President: Servant-leader or Warrior-Datu?
The debate over whether Benigno “Noynoy” Cojuangco-Aquino Jr. is of presidential timber or not is also a debate on what kind of president we want for the Philippines.
Do we want a strong arm, macho leader of the “Datu” mold? In pre-Spanish colonial Philippines, a datu was a warrior who led his clan or village into battle, either in defense or in raiding other villages. In between battles, he would ensure that his people would have enough land, fishing grounds, and hunting areas to feed themselves and reproduce socially. Thus, a datu kept his people secure; kept them full; and kept the peace.
Since the advent of American-style democratic politics, Philippine presidents have always been from the elite class. They were educated or were exposed to elite culture. They were well-off and well connected. They projected an aura of strength, vigor, courage, decisiveness, and breeding (however you define these terms). Besides, they had the resources to build up a private army if political violence was necessary. They kept their constituents happy with largesse.
Picture Datu Rajah Sulayman confronting the Spanish colonizers or an Erap eating lechon at Camp Abubakar.
However, a reading of leadership from the masses’ point of view reveals that their leader had not only Datu-qualities, but more. I’ve written before that in the Philippines, there is actually a strong culture of servant-leadership. Scholars like V. Enriquez, K. de Guia, R. Ileto, V. Rafael, M. Ramirez, among others, write of leaders that were effective because they led by serving others—like Christ. The Gawad Kalinga social movement easily comes into mind.
In humility, in service, in providing a deep wellspring of empathy, understanding, healing of self and other, and commitment to the welfare of others, these servant-leaders developed a flock of loyal, committed, ardent, and energized followers. Embodied in the Filipino term, Kapwa, the servant-leader recognizes that Filipino personhood of self is bound up and shared with the OTHER. This is the basis for bayani, bayanihan, bayan- hero, community solidarity, nation.
In Philippine historiography, social movement leaders were infused with kapwa and its characteristics of caring, sharing, a sense of community, family, “an expanded sense of shared humanity” or kagandahang loob, katwiran (straightness), kalayaan (freedom, independence, and free will), talinhaga (imagery and vision), and lakaran (pilgrimage, sometimes for a cause).
Combined with values that are societal in nature such as karangalan (dignity), katarungan (justice), and kalayaan (freedom), these enabled a leader to mobilize, organize, and act. The results were not always favorable, but the country is not short of revolutionary heroes.
What makes Noynoy a compelling presidential candidate is not that he is the only son of two national heroes of the Philippines who are well loved. Nelson Mandela was said to quote though to Noynoy; “So you are the son. You know how to choose your parents.” If inheritance of the Aquino mantle was the norm, then Kris Aquino, the most high profile of the Aquino siblings; possibly the richest; and the most charismatic would be the logical choice. Nevertheless, she is not acceptable at present.
Noynoy’s eulogy of his mother to his speech during the book launch of Tony Meloto’s “A Builder of Dreams” a few days ago shows not a Datu-leader, but a potential servant leader. He speaks from the heart. He is articulate. He can communicate with all sorts of folks. His low profile and humble persona is actually appealing to many of us fed up with the macho ineptness of our politicians. He is well read, well exposed, and experienced. Afterall, military rebels tried to kill him.
What the country needs is a servant-leader that will let Filipinos be the best they can be. That means giving Filipinos the space, the level playing field, the dignity, and minimally, the resources to develop themselves and thereafter, the country. Filipinos are not stupid. They are survivors. They can adapt. They are innovative and creative. All they need is a political and economic space defined by meritocracy and honesty.
Can a datu-president provide this or should it be a servant-leader?
I say that Noynoy is potentially a servant-leader. I would encourage him to go on his personal lakaran (pilgrimage) to determine how he would become an effective, efficient, servant-leader, and president of the Philippines.
Develop a discipline of deep prayer and meditation.
Go on a nationwide listening and consultative tour with both leaders and the masa.
Consult with the best and brightest, but forge your own vision of what the country should be.
Learn the successes, difficulties, potentials, and dangers of social movements like Gawad Kalinga. Afterall, your campaign will be waged on a social movement platform similar to that of Barack Obama.
Marj D., a Gawad Kalinga worker, described it best when she said Noynoy running and possibly winning is “palpable.” I agree. Social movements, which Ninoy and Cory Aquino recognized as part and parcel of resistance and eventually People Power, form the basis of a strong civil society. Gawad Kalinga’s social movement of servant-leadership infused with heroism is a model that Noynoy Aquino can easily relate to. Afterall, his mother once said that “People Power is Gawad Kalinga and Gawad Kalinga is People Power.”
Noynoy running changes the tone of the elections. Will it still be guns, goons, gold, and girls? Or, will it be bayani, bayanihan, at bayan?
As the founder of the servant-leadership school of thought in the U.S., Robert Greenleaf wrote;
“THIS IS MY THESIS: caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built. Whereas, recently, caring was largely person to person, now most of it is mediated through institutions—often large, complex, powerful, impersonal; not always competent; sometimes corrupt. If a better society is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for its people, then the most open course is to raise both capacity to serve and the very performance as servant of existing major institutions by new regenerative forces operating within them.”