BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Power, Character and Leadership by Jun Lozada

From the Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP)

A look at leadership: Dr. Jose Rizal's century-old question "Are we like this because we simply have not been blessed with an enlightened leadership?" remains in the hearts of Filipinos today as they pin hopes on newly elected leaders like President Benigno Aquino III and his young administration. JES AZNAR (
A look at leadership: Dr. Jose Rizal's century-old question "Are we like this because we simply have not been blessed with an enlightened leadership?" remains in the hearts of Filipinos today as they pin hopes on newly elected leaders like President Benigno Aquino III and his young administration. JES AZNAR (
“Tayo bang mga Filipino ay sadyang nilikha ng Panginoon na mangmang, dukha at api? O kaya lang tayo ganito ay dahil hindi pa lamang tayo nabibiyayaan ng isang mabuting pamumuno? (Are we Filipinos created by God as ignorant, wretched and oppressed? Or are we like this because we simply have not been blessed with an enlightened leadership?)”

So our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal once asked his brother Paciano.

Up until now, I still reflect on that question when I see millions of my country men and women mired in inhuman conditions of poverty, wallowing in mindless chatter, contented with ignorant bliss, numbed to abuse by local and foreign masters. “Along with a growing minority, I refuse to hang my head in shame. I refuse to accept our situation with the resignation of an invalid,” as Rizal put it.

Why have we not been blessed with an enlightened leader who does not betray the people? Why have we not been blessed with leaders who put the people’s interest above their own personal interest? Why is it that we always appear to elect a saint but end up with the devil? Why is it that we elect people who seem to possess the genes of leaders, but end up with leaders who are thieves? Why is it that seemingly kind persons turn into selfish opportunists once given the reins of their respective group? Why is it that the young idealistic activist turns out to be one of the biggest crooks?

This observation cuts across a broad spectrum of Philippine society from the halls of Congress to the pulpit of the different churches; from the classroom to the boardroom; from barracks to newsrooms; from barangays up to the presidential palace by the Pasig River. What could possibly be the reason for this curse like phenomena in our country?

Failed leadership: is it cultural?

I have been pondering on this issue of failed leadership from two perspectives: culture and character. One of the strongest bonds found in the Filipino culture is the intra-generational bond of a Filipino family. It is accepted as a matter of moral obligation of a family member to take care of their relations including extended clan members. This particular cultural trait is easily observed in the overseas Filipino workers (OFW) community, where millions of Filipinos endure lonely separation away from their loved ones laboring in foreign countries just to support their families.

It is not uncommon in the Filipino culture to see young adults giving up greater opportunities for personal growth for the sake of taking care of their old parents or their young children. It is one of the most noble and admirable traits that characterize the Filipino.

But this very strong “familism” has a terrible effect on society and the country as a whole when it crosses the moral boundary of that obligation, as postulated by Francis Fukuyama in his book “Trust”.

Let us try to illustrate this moral crossing in a typical scenario of a Filipino who is put in a position of influence either in private or public office because of their talent. We may assume this person is of good character: Yet when the situation arises -- as will invariably happen -- that this person is approached by a family member, a relative or a close friend for a favor, particularly one that involves pecuniary interest, this person will be culturally obliged to acquiesce to the request, even if it means breaking the law. Some will agonize more than others, yet many will succumb to the cultural pressure of “familism” even if it means crossing or breaking the law and compromising one’s principles.

In our culture, the worst names a family member can be called are: “Ingrate” (“walang utang na loob”) or “indifferent” (“walang malasakit’) to your own family. This cultural reality is one of the biggest contributing factors in the failure of our country’s leaders so far to curb corruption. For this result in a leadership that caters to the special interest of a few and not for the welfare of the general public. There are many examples of this leadership defect from Marcos to Arroyo, where family members and cronies became the vanguards of corruption under the sponsorship of the Chief Executive of the Republic. It is a state-sponsored family enterprise at the expense of the citizens. There are religious leaders who treat church collection as a personal, or worse as family funds. There are low-level officials who treat their position as a family franchise to be endowed to their children and next of kin.

Failed leadership: is it character?

Learning to say no to influences of families and close friends -- something for which former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and past presidents have been criticized for -- is essential to a leader. JES AZNAR (
Learning to say no to influences of families and close friends -- something for which former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and past presidents have been criticized for -- is essential to a leader. JES AZNAR (
Having gone through one of the most difficult experiences of my life from the hands of the leaders of one of the worst administrations of the Philippine Republic, and based on my readings of past presidencies of our youngish republic, I can draw the conclusion that the failures of our leadership have not been down to a lack of talent or ability nor are they due to a lack of a brilliant mind and vision, but more because of a simple lack of character.

