Institutional Wasteland

by Juan L. Mercado

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

Renato —  Who?  A  daily-wage mason, Chavez was among the first to enter Malacanang, after Chinook choppers lifted off with Marcoses and cronies. Marcos guards had vamoosed by then.  But 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. (So) 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. (So ) I borrowed a microphone (and) asked people not to destroy Malacanang,”  Aguilar recalls. “Think of our new  President. We do not want her to enter a dilapidated Malacanang. Some wanted to leave their barricades. But Jim Paredes thought they should stay. ‘Let’s not leave yet’,  I said on stage. Marcos loyalist troops might still attack.…So I sang for them and sat with them on the road through Tuesday night.

These gave a preview of today’s Tripoli. Cheering rebels displayed Qaddafi’s gold-plated rifle and golf cart outside the  Bab al-Aziziya complex. Another strutted with the fur that  the Libyan leader wore, in his first defiant TV appearance. Some ransacked  the beachfront home of Qaddafi’ 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 Malacanang  bedroom.

But Saad’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.”

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

Few  succeed in dismounting the dictatorship tiger whole. “El Duce” or “The Guide’ Benito Mussolini ran Italy with an iron fist from 1925 to 1943. Partisans strung up his body on a clothesline. “Der Führer” or 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 it’s  leverage on North Korea’s “Great Leader” Kim Jong-il who leads an impoverished but nuclear-armed rouge nation.

“Qaddafi is gone. Now, it’s your turn, Bashar!”,  shouted thousands of Syrian protestors after President Assad dismissed calls to end his family’s 40-year dynastic rule.  ‘Despite earlier assurances, Syrian troops fired again into demonstrators. Dasmascus 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 Qaddafi 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 autocracts from Marcos, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe to Haiti’s Papa Doc and Baby Doc Dulavier, invariably leave.

That includes just about everything: from providing food, clean water to health, 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 Qaddafi, should be the first priority. A Libyan police force must put in place.  There is pressure for to set a date 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”.

“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,” Christopher Hill adds. Those centuries, not the remnants of the Qaddafi regime, are likely to be the real enemy of change in Libya. One recalls Talleyrand’s famous aphorism on the restitution of the Bourbons – that 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,  Malacanang  seemed repository of all that is sad in this world. The deserted hallways led into empty rooms that echoed the wail of victims of the former occupants’ unendlng lust for power  On an opulent divan sat the ghost of a people betrayed. I shuddered  It was a most painful experience..“


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