MANILA, MARCH 31, 2008 (STAR) NOTED By Aurora Diaz-Wilson - To hear the ambitious plans of Victor Barrios, one would imagine that he is dreaming. As a prime mover of the Global Filipino Nation, his hope is that the conference, which will be held in the University of Makati from May 8 to 11, will lead towards Filipinos having leaders with a vision, a program, policies, accountability, and transparency.

It would be easy to dismiss the possibility of this happening in our lifetime and yet, Victor is convinced that it can be done. After all, together with many Filipinos abroad, he lobbied for the overseas voting law, which was passed. He helped shape the implementation and eased some of the bumps it went through. Dual citizenship is another project. One of their conveners ran for office to demonstrate that a candidate with dual citizenship can run for office and do good for our country, but vested interests impeded that and now they have a test case in the Supreme Court.

“So many people feel helpless about our government,” Barrios says. “The moment that one really feels that there is no hope is when the chances of success can happen. That is exactly what happened in Pampanga. People there felt so demoralized because the options they had were between two candidates whom many felt could not faithfully reflect the people’s interests. In their darkest hour, that is when hope and possibilities shone. Well, you need that darkest hour for change to occur because if there is no sense of hopelessness or darkness, then people don’t get motivated.”

According to Victor, Governor Ed Panlilio is one model that perhaps can be replicated in different areas. Not so much person-wise, but in terms of replicating his ministry of politics and governance — how to get elected with people resources rather than personal interests. “Panlilio is one of the members of the Global Filipino Nation. He helped to shape our policy, structure, programs. We have hundreds of conveners. Whoever has the energy to put in his input gets heard.”

Victor was a senior adviser at the World Bank. “My first insight from my 22 years of exposure to different countries is that change is possible. Here people say it is difficult to change. So let’s dismiss that. Reform is possible. The word reform is a term that implies a higher level of development that would remove distortions, monopolies, vested interests; that would widen the benefits of our population. The third insight is that to carry out change and reform, you need political will. That is the most important. You can have a great program structuring to bring about change but if there is no political will, then what happens?”

Victor talks calmly, careful not to sound partisan or lay blame on current leaders, but he does emphasize that people can set up their own matrix to judge their leaders. “What is needed is for the middle forces as well as the mass of the population to realize that change is possible.”

“My interest is to raise the level of economic progress in our country. If, for example, GDP grows by three percent more, then people would stop going abroad. The opportunities would be here. Our credibility and self-esteem as Filipinos would be internationally enhanced. Our access to market opportunities would be deepened. Our clout with respected host countries would be strengthened. At the moment, we have none of those.”

When asked what the difference is between 1986, EDSA 2 and now, Victor speaks with certainty. “People have wisened up. People now are skeptical about bringing about a change that would perpetrate the special interests of a small group of people. Our people are getting more mature.”

“If every Juan de la Cruz begins to realize that political gifts are against their interest, then they would act accordingly. Some people have the habit of receiving dole-outs but they don’t realize that they are paying for it. How? It is eventually reflected in the budget of the country. To the extent that it is imbedded in the budget, it impacts economic conditions so people have to pay higher prices — that is indirect taxation. They also pay in terms of slower economic growth. If they wisen up to that, well, then, there are great possibilities. The Indians, the Chinese and Hungarians have done it.”

What about Governor Panlilio keeping the P500,000 that was distributed in Malacañang? “That money was used by the provincial government to benefit the province. That frustrated the intent of the giver, which was to influence the individual recipient.”

The conference is an opportunity to zero in and decide on specific action programs for the future. Joining the conference is just one of the steps along a long route towards the goal, Victor explains. “Before our goal of having good leaders comes to fruition, there will be resistance from entrenched political families. Even some business interests are wary about change because they already know how to deal with the present players and they don’t want to rock the boat. So we are inching forward, testing the waters, moving, moving. And not giving up on our dream.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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