PNoy speech at the IBM Centennial Forum in New York

President Aquino Speech World Bank
Speech
of
His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
During the IBM Centennial Forum
[Delivered at the  Lincoln Center, New York City on September 21, 2011]
It is an honor to be here at the IBM on its centennial, and to speak before such distinguished people about what I view as the future of leadership in the 21st century.
On a more personal note—not too many people know this—my elder sister Pinky was a former employee of IBM. She in fact met her husband Manolo while part of the IBM family.
This goes to show that I am here this morning not only as President of a country that is grateful for your investments, I am here as a friend of the company—a friend to innovation, and a friend to harnessing the positive energies borne of risk-taking and the recognition of opportunities.
Who would have imagined that a business that initially made scales, clocks, and tabulating machines would one day be at the head of the pack in information technology, with a globally integrated enterprise employing more than 400,000 people? As the world evolved, so did IBM; when the world sought new answers to new concerns, IBM responded.
In the same way that IBM had to evolve successfully to thrive in a changing environment, political leadership that fails to evolve in response to the changing times produces a disconnect between the leaders and their publics. It is this type of leadership that finds itself under siege today.
In North Africa and the Middle East, people are rising up and replacing their leaders. In parts of Europe, people are flocking to the streets to protest against cuts in social spending, and even here in America, grass root movements have sprouted, clamoring to be heard.
History, as we know, is replete with similar cautionary tales. But while in the past, it took years for a people’s dissatisfaction to achieve a critical mass; today, in the span of months, days, hours, and even minutes, a people can liberate themselves from fear and trepidation to find common cause. In my country, it took fourteen years since Martial Law was declared for individual resistance to coalesce and culminate in the People Power EDSA Revolution of 1986. The public space had to be reclaimed inch by inch: first by word of mouth, then by shoddily mimeographed pamphlets, and finally through the airwaves. Today, the internet is in itself a gigantic public space; technology has allowed for so much instantaneous communication, and creating a consensus and forging a commitment to concerted action for change can take place at broadband speed.
Technology has also genuinely globalized empathy and solidarity. However much anyone tries to withhold the truth, and no matter how anyone fails to alleviate the plight of a fellow man suffering, no barricade, no border, no propaganda can resist the assembly and mobilization of peoples. We have seen this unfold in the Arab Spring, when the people of Tunisia standing up for their freedoms informed and inspired neighboring countries in the region.
The many voices that can now speak, the speed by which they can make themselves heard, and the wide reach of new media has only put the complexities of human society at the forefront. In the face of such complexity, and with the demand for diversity, the rigid confines of ideology can no longer suffice. Grand narratives such as communism and capitalism have been eroded by the demands for a government that is both inclusive and accountable.
Deng Xiaoping saw the first glimmers of this, and expressed it in his famous maxim, “It does not matter whether the cat is black or white; what matters is that it catches mice.”
He meant, I believe, that the ideological paradigms of political leadership common in the last century cannot account for the complexities in today’s societies, and governments need to be nimble and adaptable enough in order to respond to challenges as they arise. The challenge is to approach different situations with a certain pragmatic idealism.
In my country, for example, government does not allow itself to be hampered by ideological labels. We are borrowing best practices from what we’ve seen. Some of my policies have been referred to as socialist, while others may be called neo-conservative. This is not to say that my policies have no strategic purpose in mind; it means, in fact, the opposite. It means the only compass that I refer to is my people.
Labels are not important to me; what is important are practical solutions that will address the needs of my people. For example, we are trying to create an environment where businesses can thrive at a leveled playing field, with clear and consistent rules so that they will not be afraid to come in and invest. My government considers free market principles as a solid basis for economic growth. At the same time, however, we recognize that this growth is not always even; the danger of untrammeled capitalism is that it can condemn the poor to being permanently poor. Growth must be inclusive; progress must be equitable.
This is why my administration has put in place strategic interventions to ensure that any gains reaped from a growing economy are channeled directly to the people. Nearly a third of our national budget for the following year has been allotted to social services. Entirely through savings acquired by more prudently spending public funds, we have deployed 10,000 nurses to rural areas that historically have not had access to medical professionals. We are for the second consecutive year significantly increasing the budget of our conditional cash transfer program, which invests in our people by providing cash incentives for keeping children in school, immunizing infants from diseases, and undergoing check-ups for pregnant women.
What has given us the momentum to pursue these policies and reforms? It was nothing less than the forging of a national consensus by means of a credible election. And this consensus is maintained by a commitment to transparency—an openness that informs our people of the workings of their government, and breeds an informed citizenry that vigorously participates in and elevates public discourse.
This is what my mother meant when she said we must institutionalize People Power: to make it not a last resort to topple tyranny and oppression, but instead embed it within our institutions so that the people may freely and constantly make their voices heard. To make the policies of government reflect the people’s collective will.
In this era of knowledge and information, it has become more and more evident that a people will always find a way to be heard. When they feel that their government has become unresponsive, when it no longer mirrors their dreams and aspirations, when it has failed to treat them with the dignity they deserve, a people will find ways to reach out to one another and unite under a singular purpose. As they have found a way to stop tanks, so will they find a way to elude firewalls.
The path of leadership today and the foreseeable future, then, is not in stifling voices; it is in allowing them to flourish, and concentrating our energies toward the forging of a consensus from a diverse orchestra of opinion. From electoral reform to pouring funds into social services, from liberalizing aviation to supporting legislation meant to inform my people as regards responsible parenthood, I feel that I have had, in little more than a year as President, more than my share of battles in the court of public opinion.
But I believe that dissent rests in the marrow of every democracy; my people know all too much the value of being able to say “no” and “enough” in the face of dictatorship. Dissent, after all, is what speaks truth to power.
But an even greater truth is this: A society that respects all voices avoids having any individual voice try to drown out the others. And where all can speak and be heard with dignity and good will, there you can find a conversation that leads to a consensus.
What, then, is the future of leadership? What makes a leader? The leader is one who exercises self-control; one who promotes discourse, discourages demagoguery, and seeks consensus. One who holds fast to essential truths without forcing the world to conform to his preconceived notions; one who, in other words, recognizes that legitimacy is built on accountability, and accountability is built not on promises but through results. Ultimately, a leader is one who trusts his people to decide for themselves, and allows them to shape their own future.
Thank you.