I have discovered, just recently, the most amusing thing: there are Filipinos who want a return to dictatorship. For some odd reason, they feel a democracy like ours is fast becoming a motivation to pop an anti-depressant. Huge doses of ‘em. I don’t blame them one bit. After all’s been said about Martial Law and the promises of People Power, apparently, for some, nothing beats the aura of calm that goes with a society disciplined by an iron hand. And peace, today, we have to admit, has remained elusive.
And why should they want democracy when freedom has only brought them headache after headache? Scan the papers. The first seven to twelve stories on the front page are nothing but grounds for a major psychotic breakdown: killings of journalists. Impunity. Unsolved murders. Thievery. Secrecy. Crime. Rapes. Corruption. Abject poverty. Unemployment. Harassment. Hunger. Graft. Fraud. Skyrocketing prices. Hyprocrisy. And allow me to hazard a thought: conspiracy of silence. You name it, the news have it: from a government official committing suicide to top-level government honchos clueless to the core.
We now have rebel-brigands, soldier-thieves, police-drug lords, businessmen-tyrants, and innocent Filipinas going the way of the drug mule. Children as young as ten and twelve hide along street corners preparing to pounce on cellular phones while their poor-excuses for fathers scrounge for that last drop of gin.
Scarcely have we sipped our fresh brews on a cool Sunday morning when a text message about the latest corruption issue breaks our once-in-a-stolen-moments’ tranquility. With nary the warning needed to stave off a potential suicide plan, we grope for answers and find none. Another wall, another dead end. Especially when your instant coffee has less of the kick needed to jumpstart your brains. Apparently, even coffee is being faked.
Is dictatorship, therefore, the answer to our woes? Are we so famished for some quiet time that discipline, more than freedom, is the catch word of the day? Strange as it may seem to those who love their liberty, there are Filipinos among us who will readily give an arm and a leg to have a little peace and quiet.
Well, sorry to crush your DSLR-perfect moment, but a dictatorship demands more than an arm and a leg. For the countless families who have suffered the fate of the desaparecido, a severed body part would’ve been more acceptable than a missing loved one.
The funny thing about democracy and dictatorship is that the two are very much alike in many ways. They both demand something; they both give something. Dictatorship insists on your freedom in exchange for a disciplined society while democracy costs you your sleep for that chance to express yourself and freely fight for what is yours. Neither one is free.
Democracy and dictatorship is all about power and to whom this power is bestowed. Democratic ideals reserve that power to the people, while tyranny claims that same power by one man, a sort of twisted monarchy under the guise of modern-day government.
The more troubling of the two ideas of government is that both exhibit the same weakness: human nature. As is often the case in both styles of government, it’s the expression of all against the whims of one. In the former, it is government that suffers the scrutiny of the thinking public, while in the latter, the public bears the dire weight of a shrewd dictator. And this little town ain’t big enough for both of ‘em. One must give way.
There is one stark difference, though, between the two. What is often kept deep in the very bowels of a dictatorship we now have a chance to know in a democracy. The risks are still there—the threats to our lives—but the bigger threat of lies can now be breached. Our woes today are not a consequence of our democracy, but of a tyranny of twenty or so years that only now we are unlocking.
To people who want to live under a dictator, I have one thing to say: Watch Yemen, Libya, Egypt and Bahrain. Risking life and a peaceful existence, they took their grievances to the streets where they were shot, bombed and picked one by one by government snipers. As of this writing, Libya’s streets are running with the blood of its people while the Libyan tyrant, Gaddafi, holds desperately to power. Protests in Yemen and Bahrain are spilling into the streets, shaking its very grounds. Egypt was lucky. Hosni Mubarak left them to their troubles.
The world, apparently, would rather be sick scrounging for answers than live with a sick dictator.
Twenty five years before the Arab world was rocked by pro-democracy protests, Filipinos went to the streets to protect, from the whims of a dictator, its soldiers with flowers and prayers. These were the same soldiers who in the early days of Martial Law were part of the lie that was Marcos’ New Society. In what is now deemed as our country’s claim to fame, Filipinos ousted a tyrant and returned to the freedom it once had before the young and charismatic Marcos stepped in as the country’s first despot.
It’s been years since those days at EDSA, and while it may be incumbent for us to remember those hours of torture, rape and death under a dictator (as it stands for all eternity as a learning experience), there is no denying that such an era should be better left within the pages of history.
Our woes today are nothing but birth pangs to a future we all hope would turn out well for the Filipino people in the end. Our work has just been cut out for us, two decades ago; our steps are still young, faltering, but nonetheless free.
JOEL PABLO SALUD is the chief editor of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications, which include the BusinessMirror. He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.