Institutional wasteland | Inquirer Opinion

Institutional wasteland

/ 09:42 PM August 26, 2011

Many Filipinos saw images of Libyans stomping on Moammar Gadhafi’s photo in Tripoli and at its embassy in Makati. That led some to retrieve People Power I clips  that record Edsa crowds ripping from a Malacañang wall the Filipino dictator’s portrait. Then, there was Renato Chavez.

Renato who? A daily-wage mason, Chavez was among  the first to enter Malacañang after Chinook choppers lifted off with the Marcoses and their cronies. Marcos’ guards had vamoosed by  then, but the Palace lights were on.


“I was afraid. I went from room to room,” Chavez recalls. “It was beautiful, specially the chandeliers. I saw the chair used by Marcos (with) his seal as president. I sat on it and felt really happy… In the library, I saw fresh grapes on a dish. I ate them all. I wanted to take a pin cushion. ‘Don’t get it,’ someone said. ‘Cory might use it.’ I took instead a barong Tagalog.  There were so many of them. I only had a clutch bag and took only one.”

“They’re looting the place,” an old man told folk singer Freddie Aguilar. “Maybe they’ll listen to you. Ask them to stop.”


“I borrowed a microphone [and] asked people not to destroy Malacañang,” Aguilar recalls. “‘Think of our new president. We do not want her to enter a dilapidated Malacañang…”’

Some  wanted to leave their barricades. But Jim Paredes thought they should stay. “Let’s not leave yet,” Paredes recalls telling them. “Marcos loyalist troops… might still attack.”

Paredes said he sang for them and sat with them on the road through Tuesday night.

These were a preview of today’s Tripoli. Cheering rebels displayed Gadhafi’s gold-plated rifle and golf cart outside the Bab al-Aziziya complex. One strutted with the fur that the  Libyan leader wore in his first defiant TV appearance. Some ransacked the beachfront home of Gadhafi’s 38-year-old son al-Saadi  and daughter Aisha’s mansion in the affluent Nofleen neighborhood. No 800 black brassieres or gallons of perfume turned up, as in Imelda’s Malacañang bedroom.

But al-Saadi’s cars—a BMW, an Audi, a white Lamborghini and a Toyota—were driven off. A rebel lofted up a bottle of gin, a toothbrush with a gilded handle and Diesel jeans. “We allow the wrecking of symbols of power abuse,” a rebel leader said.

Like Burma’s Than Shwe, Gadhafi’s 42-year rule “increasingly became a family business.” Marcos also divvied up the economy among his cronies: Roberto Benedicto for sugar; Eduardo Cojuangco for coconut; the Florendos for bananas, etc. Gadhafi parceled out vital sectors, from oil to security, among his six sons.

Few succeed in dismounting the dictatorship tiger whole. “Il Duce” Benito Mussolini ran Italy with an iron fist from 1925 to 1943. Partisans strung up his body on a clothesline. “Der Führer” Adolf Hitler shot himself in a bunker as Allied troops approached. Egypt’s Hosni  Mubarak faces trial for plunder. Asia is urging China to use its leverage on North Korea’s “Great Leader” Kim Jong-il who leads an impoverished but nuclear-armed rogue nation.


“Gadhafi is gone. Now, it’s your turn, Bashar!” shouted thousands of  Syrian protesters after President Assad dismissed calls to end his family’s 40-year dynastic rule. Despite earlier assurances, Syrian troops fired again into demonstrators. Damascus has failed to quell a five-month-old revolt with brute force. And it is increasingly isolated. Saudi Arabia and a number of Arab League nations have recalled their ambassadors.

The manhunt for Gadhafi and sons will take time. At the International Court in the Hague, justices will have to cool their heels for now. Toppling dictators is the easy part. The tough nut is rebuilding from the “institutional wasteland” that autocrats, from Marcos and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe to Haiti’s  Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier, invariably leave.

That includes just about everything, from providing food, clean water to health, from elections to reopening legislature and courts to  decommissioning partisans who liberated the country in a country strewn with weapons. “The temptation is to strip everyone to their underwear and send them home,” former Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill writes.

Devastated by war, Libya has few structures to build on. The security and judicial system, a wasteland under Gadhafi, should be the first priority. A Libyan police force must be put in place. There is pressure to set a date for elections of some sort and keep it.

The National Transitional Council has functioned fairly well, given the mammoth odds. “But the skills needed for leadership of a wartime governing council are very different from those needed to run a sovereign state,” Hill notes. “If we learned anything from Iraq and Afghanistan, it is that a few years of politics, or institutional rebuilding, does not trump centuries of culture. Those centuries, not the remnants of the Gadhafi regime, are likely to be the real enemy of change in Libya…One recalls Talleyrand’s famous aphorism on the restitution of the Bourbons: they learned nothing and forgot nothing.”

“We shouted ourselves hoarse.” Tony Go told Fr. James Reuter, SJ in an interview for the book “People Power—An  Eyewitness History.” “One pocketed a pebble. Many uprooted plants for transplanting into their own backyards… But in the midst of  what was New Year’s Eve in February, Malacañang seemed to be the repository of all that was sad in this world. The deserted hallways led into empty rooms that echoed the wail of victims of the former occupants’ unending lust for power. On an opulent divan sat the ghost of a people betrayed…  I shuddered. It  was a most painful experience.”

(Email: [email protected])

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TAGS: Edsa 1, featured columns, Gadhafi, opinion, People Power
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