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Leadership: We deserve better

When we ran a series of stories on Senator Bongbong Marcos, not a few raised a ruckus, accusing Rappler of being partisan, being part of the Yellow Army, of being paid hacks, and of engaging in a profitable demolition job.

When we published several stories on impeached former Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona, including his embellished academic honors (Rappler’s editor-at-large Marites Dañguilan Vitug, by the way, also reported about his supposed doctorate from the University of Santo Tomas), we were also accused of having a hidden agenda and of being anti-GMA (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo).

When we ran a series of stories on the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program, the Zamboanga siege, the Aquino administration’s handling of the post-Yolanda disaster, and even more recently, of the Mamasapano bloodbath, we were accused of siding with the opposition, losing our way, and of turning our backs on reformists. On top of that, some began to ask whether Rappler was so deep in the red, it had succumbed to temptations of financiers with a political agenda.

When people, including public officials are scrutinized or criticized, they react very negatively and viciously lash back – as do their supporters – saying there is a political agenda or motivation – even when there is none. But we, who’ve been in journalism long enough, have become all too familiar with this irrational, illogical, knee-jerk reactions, and just take them all in stride.

Case in point: because Rappler published a story about the false academic credentials of Senator Marcos, the timing of the stories, which coincided with hearings on the Bangsamoro Basic Law, was suspect. It doesn’t matter that he lied about earning a bachelor’s degree from Oxford University (he has a “special diploma” to show); what matters is that he’s doing a good job in the Senate committee on local government. But whatever happened to the values of integrity and truth-telling? Is lying now considered a minor oversight which should be brushed aside and tolerated as part of officials’ behavior?

Why do critical stories supported by empirical data, documents, and solid interviews have to be suspect? Shouldn’t readers be outraged that their supposed leaders are caught being less than truthful? Is truth-telling such a debased commodity these days that it can be packaged as irrelevant to discussions and debates about leadership?

This calls to mind too stories about senators and other officials linked to the pork barrel scam that resulted in millions of pesos in public funds being lost. What is so stark is the seeming propensity of officials to wash their hands clean and quickly disassociate themselves from incompetence and mediocrity.

The Mamasapano killings are just another in a string of incidents that leave us in a quandary about diminishing leadership standards. After close to 70 deaths, including 44 troopers of the Special Action Force, only one official, Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima, has offered to resign, his resignation accepted with great reluctance by the President. In endless Senate and House investigations, what we have wearily heard and had to endure are lengthy explanations and narrations about whose fault – other than one’s own – it is, which caused the dismal failure in operations.

Diminished trust

The strongest indication of public indignation, disbelief, and frustration is perhaps the latest Pulse Asia survey which showed the approval rating of the President plunging to an all-time low by 21 percentage points from 59% in November  2014 to 38% in March 2015. His trust rating also took a nosedive of 20 percentage points from 56% to 36% over the same period.

When Arroyo was president, we also got very weary about corruption stories and just patiently said we would wait for the next elections. Expectations were high of the next administration, regarded as the antithesis of the one that preceded it. We again patiently waited for the newbies to get a hang of governance and the bureaucracy, our patience propped by the steady stream of disasters that befell the nation, teaching us the virtue of resilience, learning how to start all over, and understanding. 

Meanwhile, traffic on EDSA is getting more horrendous by the day, wasting precious productive man hours. MRT lines are getting incredibly longer as trains repeatedly break down, offering no viable transport alternatives. Road diggings by various government agencies that do not coordinate with each other transform the metropolis into one huge, polluted construction site. All of these seem like daily mundane issues we have learned to accept.

But courts are as slow as ever in deciding cases, with judges accused of corruption. The Senate and the House have become mere sources of alternative entertainment, engaged in endless politicking and wrapped, if not entangled, in partisan interests. There has been a serious dearth of inspiring leadership.

Leaders, not managers

As they say, management is not leadership. Managers are not necessarily leaders. Leaders have a vision of the future and take the nation along with them. They see beyond the present, and the day-to-day, nitty-gritty details of government operations. They inspire and encourage citizens to initiate things on their own and support those initiatives. 

They see the big picture and how everything else fits in. They move forward fast enough, constantly innovating and looking for innovators, thinking there is no time to waste. Inefficiency, they know, can kill and can be very costly. Yet they know how to pause and dream of making the seemingly impossible possible.

Filipinos will soon start thinking – if they haven’t done so yet – of who their next president should be. By the end of this year candidacies will be declared and formalized. I want integrity, competence, excellence, vision, guts, determination, courage, and empathy among our leaders. Is that too much too ask?

I am truly getting tired of what we Filipinos often accept as “puwede na, okay na yan.” (That will do, that should be okay.) We deserve better, don’t we? –

Chay F. Hofileña

Chay Hofileña is editor of Rappler's investigative and in-depth section, Newsbreak. Among Rappler’s senior founders and editors, she is also in charge of training. She obtained her graduate degree from Columbia University’s School of Journalism in New York.