Your Life Under The Next Dictator
You still believe that it’s only the ‘bad guys’ that will be hurt and somehow that is miraculously determined by vigilantes with guns
It’s Monday morning and you are late for work because your kid’s yaya didn’t make it to your house in time. Her son disappeared over the weekend while out with his friends, and she doesn’t know where he is.
You’re not worried, he’s always been a troublemaker anyway. Rumor has it he even smokes outside his house.
You are rushing because you’ll miss the mass transit bus that replaced the cars in major thoroughfares. You have a car but you can only use it around your neighborhood. You have to be careful because of the traffic enforcers you heard are very strict. You’ve seen by the look on their faces that they really don’t mess around.
You’ll be fine. The streets aren’t congested after the president eliminated traffic by his strict regulation of vehicles. The public transport systems are affordable, and they are clean – thanks to the no littering, no smoking, and no gum-chewing ordinances in all public places.
Foreign investments are up because peace and order is evident. The crime rate is close to zero. All employees are versed in business math. Economic progress is unprecedented, and the president has made the Philippines great again, as he promised. At least that’s how it’s portrayed by media, whose positivity has been so refreshing, right?
You expected this. You voted for him. Despite his detractors who accused him of becoming another violent dictator, you knew he would follow through. He would clean up the Philippines’ act.
A cleaned up act
One look at the city shows it. There are no street children, no vendors, no panhandlers, not even smokers. The streets are tidy enough for you to eat off them. There isn’t even a blaring horn to startle you, not even a misplaced signal light.
On your ride you pass the statue of Ferdinand Marcos who was declared a hero by presidential decree. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is now the president’s advisor. Bongbong Marcos is the vice president. It makes sense. The culture of this administration is in his blood.
Even the newspapers have no crimes to report. Everything seems fine and dandy thanks to a presidential memo to media on “positive” news. You ignore the rumors that defiant news reporters are being detained somewhere outside Manila, same with emergency room doctors who report violent crimes. Serves them right for creating trouble, you think. Things are really better when only the good things are publicized.
“Puro kriminal lang yung mga nakakulong (Only criminals are jailed),” say your like-minded friends. You agree. After all, your chosen candidate said he will eliminate crime no matter what, and not to expect him to follow the rules. He’s just keeping his promise and you can’t fault him for that.
You forget that this already happened 40 years ago, because you only heard stories and never studied martial law.
“Kailangan nating ng disiplina (We need discipline),” you insisted to those who disagreed with you in 2016, even if they all warned that this “disciplinarian” president would cause citizens doom.
There is no doom as far as you’re concerned. The birth rate and unplanned pregnancies are down due to the president’s aggressive population control initiatives. The church first opposed this, until the cardinal disappeared when he spoke up about the immorality of contraception and armed guards watched the content of homilies during mass.
Proud of your decision
You’re proud of your decision to vote for a brave and proactive man. He’s developed initiatives his opponents and former incumbents could only dream of. You were right all along that an iron fist is what the Philippines needed. People follow a strong leader. Citizens are disciplined if there are consequences. You are glad that petty thieves are removed from the streets. You don’t really care where they end up, much less if they’re alive.
After a day of work you get back home without traffic to be able to spend time with your son – something unheard of before this administration when city traffic made it impossible to get home in time. The boy talks about the day’s school civic lesson about the president’s “Citizen Justice System,” where civilians are allowed to arrest, detain, and turn over offenders for community leaders to punish as they wish. You remind your boy how important it is to be good or else suffer the consequences of misbehaving. You warn him that “bad guys” are killed like the president wanted, and it doesn’t matter how and why.
You fall asleep quickly and without worry of locking your doors or activating your security alarm. It’s so quiet outside and you don’t remember the last time anyone reported any break-ins or other crimes. You’ve slept soundly like this for a couple of years, without worry for yourself or your family night after night.
But this time, at 1:30 am, you are shaken from your sleep because your brother was arrested for breaking the curfew. Your mother is hysterical and wants you to find him, but forbids you to leave the house before morning lest you be arrested as well.
You insist on leaving because you’re only looking for your brother and not doing anything wrong. There are cops patrolling everywhere, and soldiers man checkpoints. You get stopped by a plainclothes man with an AK-47, and you think that’s a good thing. You can ask for help finding your brother – a teenager who was probably just late coming home from studying in a classmate’s house – and maybe explain his side.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he says.
