I had thought the issue was parochial. Manila friends believed otherwise. Knowing where I was coming from, they would inject into our conversations how happy they were to learn that a local dictator in Mindanao, after 25 years in power, had been toppled, not by a mass uprising but by the power of the automated ballot.
In 15 of those years Vicente Y. Emano ruled as mayor of Cagayan de Oro, a position which many say he never won in an honest election. In one of the elections, he outflanked Koko Pimentel who was in his first attempt at politics. In the years following, Emano continued to win even as his credibility steadily declined.
Many say Emano was a classic dictator. He exhibited braggadocio in abundance, surrounding himself with burly security men traveling in convoys that often included a police SWAT vehicle. Nobody but nobody could afford to defy his self-imposed conventions. He reduced the city council into a rubber stamp that was useless without his dictates, and his councilors into sycophants who seemed to have never heard of the principle of checks and balances in governance. When an ordinance was passed prohibiting smoking in public places, Emano considered himself exempted. When a ban on tinted vehicles was imposed, he had himself excluded from the application of the law.
Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City also exudes an air of braggadocio. And some people do see him as a dictator too. But he has political will. He works the field, walks the city streets of Davao City, and personally apprehends traffic violators. In other words, government works in Davao City, which earned the place the accolade “one of the most liveable of the world’s cities.” Skeptics may ask: “How about human rights?” But no one can say Duterte’s is classic dictatorship.
The classic dictator is one who rules from an armchair. Ruling from an armchair is akin to Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned. That is exactly how Emano “governed” Cagayan de Oro for 15 years. And his “detached” style of governance did not take long to take effect. The city fell into urban decay; the traffic problem got worse and worse, eventually beating that of Manila, and the streets turned into a stinking mayhem—all these while the autocrat filled a ridiculously violet-painted office with cigarette smoke and with the harsh sounds of imperial orders to subalterns, which often were accompanied with an ample mixture of profanities. For everybody in his past world was a subaltern.
In our paternalistic/maternalistic culture, mayors are often reverently looked up to as “fathers” of their localities just as women mayors are kindly thought of as “mothers.” Under Emano, Cagayan de Oro was an orphan.
Drunk and obsessed with power, dictators are in constant fear of losing power. They erase defeat from their vocabulary, knowing that defeat could strip them of their power and ultimately bring them ignominy. Marcos, Duvalier, Idi Amin—history will never be kind to their memories.
As we write, a powerful bomb was detonated in a strip of upscale bistros in Cagayan de Oro. According to news reports, six victims have died, and dozens of other patrons were hurt. Two of the dead were medical doctors attending a national convention in town. Another fatality was a young provincial board member of Misamis Oriental, Roldan Lagbas. What senseless cruelty!
Just more than a week ago, the Commission on Audit came out with damning evidence on the misuse of calamity funds meant for the victims and survivors of Tropical Storm “Sendong.” Of the P123.94 million raised from public donations, P50 million lay idle in a bank even as survivors were reeling from the disaster. Out of the P55 million allotted for the construction of 500 permanent shelters for relocation, only 80 units were built. Some P8.8 million was paid as mobilization fee for one SCV Construction reportedly owned by a former bodyguard of Emano, but which, many believe, is really owned by a member of the Emano family.
Why is it that dictators usually find themselves in hot water after their political demise? A week ago, GMA-7 released the investigative documentary “Anomalya sa Calamity Fund sa Cagayan de Oro.” They say some dictators go berserk when their misdeeds are laid bare before the world. Was this connected to the bomb last Friday night? I wouldn’t say so, but there are speculations.
As classic a dictator as he was, Emano can
either stage a comeback or retaliate. Both are, of course, mere speculations at this point. We know, however, that also as classic is the line, “The evil that men do lives after them.” And that is from William Shakespeare.