I have often wondered what happens to people with such heroic potential, who when handed power turn into heels. This curiosity has led me to scour literatures on humanities, philosophy, theology and other relevant literature.

Power magnifies character. History is replete with figures who inspire awe and others who are guilty of despicable deeds. If there is one factor that allowed these personalities their place in history, it is being given the power to rule: As Saint Augustine, one of the greatest Saints of the Christian faith once said:

“An honest leadership is a blessing upon the people, while a dishonest leadership is like a curse upon its people.”

Why would power magnify the leaders’ strength and weakness?

Let us again imagine an upright person with good character and intellectual ability. Left to his or her own device, that person may do well within the small circle of family, friends and acquaintances that have been blessed with his presence. But give this enlightened leader the political power and you magnify his/her enlightenment beyond the immediate circle of family and friends.

It is a natural consequence that the virtuous leader’s enlightened character shall bring forth a great good over the land and the people who live in it. Such leader is truly a blessing to his people.

Similarly, the weakness of such a leader may well be confined within his or her immediate circle of family and friends. But once this leader is handed political power over a country and its resources, this harmful weakness is likewise magnified in a magnitude beyond the limited scope of this leader’s small circle of friends and family. It is again a natural consequence that this leader’s vices will bring forth great evil and suffering upon the land, making such a leader a curse on his people.

A character perspective of a leader. Why put such emphasis on the character of a leader? Because a leader will be confronted with countless situations with different conflicting interests where his grasp of reality will be required; because a leader will be faced with tempting situations from friends and family where his moral ethics will be severely tested; because a leader will be looked upon by the people to inspire them with a vision of a world they cannot even dream of; because a leader will be besieged by enemies and betrayed by friends putting his courage to the test.

A leader’s ability to weigh and balance naturally opposing tendencies such as fear of failure and the courage to pursue a vision is a rare gift that will bring progress to society: A leader’s ability to hold on to an unbending ethics with fidelity in the face of an all-out assault of sensual and material inducements will surely bring a just rule in the land.

I agree with the idea that character is a constant state of finding the balance between the four polarities: a transformative vision, courage to pursue the vision, a firm grasp of reality and an unbending ethics in the midst of worldly reality.

A simple illustration of this idea is the traditional table with four legs. The legs represent transformative vision, courage, a firm grasp of reality and unbending ethics. Take away one leg. The table may still stand balanced on three legs. But the real test happens once a heavy load is put on top: It will collapse from the weight.

Take away vision. You end up with a set of ethical, knowledgeable and courageous people not knowing where to go.

Take away courage. You end up with a set of ethical, knowledgeable and visionary people but afraid to venture out of their comfort zones.

Take away a firm grasp of reality. You end up with a set of ethical, courageous and visionary people not knowing how to do the right things.

Take away unbending ethics. You end up with a set of knowledgeable, courageous and visionary set of people whose primary interest is to amass wealth and ensure their family’s political fortunes to the damnation of the rest of the citizenry.

The value of pain in building character

The author, in this file photo taken in 2008 at the height of the NBN-ZTE scandal: Why have we not been blessed with an enlightened leader who does not betray the people? JES AZNAR (
The author, in this file photo taken in 2008 at the height of the NBN-ZTE scandal: Why have we not been blessed with an enlightened leader who does not betray the people? JES AZNAR (
Our discussion about character, especially of those who aspire to lead, will not be complete without including pain in the discourse. I sincerely believe that character is molded in the furnace of suffering of a person’s life. Many people will be subjected to different forms of pain, but not all people will respond to pain in similar fashion. How a person responds to adversity brings forth the true character of a person, particularly those in leadership position. Crisis will provide them an opportunity to seize their moment of glory or expose their embarrassing weakness in pretentious blabber of excuses or bitterly passing the blame to others.

The experience of brokenness can be best illustrated by the lives of renowned leaders such as Rizal, Mandela, Mother Teresa, Lincoln, Lee Kwan Yew, Aung San Suu Kyi, Ninoy Aquino and many more. Juxtaposing these leaders with their contemporaries who dared not endure the pain identifies a historical figure that overshadows the rest. Not all these leaders are intellectual gurus, military geniuses, political masters or economic giants. Rather they are people who experienced severe tests and responded with grace that made them inspirational to others.

