Friday, September 25, 2009

Denying free speech

Very recently, the moderators of the chat group of my university alumni association in Toronto censured me by blocking an email I posted in the e-group. Our alumni president reasoned that my email violated the group’s terms of use as it refers to profanity, obscenity, personal attacks or insults, and malicious and disruptive behaviour.

This present blog that I usually share with my alumni e-group could suffer from a similar fate the moment I publish it. However, as far as I can remember, I have posted nothing in this blog that you could possibly notice or detect, either by the most powerful morality lens or censorship microscope, as profane, obscene, malicious or disruptive. If there is any, kindly point them out to me so I can ask for absolution. My earlier postings in our e-group also contained nothing of the sort that I am now being accused by the leader of our alumni association.

A contrarian or a gadfly maybe. A killjoy, no.

In this age of the Internet, there’s a heavy price to pay for our right to free speech. It is something we cannot take for granted or assume. That everybody knows that everyone is free to express one’s ideas without being censored unless for a good reason. Internet speech is controlled and regulated by self-appointed moderators who may have no tolerance for diversity of ideas. By just clicking the delete button, they can make your ideas disappear. Expel you out of cyberspace on a whim. This is an area that is arguably untouched by law. Worse, moderators could shut down your e-group and put it out of service temporarily without further explanation, as did my own e-group when it went down for twelve hours a few days ago.

We’ve learned from history that such seemingly natural right had fomented controversy, even to the point of bloodshed. Why have societies, past and present, found it necessary to restrict or even prohibit the exercise of the right to free speech?

Right-wing control of radio broadcasts in the United States has ignited talks about reviving the Fairness Doctrine which was abolished by the Federal Communications Commission in 1987. The Fairness Doctrine was introduced in 1949 with the original purpose of requiring holders of broadcast licenses to present controversial issues of public importance in an honest, equitable and balance manner.

Just tune in to American radio broadcasts and listen to how ultra-right wing hosts spread outrageous lies about President Obama and his health care proposals, and it’s probably fair to say that these critics have gone over the line of civility and fairness. Russ Limbaugh, in one of his weekly addresses on radio, wished Obama would fail in his economic recovery plans. For one, Limbaugh believed that the economic stimulus plan of the Obama administration was aimed at re-establishing eternal power for the Democratic Party.

Today, there is widespread fear-mongering in the United States over Obama’s health care reform proposals on the airwaves and in blogosphere, and it has gone to absolutely ludicrous levels. Critics of the Obama health care plan accuse the U.S. president of being a socialist, a communist, and yes, even a fascist; that the Obama government is plotting to set up “death squads,” government tribunals authorized to euthanize the old and the sick. Even the health care programs of Canada and Great Britain have not been spared by all the diatribes hurled back and forth between critics and supporters of Obama’s public health care option. With all the emotions spent on the health care debate in the United States, one may wonder whether this raging animosity could push the country to the brink of another civil war.

But no (at least, not yet), the U.S. government is not censoring criticism or public debate. This is the nature of the democratic process. Passions and emotions may run high beyond the limits of civility, but these are only collateral elements of the tumult in the democratic debate of ideas.

The liberty to express oneself is highly valued in a liberal society. If not, there would no problem: freedom of expression could simply be curtailed in favour of other values. It only becomes a volatile issue whenever limitations are placed upon its exercise, this is what makes it controversial.

As John Stuart Mill argued in On Liberty, a struggle always takes place between the competing demands of liberty and authority, and we cannot have the latter without the former.

But there are dangers of the “slippery slope,” as a possible consequence of limiting speech could be the inevitable slide into censorship and tyranny.

Who decides what limits to impose on free speech? What limits are reasonable and acceptable bearing in mind the general interest and welfare of the whole group? Are there appeals when a decision is made to block one’s posting? What punitive measures are imposed when limits are crossed?

