What does it mean to be a progressive leader?

A graduation speech for Academy of Political Management Batch 9.

Today marks the culmination of our APM journey of almost three years together. It has been an unforgettable journey, Batch 9. We fought at each other’s side for almost three years to get to this day. We are now at the finish line; and as a recognition of everyone here, I would like to thank each of you – for accepting the invitation, for daring to face the challenge, and for responding to the call to serve. This is what we take with us as we end our time at the Academy of Political Management. 

A huge thank you to everyone for opening your hearts, minds, and being, especially in sharing our origins and advocacies with each other. In the past three years, some of us have changed employers or employment status, relationship status, financial status, or personal dispositions in life. Be that as it may, thank you for choosing to trust in the process and stay with the programme.

As we leave these halls today, we carry with us this duty to create meaningful change and progress in the community to which we belong and serve. 

On being a progressive leader 

Batchmates, today marks the end of our APM journey. And so, before we part ways to venture into the challenging world that awaits, we reflect anew: What does it mean to be a progressive leader? 

For me, a progressive leader has three competencies: First, he is able to look back and reflect on his past, and learn from it; Second, he is able to widen the horizon of his compassion and respond the most pressing needs of society; and Third, he is able to form and mold the future of our hopes. Allow me to explain.

On the subject of our history: A lot has happened to our country, to our families, and even to ourselves, in the past years. The pandemic spared no one: some of us even lost friends or loved ones to COVID. We feel the strain it causes everywhere: the economy is down, unemployment is up, the quality of education is suffering, the prices of goods continue to rise, and the poor become poorer. On top of this is the worrying pace of which our government is doing to address these issues. Just last week, the media reported that the newest COVID-19 variant has come to our shores; and yet, we still do not have a Secretary of Health, vaccination rates are less than ideal, and government has no measures are in place to stop another surge from happening. 

We all thought that we had learned from this experience. During the lockdown, we criticized our leaders who were supposed to lead us. When, finally, we had the chance to vote for good public officials into office, we missed the opportunity to elect worthy candidates. I felt the regret, anger, and sadness during the first cluster [of APM] last June. While we were listening to our batchmates, they still carried with them the pain of loss and their tears during the sessions. There were still so much to unpack, untuck, debrief, and process. But for me, this was proof that I made the right decision joining APM. Here, we are surrounded by people who were ready to listen and commiserate, ready to sympathize. And in this solidarity, we have the opportunity to change the system of abuse and traditional politics that we have become so used to. We might not have triumphed [in this election], but the experience came with the realization that the time will come and it will be our turn to change how things are done. What is important is that the movement has begun. 

This is just one of the many ills that plague our society. As a progressive leader, it is our duty to soldier on just as those who fought before us have done. More than carrying on in their memory and learning from the dark chapters of our history, this remembering should be accompanied by concrete action to ensure that we do not repeat the same mistakes. As Atty. Chel Diokno said: “Tunay na maghihilom lamang ang sugat sa ating lipunan kung gagamutin natin ito.” (The wounds of our society will only heal if we begin to treat it.) 

On matters of the present, we have to invest in expanding our influence. If we want to introduce reforms, we must work hard to build relationships and immerse ourselves in sectors, organizations, and people that are pushing for the same. Joining APM is only the first step in getting to know who our allies are in our advocacies. More than the friendships we gained here, it is my hope that we help each other in uplifting the sectors that we serve, to the best of our abilities.

An important characteristic that a progressive leader should have is empathy; to listen, empathize, and answer the call to serve where he is most needed. I believe in what Frederick Buechner said: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Let me go back to the elections. When the media began reporting the tally of votes, I was among those who felt defeated and disheartened at work in the days that followed. But as I was reflecting, I realized that my regret, sadness, and worry will not get me anywhere. I have to act and find the place where I am most needed. So, I decided to resign from the NGO where I worked for almost four years, and returned to government work. For me—and I will keep repeating this—now is the time, more than ever, that we need progressive youth like us to fill in the cracks and gaps within the system. Knowing that our government now is riddled with graft and corruption, we need good people like us who are for social justice and public service, especially for the marginalized. Whatever institution or organization that we belong to now, I hope that we each find the deep joy and resolve to serve where we are most needed.  

Finally, regarding the future: It is our responsibility to ensure that our advocacies continue, not just for the next couple of years, but for generations to come. It will take many years for this to happen, but it is not impossible. As progressive leaders, we need to have foresight or a vision of what will likely happen on the horizon. We may not always be certain and ready of what the future holds, we can always prepare and galvanize ourselves in order to face it. How? Give voice to the voiceless. Strengthen our communities. Remind each other of the power that we have to impact change. At every opportunity, manifest this: The future is in our hands. 

Once again, thank you. It is an honor to be among the ranks of some of the most brilliant and best youth leaders of our time. May God continue to bless us all. 

This speech was translated by Tagudina  Maria Emanuelle and is available in its original Tagalog on  Rappler.

LAWRENCE ANGELO M. MALASA is a Program Manager at the Development Academy of the Philippines – Graduate School of Public and Development Management. He recently graduated with a master’s degree on Public Administration, with specialization on Voluntary Sector Management at the University of the Philippines – National College of Public Administration and Governance.

About the Academy of Political Management

The Academy of Political Management is a leadership-training course for second-line leaders of progressive organizations and/or individuals who are committed to the values of freedom, equality, social justice and solidarity, and plans to pursue social and political development work and political management positions.

This is a program fully supported and managed by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Philippine Office. The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) is a private, not-for-profit, public interest cultural-educational foundation committed to the ideals and basic values of social democracy. FES has been active in the Philippines since 1964. In its cooperation with civil society organizations, labor groups, the academe and the government, it seeks to contribute in consolidating democratic institutions and in strengthening an inclusive political system and a people-centered economic development.


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