Are we going to be blessed with a philosopher king, a benevolent dictator or an enlightened leader who will finally build a nation out of the diverse, familistic, regionalistic Filipino people? I leave it to time and to providence to provide us the answer.


It is the hope of that we may develop a new perspective in looking at leadership especially in the context of the failure of numerous Filipino leaders in delivering on the promise of much needed reforms to their respective organizations and progress to the nation.

We need to acknowledge and break out of our own amoral familistic tendencies. We need to learn to say ‘no’ to our family, relatives and close friends when saying ‘yes’ means betraying our oath of duty to our community. May it strengthen us to decline offers of bribes when accepting them means shattering the promise of our youth.

Aspiring leaders among us need to evaluate themselves as they grow in their own journey of service and leadership: They must be the blessing that drives away the curse of failed and corrupt leadership from our land. Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project

(The author is an engineer who briefly worked in government and has paid dearly for upholding the truth.)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Transparency and Accountability a Victim in Palawan as Media Cow into Silence

(Silenced: Letty Batul points to a spot where her brother, crusading Palawan journalist Dong Batul, was shot and killed in May 2006. JES AZNAR

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY -- The targeting of investigative reporters in Palawan has effectively silenced campaigning journalism in the region and is a danger for democracy according the sister of slain media activist Fernando “Dong” Batul.  As a result of the killings, Letty Batul says, campaigning journalists have fled the province.

“Many of them have gone already,” she told the Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP) in an interview conducted shortly before the Department of Justice this week dropped the case against former Palawan governor Joel Reyes and five others who were the prime suspects in the January killing of Gerry Ortega citing lack of evidence.

Ortega, a campaigning journalist and environmental activist, had been a vocal critic of Reyes and other officials who he claimed had misused public funds generated from the Malampaya gas field. The former governor repeatedly stressed his innocence to both the charge of corruption and claims he was in any way connected with Ortega’s killing.

Speaking earlier this month and before the DOJ made public its decision, Letty Batul told PPTRP that the murder of her brother and Ortega succeeded in silencing serious whistle-blowing journalism here.

And she urged the Aquino administration to investigate the issues exposed by the slain journalists and to bring the perpetrators of the crimes to justice –saying it was the only way to combat corruption and build real transparency and accountability in the province. Without that, she says, there will be no effective independent monitoring of either the public or private sector in this resource-rich region.

Without naming names, Letty Batul says that at least two other journalists critical of alleged rampant corruption in the province have relocated to other areas deemed safer for them.

Her brother was a hard-hitting radio commentator when he was killed on May22, 2006 on his way to work in Puerto Princesa.

At the time of his death, Dong Batul had been focusing on conditions faced by employees working for the provincial government, according to his sister. He was also looking into the condition of workers from Palawan who were allegedly maltreated in Taiwan on contracts facilitated by the local government here.

A police officer charged with the killing of Dong Batul was acquitted by the Palawan Regional Trial Court in April despite four witnesses identifying the suspect in open court. Prosecution lawyers were reported to be “stunned” by the decision – and yet the suspect’s hands tested negative for traces of gunpowder burns.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that authorities should address the death of Batul regardless of the recent verdict.

“It is hard to believe that justice has truly been served in the killing of Fernando Batul, who was murdered five years ago. Even though there has been a not guilty verdict, the journalist’s murder case remains very much open and the impunity with which journalists are being killed in the Philippines remains a matter of national shame,” says CPJ’s Asia program coordinator Bob Dietz.

The Batul family vows to continue the quest for justice for the death of Dong.

Malampaya funds

So too the widow and family of Ortega who was also gunned down in the city on January 24.

Ortega had been calling on the national government to audit the funds earned by the provincial government from the Malampaya deep water-to-gas project.

Some PhP 3.1 billion (USD 72 million) which the provincial government earned as its share in the Malampaya project has allegedly been misused according to Ortega.

The project is a joint undertaking of the national government and the private sector. It is led by the Department of Energy and has been developed and operated by Shell Philippines Exploration B.V. (SPEX) on behalf of joint venture partners Chevron Malampaya LLC and the Philippine National Oil Company-Exploration Corporation.

Since commercial operations started in 2001, revenues to the government in the form of royalties have reached some PhP 9 billion to 13 billion (USD 209 million to 302 million) a year.

The local government in Palawan claims 40 percent of the royalties given it says Malampaya lies within its effective jurisdiction.

The case is pending with the Supreme Court given local and national government have contradictory positions on the division of revenues from it.

During the previous administration, the national government released a total of PhP 2.9 billion (USD 67 million) to Palawan as part of an interim agreement while the case is still pending.