Limits to free speech such as those imposed by group moderators on the Internet are oftentimes arbitrary and paternalistic in nature—meaning, those that impose, believe they are right and more so, that they have the right to impose limits. They assume the position of a protector, that it is their obligation to protect others from harm if speech or expression is not restricted. It’s like the idea of a Big Brother who must always watch over our shoulders to see to it that we don’t cross the limits. Questioning Big Brother is out of the question; it is not included in one’s right to free speech.

Restricting the right to free speech on the Internet may be justified when messages are offensive, obscene or promoting hate speech. Outside the Internet, there are already libel and defamation laws that can address abuses in exercising free speech.

But regulating free speech on the Internet, even though most providers like Yahoo, Gmail or Hotmail or e-group owners usually list as many as possible grounds which they can use to block or delete messages, may not be as easy as it may seem. Blogs and chat groups on the Internet continue to be littered with messages and postings that use trashy and colourful words and phrases that can offend those supersensitive to the language of the gutter or to acerbic and biting criticisms in general. On the other hand, if you are friendly and cozy to e-group administrators and moderators, even if your messages may contain threats of violence or irritating inanities, they may still be allowed as long as they are aimed at individuals its group members commonly detest.

Thus, the Internet also mirrors our society, our lives outside the medium and how we communicate. After all, it is only a tool and it is the user that controls it who determines how it’s going to be utilized.

Ultimately, it is up to readers to decide if a message is offensive to social morals or to standards of decency and acceptability. Self-regulation has been the prevalent practice on the Internet, and let’s leave it that way. The Internet is as large as humanity itself. From a practical point of view, no one community standard can govern the type of speech permissible on the Internet.

To impose sanctions and restrictions conjured by a group, which is not necessarily representative of a fair and just selection of morally upright citizens or members of an association, would be the easiest way to limit free expression. To respect the autonomy of the individual, we need to have a strong presumption in favour of individual liberty.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Remembering martial law

Martial law was imposed in the Philippines twice, proclaimed on the same day of the month but 28 years apart by two presidents whose lives, by a stroke of fate, would seem intertwined by an eerie similarity of intervening events in their respective lives.

Jose P. Laurel, president of the Second Philippine Republic, puppet-government under Japan, proclaimed martial law on September 21, 1944, on account of the state of war between the Philippines and the United States with Japan. Twenty-eight years later, on September 21, 1972, Ferdinand Marcos placed the Philippines under martial on the pretext of suppressing the threat of a growing insurgency and imminent Communist takeover.

During his teens, Laurel was indicted for attempted murder when he almost killed a rival suitor of his girlfriend. While studying and finishing law school, Laurel defended himself and was acquitted. In December 1938, Ferdinand Marcos was accused and prosecuted for the murder of Julio Nalundasan, his father’s political rival. After being convicted and sentenced to death for premeditated murder, Marcos appealed and argued his defence before the Supreme Court. Marcos graduated with a law degree during his incarceration and studied and passed the bar examination while he was in detention. In the Supreme Court, Marcos was acquitted and the justice who wrote the decision in his favour was Jose P. Laurel.

Almost parallel incidents in their early manhood while completing their law degrees from the University of the Philippines, both charged with serious criminal offences and later acquitted, the older one presiding as judge in the exoneration of the younger one, both becoming presidents of their countries – the former as puppet surrogate leader of an invading foreign army and the latter as dictator propped-up by a former colonial master, and each proclaiming martial law on the same day of the month 28 years apart. Coincidences that would fascinate history trivia buffs. Of course, the resemblances would end there for the younger one would rule for almost twenty years, during the tumultuous period of communist uprisings in the Southeast Asia region after the end of the Second World War.

Was Ferdinand Marcos aware of the choice of his own day to state publicly the genesis of his long years of repressive rule? Or was it history repeating itself?

This trivial fact never crossed my mind that morning Ferdinand Marcos went into the airwaves to deliver the infamous Proclamation 1081, declaring the imposition of martial rule throughout the land. I wasn’t born then when Jose P. Laurel would make his own proclamation of martial law over the country during the Japanese occupation.

