The tyrant of this island nation rose to prominence with an iron hand, amassing human rights violations through his regime’s jailing, torture and killing of political opponents.
Who are we describing?
It’s an interchangeable bio line that could apply to Cuba’s Fidel Castro or the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos.
But I’m wondering what President Duterte is thinking about all the news.
Who would he rather be?
The dictators with the similar bio line are commanding very different reactions from their respective countries and the world.
When Fidel Castro died last week, they banged pots and pans in the U.S. Miami’s Little Havana as if the wicked witch had died. The Cuban community in the U.S. is around 2 million people, half the size of the Filipino community. But when Castro died, the exiles showed up on the media in full force, speaking about how they came to the U.S. seeking freedom from the repression of Castro’s government. Castro was no hero to them.
But in Cuba, among those who stayed behind, many were moved to tears of sadness. Among those in their 50s and older, who remember the early days of the revolution, there was somber praise for Castro’s vision. His society was not perfect, but it was an attempt at a people’s utopia. Those still living it regard Castro as their leader. A legitimate socialist hero.
Now, exactly who considers Marcos a hero, really?
Not the people.
I remember being in Manila during one of the infamous pots and pans protests in the 1983. People in the Manila were protesting what they perceived was Marcos’ involvement in the death of Sen. Benigno Aquino. People were just getting up the nerve to speak out. People Power was simmering to revolution.
Judging from the reaction in Manila, with protests last week, I don’t imagine that feeling has totally died. Marcos a hero? Not to victims of his regime, their families and friends. They remain unforgiving.
And then there are the citizens of the RP living in the country’s peso economy. Imagine a Philippines with the wealth that Marcos took for his own personal fortune? A boomlet in the economy today, with some of the highest GDP growth in Asia doesn’t mask the sins. It’s just an ugly reminder of the looting of the country.
Harder to mask is that all the recent growth in the RP tends to help the 1 percent, not the vast majority. Americans can relate to income inequality. At least in the U.S. there is well defined middle-class, unlike the Philippines Top and Bottom economy.
No country can claim to be doing so well when it relies so heavily on remittances from overseas workers.
$29.7 billion from OFWs to the Philippines? It’s obscene. It’s plain to see the hero didn’t create jobs or wealth for the masses to improve the society.
But the hero created a country where people are forced to leave. Some hero.
The animus toward Marcos is still very real in America.
The exile community was strong in the 1980s when Marcos was in power. But since People Power, many have returned to their oligarchical places, if they were oligarchs. The professionals who left the Philippines for the U.S., as well as others fortunate to immigrate post-1965, mostly stayed in the U.S. They will protest this week the hero’s burial of Marcos.
You wouldn’t expect it to be as loud or as strong as protests in Manila.
But it is a far cry from what we saw in the U.S. in the ‘80s, when Filipinos and Filipino Americans were joined by others from the labor and human rights movements. It was a broad and angry coalition, and mostly because Marcos was propped up by the U.S. and the CIA.
The Philippines then was a legitimate U.S. concern. These days, the Marcos burial is barely news in the U.S.
More interesting is the unpredictable leadership of Duterte. And he’s one of the few who actually think Marcos is a hero. The rest are Marcos family members, friends and politicians. But the pols tend to be related. It’s a short list.
Duterte is even holding back on his praise somewhat, supporting the burial as a “legal” formality.
Marcos was president? In the armed forces? What’s the problem? I’m wondering if Duterte is rethinking of aligning himself with the Marcoses?
Marcos was America’s boy. Duterte is anything but that. Duterte sent a congratulatory note to Trump. But he’s also spoken about alliances with Russia and China.
Meanwhile, Castro is being remembered as the revolutionary who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959. The man who baffled 11 presidents, and who made his small island country a major player. And boy did he like to tweak the U.S.
Marcos isn’t the model for Duterte. Maybe Castro is?
The question is whether RodDee Dee has the guts, or vision to really make a difference in the economic lives of the people in the Philippines. Killing suspected drug dealers is low hanging fruit. And doing it in an extrajudicial way is unforgiveable. What is he doing to really transform the lives of the poor in the Philippines?
By the way he’s alienated the U.S. and the human rights community in the West, Duterte has indicated flashes of seeking a new way.
It would shake up traditionalists who still see the Philippines nostalgically as an American colony.
Castro’s death and the history it’s bringing back, should make RodDee Dee think twice if the showdown over the Marcos burial is worth it.
Marcos was out only for himself. He wasn’t about People Power.
The Philippines accomplished a revolution without Castro’s might and repression. It needs to continue and accelerate the good of People Power, but in a new and aggressive way that upsets the oligarchs. If Duterte could do that, he could bury Marcos, and still emerge a hero.
Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator based in the Inquirer’s U.S. Bureau.