Based on this interim agreement, the provincial government of Palawan as well as the first and second districts are to share in the Malampaya proceeds.

Both the Batul and Ortega families believe that if corruption in Palawan were not rampant, the province would have already developed well.

“Imagine, Palawan was given billions of pesos in Malampaya funds but we haven’t seen any significant improvement,” a Palawan resident who wished to remain anonymous told PPTRP.

She declined to be identified for fear that “the authorities” might get back at her.

Patria Ortega, Gerry’s widow, has urged the Aquino administration to audit the Palawan government’s interim share in the Malampaya funds. On May 24, Patria and her eldest daughter Michaella urged the Senate to open an inquiry into the funds and personally delivered a letter to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.

“We gave him a letter asking for a faster release of the COA [Commission on Audit] special audit report about the Malampaya funds. We believe that this might have signalled the motive behind the murder of my father,” Michaella told PPTRP. Her mother added that Gerry was constantly looking through previous COA reports on the issue.

Patria added that her husband had often discussed the need to demand accountability for the Malampaya funds already released to the provincial government.

“Unless this is investigated, his death will go to waste,” she told a press conference at the DOJ last May.

Meanwhile, newly appointed COA Commissioner Heidi Mendoza assured that the commission would come up with an “honest report”, the first part of which is due to be released soon.

Patria, for her part, is pinning her hopes on President Benigno Aquino III to deliver on the promise of a straight path in Palawan or “tuwid na daan” which means leaving no room for corruption.

Like Batul’s family however, the Ortega family’s quest for justice appears an uphill climb.

On June 14, 2011 government prosecutors absolved Reyes and five others tagged in the murder of Gerry.

The DOJ only found probable cause against the governor’s aide Rodolfo Edrad Jr., Armando Noel, Dennis Aranas and Arandia.

(The final resting place of another crusading journalist, Gerry Ortega, who was gunned down last January. JES AZNAR
Reacting to the DOJ’s decision, Michaella Ortega told PPTRP:

“The DOJ decision is a blow beyond low. We lost dad and now we feel blatantly cheated. The panel said there was lack of evidence but absolved the owner of the gun and the self-confessed middleman…It is a grave injustice.”

She said the family would file a motion for reconsideration to appeal the DOJ’s decision.

Reyes, for his part, welcomed the DOJ decision.

“It is with a great sense of humility and relief that I accept news of the dismissal of the murder charges against me and my brother, Mayor Marjo Reyes of Coron,” Reyes said in a statement sent to reporters shortly after the DOJ’s decision was made public.

He maintained that those who planned the murder would have their day of reckoning. “Those who have plotted to unjustly destroy us, those who have perjured themselves and manufactured evidence, and who have tried to use the justice system to perpetrate this foulest of deeds, shall rue the day when they contrived this evil scheme. We shall expose them for who they really are, so that they will never again deceive anyone, anymore, at any time,” he said.

He also said that the incident strengthened his resolve to “continue with public service to give the people a better alternative to the kind of dirty and unprincipled politics being practiced by our opponents.” Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project

Thursday, June 16, 2011

call for children's books

The Economic Journalists Association of the Philippines is helping two schools this year as part of its back-to-school drive.

We are donating school supplies and children's books. In this light, we are calling for children's book donations.

(Old books are okay but please choose the ones that are still readable. Wag yung
puno na ng pentel pen :-)

I know that some books are just gathering dust in your homes. They will be put
to better use if other children who have no means to buy new books will be able to read

Along with basic school supplies, the books will be donated to Longos Property Elementary School in Pangasinan and to Sikat, a school for Tboli children in Lake Sebu, Mindanao.

You may email me at for the donations. EJAP is willing to pick up the stuff.

Thank you!

(photo from

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

first day

"Bye, ma."

Just like that. And with a wide, excited smile plastered on her face, my daughter hastily got out of the car and walked to the school entrance. It was her first day of classes, her very first day of formal schooling.

It was all a blur for me as I followed her inside the small building of her very first real school. Some kids were escorted by the whole clan. It was surreal and I knew that the haze had nothing to do with the hangover from the whisky I shared with friends the night before.

The wailing and crying of younger kids reverberated in the air. Some did not want to enter the classrooms and be separated from their moms.

But the girl with pink pig tails whom I gave birth to four years ago, the girl who could barely walk and talk three years back, disappeared into the narrow corridor leading to her classroom. She never looked back.

She was beaming with excitement as she entered her little new world.

And there I was speechless, shocked and sentimental. I followed her so I could take photos and I had to ask her to stop for a picture.