But it was rather strangely quiet the day Marcos went on air. Not many vehicles were running on the road, a bit surprising because people were supposed to be at work. I had classes to teach in one of the schools in the city during the week but someone in the family, a relative on my mother’s side had fortuitously sent word that I should not report for school because soldiers had locked up the school gates and were rounding up faculty members suspected of subversive activities. One of the subjects I taught was history, about nationalism and the Philippine revolution. Naturally, my lectures were about the motivations behind the staging of the revolution by the Katipunan. So I was a logical target of suspicion, that I could be subverting the minds of young students even though the course was about events that occurred almost a century ago. In hindsight, I could have been out of harm’s way in a foreign school during the time had I accepted a scholarship and study grant, but the thought of separation from my young wife was too heavy to bear.

Besides, I was deeply involved in the struggle for a free and truly democratic Philippines at the time. But being small fry, I was not on the hit list of the army. The proclamation of martial law by Ferdinand Marcos did not dissuade me from doing my tasks that almost solitary morning. I had a more important date with destiny, a meeting with a group outside the city so I left the house very early and took a jeepney ride to our appointment along with another member of my group. We were carrying bags full of information materials against the repressive tactics and abuses of the current regime which we hid under our legs while the news of martial rule was being broadcast on radio. A passenger asked the driver to increase the radio’s volume so we could hear what Marcos was saying on air. I looked at my companion and we just stared at each other in silence, almost in complete agreement about our appreciation of what was happening. We knew martial law was coming, and it was only a matter of time before it would be proclaimed. We were more concerned with the materials in our possession, and worried that the other passengers might discover them. But we soon came to our destination. We got off the jeepney with utmost care so as not to raise suspicion among the other passengers that we were actually carrying materials that could land us spending years in a detention camp.

I didn’t report to teach that week and for the rest of the semester and for the entire year. In fact, I never returned to teaching anymore. My wife had just had our first child who was a little over a month old. We would rely on her maternity benefits from work for the next three or more months until she was back to work full-time again. Without a job and so much time in my hands, I worked on completing the drafts of two plays I had almost abandoned to gather dust underneath the files of books in our small bedroom. A year later, I would find a job and struggled in a few more. One of my plays was staged by a fledgling group of thespians, and the other won an award and later staged by PETA Theatre in Intramuros. Soon, I settled in on another job that paid well and provided more benefits for our growing family; we had another child at the time. I began to dwell on a career that would help me raise my family in comfort. I stopped writing and relegated the task of continuing the love affair with the pen to my wife, who was the natural writer in the house.

Martial law, a temporary superimposition of military government over civil government, could be justified: one, in the event of war, and second, during serious national emergencies. Jose P. Laurel had no choice; it was dropped in his hands by the Japanese army who had control over the whole country. Ferdinand Marcos chose his destiny – to declare martial law on false pretext in order to continue his reign as ruler of his country.

So, on September 21, 1972, Ferdinand Edralin Marcos, 10th President of the Philippines, 6th President of the 3rd Republic, and 1st President of 4th Republic, by his Proclamation No, 1081, would change the course of Philippine history forever. On that fateful day, Marcos signalled the start of a new fight for freedom, not against a foreign invader, but a mad dictator blinded by absolute power.

Proclamation 1081 was littered with false allegations of insurrection, of several bogus ambushes on members of the President’s cabinet which Marcos manipulated and manufactured to justify the imposition of martial law. Marcos cited rebel factions, seditious Communist elements and Muslim extremists as reasons from his decision. In truth, many of the said elements were disgruntled citizens who were fed up with the corruption under the Marcos government and decided to take matters in their own hands.

Those who lived during the martial law years can tell that those times were the darkest period in Philippine history. Common citizens were at the mercy of a man who had every intention of holding on to power as if it was life itself. The writ of habeas corpus was suspended; the military picked up and detained innocent civilians on trumped-up charges of sedition. More often than not, these people were convicted without trial, and denied due process of law. Curfew was imposed leaving many stranded in their offices, unable to return to the refuge of their homes.

