• The Pasig Review

Why we don't need another dictator

Updated: Aug 23, 2020

Bhenjar Toor

"We need men of integrity and faith like Rizal and Del Pilar, men of action like Bonifacio, men of inflexible patriotism like Mabini."

These are solemn words first uttered by former President Ramon Magsaysay, loved by the people and was the reason why the communist Huks rejoined society not because of threats, but because of a sincere leader who came from the masses and opened Malacanang to the masses.

Magsaysay, whose legacy of genuine service resonates until today and rubbed off to his son, Jun, who was given a seat in the Senate before because of his name sake, which he did justice to by never being corrupted despite being in the halls of power. That is the legacy of the Magsaysay bloodline.

Last July 27, incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte quoted the beloved Philippine President whose death in an airplane crash cut short a promising presidency. Beautiful as the quote may be, one cannot just help but have that smirk on the lips knowing how the one quoting the words are far removed from the virtues he so extolled. Yes. Rodrigo is no Magsaysay and neither is he a Rizal, a Del Pilar, a Bonifacio, and a Mabini. He is just plain and simple Rodrigo whose mythical rise to the presidency, it seems, is nothing else but a myth and that is how it may remain to be.

The heroes Duterte praised remain unbowed in the face of death if only to forcefully defy the empires that stole their country's freedom. Yes, these heroes were the Marvel and DC heroes of their time. Lacking superpowers, they stood their ground by using their intellect and courage to awaken that sense of nationhood among Filipinos and unite them under one battle cry -- FREEDOM. Duterte did none of those, except probably during those days in the campaign where 16 million people believed his promises that were laced with deadlines and all. And the rest was history. Today, we see that they are just what they are -- promises -- and they were broken into millions of pieces as well.

It has been over a month, and just like his other promises, this one will pass too and what was supposed to be just six months will turn out to be a year or two with his term possibly ending, not with a bang, but with a resounding thud.

Leadership guru John Maxwell wrote that "everything rises and fall with leadership" and this has been more pronounced when the Duterte administration, in what should have been its defining moment, failed to seize it and instead made it so clear that it is not up to the task. It's vile sense of entitlement show that it is merely doing lip service when it comes to providing genuine service to the people.

The President continued to be the image of ineptitude, a stark contrast to the persona his most die-hard supporters insist to still be there, which made him the Eagle of Davao and the mayor that became the envy of many cities, thus catapulting him to the presidency despite allegations of extra-judicial killings, misogynist tendencies, and poor taste of humor. He was even called out by many for his rape joke that is utterly tasteless to an already foul mouth so used to starting or predicating a statement with his favorite cuss word.

And the irony of it all was it was all right for him to say it and went as far as to talk about his genitalia in a speech and his followers called it being genuinely true and human but when those who disagree goes down to his level, they found them to be uncivilized brutes. Indeed, the eagle has landed, but it turns out it was an eaglet just masquerading as the king of all birds. It soared into greater heights only to fall with a clonk.

One of the greatest problems we have encountered are politicians with their egocentric and self-serving leadership. These leaders think that people exist for their benefit. They refuse to acknowledge that leadership is just a means and that to what destination we are going is the ultimate question. This makes our country desperate and in need of a different leadership. This same desperation is what these politicians have taken advantage of creating more divide instead of cementing the unity we so badly need especially at a time of the pandemic.

How people continue to support him is just beyond reason. We really need to pause while we grapple on everything that is happening around us to find some semblance of sanity in all these.

August, coincidentally, helps us remember so many important things. This month, we commemorate the birth anniversary of former Philippine Commonwealth President Manuel Luis Quezon on the 19th followed by the Martyrdom of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. on the 21st and aptly concluded by Heroes Day on the 31st.

In the third presidential debate in 2016, the incumbent President made a bold promise that he will personally ride a jet ski and plant the Philippine flag in the Spratly Islands or Scarborough Shoal to assert the country’s sovereignty amidst the Chinese encroachment. He said he long wanted to be a hero.

On May 15, 2018, the President’s son, Sebastian, and long-time aide-turned-Senator Bong Go did just that, except that the place was in Benham Rise and is not even among the contested territories although China has had the temerity to insist that the Philippines has no right to claim it as part of its territory despite having sovereign rights and being part of the Philippine’s continental shelf in a Chinese Foreign Ministry social media post in May 2017.

To add insult to injury, our very own Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque was quick to clarify the Chinese statement when his job is supposed to be the mouthpiece of the president and not some foreign entities.

