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A Boholano’s View by Jose “Pepe” Abueva
The Bohol Chronicle
October 19, 2014
We Need Progressive Leaders:
Leaders with Moral Purpose and Humanity
I mean leaders who will transform our weaknesses as individuals and as a people into positive
values and strength of character. Leadership that will transform our society by reducing poverty
and inequity, and by redistributing wealth, power and opportunity so that most Filipinos are
empowered to improve their quality of life and their sense of dignity.
A moral and spiritual crisis: a failure of character. Filipino leaders have asked, what
happened to our country which was once regarded as a likely model in Southeast Asia in the
1950s? What happened to the hopes that “people power” kindled to a flame at EDSA in 1986,
which caught the attention and admiration of the whole world? Why are so many among our
people, especially the young, discouraged by our disunity and poverty, the prevalence of greed
and dishonesty, and our seeming lack of direction and very slow progress?
I believe that at the root of our malaise we face a moral and spiritual crisis, a crisis of
character, a crisis of leadership and citizenship. Financial and technical solutions, foreign aid and
investments, treaties of trade and commerce will not help us very much, unless our moral values
and behavior as individuals and as a nation are transformed.
In his book, Educating for Character, Thomas Lickona observes that schools, families,
churches and other social institutions in America have failed to develop two fundamental moral
values in the people—respect and responsibility—which psychologists say are necessary for
healthy personal development, caring interpersonal relationships, a humane and democratic
society, and a just and peaceful world. I strongly believe that such an observation can be made of
us Filipinos too, and even more so.
Let me therefore elaborate on Lickona’s analysis. Respect, which means showing regard
for the worth of someone or something, takes three forms: (1) respect for oneself, (2) respect for
other people, and (3) respect for the environment and one’s surroundings.
Responsibility is an extension of respect. It includes caring for others, being
dependable, carrying out any job or duty to the best of our ability. I believe that the biggest moral
challenge of our time is to balance rights and responsibilities and to raise young people who have
a strong sense of both. In our day, too many of our people strongly assert their rights and
entitlements while evading their duties, responsibilities and obligations.
Besides the two great moral values of respect and responsibility, other related values
are important. Honesty, fairness, tolerance, prudence and self-discipline are forms of respect for
oneself and others; while helpfulness, compassion and cooperation contribute to the attainment
of the broad ethic of responsibility. Some qualities like moral courage and the democratic values
of the rule of law, equal opportunity, due process, representative government and democratic
decision-making are important qualities in creating a society based on respect and responsibility.
The moral purpose of university education. If we go back to the purpose of education,
we find that our 1987 Constitution commands all educational institutions to “inculcate patriotism
and nationalism, foster love of humanity, respect for human rights, appreciation of the role of
national heroes…; teach the rights and duties of citizenship, strengthen ethical and spiritual
values, develop moral character and personal discipline, encourage critical and creative thinking,
broaden scientific and technical knowledge, and promote vocational efficiency.” (Article XIV,
What do our colleges and universities today teach? I wanted to know as UP President,
because for many years we simply assumed without really knowing, that in UP we had been
teaching and exemplifying the right values to our students.
Emphases of U.P. education. According to students in our own University of the
Philippines, in a survey of 14 colleges in UP Diliman that I initiated and Dr. Maria Luisa
Doronila designed and carried out when I was U.P. president, the qualities that their respective
colleges wanted to develop in them were, in order of emphasis: leadership ability (32%), which
includes independence, articulateness, assertiveness and self-confidence; the work ethic (27%),
notably patience, discipline, diligence, resourcefulness and efficiency; intellectual capacities
(24%), which include critical/analytical thinking, academic excellence and creativity. Below all
these, a far fourth is social orientation (11%), showing relatively weak compassion, a weak sense
of service and a weak pro-people inclination; while ethical/moral uprightness, exemplified by
honesty and integrity, was at the bottom of the list (2.9%). These perceptions of UP students of
the kind of education they are getting are disturbing and sobering.
A graduate from the Ateneo de Manila University in Metro Manila wrote: “My education
may have given me technical competence and some basic managerial skills, but it has fallen
short in helping me develop personal clarity that will enable me to be effective interpersonally.
In school, I was not given the structures and opportunities to integrate my skills into some bigger
picture and appreciate the interrelatedness and wholeness of things—including my intellectual,
physical, emotional, behavioral, and spiritual dimensions, side by side with those of other people,
institutions and the environment.”
Social orientation, morality and ethics. I am sure that while it is true that leadership
ability, intellectual skills, and the work ethic are important qualities that you should acquire in
college, it is social orientation, morality and ethics that shall invest leadership and rationality
with a vision beyond self and family and give it moral purpose and humanity. Without the latter
qualities, I am afraid that a graduate remains ethically poor and illiterate.
It is not enough to be an excellent professional, a smart person; it is equally important to
be a good man or woman, to be a good citizen of our country and a good member of the human
race, a child of God.
The progressive leader we want serves as a role model for basic change in our society and
in the world. Conscious of the strengths and weaknesses of the people, the progressive leader
sets goals, selects strategies, and mobilizes support and resources to achieve those goals with the
participation of the people.
A study conducted by the Senate Committees on Education, Arts and Culture, and Social
Justice, Welfare and Development in 1987-1988 reported that Filipinos, by and large, are
extremely personalistic, family centered, lacking in discipline, passive and lacking in initiative,
suffer from colonial mentality, practice kanya-kanya syndrome, and lack the skill of self-analysis
and self-reflection. But at the same time they possess the positive traits of empathy or
pakikipagkapwa-tao, orientation to an extended family, joy and humor, flexibility and
adaptability, hard work and industry, the ability to survive, and faith and religiosity.
According to the same Senate study, strategies for change must be multi-sectoral; they
must emphasize change in the power holders as well as in the masa; they should be holistic,
emphasizing individual as well as system or structural change. The change should involve a
critical mass of people. The goals should be cut into “bite-size” pieces for implementation.
Strategies for change must be connected to the daily life of the people, and they must be
implemented by an act of the will and involve self-sacrifice. Leaders in government, business,
religion and civic life will do well to consider these principles in bringing about social change for
the good of all.
As the U.P. president in 1987 I challenged the faculty with a vision. I said that U.P. must
examine and review itself so as to provide “learning and leadership for social transformation,”
and thereby help our leaders and people in building the just, humane and democratic society
envisioned in our new Constitution. There is no end to learning, for individual citizens and for
the nation. If we fail because our lesson is hard, our country will languish in social fragmentation
and environmental spoliation.
Our social transformation requires internal change in our leaders and citizens alike. We
must keep faith in the Filipino’s capacity to transform himself—his values, his way of thinking
and behavior, his structures and institutions. We want thoughtful men and women, capable of
prayer and action, who can give life and meaning to our people’s ideals and aspirations, who can
imagine a far better society, create options and alternatives, and work honestly without fanfare
We want women and men of vision and courage, of deep passion and great compassion,
whose integrity and eloquence will teach and persuade other leaders and the
citizenry. We want women and men who, by their faith in our people’s good sense and integrity,
awaken their capacity for self-transformation; who, by word and example, inspire our people to
bear the price of change and progress for the common good; who, by their respect for each one’s
freedom and dignity, create a national conscience and ignite a peaceful social revolution to
eradicate poverty, injustice, violence, incompetence and corruption.
These are the leaders we need, the kind of persons we want for our communities
and our country as a whole. Let us all continue to develop good habits of the mind, of the
heart, and of action: to know what is right and good, to desire what is right and good, and
to do what is right and good.
Our faith and 1987 Constitution can guide us in developing and practicing this
humane and progressive citizenship and leadership.