We need worthy leaders that put nation first and have an all of society approach

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

The Stratbase Albert Del Rosario Institute would like to thank our many expert speakers and participants — practitioners in public and private management, international partners, the academe and studentry, civil society, and media — for joining us in this year’s five-day Pilipinas Conference. The past week was filled with enriching discussions and insights on the economy, trade and investment, the environment, defense and security, and good governance.

More than ever, given the election season, we need to pay attention to these issues and respond with the utmost urgency. Our next leaders should give high priority to addressing the mounting socio-economic and health issues brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as continuing political issues such as corruption and the renewed tensions in the West Philippine Sea. As I closed the conference, I reiterated what I believe our country’s leaders and key stakeholders must do, moving forward.

First, we believe that the Philippines needs to shift to a more investment-driven growth and to establish a favorable environment for businesses. The private sector plays a key role in fighting poverty by creating new jobs, livelihood opportunities, and other stakeholder-driven initiatives. It has also proven itself as a reliable and capable partner of government in building back from this economic and health crisis.

The private sector, among other things, can provide the right investments, expertise, and innovativeness to uplift the lives of millions of Filipinos from the socio-economic challenges wrought by the pandemic. With the heightened cooperation of other stakeholders, efforts from the private sector would even be more robust.

Second, we can accelerate this shift to an investment-led economy by instituting reforms and policy changes that are conducive to business. We hope that we are able to contribute to national discussions, effectively shape Philippine foreign policy, and promote cooperation for economic recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With a stable government and sound economic policies in place, an enabling business environment can be established. This, in turn, will pave the way for commerce and trade to prosper and investments to come in.

Third, we believe that with stakeholders’ initiatives in making sustainability and environmental concerns mainstream, the government and the Filipino people can be more aware of the immediate and long-term consequences of environment and climate risks. We also hope that Filipinos will see the need to integrate sustainability as well as green and circular measures to policies, frameworks, and operations.

Fourth, with the current regional security architecture, strategic partnerships and alliances are crucial. Pursuing multilateral and inclusive cooperation are also vital in efficiently and effectively addressing the emergence of various security threats. These efforts will facilitate the promotion of the international rules-based order. At the same time, this will advance the vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific to bring about a peaceful, prosperous, and stable region.

Finally, we Filipinos must hold our leaders accountable at all times. Reclaiming democracy is no simple task, and, as we have seen in previous years, could often be frustrating and disheartening. Still, it is one worth engaging in. We stand against corruption and advocate for transparent and responsive governance.

In the coming elections and beyond, demanding accountable, transparent, and responsive governance is not simply the view of the Stratbase ADR Institute. This political stand is borne out of and actually triggered by national surveys that the think tank runs across the country and across demographics. The results affirm that as our society continues to struggle with economic consequences of this pandemic, eradicating graft and corruption in government has become a key issue that should be addressed by national leaders decisively and consistently. Lip service just won’t do.

All in all, the agenda that has been forged by the Pilipinas Conference 2021 caters to a whole gamut of political, economic, social, environmental, and security concerns that have been overlooked, downplayed, and even botched by the current administration for the past five and a half years. What we need is a president who is competent, has integrity, and is not corrupt.

We have to learn from our harrowing experience under the Duterte administration. We should seize the opportunity to revitalize our nation from the deep scars of the pandemic and governance crisis. Specifically, we can refer to the prevalence of the crisis of information integrity in this election period, which is caused by pandemic disinformation. Since 2016, we have been talking about how fake news paralyzes people’s critical ability to choose leaders. In response to this information crisis, we need to collectively expose and denounce trolls and disinformation machinery.

The elections are drawing near. We must ensure that societal change would be a collective, multi-stakeholder effort. Only with such convergence toward a shared common goal can we address the multi-faceted pandemic challenges and achieve a resilient and inclusive recovery post-pandemic.

This article was originally published in BusinessWorld.

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