What I've Learned

"I avoid debating with demagogues."—Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

From the archives: A 2011 interview with former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
IMAGE Wikimedia Commons - World Economic Forum
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WHAT I'VE LEARNED

GLORIA MACAPAGAL-ARROYO
71, former President of The Philippines

I don’t give unsolicited advice. But for those who care to know, let me share some of my experience.

Some crises can be foreseen. In that case, the most important is to monitor the unfolding developments and prior preparation. For instance, because we had prior preparation and diligent monitoring, when we had to evacuate our countrymen from Iraq early in my term, it was done swiftly and with minimal risk and cost.

There were one and a half million OFWs in the Middle East. I created the Middle East Preparedness Team to prevent and manage any repercussions of the war against Iraq and arrange contingency plans for the OFWs in the Middle East. Because of the team’s contingency plans, not a single Filipino was hurt during the war.

Some crises happen suddenly. For instance, coup attempts. I put down all of them with not a single life lost and with due regard for due process. That’s because we moved fast, with a crisis committee and a crisis manager, and the Commander-in-Chief on board for strategic decisions. This was necessary to prevent the crisis from getting bigger or more serious, or from dragging on indefinitely without any resolution.

By contrast, the Luneta hostage-taking incident was a prime example of how not to handle a crisis.

It demonstrated what a respected and fiercely independent opinion-maker calls “nobody-home” leadership. I might add, a leadership that resorts to vilification by demagoguery to distract the public from its deficiencies.

Over a decade ago, I came to the Presidency at a time of great turmoil in our nation. I accepted the challenge of the office when it was thrust upon me. At the time, our country was reeling from political intrigue and a distressed economy.

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We set to work to reform our economy and invest in our people. Along the way we had to make unpopular choices, such as raising taxes. But we did so, against the odds, for a simple reason: we had to have new money for more and better healthcare, education and jobs creation. We needed new and better roads, bridges, ports and a technology backbone to attract business and investors to create new jobs.

Through hard work, determination and a clear plan of action, we helped achieve many of these objectives. As a result, we had 38 quarters of uninterrupted economic growth, even against the headwinds of a major global recession, and left the economy with a 7.9 percent growth rate.

Look around you in our cities as you drive by the office towers that have changed the skyline. Look around you in the provinces as you drive along the roads, bridges and RORO ports where we made massive investments. This is the face of change.

By the end of my term, 85 percent of our people had access to public health insurance; over 100,000 new classrooms were built during my administration; nine million jobs were created. We developed the call center industry into the world’s number one almost from scratch: 500,000 call center and BPO jobs, when only 5,000 existed when I took office.

Yet these accomplishments are merely part of the continuum of history. The gains I made were built on the efforts of previous leaders.

Each successive government should build on the successes and progress of the previous one: advance the programs that work, leave behind those that don’t.

If the criticism is constructive and valuable, I accept it and try to amend my actions accordingly.

If the criticism is malicious, that’s another matter.

Politicking and finger-pointing is a disease that plagues our nation’s politics and this is something resorted to by those who want to distract the people from their own inadequacies and under-achievement. I live through this kind of criticism by staying true to myself and believing in my own actions.

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Unfortunately, the gulf between reality and perception can be vast, especially if encouraged by individuals and institutions who seek to further their own agenda by engaging in demagoguery. That is why I avoid debating with demagogues. My father, the late President Diosdado Macapagal taught me: “Do what is right, do your best, and let God take care of the rest.”

 

 

This article was originally published in the January-February 2012 issue of Esquire Philippines.

Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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