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Mar 23, 2016

The Upside of Boring (Going Through the Boring Process of Choosing My President)


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We were all glued to the Second Presidential Debates last Sunday. It was supposed to start at 5pm but it started over an hour and a half later due to the conflict regarding the bringing of notes/documents to the podium by candidate Jejomar Binay.

We have four presidential candidates left seriously campaigning. They are far from perfect and a lot of people would say no one is presidentiable enough to lead our country, and there’s a romantic recall of the supposedly great statesmen of the past. To me, this is similar to what I always hear among parents, “Naku, iba na ang kabataan ngayon!” insinuating that the youth of today are worse than those of yesteryears.

I do not subscribe to the above belief. The youth and the politicians are a product of the times, and more importantly, a product of our own parenting (in the case of the youth), and a product of the electorate (in the case of the politicians)! Our children are, to a large extent, their parents. Our politicians are, to a large extent, the electorate. And in this ongoing campaign, we are who we vote for!

The Emo Pinoy and Elections:

In Gallup surveys on the world’s most emotional, the Philippines has ranked number one in a number of years and number four in the latest survey in 2014. (Click link to read more on article We're the world's Most Emo Nation. So what do we do about that?) It means that Filipinos are tops when it comes to feeling both the negative emotions such as anger, stress, sadness, physical pain and worry, as well as the positive emotions such as feeling well-rested, smiling and laughing a lot, being treated with respect, enjoyment, and learning or doing something interesting. To add to that, elections are usually associated with high emotions, no wonder we are in interesting times. Every Juan and Juana has his own opinion on the candidates running for the highest post in the land.

Because we are emotional, we are attracted to candidates who can connect more with us. We want those with charisma. We are more open to candidates who tug our heart and passion, even if our left brain (the logical side) flashes a warning sign. We hate boring! 

The problem with Charisma

Charisma is the compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others. Some say you’re either born with or without it. Some say it can be acquired with practice. It’s an important trait that a leader should possess in order to get the obedience of his constituents. The problem is that great charisma is almost often associated with narcissism and self-centeredness. We’ve seen how highly charismatic leaders have turned into monsters when they prolonged being in power (e.g. Marcos), hypnotized people to do unimaginable things (e.g. Hitler killing six million Jews, Jim Jones asking his thousand followers to drink the kool aid – the juice drink with cyanide, fed to their children first, then to themselves, that resulted in probably the world’s largest mass suicide). Their charisma has a hypnotic effect that makes their followers follow them despite the absence of logic.

The Upside of Boring.

I personally don’t like to hang out with boring people. I don’t hate them but it’s just not fun being around them. But my decades of experiences in studying, working, parenting, saving and investing have taught me the value of boring. Rational thinking (or System 2 in Behavioral Economics) is boring but there are important decisions in life that we have to make that necessitate  the use of this. One such decision is picking our next president.

Here are some points that show the upside of boring.

  1. World’s greatest investor Warren Buffet and his partner Charlie Munger always say that shrewd investment is doing the boring process. Boring is beautiful. They always go for the companies that they understand, stable, with sound financials and good management. For management they require three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. But integrity is non negotiable because if it is missing, the other two are deadly.

In the same way, choosing a leader should be the boring process of really understanding what the candidate has   to offer. Look beyond the boring package. Who is stable? Who possesses sound knowledge and grasp of the daunting task of being a president?

  1. The best managers in the world tend to be those who are stable (and oftentimes boring) rather than excitable, consistent rather than erratic. They have higher self-control but fail to excite and catch our fancy. Consequently, we read more about their erratic and exciting counterparts, precisely because there are less of them and they’re more fun to read and write about. In the 1992 presidential elections, I voted for Fidel V. Ramos despite his boring package, and he turned out to be one of our best and most hardworking presidents.
  1. Choosing the boring conservative picks isn’t something you brag about. This is true both in the stock market and in your presidential choice. We love to share our stock picks that are risky because it’s sexy to be gutsy and able to ride the market volatility. We love to believe that we are above average and so we tend to just remember and brag about our gains and forget (or be quiet) about our losses in those high-risk picks.