“I’m looking for my brother who was just arrested for breaking the curfew,” you say. A simple explanation should lead you to him in no time.
“So you’re breaking the curfew as well?” he responds, sizing you up, nodding at his fellow enforcers in some kind of code they’ve developed doing this night after night.
“No, I just–”
“Get in the van,” he says, pointing his gun barrel at a police vehicle nearby. You turn your head to find more armed men behind you. Lacking alternatives, you oblige.
The van is filled with street kids, homeless people, and those like you who were out after dark. The ones who are quiet are resigned. The ones who were angry have been beaten up. A guard silences anyone who makes a stir.
“You can’t do this, you can’t arrest me for nothing,” you say.
“President’s orders,” he says, making room for one more by his side.
You look in the corner where a teenage boy lies lifeless on the floor. You take a seat and calm yourself, confident this will all be cleared up in no time. You’re not a criminal. You’re a good citizen. You’ve never even so much as littered or passed a red light.
You believe someone will eventually listen to your explanation, lead you to your brother, and you’ll both have a good laugh.
But what if that doesn’t happen? Who will look for you? Will anyone even know where you’ve been taken? Will anyone be brave enough to report your abduction or death? Is there a newspaper that will question your arrest, or a lawyer who will fight for your rights?
In the back of your mind you hear the warnings of those who mentioned terms you ignored when you pledged your full support for your president: due process, summary execution, death squad. You shrug it off, still believing those were all exaggerations. A noble leader cannot possibly allow injustice under his administration. Surely, like God, the president is all-knowing and has eyes on every single “law enforcer” of the hundred thousand he has appointed to maintain order on the ground. Of course they’re all good, conscientious, and not corrupt. Of course they are specialists on wrong and right. The president said so. He is always right.
You relent and believe for a second that you’ll be fine.
“Excuse me, sir–” you say one last time.
“Shut up or I’ll shut you up,” he says, cocking his gun.
You don’t understand. You fully supported rounding up the undesirables in society and dumping them in Manila Bay. When your president bragged about the thousands he killed to eliminate criminality, you believed it was hyperbole and that he didn’t really kill anyone. He was just so convincing that he scared people into behaving. Those were just rumors that hundreds disappeared because of the anti-crime initiatives in his hometown.
You appreciated the cleaned up streets and the visible peace that your idol has created. It’s a system that works in favor of those who follow the law, like you do. As long as you were good, you believed, you would never be harmed.
Surely there’s another way around this misunderstanding. This cannot be happening. Abducting an upright citizen like you cannot be in your idol’s plans.
You want to speak up, but who will listen? You did approve of the rounding up of journalists who portrayed your beloved president in a negative light.
You didn’t realize that giving power to anyone to arrest, detain and execute without due process means that any person may be taken on a whim. There is no paper trail to track their whereabouts, what crime they committed and what punishment is suitable for them. There is no accountability for the loss of life or serious injury. There is no press to report wrongdoings. There are no lawyers and judges brave enough to go against an administration that has abolished Congress to ensure power for as long as they want.
You keep your fingers crossed as the children in your van of “criminals” start crying. “Inosente rin po kami (We’re innocent too),” they say to you, but the guard tells them all to shut up.
“Lahat kayo kriminal (You’re all criminals),” he says, giving you a special glance. You know you’re not a criminal and you have done nothing wrong, so you want to say it out loud. You scout the streets for anyone you can yell at who will listen to you, to hear what you say and help get you out of the danger of being a wrongly accused passenger in this van.
Peace and order
But alas, the streets are empty due to the curfew. It is quiet, crimeless, and very peaceful. No undesirables. No lowlifes. No troublemakers. No whistleblowers. No one could hear you even if you screamed or if you were shot in the head in plain sight.
The van speeds up to take you to your final destination. You still believe that it’s only the “bad guys” that will be hurt and that somehow this is miraculously determined by vigilantes with guns without need for investigations or trials. Your beloved president cannot possibly allow injustice, and determining the fairness of executions is solely a divine act.
You voted for this, so you should be proud. This is how the president made the Philippines “great” again, and you fully supported it. Now it’s your turn to pay the price that others have paid before you when you claimed this is what we needed. You didn’t care about the lives previously snuffed because you were content in thinking that they were guilty and deserved death because they’ve been “bad.”
Congratulations on being part and product of making the Philippines great again. Don’t even say you were not warned.