Approximately one year from now, the campaign to seek the next president of the Philippines will commence. It will be very different from past political exercises. Whoever is chosen, the next president will have a tougher job than before. We are entering probably the most difficult phase in our country—the worst contraction of our economy since World War 2; growing national debt; poverty levels and unemployment rate unprecedented with waning prospects of traditional overseas and local employment strongholds; the resulting probability of a rise in criminal activities; looming food shortages; a weakened purchasing capacity and regional geopolitical boundaries aggressively being challenged, among others.
There will be a lot of unfinished businesses against a backdrop of uncertainty. The pandemic that contributed much to this plight will not be over and we have no idea if things will get worse. If this was a journey, it will be a perilous one into the unknown. We will choose, as a nation, the person that we will hope will take us out of this quagmire. And we will soon realize that traditional credentials—past political positions, lineage, popularity, education, money, or power will not guarantee our survival. We will need a good driver, a pilot, a captain of our ship “Philippines” with exceptionally good leadership to overcome these obstacles and see this journey through.
What then would be the kind of leader we are looking for in our journey into the unknown? The list of required leadership traits can be endless. But if I am going into this journey, the one I would have to depend my life on, I would look at the following to be the basis of my choice:
Has a roadmap—A good leader needs to have a roadmap to navigate through difficult times. This roadmap, platform, or agenda should be the focal point of the candidate’s campaign, not the song and dance or carrying of babies. It is also not just a lofty slogan or a campaign promise. It has to be a program of governance, answering not just the “what” questions, but also the “hows.” How do we address poverty? Food security? Lack of employment? Of transportation? What about the West Philippine Sea? The growing US-China division? Crime? Corruption? The growing gap between rich and poor? Climate change? It used to be, in the past elections, that such details did not matter so much simply because life and outlook were better. Not anymore. To all those intending to seek that office by the river, there is enough time still to work out your roadmap.
Has the knowledge and experience—This is not about having a doctorate degree or having studied in any of the Ivy league schools. Knowledge and experience desired from a leader means knowing exactly what needs to be done, when it has to be done. Such acumen is borne out of one’s life experiences that in turn shape one’s character. How was the candidate growing up? How did he/she manage people, school, work, business and other situations? How did the candidate deal with conflict? With opportunities? With a crisis? Did he/she pivot well? Is the candidate resourceful? Was the candidate humble enough to learn and listen to others? Open to new ideas? To innovation? John F. Kennedy once said that learning and leadership goes hand in hand. Indeed. A true leader is learned and continues to learn.
Has the right moral compass in place—Most important of all is the candidate’s moral compass: Knowing what is right from wrong. The inner voice that tells him/her to decide and fight for the greater good. The natural compassion and the empathy for the least of his/her brethren, the sense of family and the fear that there is a God. In this journey of national survival, the good leader will leave no Filipino behind.
Still, there are other characteristics we desire of our leader, such as the capability to assemble a good and competent support team, a good intuition on international affairs, a love of the environment, a set of reliable local and international network, good communications skills, among others. But the three I mentioned—a roadmap, the needed knowledge and experience, and the moral compass are the ones most needed. With these traits, our next president, our driver, the pilot, the captain of our ship “Philippines” will not just assure us of our survival but also of our strong move forward as a people and as a nation.
Thomas “Tim” Orbos is currently a transport policy advisor for an international organization and worked in government on transport and urban development matters. He is an alumnus of Georgetown University and the MIT Sloan School of Management. He can be reached via e-mail—firstname.lastname@example.org /email@example.com