THE PEN| The right leader

WITH the national elections barely two weeks away, the Philippines is once again at a crossroads, as its people troop to the polling precincts to elect the leader whom they believe will not only address the nation’s ills, but more importantly, help chart a better and brighter future for the country.

During the course of the last three presidential tables, we have been given a fairly good ringside view of how the five aspirants for the country’s top posts  – Grace Poe, Rodrigo Duterte, Jojo Binay, Mar Roxas and Miriam Defensor-Santiago – hope to address the woes confronting the country: poverty, graft and corruption, criminality and threats to our sovereignty, among others.

Although these debates, organized by the COMELEC in partnership with the country’s leading media organizations, have earnestly tried to focus on the most pressing issues and concerns facing the nation, they have unfortunately not been been able to draw out concrete “roadmaps” from the candidates on how they specifically intend to sustain the country’s economic growth.

It therefore came as a pleasant surprise when no less than Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, one of the country’s most-respected business leaders, recently made the brave forecast that the country’s  economy will continue to expand regardless of who wins the presidency. From our experience, big business have a propensity for being pessimistic during such periods of uncertainty, especially when the nation’s leadership is undergoing a major political transition.

“We tend to be optimists in the Ayala group, not pessimists. We believe in the country and we believe that irrespective of who gets chosen into a leadership position, the country will continue to progress,” Zobel said in an article published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Observers view Mr. Ayala’s statement as a major compliment to the Aquino Administration, which has in the past six years, been able to turn the country’s economy around  from being the “Sick Man of Asia” to one Asia’s fast-emerging Tiger economies. This plaudit couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, as President Aquino’s anointed one, Mar Roxas, has remained in the bottom rung of the most recent presidential surveys.

However, the business tycoon’s remarks shouldn’t be misconstrued as a categorical endorsement of Roxas’ candidacy as some might think. Rather, it should instead be viewed as a major challenge posed by the country business community to whoever becomes the new occupant of Malacanang. It was the private sector telling the five presidentiables: “The economic groundwork has already been laid out. It is now up to you (presidential candidates) on how you will sustain the country’s economic momentum.”

Mr. Ayala knows what the Philippine’s next president needs to do in order sustain and enhance the country’s march towards sustainable growth and development. Having done business in the country during the course of several presidencies, he has figured out what works and what doesn’t.  And based on his company’s vast experience locally and internationally, the nation should, first and foremost, be at par with global standards. There is no escaping globalization, and if countries aren’t able to cope with stringent ever-increasing demands of international markets, they will be left by the wayside.

“The reason why I believe that is that we’re interlinked globally now. From a standards point of view, from an economic point of view, the world looks at us and we cannot escape and be in isolation from the trends that are taking place. I think, generally, these trends have taken standards up—(such as in) governance and leadership. You will have some better leaders, some worse ones. But we have shown as an economy under the current leadership that we have evolved as a country tremendously and moved forward. I don’t see the clock going backwards on that,” he explained.

Clearly, Mr. Ayala understands that the Philippines economy is closely intertwined with developments in global markets, the more reason that the country’s new leadership  should have a firm grasp of the issues and concerns that may impact on our nation’s standing in the world stage. Although he remains pragmatic in the sense that the nation may elect good or bad leaders, the upcoming political exercise next month should not be a reason for the next president to veer away from the positive, forward-looking direction established by the current administration.

Although the business magnate didn’t categorically state the candidate he is supporting, he hopes that the next chief executive will be up to the task of steering the nation’s economy forward, while being able to effectively adapt to the myriad challenges spawned by globalization. All of the five candidates have already presented their platforms of government, with most of them saying that they will work towards creating an environment conducive to investment, strengthening the agriculture sector, addressing infrastructure gaps, enhancing the competitiveness of the local manufacturing sector, and creating greater employment opportunities for the people.

All these proposals  sound well and good on paper. But in the final analysis, what the nation needs at this point is a leader who doesn’t only have a firm grasp of economic fundamentals, but someone who can translate grand plans into action. We need a leader who can cross party lines, conduct an earnest dialogue with non-allies, and heal the culture of divisiveness  that has gripped our nation in a stranglehold. Most importantly, we need a leader who commands the respect of the country’s various sectors – business, academe, religious, political – and can rally their support to bring about genuine economic growth and long-lasting peace in a country.

Let us choose the leader our nation rightfully deserves.

Posted in Opinion