Speech before the Rotary Club of Manila East

There are three things we Rotarians must not believe. One, when your delinquent tenant tells you that the check is in the mail. Second, when your fellow Rotarian tells you that he’s going home straight from a Rotary meeting. And three, when a politician guest speaker promises to deliver a short speech. My fellow Rotarians, don’t worry. My speech tonight won’t be very long.

I do not recall any previous invitation by the Rotary Club of Manila East and San Miguel. I will not ask why. But I will tell you why I am here tonight.

My main message is one and simple. Call it immutable and it is. We have but one country. All we need are very good leaders to inspire us. 

I make this statement in order to crush any mood for despondency; and any scenario for doomsday.

That we do not have the best leader in town is no reason to give up. It should rather give us the reason to keep looking for one.

The wisdom of the ages remains right to this day. Just when you are about to give up, don’t!

Ask and you shall receive. If we keep on asking for her to leave office, she may yet receive her light of greatness.

We may yet receive our day of glory.

The letter of President Allan Anigan is proof of our eternal hope for a new day, for a new dawn. He refers to your role in the resolution of the present economic and political situation. What do you think is your role?

Two years ago – around this time – I delivered a major address to the owners of capital and industry of our country. My mind has not changed. My message has only become more urgent. In summary, this is what I said:

If there is anything to celebrate, it is the indomitable spirit of the Filipino. It must be sustained – not only in sports that entertains but in commerce that employs. That message has not changed.

If there is anything that men and women of industry – like you – dislike most, it should be the environment of political uncertainty. The message is the same today.

You will recall what the Secretary of Finance then, Mr. Isidro Camacho, said: Nobody should expect new economic initiatives now. That was 2003. Garci was not even appointed Comelec commissioner yet. The P2.5-billion fertilizer fund scam was not yet conceived by, and please hold your breath, another Rotarian named Jocjoc Bolante.

The road users’ tax was not yet being mangled for use of street sweepers. The OWWA fund contribution of our poor overseas contract workers were not yet diverted to Philhealth cards for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s campaign. I would not be surprised if today Mr. Camacho will say it again. For that is the truth about our economy.

Two years ago, this administration had nothing but destabilization in its arsenal of excuses. The syndrome has not blown away. I would suggest that such word be taken from its vocabulary for ever.

Two years ago, 4 million Filipinos were without jobs. The army of the unemployed is bigger today.

Why this unemployment scourge in our land – two years ago and now? ECOP said it all then. Less foreign investments means less jobs.

We are still seeing less and less. Or as somebody puts it very strongly: it is not more of the same, it is more of the less.

I said it early. Let us not lose hope. Let us create more of it. Look at China.

China today has developed the kind of investment opportunity market that attracts investment. Even the creator of the fancy car, Lamborghini, is going to China.

What is it that China has that the Philippines has not? China refuses to be shielded and protected.

I wholeheartedly subscribe to the demand of some entrepreneurs for competitive advantage. We must not be afraid to lose if we do. Neither should we hesitate to win because we must.

Where is the Filipino entrepreneur really good at? This we must find and, having found, exploit it to the hilt. For there is no such thing as across-the-board global competitiveness.

There are obstacles needing to be cleared. Corruption is one; the other is crime. We have risen to become number two most corrupt country in Asia in a short period of time under this administration. My fellow opposition legislators claim GMA cheated not to be number one.

Foreign investment never accommodates an environment that shakes public safety. Neither does foreign capital market open its doors where a regime of viral corruption exists.

There is a third obstacle and I call it centralization. I am referring to the wrong ability of central government to distrust the capacity of the local government units. It is the case of a father not trusting enough his son to grow naturally. In return, the son develops the evil habit of becoming parasite even in his old age.

The better role of government is to be a catalyst. It can never be a takeover artist.

The policies it makes must guide our entrepreneurs and employers to respond correctly and swiftly to changing conditions. Old ideas have to go. Old explanations need not stay.

But government must be governed first before it can govern. It must be led before it can lead. It must be perceived as legitimate.

Many men of wisdom say that even legitimate governments do fail. But only fools will stick to the belief that illegitimate governments can ever succeed. I know that Filipinos are not fools.

There is a lot of talk today about charter change. It is being peddled as the panacea of our ills. And the spokesmen are the best in town.

I do not buy the sales pitch. I think that leadership is what cures our ills. Give me a good leader and I will give you an efficient machinery.

Sometimes we blame the global economy for our woes. This does not make any sense. That would be no different from blaming the heavens for our miseries.

What should make sense is to access the global economy. And make it work for us. Only a good government can.

Once upon a time, we were the apple in the eyes of Asia. Now is the time to relive that splendor. We did it before, we can do it again.

In 2003, I said that honest and credible elections is the only way to vanish any doubt and every instability. I had no idea at the time that the four of us – the late FPJ, the late Raul Roco, Bro. Eddie Villanueva, and I – were already being cooked by Gloria and Mike.

While I concede that FPJ actually won the presidency in 2004, I will also insist that the four of us were all cheated by the present occupant of Malacañang.

With a reformed Comelec, let us not be afraid of new elections. Let us not be afraid to look for the best people to lead us.

For that is the Rotarian in all of us. And truly Filipino, too.

Ladies and gentlemen, my fellow Rotarians, thank you. I kept my promise.