The coronavirus pandemic, which has caused global economic damage and cost the lives of at least 3.46 million people, “has shown the best kinds of leaders” are those who do the work and listen to science, Vice President Leni Robredo said Monday, May 24.
Mentioning the leaderships in “more robust democracies” such as Taiwan, New Zealand, and Germany, Robredo said that there is a common denominator among Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, President Tsai Ing-wen, Chancellor Angela Merkel—they pull “everyone together towards a common cause.”
“The pandemic has shown that the best kinds of leaders—in a crisis or even during more normal times—actually roll up their sleeves, do the hard work, and put in the hours along with the rest of their people,” Robredo said in her keynote speech before the students of of the University of Cambridge’s MPhil in Public Policy Class of 2021.
Robredo was invited to give a message at the online forum, organized by Cambridge University Filipino Society, for the topic, “Leadership in the Age of Democratic Challenges.”
“Leaders that act not only with urgency and decisiveness; but create a clear view of the horizon, and craft clear plans to get to that horizon, based not on what sounds good from the pulpit, but on accurate information. Leaders that trust science to provide a common baseline of experience, sending the message that we are all going through the same struggles, and together, we will get through this, too,” she added.
Robredo stressed that “conflict-driven mentality,” fueled by disinformation campaigns “propagating false binaries” found no success in the world.
Among the many false binaries Robredo mentioned are “health versus economy; the supposedly “undisciplined” populace versus law enforcers; medical frontliners crying for a timeout versus online trolls claiming to reflect the rest of the public; and yes, even women versus men, with female stalwarts of freedom and rights harassed, attacked, and even put to jail, for speaking truth to power.”
But creating division is “the language of populist-authoritarians around the world,” Robredo noted.
“They normalize aggression, weaponize frustrations, and dismantle structures for truth-telling and civic discourse,” the vice president, who herself has been the subject of verbal attacks by President Duterte, said.
Robredo, however, remained hopeful that despite “demagogues and peddlers of disinformation,” the “most powerful human impulse is to reach out, to connect, to unite.” This, she said, is what Filipinos has shown in the past year.
Citing the heroism and community spirit, the vice president said that Filipinos “respond to the worst of times with the best in ourselves.”
She showcased how Filipinos refused the “us versus them” mentality and instead “helps without a second thought.”
“Our people are responding to the social anxiety, the uncertainty, and the massive gaps in official support in the purest, perhaps most democratic way possible: We are treating each individual as worthy of our compassion; we are finding ways to come together and participate, perhaps even in spite of government. We are affirming the truth that there is no way through any crisis but together,” Robredo said.
But amid such heroism, she acknowledged the challenge of the presence of a populist leadership and polarized views in the society.
“This, perhaps, is the challenge of leadership in an age of deep democratic challenges: To pull people together, to be a light that diffuses polarities induced by populist bluster, and to constantly affirm the commonalities that bind us: our values, our rights, our worth as human beings,” Robredo said.
“At a time when messages of divisiveness are being declared from the highest pulpits, true leadership treats unity as an imperative,” she added.
The lady official said that the path ahead remains difficult because of “the threats, the lies, the disinformation.”
Yet, Filipinos will soldier on and “show up every single day to do the work that matters, moving with others, knowing that we are bound not only by this crisis, but by the collective aspiration: A freer, more compassionate, more humane world, where everyone's rights and dignity are upheld.”