Keep the name and take responsibility

Last week, program specialists of the Department of Education released a memo, complying with an order to rewrite the curriculum so that “The Marcos Dictatorship” would be known simply as “The Dictatorship.” In Filipino, the words are vaguer: from “Diktadurang Marcos” to “Diktadura.”

Teachers’ groups were immediately up in arms and wrote about how the change downplayed the Marcos name.

The change might beg the question: Does it matter what we name the dictatorship?

A dictatorship, simply defined, is authoritarian rule, where power is placed in the hands of one person. Examples are rampant throughout history: Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, Hussein.

A naïve observer might say that removing the Marcos name from the Dictatorship is a reminder that governance is not in the hands of a single person, and it is the responsibility of every citizen to contribute to governance.

That the sins of a dictatorship are as much a sin of the president who took on the title as they are the collective sins of those who enabled the abuse of power, or who looked away while the opposition was imprisoned, or who denied that any bloodshed was occurring even when those who expressed righteous dissent were tortured into silence.

But this also means that in any dictatorship, there is, inevitably, an active abuser. Whether they are aware of their actions or are simply following orders is immaterial. Abuse occurs because of the active exploitation of those who have no power by those who do.

A dictatorship, then, does not arise organically in some “Lord of the Flies” deserted island. It is orchestrated, planned, used as the means to an end. The end, in the case of the Philippines, differs depending on who you ask: to control an unstable economy? Increase security? Amass wealth and silence those who dared to question anything that looked questionable? Solidify a hold on power?

Regardless of intent, a dictatorship isn’t some beast born accidentally. It is always created for a purpose—and that creator, enabler, executor, and dictator should always be held responsible for their work.

If we call it “A Dictatorship” or “The Dictatorship,” then we make ourselves a generic hypothetical case of “Governance Gone Wild.” A nameless dictatorship is a state of being without an actor—a ship without a dictator.It is as though someone merely stumbled into the halls of power, with no plans, and randomly decided, “I’d really like to oppress people now.”

Now call it what it was. The Marcos Dictatorship.

The full name takes into account the leader who allowed things to happen, who was voted into power and allowed to hold power by a population too afraid to speak up, who was opposed by an opposition whose names we should remember forever.

It writes into memory the leader who came with plans to do something, to see a mission through. If his underlings abused the situation, then their sins are theirs, but he is not absolved of responsibility because he chose to allow them free rein to do as they sinfully pleased.

Remove the name, and those in power today are admitting that the president back then had no real power, that he could not control the country, that he did not know how to surround himself with good and righteous people.

That there was no real leadership, no active public service—only a government that allowed things to happen, like the (once stable but completely destroyed) economy, the (corruption-riddled) infrastructure, the (once thriving but completely dismantled) education system.

Remove the name, and those in power today are admitting that their brand of leadership is that of simply giving orders instead of actively engaging with problems, weaving themselves a safety net to blame others when problems come up, pushing people to believe that problems such as rice shortage and traffic are actually not problems, shielding themselves from and persecuting dissent.

It is no surprise that the same people proposing the name change are also those who push for confidential funds.

With confidential funds, one need not justify purchases, strategize wisely, or take responsibility for one’s decisions. Confidential funds betray careless leadership that refuses to be held accountable.

Yes, everyone who turned a blind eye to the abuses of the Marcos Dictatorship should be held responsible. But there would not have been a dictatorship without the Marcos who was in power and who had the means to both give orders and control the abusers.

We don’t need name changes to remind us of our obligations in a democracy.

We need a reminder that attaching one’s name to an event, object, or idea automatically entails being an adult and taking responsibility.

We need a reminder that we, as a people, hold power. That one person should not be allowed to govern without checks and balances, that our government should be held responsible for everything that it promises and does.

We need a reminder that we should be held responsible if we remain silent, ever again, in the face of lies and injustice.

READ: Never forget the Conjugal Dictatorship