Quirks, no longer

The sustained anti-corruption protests by South Koreans which led to the impeachment of their President and the arrest of her childhood friend and confidante Choi Soon-sil “the woman behind it all” and more recently of Choi’s daughter abroad in Denmark put Filipinos to shame.

In 2013, Filipinos listened in utter horror as media rolled out investigative reports on the PHP10B pork barrel scam by Janet Napoles “the woman behind it all” with members of Congress as accomplices. Filipinos knew about under-the-table dealings even before, but it was the first time that the depth and extent of corruption by public officials was reported to the nation. The people however only managed to rouse themselves to a one-day protest which looked more like a picnic at the Park.

One wonders if the Filipino people are not the zombies shipped on the “train to Busan”- how was it that we were not moved by such massive corruption of our money by persons whom we trusted and put into positions? by that woman who is not even a public official? by that daughter who published a photo of her smug self inside her PHP80M Ritz Carlton hotel apartment wallowing in a bathtub of money-slash-the-people’s-money? The burial of a former soldier-President in a soldier’s allotted grave is of no consequence compared to this infamy. Until now, there has been no systematic and sustained trial of those implicated in the corruption. Why?

Anyway. This post is actually about the capacity of leaders, taking on as example, because it is more recent and closer to home, the South Korean President.

There is no lack of research written about what qualities befit a good leader whether in the public or private realm. Forbes for instance argues for the Top 10 Qualities That Make A Great Leader. The Harvard Business Review explains: Why We Keep Hiring Narcissistic CEOs; Why People Are Drawn To Narcissists Like Donald Trump; Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, The Inevitable Cons. And so forth. But, why, indeed, do we have leaders who disappoint?

The Park and Choi scandal, according to Park Yoon-bae in his article Let Checks and Balances Work for The Korea Times, is a classic example of corrupt political leadership that collects funds from conglomerates in return for business favors. Judging from what she has done so far to deal with the scandal, Park apparently lacks moral and political integrity that is required for the chief executive.

Let’s unpack “lacks moral and political integrity”. Over the years, S Korea media have noted Park’s queer behavior in times of national crises, viz: (1) Photos suggest Park had beauty surgery amid Sewol tragedy; (2) Park spent 90 minutes hair styling when 315 students were trapped in sinking ferry; (3) Suspicions re-emerge over ‘7 missing hours’. We are also provided glimpses of Park in her private persona: (1) ‘Toilet sensitive’ President Park; (2) President Park, a ‘Hikikomori’; (3) Soap opera: South Korean President Park Geun-hye ‘used TV character as pseudonym’ at detox clinic. Last but not least, on her tragic family history Park Geun-hye and the friendship behind S Korea’s presidential crisis.

Stepping outside the perspective of politics and into that of medical science, the above information would lead us to these theories: (1) still deeply traumatized by the assassination of her parents, first her mother, and after them her own experience of violence she has difficulty trusting or allowing anybody apart from her childhood friend into her private sphere; (2) her entry into politics afterward has her conflicted over how she is part of the system that had taken away both her parents. Religion or symbolism somehow alleviated that inner turmoil; (3) the shadow of her larger-than-life father, so-called Rasputin and the father of modern S Korea, still looms over her causing her to freeze in inaction or helplessness, like a child, deeply fearful to be seen or judged as less than perfect; (3) the oversight role her father had suddenly vacated is displaced onto her stronger-willed childhood friend who apparently took advantage of her friend’s emotional and mental state.

What I’m saying here is, Park’s capacity to lead ie. health in light of extraordinary personal circumstances had been perhaps initially perceived by the people as idiosyncracies. After all, she is her father’s daughter. Don’t we accord larger-than-life personalities a wider berth? Time, however, has revealed the quirks as “defects” for want of a better word, and the people after repeatedly experiencing the effects of such have been awakened and are now looking at events as they really are and not as what they wished them, or her, to be.

This is the twist in most every corruption drama and the question now is, who is more liable for what happened? Park? Choi? The system? The voters? A headache really. But, definitely Park’s history of leadership says that she was and is in no condition to take on her shoulders the burdens of State and a nation. She may be in need of care herself. I’m truly amazed that she has stayed this “strong” at least in the public eye although in cases like this something – the weakest link – will always give. And it did. But funnily enough it wasn’t her although she could now be quoting Montaigne (who quoted Aristotle):

‘O my friends, there is no friend.’


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