The burden of leadership
I became an orphan in 2014. That was the year we lost my mother. My father passed away in 2006.
There is not a day that I don’t miss them.
I suppose most people will not expect such an admission from me, given that my profession deals with taxes, corporate finances and the law—all of which are often seen as cold, impersonal elements of human life.
But those who know me well are aware that even though my parents are no longer “on the earthly plane,” so to speak, they remain very much a part of my life, and in those times when I have to make weighty decisions, or when I feel anxious over an important case, it’s my habit to visit their graves in our hometown of Jones, Isabela.
There, surrounded by my memories of the years when they were with me, I can “unburden” myself to them.
It came as no surprise to me, therefore, that when it became apparent that his would be a landslide victory, President-elect Rodrigo Duterte—he of the tough-talking, take-no-prisoners, and no-quarter-asked personality—was to be found at his parents’ graves in the wee hours of May 10th, asking for their help.
For a man who was so reluctant to run for President in the first place, the enormity of what he would be facing over the next six years probably hit him square in the face as the votes started to come in.
Indeed, being a city mayor—albeit of the largest and most urbanized city in Mindanao—is one thing; being the President is quite another.
I’ve often wondered why anyone would want to be President—well, at least anyone who realizes that with great power comes enormous responsibilities.
There’s no denying that it would boost a person’s ego to have people at his beck and call 24/7; to know that the minute you walk into a room, everyone will stand up; to hear the words “Mr. President” (or in at least two previous cases, “Madame President”) and know that it’s you they’re referring to.
And who could fail to be impressed by the thought that one’s name would be in the history books—though hopefully, of course, for successes far more than failures.
But as the Good Book says, “To whom much is given, much will be expected,” and that is as true of the presidency as it is of any other position of power and influence.
With privilege comes responsibility, and every position of authority carries with it the duty to make decisions that will inevitably affect many.
And where the presidency is concerned, any decision the Chief Executive makes will have an impact on the lives of millions.
That is an unnerving thought, whichever way you look at it. Small wonder our new President wept at the graves of his parents.
Just making a decision that will affect one person—as a parent does for his child—is already a daunting proposition in itself. To make a decision that will surely change the lives of millions—the word “overwhelming” is putting it very mildly indeed.
Be that as it may, the die has been cast and the people have spoken, and whatever else Mayor Duterte may feel about the mandate that has been given to him, it is good that he’s hit the ground running, so to speak.
Already, some announcements have already been made as to the members of his Cabinet.
As with everyone else, I hope that the men and women he will choose to help him govern will serve the country well, and be guided in their own actions by the thought that while power will be placed in their hands, theirs is also the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of our people.
I’ve had quite a few conversations with friends over the prospective Cabinet men and some have admitted to being a tad anxious that, as in the past, most of the appointees are friends, classmates, or close associates of the incoming President.
For my part, it’s understandable that a Chief Executive would call on his close friends, people he trusts and who he can immediately work with.
The one thing I would hope is that if an appointee fails to deliver on the mandate given to him, that appointee should be quietly—but firmly—shown the door.
When all is said and done, a President’s first responsibility is to the people—not to his friends, relatives or associates.
There is also an increasingly longer list of issues that the people would like the incoming President to address.
Each one, of course, is promoted by its proponents as being of the greatest urgency and indispensable to the welfare of the people, in one way or another.
Some groups have, in fact, been speaking publicly of how they hope that Mr. Duterte, a man who has always prided himself on being accessible to his constituents, will take a good look at their causes. Watching the news, I get the feeling that if every group asked for five minutes with the new President, the man would not get any sleep for a whole year.
I don’t envy him the task of choosing which issues to prioritize—no one could possibly attend to every single issue at the same time, with the same focus, and with the same amount of resources.
It is inevitable that some people will be disappointed by his choices, for it is impossible to please everyone.
There is a palpable hint of excitement in the air, an expectation of change for the country. Filipinos are, if anything, a people of endless optimism.
But it would be a serious mistake if we were to place the entire burden of the change that we all hope for on the shoulders of one man.
Rodrigo Duterte, after all, is a human being, flawed and imperfect like all of us.
He may be the symbol of the transformation we want to see in our country, but he cannot do everything by himself.
We too must do our part in moving the country forward, and in bringing about the new outlook and perspective we want to see in our government and our society. Deep within us, we all know that however important it is to do things right, what truly matters is that we must all do the right thing.
Rodrigo Duterte never dreamed of becoming President, and entered the campaign only at the very last minute.
His younger children, it is now known, are very reluctant to leave Davao, and give up their privacy, their peace of mind and the serenity of their simple lifestyles.
That is a choice that still is theirs to make —the same, however, cannot be said for their father, who must shoulder the responsibilities we have given him, responsibilities he never asked for but which he must now face.
The future now stretches in front of him, filled with many grave decisions he must make, difficult choices he cannot avoid, and critical options he must contemplate. Never did the old Harvard adage “It’s lonely at the top” seem more poignantly true in the early hours of the morning on May 10, when the votes started coming in, the numbers were announced, and Rodrigo Duterte wept at the graves of his parents, asking for their help because life for him was now changed beyond anything he—or they—could ever have imagined.
It is heavy yoke we have placed on the shoulders of our new President.
The least we can do now is help him carry it.
(The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines. The author is a former Commissioner of the Presidential Commission on Good Government and is a Senior Partner of The Tax Offices of Romero, Aguilar & Associates and member of the MAP National Issues Committee and MAP Tax Committee. Feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. For previous articles, please visit <map.org.ph>)