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The Smart Voter: A guide to choosing candidates in the May elections

Five types of leaders in the hope that voters will be able to decide whether they will vote with their hearts, their stomachs, or their minds. Take your pick.

During last week’s forum at UP dubbed “Beyond 2010: Leadership for the Next Generation,” four professors of political science – Jose Abueva, Leonor Briones, Ebinezer Florano, and Edna Co from the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance – gave guidelines to voters on how to choose leaders wisely.


From the public to the private sphere, this leader is truly committed to environmental protection and does not get involved in tree-planting campaigns or climate change advocacy only for media hype. When you visit this leader’s residence, you will notice good waste disposal practices such as recycling and composting. Energy-saving compact fluorescents and/or LED (light-emitting diodes) are used instead of incandescent bulbs that increase carbon emissions.

Be warned: the political arena is full of “green washers” who package themselves as pro-environment leaders but are only green on the surface and rotten to the core. They wear Earth Day t-shirts but allow their monster vehicles to idle away while they give speeches in public fora, as one student observed in a recent UP forum.

These politicians may have also violated environmental laws, building holiday homes in small islands that cannot be privately owned or other ecologically sensitive areas. Because of their political influence, green washers may be keeping exotic or endangered animals as pets, despite the law that bans illegal wildlife trade.

If you want to vote green, Florano gives the following pointers that you need to know about a candidate: (1) knowledge on the current state of the environment (2) personal stand on various environmental issues (3) personal environmental values (4) track record on environmental protection issues, and (5) lifestyle.

Florano adds that the voter must be able to scrutinize the motivations of politicians by finding out if they are truly green achievers or simply green opportunists.

Appropriate adage:
“Global warming is one of those things, not like an earthquake where there’s a big bang and you say, ‘Oh, my God, this is really, has hit us.’ It creeps up on you. Half a degree temperature difference from one year to the next, a little bit of rise of the ocean, a little bit of melting of the glaciers, and then all of a sudden it is too late to do something about it.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

Real green leaders:
British naturalist David Frederick Attenborough, gorilla conservationist Dian Fossey, American missionary John Chapman who became known as Johnny Appleseed after planting apple trees in the Midwest, and Kalinga tribal leader Macliing Dulag who was killed for opposing the Chico River Dam project

Reel green leader:
American cartoon hero Captain Planet


“Susugpuin ko ang kahirapan…Ekonomiyang matatag, ‘yan ang pangako ko…tiyak, susulong tayo.” Beware of these motherhood statements from politicians who promise to fly you to the moon, but neglect to tell you who’s going to pay for the jet fuel.

The economics savvy leader would rather keep his feet on the ground, knowing that there’s no instant cure for a country suffering from an economic multiple sclerosis: P272 billion in deficit, P4.42 trillion in outstanding debt, and P74.38 billion in revenue shortfall.

You don’t just see this leader on the boob tube distributing relief goods or riding with rescuers on a boat to save people from flood-ridden areas. Like the green leader, the economics savvy leader offers lasting and out-of-the box solutions to disasters caused by natural calamities such as “Ondoy” and “Pepeng,” which are expected to recur due to climate change.

If this is the kind of leader you want, Briones advises you to make sure that the candidate: (1) has clear and viable programs for addressing the critical condition of public finance particularly on taxation, revenue, deficits, and debts and (2) is prepared to present programs on how to provide social services such as education, food, health care and housing that lead to long-lasting development.

Appropriate adage:
“One of the greatest pieces of economic wisdom is know what you do not know” – John Kenneth Galbraith

Real economics savvy leaders:
Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz; the 32nd US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who led his country out of the Great Depression and World War II, industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, and Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh who founded the Grameen bank

Reel economics savvy leader:
Genius engineer Tony Stark aka Iron Man of Marvel Comics fame


Politicians who portray themselves as leaders with integrity will make you believe that their rags-to-riches story was the result of sheer hard work and perseverance. But if you review their statements of assets and liabilities, you may find a 300-percent increase in their net worth from the time they entered politics as a small-town mayor until they got elected to Congress.

You can also check what issues these politicians try to avoid at all cost. Do they have a personal stake in a controversial project, or can they explain how their names got involved in a scandal without making inconsistent statements? Honest leaders can raise a howl over issues without worrying about skeletons coming out of their political closets.

Leaders that are immune to temptation do not get drunk on money, fame, or power. Even when they face difficulties, they do not lose their moral compass and will always do the right thing for the greater good.

If you’re looking for an incorruptible candidate, Abueva says voters should check if their choice: (1) is transparent and truthful to constituents (2) can challenge and inspire citizens and other leaders to raise their goals to higher levels of morality, self-fulfillment and national progress, and (3) can inspire a change in the values and behavior of the public.

Appropriate adage:
“It is said that power corrupts, but actually it’s more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.” – David Brin

Real incorruptible leaders:

Catholic nun Mother Teresa and India’s spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi

Reel incorruptible leader:
Wizard and orphan Harry Potter in J.K. Rowling’s fantasy series


This is the kind of leader who will not employ questionable means to achieve an end, achieving goals not through treachery but truthfulness and persuasion. When they are found to have done something wrong, such leaders will voluntarily give up their posts because this is the right thing to do.

In 2007, Brazil’s Senate president Renan Calheiros resigned after a magazine reported that he had used funds from a lobbyist to pay for the child support of his daughter from an extramarital affair with a television journalist.

New York governor Eliot Spitzer did the same thing in 2008 after getting embroiled in an ethics scandal involving an alleged high-priced prostitution ring. Yoshitada Konoike, Japan’s deputy chief cabinet secretary, likewise resigned in 2009 after a magazine reported that he had used an official rail travel pass to take his mistress to a resort.

This may be a strange virtue in a society where many of the country’s politicians not only have one but several mistresses who benefit from public coffers. But there’s always room for change in the system.

Co says voters who want an ethical leader should find out if the candidate: (1) can demonstrate good moral character; (2) has a circle of associates who are people of integrity and are pro-reform; (3) is an advocate of meritocracy; (4) can prosecute and punish offenders; and (5) can be transparent in the use of public funds.

Appropriate adage:
“Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic,
nor popular but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Real ethical leader:
Lal Bahadur Shrivastav Shastri, third prime minister of India and a significant figure in the Indian Independence Movement who resigned from his earlier post as minister of railway and transport, accepting moral responsibility for a railway accident that killed 144 people

Reel ethical leader:
Wise counselor Gandalf in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”


This is the type who will not monopolize decisions or manipulate the outcome of situations (and definitely not the result of elections). Such a leader is the antithesis of a dictator and is very much aware that a person who is stubborn, manipulative, and has a
lone-ranger mentality has no place in a society that values democracy.

The leader who empowers people values service and the transformation of society into a vehicle for positive change. Micro-managing is out of the question, as it stifles the growth and initiative of subordinates. Unlike the narcissistic leader, an empowering leader does not invite but rather deflects praise away from oneself.

While in Malacañang, Co says this leader is expected to: (1) involve stakeholders in decision-making; (2) promotes social justice; (3) consult both strong and marginalized peers, colleagues, and constituencies.

Appropriate adage:
“No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it” – Andrew Carnegie.


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