Fast-tracked to 2020 in the middle of a raging global pandemic in the Philippines, we are faced with so many challenges. As for China, it has remained unperturbed in insisting on its mythical nine-dash line that makes the phoenix or even Maria Makiling more believable.

In a December 2019, the Social Weather Station (SWS) survey has shown that 76% of Filipinos think that the Duterte administration is abusive because of the rampant extra-judicial killings bolstered by the Kian Delos Santos case where the Caloocan Regional Trial Court Branch 125 has convicted 3 Caloocan policemen of murdering the 17-year old whom witnesses and the CCTV footage show to have been dragged to a dark alley and mercilessly shot.

But who is to blame for all these?

Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, said that “with words we govern men.” We can never not emphasize the importance of every statement coming from a leader just because there are always supporters who will take it literally and bring it to the next level. And more often than not, it seems to have the effect of a policy. Just ask the Philippine National Police (PNP) about their red-tagging activities, their personnel's disregard to life as in the case of Delos Santos, former military man Winston Ragos, or even the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in the case of Ronnel Mas. These operatives took matters into their own hands albeit they are expected to know that what they are going is against the law that they are supposed to be enforcing.

What makes it pathetic is that one who issued the strongest terms about war on criminality, upholding national sovereignty, securing the economy, and so much more is nowhere near the mark. Not only is his incomprehensible statements veering away from what is necessary at this time but it seems that he pretended to be someone and was loved for it and more and more people are just beginning to realize that they loved him for what he is not. In stating that he have always wanted to be a hero, it looks like he is making his role as the quintessential villain bigger than life itself more pronounced.

A hero is supposed to make his country a better place and his people more secure. A hero is supposed to embrace an idea that is so much bigger than himself. Heroes are supposed to be brave, simple, and strong in terms of leadership skills. He is supposed to embrace everything and anything that defines not him but the role he plays.

In one of the columns I have read recently, the author wrote that “Every country, every nation has its own heroes. Past leaders who have contributed to a country’s development, fighting for its freedom and/or independence and leading to its foundation.”

The professor went on to say that “heroes are icons as they serve as models to the people that they therefore serve as among the important symbols of a nation. As such, they help remind the people of their identity, how they have come to where they are now, and how it led to the many milestones of the whole country. This makes history a fundamental component of a nation’s identity and its future.” I can only agree.

But I beg to disagree on the pretext that whether or not the Jabidah massacre happened and that it exposed Operation Merdeka is sufficient basis to discount the heroism of the slain former Senator Ninoy Aquino. Neither does it put former President Ferdinand Marcos in the same breathe as heroes then and now.

In fact, it is an abomination to even equate him among patriots when history and facts show him in the strongest terms as the villain we should never should have and how the very same leader we have today is a poor copycat of a brilliant but depraved mind despite having presented himself as a man of the people, whose daring is next to none, and whose only desire is to improve the lot of every Filipino.

No, he does not think that the “Filipino people is worth dying for.” For him, 3 million Filipinos dead is never enough even if one death is just too many if done extra-judiciously. Kian is a fine example for this.

Is the Philippines like Singapore now as how House Speaker Allan Peter Cayetano previously claimed to make it appear we are now better off than before 2016? Clearly, we are far from being like Singapore in terms of infrastructure despite the administration flaunting this Build, Build, Build projects with just so many of the pledges still undelivered or have not even been initiated yet.

In terms of criminality, the War on Drugs is just what it is – a bust. “This Court will not sit idly by and allow the Constitution to be added to the mounting body count in the State’s war on illegal drugs,” so penned by Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa when the Supreme Court ruled on a 6-year old case with a vote of 11-3 to make a decision on a drug case.

Make no mistake. Any right thinking individual would agree that there is a need to aggressively fight drug lords and contain the illegal drug industry, but it should not come at the expense of unalienable rights because it will certainly just weaken our democratic institutions and open the floodgates for other crimes and abuses. The War on Drugs have been a lost cause when the crusading leader made killing suspects the new normal and when government, without so many words, made suspects guilty until proven innocent when it should have been the other way around.

On the economic front, all gains we may have had from the previous administrations and even into the present are all for naught, and we can honestly say that the President cannot be solely blamed for this. The pandemic has definitely forced the world to stand still.

But I can fairly and squarely put all the blame to Duterte and his appointees for implementing the longest lockdown without any clear indication that we are on the way to recovery or if there is even a plan beyond what seems to be a wait and see game.

From one corruption scandal to another, we even see a presidential spokesperson so numbed in his pronouncements that it seems everyone has just so gotten tired hearing from the fellow who was once upon a time a champion of human rights and has suddenly turned 360 degrees. His sudden turnaround is one for the books and may even be featured in the Guinness Book of World Records or possibly in Ripley’s Believe it or not.