Militant student organizations and labour unions went underground as the right to assembly was withheld. The government controlled the media, the right to freedom of speech was non-existent. The law as it was intended simply ceased to be. All that reigned was the iron law of a dictator who had the entire nation in his grasp.

All my children were born between 1972 and 1981, during the dark period of martial rule. In a sense, they were all “martial law babies,” but not children of the New Society under Ferdinand Marcos, for we would all leave the country afterwards to live in Toronto where we found freedom is alive. They have no faint idea of these dark moments in our history. Perhaps, it is better that way rather than re-visit the gloomy past every year and be reminded of the repressive years their parents had gone through.

But the future of the Philippines still remains very dark. History could repeat itself. Rumours continue that current President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has not fully given up hopes of staying in power. She has already toyed with a “State of National Emergency” to crush a coup plot against her and deal with her vehement protesters from February 24 to March 3, 2006. In 2010, close to stepping down from power before June, Arroyo could just do the unthinkable: impose martial law again, 38 years after Marcos plunged the whole country in darkness, just 10 years more than what could have been a 28-year cycle of martial law in the Philippines.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Death of civility

There is ample proof in the airwaves that the United States has turned into nothing more than an on-going episode of the Jerry Springer show.

Last week as I was glued on watching television, one of those little and idle indulgences I can easily afford now that all the children have left the house, three incidents of impolite and boorish behaviour stood out from the rest of the week’s TV menu.

It started Wednesday, September 9, when a South Carolina congressman shouted, “You lie,” at the President of the United States while the latter was delivering his speech before a joint session of Congress. Yes, the same forum where President Obama stressed the need for civility over acrimony during the national debate on his administration’s health care reform.

On Saturday, September 12, after being called for a foot fault by a line judge, defending U.S. Open Champion Serena Williams walked towards the line judge and, brandishing her racket and squeezing a tennis ball in her left hand, shouted, “I swear to God I’m gonna take this [bleeping] ball and shove it down your [bleeping] throat.”

Then during Sunday’s MTV Video Awards, September 13, hip-hop star Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for best video by a female artist. “Yo, Taylor, I’m really happy for you. I’m gonna let you finish,” West barked after disrupting Taylor during her speech, “but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time.”

Could this be the death of civility?

These unfortunate events serve to remind us that we need to reclaim the word “civility,” a word originally linked to the concept of “civilization” and had diminished its essence by the mid-20th century to a genteel term for nominal courtesy. But even at a dwindled level of significance, civility has become more than an older person’s personal rush of nostalgia.

Just log into the Internet, You Tube and Twitter and read comments of virtually any blog, political or whatever, and follow the grievances of Internet pundits and see how much of the public discourse has become polluted beyond all productive use. We will be amazed at how other people are predisposed to acting like Neanderthals whose idea of intelligent dialogue consists of hurling venom, trash and incendiary invectives at others. It is frightening how technology has allowed a virtual platform for these people to spew vicious comments and pander to ignorance, fear and irrationality for their own selfish interests.

In my own chat group, I have experienced being at the receiving end of ad hominem arguments and rude and vulgar outbursts that are neither relevant nor germane to the subject of the discourse. Here, civility is set aside in favour of camaraderie and fellowship so common with gangsters. Loyalty to the group defines positions and allegiances on certain issues. It is worse when the culpable person pretends to belong to this group by masquerading as a fellow school alumnus when he really is not, and makes the loudest noise during exchanges of conversations, perhaps to bolster his imagined ruses for membership. Worst of all, his closest friends who are officers in the group would remain in complicit silence even as this person finally owns up to his made-up claims.

When George Washington was a young man of 16, he became interested in the rules of conduct that guided gentlemen of his day. It was told that he located and copied as set of 110 “rules of activity” that had their origins at a Jesuit college in France in the late 17th century. What we do know now, these rules guided Washington’s private and public behaviour for the rest of his life.

Nobody in all perfection can possibly live up to all these 110 rules, but two at least are relevant to restoring civility.

#58 – Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for this is a sign of a tractable and commendable nature: and in all causes of passion admit reason to govern.

