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When people learn to love a tyrant


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is a one-of-a-kind leader.

He’s autocratic, wants everything done according to his personal peeves and grudges. He doesn’t consult the public on national issues but, rather, just goes ahead and does things. He gets upset and throws a tantrum when he’s displeased.

I take it back, Duterte is a two-of-a-kind leader. We had Ferdinand Marcos before, remember? But Marcos didn’t swear. He was a gentleman dictator, if there’s such a thing, perhaps an oxymoron but he was that.

It’s hard to find someone who’s like Duterte. Certainly, we’ve not had a leader who curses like him. People like to cite President Manuel Quezon as someone who threw out a swear word now and then. But I doubt if Quezon was as prolific with curses as Duterte.

Those who know Duterte say that’s his nature, that he likes to curse a lot. Those who say that who are his fans say it as if it was a compliment. “Ganyan talaga siya, mahilig magmura.” It’s their way of saying it’s all right with them that Duterte swears like a soused sailor.

They make it sound like it’s no big deal, the cursing. They make it sound like we’re the ones who are too prissy and moralistic. That we overdo the self-righteous bit. That it’s our fault to bring up the cursing as something objectionable.

I often wonder how the more strait-laced in the Cabinet feel about Duterte’s cursing. People like Leonor Briones, secretary of Education and Ernesto Pernia, head of the National Economic and Development Authority. I don’t think the others in the Cabinet were shocked the first time they heard put— ina from their leader’s mouth. In fact, one or two of the Cabinet members like to unleash juicy swear words themselves.

In any case by now they’ve probably all acclimatized themselves to the cursing. Pernia even defends the President’s “war” on drugs and justifies the extrajudicial killings as a “necessary evil.” Briones told an interviewer that the President doesn’t curse during Cabinet meetings, her way of justifying her continued presence there.

Have the prissy among us gotten over statements like “necessary evil”? Or do we still see that as proof of the callousness and heartlessness of this administration, which has no qualms about the widespread killing of drug suspects without due process?

For, how could anyone justify summary killings? How could anyone support a leader who says human rights are nothing to him or that he would slaughter millions of Filipinos as a means of population control?

Such a Hitlerian mentality is a thing of the past, when the whole world repudiated Adolf Hitler’s slaughter of six million Jews, homosexuals and other “undesirable” people. Idi Amin of Uganda and Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier of Haiti committed acts of genocide on their own people and earned the world’s revulsion and utter disapproval, sending both despots to live and die in exile.

Dictators and evil leaders will inflict such atrocities on their own people and consider it “no sweat,” to use a colloquial expression. Evil men come to the fore every now and then to disturb national and world order.

The Irish philosopher Edmund Burke taught us: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Hitler, Amin, Duvalier, the Shah of Iran, and Muammar Ghaddafy were able to commit crimes against humanity because good men chose to do nothing. It’s this silence and inaction that allow despots to impose their will on their people.

Today, Filipinos are silent. It’s as if we’ve not learned the lessons from Marcos’ martial law. Have we forgotten the terrifying days of that dark period?

Actually, history is being rewritten today, being revised by those who, in their perversity, admire Marcos for what he has done to the country. In only a matter of a few decades, the evils of martial law have been erased from our minds and history books. Happy days are nearly here again.

How could people who, in the past, loved and defended democracy now suddenly support strongman rule, the same kind of autocratic government that they opposed in their younger years? How could they even be part of an administration that exhibits dictatorial tendencies?

People change, people learn how to accept odious practices that they fought against in their youth. People change according to what benefits them today. People change when they mellow, when they get old, when they get soft. When they have a lot more to lose than they did when they were young.


Greetings to Dick del Castillo, my long-time tennis partner who was always a gentleman on the court, and to Bobby Coquia, my apartment roommate in Arlington who was always patient and kind.


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