Early on, the President was urged to issue a lockdown. He was more concerned with the feelings of his Chinese friends. Today, China imposes restrictions on Filipinos entering the country.

While the different industries were struggling, the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) were even prioritized ahead of the rest with no less than the same spokesperson justifying it by tagging it as a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) business when everyone familiar with the BPO industry can readily contradict why it does not fit the billing and with more foreign workers not to mention it being used as a front for many criminal activities, looks like Atty. Roque unwittingly explained why they are pushing for it to become fully operational. And if truth be told, it appears that a veteran politician who was at one point a whistleblower and has been known for being part of dark schemes has been serving as liaison for certain parties.

And while countries like India, considered 5th to 7th most powerful navy and military in the world, the United States, still the world’s remaining superpower, Australia, and even Indonesia and Vietnam and other affected countries are one in their push in forcing China to respect the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and do away with its mythical nine-dash line, the incumbent Philippine President continue to hold the Chinese President on high regard and no amount of insane reasoning can still help anyone fathom the endearment so bestowed on another who contemptuously and manipulatively deal with our country.

Clearly, the Marcos wannabee has not made the country a better place and has not secured our people. All he can do is come out with cowardly remarks when China has been clearly taking advantage of the pandemic, which by the way originated from them and should be called the China virus if only to provide context as to how the Asian regional power has lied to the world and has caused so many economies to falter, including ours.

Duterte is no hero. He is only brave in his utterances whenever he has to deal with the ordinary Filipino or the opposition but cannot muster the same courage in the face of an imperialist Chinese counterpart. He does not have to curse as has been his habit. All he need to do is state in clear pronouncements that all he cares for is how Filipinos feel about this encroachment more than how he thinks of not offending the Chinese president.

Duterte is neither simple nor strong. One cannot reconcile simplicity with the fact that he has fighting words to say against the opposition but would not muster the same to hold a pen, sign a waiver, or even file his SALN, which by the way is a yearly requirement for every government employee and official all the way from bottom to the top. He is not a strong leader either. Leadership requires that you fire erring officials consistent with your statement that not a “whiff of corruption” will be tolerated.

Rocked by graft and corruption as mentioned, the Philhealth Corruption scandal, the emerging “everyday buffet-like” food expenses of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) already flagged by the Commission on Audit (COA), the Department of Health’s (DOH) questionable procurements, and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) directives when it comes to motorcycle barriers that has been pointed out to go against safety protocols and now deemed unnecessary by the same authorities who required it when everyone was opposing it are decorations on the side of an already desperate situation.

Appointing incompetent officials from the likes of Mocha Uson, Robin Padilla, and tolerating the likes of DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III punctuated by a “wait-for-a-vaccine” game plan just gives you a clear image of a weak, vision-less, and failed leadership that served as cherry on top of the ice cream.

We are literally and figuratively now in the gutter. We do not need any of these, especially now. We do not need another dictator who will plunge us into another 30 years of economic and political struggle. Enough is enough.

Today we remember Ninoy being gunned down at close range around 1:00 pm in 1983 after 3 years of self-exile and with the recent killings of activists, we feel that this is an eerie repetition of how another deluge is building up leading to an eventful climax.

The Marcoses back then were isolated and seems to have been misled into believing that people do not hate them “with unnerving passion.” Duterte has admitted using trolls as one of his political strategies to offset the previous administration’s advantage. Looks like he has overused it as his trolls continue to wreak havoc online by consistently posting easily debunked lies to the point that even fictional characters become supporters of the President with their testimonials shared over and over by unwitting fanatical supporters. The surveys do not help either because not even the survey firm’s top honcho cannot make sense of what he is getting. They only stopped doing surveys when they know that no remarkably “doctored” figures can be accepted at a time when a survey is no longer necessary if only to know they pulse of the nation.

But if he is so confident about the masses' support and that he is concerned with truth, then why use trolls that merely propagate lies? Ask Mocha Uson and Banat By how much they earn monthly by spreading lies and other falsehoods and how they manage to sleep soundly at night.

Duterte’s supporters like to ridicule those who are in the opposition by saying that there is a template for a Liberal Party victory for someone from their ranks to win an election. They contemptuously insist that when Ninoy died, Corazon “Cory” Aquino, his widow, was catapulted to the presidency. When Cory died, Mar Roxas had to give way because former President Benigno Aquino III is the man of the moment and it may even be providential because we would have seen a take two of the Estrada presidency. Joseph Estrada finished a strong second even beating former Senate President Manuel Villar despite his billions. Apparently, when it was Roxas’ turn to run for president, no one died. Hence, the defeat at the hands of a populist.

