‘Benevolent dictator? There’s no such thing’
President Benigno Aquino III on Friday warned Filipinos that there is no such thing as a “benevolent dictatorship,” which is what Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, the front-runner in the race for Malacañang, seems to be offering to them.
“Underneath Duterte’s slogan, ‘tapang at malasakit’ (fearlessness and compassion) means benevolent dictatorship,” Mr. Aquino said three days before national elections that would decide who would take his place as leader of the Philippines.
Mr. Aquino urged the voters to study Duterte’s provocative statements before casting their votes on Monday.
The President said the slogan basically meant that if a citizen was “not a bad person, then he would not be affected” by strongman rule, for example, denying a suspected criminal due process or abolishing Congress, which is a coequal branch of government.
“Can any of us live with his presidency if he actually carries out everything that he has been saying literally? And I guess I am allowing myself to reflect on the fact that this is the 30th year after Edsa and I would like to think that we have made substantial gains in the past six years,” President Aquino told Inquirer editors and reporters in an interview in Malacañang.
Son of democracy icons
Mr. Aquino, 56, has reason to be sentimental about the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution: He is the only son of democracy icons Ninoy and Cory Aquino.
Ninoy Aquino was the leader of the opposition to strongman Ferdinand Marcos, suspected to be the mastermind in the senator’s assassination in 1983 that marked the beginning of protests that ended the 20-year dictatorship and catapulted his wife, Cory, to the presidency.
President Aquino had tried, but failed, to get presidential candidates Mar Roxas and Sen. Grace Poe to unite to save the country’s democracy. Poe rebuffed Roxas’ offer of unity talks.
As if Duterte’s rise was not enough, Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the late dictator’s son, also shares the lead in voter preference polls for the vice presidential election with the administration’s candidate, Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo.
“I am really hoping that we are not taking for granted things that we already have now. The religious part of me says God might be reminding us that to value our freedom again, perhaps it is time to remove it again. I hope it’s not like that,” Mr. Aquino said.
The President urged families to discuss tomorrow’s elections and consider their choices for the country’s next leader. “Do we want a leader who cusses each time when our mothers have raised us instilling good values?” he said.
The late Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew has been described as a benevolent dictator who led the city-state to its much-envied prosperity. He had clear economic and political policies. In contrast, Duterte did not spell out any policy throughout the three-month campaign period but instead relied on bombastic statements to draw cheers from his supporters.
“Let us listen to everything that he says. Some people treat it as a joke. But one thing that he said, which to me was serious, was the line about the fishes getting fatter …” Mr. Aquino said, referring to Duterte’s promise that he would kill tens of thousands of criminals and dump their bodies in rivers and in Manila Bay.
“I hope people would pause and think if this is really the solution to criminality,” Mr. Aquino said.
The President criticized Duterte’s hollow campaign platform.
“When you are trying to convince anybody, there has to be some vision. We used to complain about motherhood statements, such as education is the key. But [with Duterte], there are no even motherhood statements. I saw his ad repeatedly yesterday and tried to pick up things that he says… in the end he says ‘Let us fix this country,’” Mr. Aquino said, adding,
“He does not utter motherhood statements. He is successful in being all encompassing while saying nothing.”
The President said that Duterte appears to have left to his supporters the job of defining the problems that beset them and the change they want to see in the government.
“It seems that he has left everything to one’s imagination. Everybody that is receptive to that idea [of change] defines what it is. Everybody has his own imagination and paints the picture that he wants to see. That is a difficult proposition,” Mr. Aquino said.
“My two questions to him (Duterte) would be: What does he intend to do and how does he intend to bring us there?” he said.
Mr. Aquino acknowledged that the idea of “change has always been exciting.”
“But I want to ask the people, change from what? The 4.6 million households being assisted, do we change that? The 7.7 million who crossed the poverty line, do we bring them back before the poverty line? The [improvement in] disaster reduction risk response, so let’s not make government proactive anymore?” Mr. Aquino said.
He acknowledged that Duterte’s camp was successful in its “marketing campaign in branding themselves as very different from us.”
“Somehow they have managed, and we have to give them credit for that. We will induce change, which is not defined, left to the imagination of the people, eyes of the beholder—that means traffic will be immediately solved, gone are the pushers and addicts, all these with different variations. It is quite hard to suppress somebody’s imagination,” he said.
The President said that perhaps, one reason for people supporting someone who has yet to show his policies is that “there is a certain degree of comfort that the upward trajectory will continue and we can afford any leader.”
“But is it that easy?” he said.
The President said he was appalled by Duterte’s refusal to take back what he said about Australian missionary Jacqueline Hamill being so pretty even in death, that he should have been the first to rape her because he was the mayor.
That Duterte “berated” the Australian and US ambassadors for commenting on his “rape joke” and saying he did not care if the two countries severed ties with the Philippines forced Mr. Aquino to “talk to [the two allies of the Philippines] to try to smooth any disturbance in the waters.”
“The fundamental flaw in the argument that a country needs a benevolent dictator is that it assumes there is a perfect being that would make perfect decisions all the time. But man being an imperfect being cannot make a perfect decision,” the President said.
Checks and balances
Without Congress and the Supreme Court, there would be no checks and balances, the President said, stressing that the 1987 Constitution does not even have a provision that allows the Chief Executive to abolish his coequal branches of government.
“What is the Constitution in its simplest form? It is how we all agreed to govern and interact with each other—resolve issues, define our rights and duties … And here we have somebody who aims to become President whose job is to execute the laws, then he is going, in a sense, say let us throw all of that out. So what do you replace it with? I don’t think he has ever been clear about what he is going to replace it with,” Mr. Aquino said.
The President also pointed out that Duterte has the extreme right and extreme left with him in the campaign.
“They have a common enemy,” the President said, referring to the middle ground, which government represents.
“But when they no longer have a common enemy, they would end up fighting each other,” he added. TVJ
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