[OPINION] How to prevent democracy from turning into a dictatorship

Through history: Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, Russian President Vladimir Putin, former U.S. President Donald Trump, the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos, and Rodrigo Duterte

THE commemoration of the historic People Power Revolution of 1986 in the Philippines was eclipsed with two important news headlines that somehow shaped many aspects of social media interaction online among Filipinos wherever they may be around the world.

The unprovoked invasion of Russian forces in Ukraine on Thursday, February 24, ignited fear of World War III among people still hurting and hoping to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. The fragility of our global security is blamed on the Dictator of Russia, President Vladimir Putin.

Such scare touched old wounds still needing closure and healing a generation after because Bongbong Marcos, the son of former Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos, whose dictatorship we finally toppled 36 years ago, is now running for the country’s top post himself.

The painful reality is that he has been the frontrunner for a while, thanks to their disinformation campaign and the full utilization of fake news and trolls to discredit the Aquino legacy, the People Power Revolution, the critics of the Marcos Family, and his political opponent, Leni Robredo, who beat him for the vice president post in 2016 and is now running against him for president this May 9, 2022 election.

The thought that the Marcos family will be back in Malacañang is unfathomable for many Filipinos who have not been indoctrinated by the Marcos dictatorship and Bongbong’s propaganda to grab the power back.

#NeverAgain has been the battle cry to fight against this nightmare scenario, and Filipinos found hope in the candidacy of Leni Robredo, the widow of Jesse Robredo — the former Secretary of the Interior and Local Government of the Philippines during the term of the late President Noynoy Aquino. Jesse Robredo died in an airplane crash in 2012.

Follow me as I lay out the interrelationship of events and people in this complicated plot. We know that Noynoy Aquino is the son of the late President Corazon Aquino — the widow of Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., Ferdinand Marcos’ staunchest critic who was assassinated at the tarmac of the airport upon his return to the Philippines after self-exile in 1983. Cory Aquino united the opposition and defeated Ferdinand Marcos in a snap election in 1986.

The dictator tried to cheat his way through the snap election but the courage of the Filipino people who formed human barricades in the streets of EDSA for four days, armed only with their sense of purpose, love for the country, rosaries, flowers, prayers and food even for the soldiers who could have killed them during those four days. Marcos and his family left Malacañang on February 25, 1986.

And now, the widow of Jesse Robredo is running against Bongbong Marcos for the presidency. Leni is the exact opposite of Marcos, especially in her lifelong history of public service for the poor and marginalized sectors of the Philippine society, her educational attainment as a lawyer, her gentle and humble way of speaking, her simple lifestyle, and her impeccable record of integrity, honesty, transparency and accountability since she entered politics as a congressional representative before she ran for the vice presidency. The Philippine Commission on Audit has given the Office of the Vice President the highest audit rating for three consecutive years.

Meanwhile, Sara Duterte, the daughter of outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, is running for vice president in Marcos’ unity-team.

Just why did the Philippines fall prey to the Marcos dictatorship (and arguably, even Duterte’s dictatorship, and arguably, even Donald Trump’s), and how could we prevent this from happening again?

Let me share with you this article “How Do Democracies Turn Into Dictatorship,” focusing on the attribute of the Dictator Filipinos seemed to be drawn to.

“Resist the allure of political “strongmen.” These figures enter the political stage often claiming to be an outsider to the political establishment, and vowing to “get tough” on everyone that is apparently sapping the nation’s strength, thereby “saving” the nation.

Strongmen often turn their ireful gaze onto many different groups, including minorities, immigrants, the political opposition, and established national leaders; strongmen tend to view these groups as both personal and national enemies.

Furthermore, these strongmen claim that in order to carry out their task of “rescuing” the country, they need to have all barriers to their power removed.

As such, they often believe that democratic institutions such as political checks-and-balances are an unnecessary hindrance on their power and that these barriers only serve to “stop things from getting done.”

For strongmen, “getting things done” means silencing, intimidating, and even persecuting their enemies until they can no longer participate in national politics.

Strongmen need to be stopped at the POLLS. Elections tend to affirm strongmen by giving them a popular mandate for their regime, but their respect for democracy ends the day after the election. Beating strongmen means NOT giving them a position of power to abuse in the first place, or by denying them a mandate and voting them out of power.

Ultimately, the best way to protect democracies against becoming a dictatorship is to continue embracing democratic practices. Voters need to make conscientious electoral choices that reject candidates or political groups that threaten to undermine the democratic process.

Maintaining democracy requires voters to become yet more steadfast in their empathy towards others and participating in national politics with a frame of mind towards cooperation and understanding.”

We can stop this karmic curse if we learn from history. We have the power right here, right now, to reject and VOTE OUT candidates or children of dictators who have abused their power and never ever give them access to power again. Reclaim that power inherently ours as provided for by the Constitution. Vote for the best and the right candidate who respects our democratic principles. Protect our democracy, and remember that in a democracy, we have a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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Gel Santos Relos has been in news, talk, public service and educational broadcasting since 1989. She was a news anchor, TV host and radio commentator and public service host for ABS- CBN and DZMM. She is now working on her advocacies independently, serving the Filipino audience using different  media platforms. You may contact her through email at gelrelos@icloud.com, or send her a message via Facebook at Facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos. Also on Twitter, Instagram: Gel Santos Relos

Gel Santos Relos

Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to www.TheFil-AmPerspective.com and www.facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos

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