#65 – Speak not injurious words neither in jest nor earnest scoff at none although they give occasion.

If we can strive to master these two rules which George Washington always tried to follow in his entire life, there’s no doubt our conversations will always be genteel, civil and without acrimony.

There was of course a time when we are more tolerant of each other. Everyone agreed on certain basic assumptions of civic order, like it’s probably a bad idea to have people carrying guns to town hall meetings or football games, for example. That we might hold our tongue and wait until the speaker has finished before we heckle him. Or, as a mark of a true champion, we could accept defeat with grace. Or that we recognize the limits to being a polite guest and would not abuse this temporary privilege with the insolence of spreading personal venom against a full-pledged member, especially when the cover of pretence is about to be exposed.

The rules of engagement in fostering a truly civil society can be very simple if only we can put our hearts and minds into understanding what it really means to be “civil” in a civil society. We must recognize that democracy could be messy and opinions and passions in the democratic tumult of competing ideas and values are oftentimes threatening to our personal feelings and self-interest. Sometimes, this makes us feel uncomfortable. But there’s nothing wrong to feel hurt or crossed because often it is necessary for things to change.

In creating a civil society, people usually make intemperate or even critical remarks about neighbours, politicians and civic leaders, media darlings and sports and entertainment heroes – or simply do very impolite things, like staging protests. But those who join the fray and work for the common good while remaining polite are those that impress us. Oftentimes, it is the most radical people who are the most respectful, and as a result, they’re also the most effective at making good things happen.

University of Toronto professor of philosophy Mark Kingwell offers us a robust definition of civility: “Civility, as I interpret it, still allows ample room for giving offence and making politically unpopular or even dangerous claims. But these must be claims that are offered as part of an ongoing dialogue of justification – that is, open to further assessment by interlocutors. They must be claims, in short, and not simply abuse or insults.”

We obviously need more than politeness to create a civil society. Although etiquette is not a bad place to start, sometimes the rules of etiquette are simply another means to control people. Civility is much deeper and important. Civility points to the qualities necessary to create a better society, a thriving democratic civilization where everyone feels connected and engaged.

The Lincoln-Douglas debate in 1858, a series of seven debates that focused on slavery, still remains a standard of civility. As Abraham Lincoln said during the debate, “In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity.”

Sometimes, it is ironic that we get a clearer understanding of what we could be by looking backward in time rather than forward.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Justice as fairness

Recent studies show that even among dogs and monkeys, aversion to unfair treatment is a natural or an evolved behaviour. So, it is not only human beings who have a sense of fair play, this fact which has intrigued many scientists: the query on whether our dislike for unfairness is a product of evolution or the result of the cultural influence of large institutions like religion, government, schools or our society in general.

Inspired by studies on human cooperation by the Swiss economist Ernst Fehr who found that people inherently reject unfairness, a researcher from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, designed an experiment for brown capuchin monkeys. Pairs of capuchins were placed next to each other and trained to exchange with human handlers a small granite rock within 60 seconds to receive a reward, in most cases, a piece of cucumber.

Partners of capuchins who made the swap either received the same reward (a cucumber slice), or a better reward (a grape, a more desirable food). The response to the unequal treatment astonished the researchers. Capuchins which saw unfair treatment and failed to benefit from it often refused to conduct future swaps with human researchers, would not eat the cucumbers, and in some cases, hurled food rewards at the researchers.

The findings were significant as they confirmed that not only did capuchins expect fair treatment, but that the human desire for equity may have an evolutionary basis.

Fehr, who has published his research on the economics of human equity, cooperation and altruism, was not surprised by the research findings. He observed: “The new finding that even monkeys reject unequal pay is very important. I think, because it suggests that this is a very deeply rooted behaviour that we observe among humans.”

In a similar study involving dogs, researchers found that dogs also understand fairness and get jealous or resentful when other dogs get a better deal.

A researcher at the University of Vienna in Austria and her colleagues conducted a series of experiments with dogs who knew how to respond to the command “give the paw,” or shake. The dogs were normally happy to repeatedly give the paw, whether they got a reward or not.