Interestingly, I liken this to the Duterte followers who openly support and defend their presidential pick. They are willing to take the risk openly and believe that he will clean up the country in three to six months! Contrast that to a number of Roxas followers who are just quiet about their choice. A co-parent said that she knows a number of people who are for Roxas but would rather keep it to themselves or just say “I’m not yet decided.” You see it’s not cool to declare your boring pick!

  1. Yes it’s exciting to watch your risky stock go up (or down) but do you really have the time to do that? In the same way, it could be more fun to watch a president who’s got charisma and who’s exciting, but are you choosing a sit-com to entertain you regularly or a leader you can leave alone to do his job?
  1. Obeying rules is boring but essential. Companies who don’t follow rules and regulations get in trouble and could lose their value in no time. In the last presidential debate it was clear who among the candidates is a stickler for rules. Roxas was the one who pointed it out that Comelec rules prohibit bringing of notes/documents to the podium. Prior to the formal start he also asked Duterte and Poe why they weren’t wearing their campaign outfits, which was what Comelec asked them to wear.
  1. Citing statistics is boring but important. Data is important because it substantiates your claim. Roxas has a habit of enumerating his statistics in order to make a point. To answer questions on how to solve traffic and other problems, he painstakingly narrates the numerous things he will do. In one interview, the anchor said that was too long, he answered, “Well if I give you the short answer, it will just be sound bites.” As I observed during a talk I personally witnessed, he sounds like a prospectus citing only data that are quantifiable and verifiable.

Coming to terms with my boring choice:

On Poe. In the middle of last year, I actually considered Poe. But as the campaign unraveled, so did Poe’s inadequacies and character. But I tell you, she is impressive when you watch and listen to her the first time around or live. However, when you analyze what she said (in my case I transcribed her speech and Q&A in October, re-watched both debates) you would find some inconsistencies in her statements. It’s because she’s a good debater (team captain of champion team in high school), has a soothing voice and a non-intimidating appearance. Upon closer look, you will see her lack of knowledge in government structures and programs.

She questioned Roxas about the BuB (Bottom Up Budgeting) and after the latter explained the details and how this process is more responsive to local needs, she said something to the effect that it can be exploited by the administration especially during the campaign season. To that, Roxas answered that it had been in place since 2011.

There was another contention between the two of them when she thought that the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) was under the DILG. Roxas corrected her, “It’s under the Office of the President.”

The most telling was her reply to Duterte’s question, "What would happen if one night, gigisingin ka tapos sabihin ng commander, 'Ang dalawa nating coast guard cutter, pinasabog!' What would be the first 3 steps that you would do?" Then she went around the bush starting off with, “Ang ating bansa maliit ang budget para sa defense… ang gobyernong ito ang binili lang ay bullet-proof vest at sombrero…” Of course, she did her discourse complete with hand gestures of a debater. But Duterte didn’t let her off the hook and asked again what she would really do. And it was quite telling that she didn’t know what to do as she started off with humor saying “Babangon ang presidente…” in order to buy time. Then she went on to say, “…at itatawag ang head ng AFP at ang head ng DOTC sapagka't nandiyan napapailalim ang Coast Guard...Meron tayong Visiting Forces Agreement. Meron tayong kasunduan sa ibang bansa kung paano tayo dedepensahan…" I think she should call the National Security Council (the principal advisory body on the proper coordination and integration of plans and policies affecting national security) in times like that scenario. I’m not an expert here, just an avid viewer of Madam Secretary and House of Cardssmiley-163510_640

And of course, the issues on her citizenship (more on the renouncing than the foundling for me), the honest mistake regarding her residency, the unauthorized use of SS number in the US. By the way, Binay failed to land a resounding punch when he tried to make an issue on her American citizenship because he used the wrong Filipino term “ikinahiya.” It should have been “itinakwil” which is the accurate and even more powerful translation of abjure. Google translate could have easily helped him.