It seems they are forgetting something.

Marcos was ousted because of allegations of corruption and macabre killings of oppositionists and activists. Contrary to what Marcos and Duterte supporters were saying, there were many convictions about the billions of pesos that were stolen from the national coffers. The only reason why no one was imprisoned was because the principal was already dead at the time of conviction, and when the former First Lady Imelda Marcos was finally convicted of the same type of crime though a separate case, she was not imprisoned because of her age and that very compassionate mindset of the administration when it comes to its allies.

But true enough, an encore performance is being set for Duterte, who seems to be reliving the Marcos presidency Davao – style.

The economy is down. Activists and oppositionists harassed and imprisoned or even killed. The media that dare to write the truth is being harassed still despite having been shut down. It’s almost like Binibining Joyce Bernal is directing the remake of Dangerous Lives, a movie in the late 80s about the Marcos dictatorship only this time with more twists and could it be that this could still turn out into a Romantic Comedy starring the newest love team of Tatay D and Xi Jinping whom I sometimes confuse for Ped Xing given that rainbow connection so aptly called the nine-dash line? It is really as if someone is just giving us a rerun of the 1986 EDSA People Power only this time, we may not need to march into the streets because 2022 is just around the corner.

And this time, instead of a widow of a slain former senator beating a beguiled dictator, it will be the widow of a former DILG secretary whose untimely death brought into the fore how a hero can be what he is – a dedicated public servant whose simplicity is not just on paper but on his everyday living that he leads by example and that sweeping the surrounding areas of Naga City Hall can actually inspire GMA – 7 to come out with a series of a supposed fictional mayor exemplifying the virtues we so crave for in a public servant. It helps also that the character was portrayed by Rocco Nacino whose firm but decent delivery is the very characteristic we seem to see in another mayor who has openly expressed his admiration of the late Jesse Robredo.

But who knows, the villain that we have so vividly described may yet turn out to be the hero many hoped he would be especially since about 16 million were duped into believing that he will really take a Jet-Ski into the Spratly Islands, plant a Philippine Flag and proclaim to the world that nobody, not even the manufacturer of a global virus, can stand in our way, when all this time, he was JUST KIDDING. For that to happen, the script will have to be rewritten.

But as it is, we do not need another dictator. The plummeting economy, the political upheavals, the Chinese threat, the burgeoning murders perpetrated by state operatives, and the weakening democratic institutions are just perfect recipes for what we have prevented in 1986 to finally wag its ugly head and reach that point of a blood bath.

Like Ninoy, we cannot be petrified by fear albeit the Anti-Terror Law is being used against legitimate and lawful dissent. Like Ninoy, we must continue to believe that the “Filipino is worth dying for.”

And like Ninoy, “we should not depend on one man; we should depend on all of us. All of us are expandable in the cause for freedom and therefore I say stand up now and be a leader, and when all of us are leaders we will expedite the cause of freedom.”

Your idea of a hero does not have to depend on your political color. It simply has to be based on an honest conscience – one that considers only being a Filipino.

Ninoy Aquino, Jesse Robredo, and many others whom we pay homage to this month are all heroes. They all stood for what is true and for is beneficial for every Filipino. Duterte, for all that is worth, will definitely play a crucial role in cementing the Filipinos will to embrace democracy and fight for his freedom. When Ninoy died, it took three years before a dictator was ousted. We can do that again with time to save through the ballot or perhaps, Divine Providence will once again intervene. We don’t know, but no doubt we do not need another dictator, much more a mere wannabee who admitted inventing or planting evidence while still a fiscal and is not even a bar topnotcher – a far cry from the man who wielded power for almost 21 years.

We need another Ninoy. We need another Jesse. Perhaps, we need another woman to remind us that our nation is supposed to nurture her children, which only a woman can.

Indeed, we need men and women of integrity and faith like Rizal and Del Pilar, men of action like Bonifacio, men of inflexible patriotism like Mabini, and sadly Duterte has no integrity because he cannot even file his SALN and it has been years now since he has assumed office. One cannot also consider him a man of action when he is more interested to wait for a vaccine when it is necessary for a recovery plan to be in place with the reality that we will have to live with COVID-19. As for being patriotic, we need not veer away from that special bond between Xi and Digong.

We need a hero, and perhaps that next hero will once again be a woman waiting in the wings to oust another dictator.

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