But the dogs changed their behaviour when they saw other dogs being rewarded with a piece of food while they received nothing. The unrewarded dogs eventually stopped cooperating, just like the capuchin monkeys in the earlier experiment.

Both findings did not come as a surprise to Frans de Waal, a professor of psychology at Emory University and a researcher at the Yerkes National Primate Research Centre. According to Waal, dogs and monkeys live in cooperative societies so they would also have some sense of fairness.

Within most of us lies a strong sense of fairness, plus a powerful desire for justice. We wish someone driving over the limit be pulled over and get a ticket. Most Americans understand the need for health reform and wish the U.S. health care system to treat the rich and poor equally well. We want the thief or the murderer to be caught. But the reality is, oftentimes this doesn’t happen. We learn to accept the world’s petty cruelties and let such injustices slide, while others reel with contempt for such unfairness and burn with it from within.

Fairness and justice may be one of the earliest abstract ideas we have encountered as young children. These may not be uniquely human concepts anymore as recent studies about dogs and monkeys would show. For it seems that the universe has a sense of fairness; it is just a shame that it is often violated.

At first sight, the concepts of justice and fairness seem identical. But the legal philosopher John Rawls would caution us that this impression is a mistaken one. To Rawls, the fundamental idea in the concept of justice is fairness which is misleadingly expressed by the idea of the social contract by utilitarian philosophers like Hume and Mill.

According to Rawls, justice as fairness, a phrase he used to refer to his distinctive theory of justice, consists of two principles. The first principle is that each person has an equal right to the most extensive liberty compatible with similar liberty for others. It is not surprising that this may sound like the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

The second principle, which Rawls called the fair equality of opportunity, asserts that justice should not benefit those with advantageous social contingencies, and inequality may only be justified if it is to the advantage of those who are less well-off.

One of Wal-Mart’s core principles is fairness. But when you look at the huge income gap that exists between “associates,” as employees are called in Wal-Mart, and their bosses, it appears that Wal-Mart doesn’t put its money where its mouth is.

For instance, in 2008 Wal-Mart paid its former president and chief executive officer (CEO) a total compensation of over $31 million. Break it down into a wage and you’ll arrive at more than $15,000.00 per hour or about $253.00 per minute.

Meanwhile, the average Wal-Mart employee in Canada made a little over $14,000.00 during the same year. This means that an “associate” took 12 months to earn what the Wal-Mart CEO pocketed in less than 57 minutes.

CEOs will probably always make more than workers, and maybe they should, but should they make 2,229 times more than the people who make their wealth possible?

Is it fair that the investment wizards at Wall Street should receive hefty bonuses when their decisions contributed to the U.S. financial meltdown? Or is it fair that ordinary workers at General Motors, Chrysler and other manufacturing companies should lose their jobs and pension benefits whereas their bosses could just as happily walk through the sunset with their golden parachutes?

If human beings have an innate sense of fairness, why is it that the world has so much abundance of unfairness everywhere?

John Rawls has pointed out that the stability of any society depends upon the extent its members feel they are being treated justly. When some of society’s members feel they are not being treated equally, the grounds have been laid for social unrest, disturbances, and strife. The members of a community, Rawls holds, depend on each other, and they will maintain social unity only to the extent that their institutions are just.

Thus, in the above examples where individuals are treated unequally on the basis of characteristics that are arbitrary and irrelevant, e.g., associates or bosses, or investment gurus or factory workers, their fundamental human dignity is violated. Only when human beings are treated equally will they have the same dignity, and by virtue of this dignity, they deserve to be treated as equals.

We must therefore ask ourselves whether our actions treat all persons equally. Justice is a manifestation of our mutual recognition of each other’s dignity, and that if we acknowledge the need to live together in an interdependent relationship, then we must treat each other as equals.