Poe also had her stands on the INC case, Marcos Jr. apology, coco levy, which were quite problematic and showed her lack of courage to make a stand on issues that may make her lose the so-called “solid votes.” Interestingly, she didn’t raise her hand when asked if in favor of the Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, despite earlier saying the opposite at a Tacloban campaign.

The above are a product of my attempt to rationally come up with my decision. The discussion is longer than the others to follow because I considered her. I don’t hate Grace. In fact, I can imagine having fun with her in a conversation with other mommies in a long lunch.

On Duterte. A male friend said, “I will not vote for Duterte but would love to have a drink with him!” Well, I don’t drink so I probably won’t be joining him especially if they would all be boys. I might not be able to stand his excessive cursing and green jokes, but I’d like to see him in an opposition role in the government, much like his running mate Cayetano. We need no-holds barred people to police the leaders in power. But a little bit more courtesy and fact-based accusations are in order. I wonder why he still keeps repeating that Wharton graduate issue? I never heard or read any claim from the Roxas camp that he took up MBA there. If the statement from Wharton is not enough for him, then Roxas statement that his brand of leadership is that what he believes in is what is could really be dangerous, especially when applied in his promised 3-6 months clean up of the country.

On Binay. As for Binay, he has just shown himself to be so… Binay, thinking he and his family are above the law. And we’re not even talking about his corruption charges, which he wouldn’t bother to answer except to say that they are just demolition jobs. I actually thought he was a lot smarter than what he’s showing now. I don’t know if he’s getting old and too tired campaigning for presidency since 2010. He seems to be lost in discussions. In all venues he keeps harping on analysis paralysis of the government, but could not even say that correctly. He keeps saying the analysis of paralysis. VP, mawalang galang na po! It should be “analysis paralysis” or “paralysis by analysis!”smiley-163510_640

So it’s the boring choice of Mar Roxas. Yes he doesn’t have charisma and fails to connect and tug the heart of the people. But I think I’m better off getting the tug from Piolo Pascual or John Lloyd when I watch Tagalog movies. smiley-163510_640

What Mar Roxas has shown so far in my long rational process are these:

  1. He has the intellectual capacity to be a president. I admire his grasp of the processes and statistics when he rattles them off without codigo (although there was a reported error in one of his stats last Sunday). Other than that he is always prepared with his data and the tedious process of how things are done. He gives the accomplishments in figure terms without the melodrama.
  1. He has the extensive experience in government on a national level, both the legislative and executive branches. After his initial taste of public service as a Congressman, he became the Secretary of Trade and Industry for four years. Some would say that he’s grabbing the BPO credit from GMA but he actually started that under Erap regime as the Chairman of the Information Technology and Electronic Commerce Council. Aside from the e-commerce, he also had the palengkenomics projects such as tamang presyo tamang timbang, tamang presyo ng gamut to make medicines affordable to the people, etc. This is why he ran under the campaign of Palengke that landed him on top in the 2004 senatorial elections. After topping the senatorial race and serving for 6 years, he aspired for the presidency but gave way to PNoy in 2010. Under the PNoy administration, he was the DOTC secretary for just over a year, then the DILG secretary for three years. It is quite interesting to note that he held the cabinet posts of DOTC and DILG for one and three years, respectively, but all our problems on traffic and peace and order are conveniently thrown at him and people are quick to say, “Walang nagawa!” Sure there are so many things that need to be done. I myself am so pissed off with traffic. But what can one possibly do in those periods of time to solve gargantuan problems? Our two mayors in the running have been in power in their respective cities since 1986 (that’s three decades). I point that out so that we do not compare apples and oranges.
  1. He’s pikon alright but he remains civil. The debate is a good avenue to see the character of our candidates. We saw all three of them gang up on him and you could see his campaign sun-burned skin turn even darker but he never resorted to name-calling. He just stated his facts and kept reminding his opponents, “Oras ko ‘to!” He even offered a handshake to Binay at the end of the debate, which the latter shoved.
  1. He’s awkward but still a gentleman. I saw videos of what happened while waiting for Binay to be over with his tantrum about the documents. While Duterte and Poe were comfortably entertaining the audience and themselves, he was an awkward third-wheeler. When he politely asked to be excused to go to the toilet, Duterte made fun of him, “Pangatlong ihi mo na yan Mar!” and the audience laughed. When Mar came back he brought a chair for Grace so she could sit.
  1. He’s a stickler for rules. He was the one who insisted that the Comelec rules earlier agreed upon should be followed. During the debate, even Grace was trying to circumvent the rule by giving her 15-minute rebuttal to Duterte. A lot of the people are voting against the administration because they say that we lack peace and order and need a stronger leader. They are willing to consider the risk of another Marcos and the impossible promise of 3-6 months. To me, we will have peace and order if we all obey the rules, and we need someone who’s a stickler for rules to lead us.
  1. It takes three generations to have real change. This is according to historian Dr. Paul Dumol and that’s roughly one century. He is talking about the internal change in our culture. Let’s face it, as a people, we tend to not follow the law when in our own country but we are behaved outside our country. It may be because we are so used to pakiusap and areglohan that it’s okay to bend the law, as long as you’re not caught. The optimist in me sees that there has been a gradual change in this. Even just the sight of commuters falling in line is already a sign. It all starts from our own homes. We should realize this when we get so impatient with our progress as a country. But please check out our investment grade, our stamp of good housekeeping from international agencies. There’s a long way to go but please let’s not halt the momentum that the present administration, in all its inadequacies, have accomplished in getting back honesty in government service.
  1. Who can best represent me in international negotiations? We are a global community and our president will not only lead us but also represent us. To me Roxas is the clear choice here. He is respected internationally having been a cabinet member of the present administration whose accomplishments the international community acknowledges. He has the best composure and, let’s admit it, the communication faculties to deal with other world leaders.
  1. Integrity is key. As what Warren Buffet said, if integrity is missing, then all other traits will be dangerous. Among all the candidates, I see him to be the one I can trust.
  1. I want Leni to be utilized in the next administration. In my column last week I wrote It's a no brainer for the VP choice! It’s Leni Robredo. A few friends sent me messages via FB/text saying that they’re definitely voting for Leni and asking who I’m voting for as president. Here’s another reason, who do you think will put Leni Robredo’s public service to good use? It will be a good tandem combining the macro strengths of Mar and the micro, specifically grassroots, strength of Leni.
  1. He’s the only one with a clear and consistent stand against Martial Law.

I didn’t know all of these things months ago. I went through the process. Mar Roxas is a hard product to sell. You have to turn on your cerebral faculties to appreciate him. But isn’t that what we’re supposed to do when we make an important decision such as choosing our next president?

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ANNOUNCEMENTS

  1. I will speak at the Bureau of Treasury about Financial Literacy on March 31, 2016 at 3pm.
  2. I will give a talk about blogging to CFAs on April 6, 2016.
  3. I will speak at the Kidzania about Financial Literacy on May 7, 2016 at the Kidzania Parents Lounge at 9:30am.

Rose Fres Fausto is the author of bestselling books Raising Pinoy Boys and The Retelling of The Richest Man in Babylon (English and Filipino versions). Click this link to read samples - Books of FQ Mom Rose Fres Fausto. She is the grand prize winner of the first Sinag Financial Literacy Digital Journalism Awards. Follow her on Facebook and You Tube as FQ Mom, and Twitter & Instagram as theFQMom. 

ATTRIBUTIONS: Image used from symbols-n-emoticons.com to help deliver the message of the article.

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