing. Just because it is the right thing does not mean that the Constitution should be revised immediately, via any method and for any dubious reason.

Totally devoid of probity, our leaders tried to ram down the right thing via the wrong method; that is, via the people’s initiative by inventing signatures to show an alleged clamor from the people; an exercise described by our Supreme Court (Lambino vs Comelec, Oct. 25, 2006) as a “grand deception” and a “gigantic fraud.”

Or via the constituent assembly by forcing a joint, rather than a separate, vote by Congress. They tried to bulldoze it at the wrong time, when there are more urgent problems needing attention; and for the wrong reason, to extend indefinitely the reign of the most unpopular president in history.

A modicum of probity would have shamed our leaders from pursuing an obviously odious proposal via the wrong way, at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons.

To recapitulate, three values are indispensable to win the future. To help remember them, I coined a three-letter key word, TIP—trust, integrity and probity.

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