(Current events and presidential pronouncements have provoked comments from critics and supporters of President Duterte alike, all pointing at the prospect of another dictator in the making. The author, former senator Eddie Ilarde is one of the victims of martial law violence – the Plaza Miranda carnage of August 21, 1971 – and a member of “the last Senate” when Marcos abolished Congress upon declaration of martial law. Ilarde feels that “to be fair and prudent, there is need for our people to know better ‘the bad and the good’ of dictatorship before passing judgment on President Duterte’s real intentions and accusing him of unrighteous motives.” The Manila Times agrees with the proposition that democracy gives everyone a chance to be heard. Enjoy the read! – Editor)
DO we need another dictator? The question begs rendering by people whose lives were touched by one. The word “dictator” agitates people’s sensibilities – unpalatable to many, agreeable to some. “Never again,” seemed to be a stock phrase in this country when the years of “Marcosian” rule finally ended. But until today, people are dumbfounded to fully explain an anomaly in a democratic country like the Philippines. Despite an “unlamented regime”—dictatorship to Jack— his family is back in harness, elected by the people, and look at how wide the grin is, as if to say “vindication is sweet.” What does this tell us? A people’s pardon or Filipino credulity?
So, what is a dictator? Simply defined, “a ruler having absolute authority and supreme jurisdiction over the government of a state.” In ancient Rome, the government sometimes “[appointed]a magistrate or consul as temporary ‘dictator’ to deal with an emergency or crisis.” Not anymore. Dictators after that either appointed themselves as one without the consent of the governed, or seized power under conditions of chaos and turmoil, fabricated to justify force and suppression of individual freedoms. Through time the world has seen dictators come and go. Some benevolent and successful, some malevolent and cruel, some deadly and greedy, but dictators just the same. While others, because of tremendous popular support, are admired for doing things, even killing; notorious criminals, most dictators end up in disgrace or worse, in the gallows.
Ego, surge dominates the psyche when a person holds a position of power; the feeling being on top of the world dazzles the mind, obscures reality. A leader usually starts to rule with noble intentions, such as wanting to be loved and admired, with grandiose plans for the common good, and that he “can be the best.” What a disappointment, what a shame, however, when a leader falls from morality to depravity, proving that absolute power overwhelms and he ends up thinking he is God and can do no wrong, can do anything that suits him for personal benefit. Without compunction, he can now persecute anybody who objects or goes against his wishes, with severe whiplash or even death. With political savvy and charisma, the legislature, the judiciary, the military and his secretpolice are ensconced in his pocket to do his bidding.
Brutal vs benevolent
We cite several “deadly and brutal” dictators whose reigns were written in blood. Leading examples are Adolf Hitler of Germany and Joseph Stalin of Russia. Then there was Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Idi Amin Dada, Kim Il Sung, Robert Mugabe,Koki Hirota, Leopold II, Nicholas II, Hideko Tojo, Yahya Khan, Omar Al-Bashir, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Vlad III, to cite a few. They were feared and loved – enjoyed support from their people in the beginning – until their point of satiety exploded in their faces and the debris of their greed and savagery hit the people’s sensibilities. There is no denying the fact, however that some, though unconsciously, left some bits of lasting legacies for their country, but “the evil that men do” made them fade in disgrace and infamy.
However brutal a person is and however strong his ambition for power, a glimmer of inherent human goodness still exists in his being. It is true that born leaders tend to be overbearing and are considered cold-blooded and harsh. But there were dictators who have earned the love and respect of their people because of their honest desire to accomplish what they think is good for the country. But strong leaders are impatient and want things done fast and in the process accomplish them with violence through painful extra-legal means. They are considered to be dictators – despots and tyrants even – but are remembered with esteem and admiration by their people: Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, Deng Xiaoping of China, Francisco Franco of Spain, Chiang Kai-shek of Taiwan, Fidel Castro of Cuba, Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam, King Idris of Libya, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Juan Vicente Gomez of Venezuela, Suharto of Indonesia, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk of Turkey, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar of Portugal, Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia, Peisistratos of Greece (called the “original benevolent dictator”), Simon Bolivar of South America, Ashoka the Great of India and several others. They were (are) “strongmen”—let’s make that “strong leaders of the authoritarian mold”—
but in reality benevolent and compassionate who “put the needs of their people before their own,” went to war for their country, renounced excessive wealth, lowered taxes, built massive structures, worked for the needy and the weak, “created a time of peace and economic and social prosperity for their country,” fought foreign domination, etc., all for country and people. But still, they are considered “dictators.”
Marcos not on benevolent list
Ferdinand Marcos is not in the “benevolent list.” He declared martial law during the “time of the communist ideologues” when demonizing antagonists from the “right” was a strategy for convenience. Most of all,his so-called “friends” took advantage of him and damn why it was permitted. “Cronies” were born and amassing billions through influence and extortion came in vogue. Good or bad, people forget to remember. Is it because Filipinos are forgiving? Or because Filipinos have poor memory? Today, years after his death you hear people who were his critics at the height of his authoritarian power say: “Mas mabuti pa yatanuongpanahonni Marcos” (the time of Marcos seems better) when they see how things have become rotten despite some of the “heroes of Edsa” and Marcos haters still in the corridors of power. Talk about present conditions which started during Pnoynoy’s watch – high prices of commodities, expensive energy and power, lack of promotion of the arts and Filipino culture, contractualization, corruption, the proliferation of drug addicts and drug lords, criminality, absence of people’s discipline, and other negative things prevailing. And you hear people say: “Oh how we miss the good old days!” Do people want another martial law? Another dictator?
President Rodrigo Duterte, like it or not, is a “one-of-a-kind” head of state. He won the presidency against all odds—no party, no money, nothing to brag about winning. It was phenomenal, to say the least, with the biggest majority in any presidential election. You don’t have to be a pundit to realize that the Filipino people are fedup with weak and corrupt leaders; the people want a strong leader—not a strongman—although along the way have lost the correct definition. But not to worry just as long as he has the balls to be strong, mean and remain a nightmare of criminals and feared by lazy and corrupt government functionaries. Where in the world can you see a leader applauded for using foul language in his speeches, invectives at his critics and threatening crooks with “I will kill you” (hyperbole)?
In this country people are appalled by the failure of government to enforce even simple laws because of politics and/or corruption: tricycles in the highway, colorum vehicles permitted to operate, common people ignored, barangay heads, policemen and even teachers selling drugs, taipans not paying the correct taxes, government functionaries indulging in petty graft, factories dumping toxic effluents from their factories, citizens making creeks, lakes and rivers their garbage dumps, mayors getting away with extortion, the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, influential businessmen wanting to own everything and many other rotten things happening in our milieu. The list is endless and people expect the President to set things in order, enforce the laws without fear or favor and straighten the path. He can if … Another dictator perhaps? Yes and no! Jack says yes. Take your pick.