The Philippines is an archipelago of over 7,000 islands. Being a group of islands has shaped how we do business, what languages and dialects we speak, what resources are accessible, and what jobs are available. Our seas, which have been described as some of the richest and most abundant in the world, are what connect our islands to each other. But we can also argue that our seas are whatdivideour islands from each other.

As a marine conservationist, the sea has been my greatest teacher. In many ways, the sea reflects the leadership style of many of our leaders: they decide only what is good for their island, or sometimes, what is only good for themselves. The sea also teaches me the two most valuable leadership lessons that I hope to see in our leaders right now, in 2022, and beyond.

Lesson #1: What we do to one sea, we do to another. A few years ago, I participatedin a coastal cleanup in Jakarta, Indonesia. A fellow participant picked up two items that were unmistakably Philippine products: GreenCross alcohol and Pauliniment. How they arrived in that Indonesian coast remains unknown, but it could have been through the sea, where the currents and waves carried them to a place they shouldn't have been in.

Leadership requires deciding for the collective and having a deep understanding that the impact of their decisions doesn't stay only within their jurisdiction. Decisions made by our leaders affect the neighboring towns, for better or worse. They can even affect other countries.

'The sea reflects the leadership style of many of our leaders: they decide only what is good for their island, or sometimes, what is only good for themselves.'

Lesson #2: What wedo to the sea, we do to ourselves. After every big typhoon, we witness our bodies of water vomiting trash back on land. When a site is overfished, seafood sources dwindle and job security is affected. Leadership requires seeing our environment as a constituent.

We can survive without streetlights and sidewalks that bear the initials of our local leaders, but we can't survive without clean air and water. Leaders must protect our environment as if our life depends on it—because it does.

When we elect leaders, we don't just put people into positions and titles—we expect them to be role models, crisis managers, motivational speakers, and community organizers. We expect them to make us feel proud that we come from this group of islands.

These two lessonsrequire empathy, compassion, humility, and an incredible amount of accountability. Leaders who possess these qualities in our local and national governments are endangered species, and their time in power is always limited.

In the process of describing theleaders I want to see in 2022, I realize that I was already describing people I knew: Dennis Bait-it, a feisty dive instructor based in Malapascua Island working to protect sharks and livelihoods over the course of four different mayors in 10 years; MarjaAbad, a charismatic surfer and entrepreneur who inspires fellow surfers and business owners to protect their playground, Siargao Island, from plastic pollution; and Dave Albao, a creative storyteller who empowers grassroots communities to care for marinesanctuaries. I could go on.

It turns out that the leaders I want are already here. Most of them are not working in city halls and legislative buildings, and are instead frequent visitors of these places to advocate for the change they hope to see. Civil society leaders like Dennis, Marja, and Dave have gained recognition for augmenting gaps in our current system.


Nation-building is a team sport for sure; it is not a spectator sport. There are responsibilities that fall on us as Filipino citizens (andseatizens), but there is also an ocean of responsibilities that are meant for the leaders we choose in our next elections. When we elect leaders, we don't just put people into positions and titleswe expect them to be role models, crisis managers, motivational speakers, and community organizers. We expect them to make us feel proud that we come from this group of islands.

Let your voice be heard. Register now! Go toirehistro.comelec.gov.ph.