The Golden Rule, or in a similar vein, Rawls’ first principle of justice as fairness, is almost an inviolable social rule. It is all about balanced fairness. Sometimes the thought of being considered unfair by other people can be a very powerful motivator because this often impels us to be kind and fair for fear that others may see us breaking the Golden Rule.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Transforming our leaders

During the recent launching of the Moral Force Movement, a mere ten months away from the 2010 Philippine presidential elections, Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno stressed that moral transformation is necessary to solve the country’s moral decay.

The Chief Justice called for “transformational leaders” who don’t bribe, cheat, and lie or even tolerate those who do. “We’re focusing on the holding of good elections, the development of transformational leaders. And after that, we will tackle other social issues,” Chief Justice Puno further said.

Sounds familiar?

Every presidential election is a banner year for slogans, for renewal of calls for change or for a new breed of good and honest leaders. During the 1961 presidential election, Diosdado Macapagal, father of the sitting president, promised to set an example of honesty, uprightness, and simple living. His successor, Ferdinand Marcos, vowed to make the country great again.

Macapagal’s promise was good on paper but many of those who surrounded him were not. Marcos ruled the country with an iron fist and established the New Society, his grand excuse for constitutional authoritarianism or dictatorship that lingered for almost twenty years.

The modern-day successors to the presidency were not far off from the failures of their predecessors, in terms of massive corruption in the government and lack of trust of the people in their leadership.

What sort of a person is this transformational leader that the Chief Justice has in mind?

Transformational leadership was developed initially for political leaders by James McGregor Burns in the late 1970s. It has four components: charisma or idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation and individualized consideration. Being charismatic is like having sex appeal, a dynamic, energetic and commanding presence. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is an example.

Leaders who are inspirational motivators appeal to basic values with enthusiasm and eloquence to offer a compelling vision. Intellectual stimulation means inspiring people to think differently or by suggesting new ways of looking at things. Finally, individualized consideration means paying attention to people as individuals and helping them meet their needs.

Undoubtedly, being able to inspire people is a great way for a leader to behave. Just look at President Barack Obama: how he inspires both young and old alike to embrace his vision and his goals. If a leader has good content and integrity and can present change with enough enthusiasm to inspire people, people will likely troop to such leader than someone whose communication style induces people to sleep.

Being inspirational is very useful in situations where there is no evidence or the facts are unclear, or where there are clashes of values or standards of behaviour. Martin Luther King Jr. appealed to a basic sense of fairness to sway the U.S. Supreme Court to outlaw segregation on buses. The facts alone wouldn’t have done it.

Transformational leadership is an exciting idea but it has its limitations. Since it defines leadership more in terms of style of personality rather than function, its usefulness may be limited to being only as one among many leadership styles rather than as an attempt to state how best leaders should behave.

Substance has become extremely important nowadays, including integrity or character and content. The demand is for more “evidence-based” decision making, where to show leadership, one needs to cite hard evidence. You may have great inspirational skills to get people on board but if you do so for unethical purposes, this style of leadership can be dangerous. Cult leaders, for example, are often transformational.

Unfortunately for us, we need more than transformational leaders if we want meaningful and effective change in individuals, institutions and in converting our country into a genuinely democratic Philippine society. We need more than leaders who can (or who pontificate they can) simply transcend self-interest for the common good.

The chief reason why history is littered with charismatic and inspirational demagogues is because of their ability to captivate the masses to believe and follow them. Take Hitler, for example. Unless we truly empower the masses to make political choices and decisions on their own, such as giving them equal access to political offices and freedom to organize and unfettered free speech, our country will always be in the hands of those with money and backed by well-oiled political machines and entrenched vested-interest groups. We will always be at the mercy of the leader of the demagogic variety who combines menace and theatre, regrettably, the paradigm for all aspiring leaders.

Politics in the Philippines is like mixing policemen and pop stars, those who have power in their hands, and those who have the great ability to show off and fascinate the masses. This suggests something must be wrong, not only with our moral fibre, but in our social institutions and political structures as well. An effective and perhaps more convenient solution is for us to transform our society’s superstructure first, before we transform our leaders and, eventually, ourselves.