I had prepared for some drama with cries and tantrums just as I did many moons ago when my own mother walked me to my very first classroom as a nursery student.

But the joke was on me. The little girl breezed through her first day of school. I went home and I sobbed.

Darn! I'm a mom and I couldn't help it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

of sexual assault, female reporters and press freedom

I broke down and sobbed uncontrollably the first time I read Lara Logan's story. I am not even a fan of Lara nor is she among the foreign journalists I enjoy listening to or read often like Nicholas Kristof.

But anyone who feels strongly against violence against women will sympathize with her and will be outraged.

Reading or hearing stories like these pains me over and over again. The pain runs so deep, I cannot even begin to articulate it. Only through tears and sobs can I release the emotions. But that too is not enough.

And so I will write about it, hoping that this piece may help prevent similar violent incidents against women.

Unfortunately, evil deeds against women mean no more than the brutal acts that they are. I believe that it is not generally meant as a silencing crime as what the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says in a special report.

It has nothing to do with press freedom and if it does, it's the exception than the rule.

Because I will bet my life that sexual assault on women is happening somewhere around the world every  second and every minute. It is not limited to journalists. Some men do it for the plain and simple yet unexplainable fact that they are evil.

It's not an attack against press freedom. It's an attack against women.

Below is a list of preventive measures from an article on BBC about Lara's attack.

Wear a sturdy belt
Don't wear a ponytail or necklace that can be grabbed
Don't take hotel rooms with balconies or easily accessible windows
Keep a can of deodorant by the bed
Move furniture in front of hotel room doors
Don't drink alcohol alone with men, particularly in the Middle East
Carry a rape whistle
Take male colleagues with you in volatile situations
Tell an assailant that your are HIV positive, pregnant or menstruating
Urinate, vomit or defecate on yourself

(Lara Logan minutes before the assault in Cairo. Photo taken from the Reuters website)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

That's Life

That's life, that's what all the people say.
You're riding high in April,
Shot down in May
But I know I'm gonna change that tune,
When I'm back on top, back on top in June.

I said that's life, and as funny as it may seem
Some people get their kicks,
Stompin' on a dream
But I don't let it, let it get me down,
'Cause this fine ol' world it keeps spinning around

I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate,
A poet, a pawn and a king.
I've been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing:
Each time I find myself, flat on my face,
I pick myself up and get back in the race.

That's life
I tell ya, I can't deny it,
I thought of quitting baby,
But my heart just ain't gonna buy it.
And if I didn't think it was worth one single try,
I'd jump right on a big bird and then I'd fly

I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate,
A poet, a pawn and a king.
I've been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing:
Each time I find myself laying flat on my face,
I just pick myself up and get back in the race

That's life
That's life and I can't deny it
Many times I thought of cutting out
But my heart won't buy it
But if there's nothing shakin' come this here july
I'm gonna roll myself up in a big ball and die
My, My 

- Frank Sinatra

Friday, June 3, 2011


On a rainy Saturday evening, we trooped to the Conspiracy Bar along Visayas Avenue for the opening of an art exhibit which included the works of little Araw. Exhibit runs til mid-July. Hope you can all come and visit.

Araw with teacher Aba Dalena

Thursday, June 2, 2011

My first blog for TrustMedia, the Thomson Reuters Foundation

Iris Gonzales writes about her motivation to become a journalist in the Philippines - TrustMedia

I walked into the hulking grey office building of a Manila broadsheet many moons ago, armed with nothing except dreams of becoming a news reporter. I had just come from a month-long post-university vacation in foreign shores. I was curious to read about my country, which was going through a tumultuous time then. The president had just shut down a critical newspaper.

But in Toronto, I had to walk a mile to the only Filipino store in the area to buy a community newspaper that had something about the Philippines. It was then when I molded dreams of becoming a journalist.

I promised myself I would write about my country to the best of my ability and never stop to do so as long as people need their voices to be heard and their stories to be written. Now, more than ten years later, I’m still in this crazy world of Philippine journalism. I don’t know if I have been able to improve the life of a single human being.

But I will keep on trying, hoping that writing or rewriting history in a hurry, as what journalism is about -- will someday mean something.

There are still countless stories that need to be told. Last year, under a cold evening sky, I went to South Upi in the Southern Philippines in one of the most far-flung villages I’ve ever been to. There’s no electricity, no water in this God-forsaken place.

“Try living here. You’d be lucky if you can buy yourself an underwear,” one villager told me in the vernacular.

I left the place and wrote her story.