Marcos as ‘Messiah’: Nothing can be farther from the truth

The conjugal dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos

Flattery, zealousness, infighting, myth-making, jealousy, unquestioning devotion, betrayal. If you look at the stories behind a tyrant’s rise to power, it almost sounds like a rip-off of Philippine telenovelas.

No thanks to tyranny’s spin doctors who conceived the idea of absolute devotion to the leader, the messianic complex which resulted from the lie only fooled despots into believing their own invincibility. The result was disastrous both to the oppressed, and later, the oppressor.

In William C. Rempel’s “Delusions of a Dictator: The Mind of Ferdinand Marcos as Revealed in His Secret Diaries” (Little, Brown and Company, 1993), the author quotes one of the Philippine dictator’s journal entries:

“I often wonder what I will be remembered in history for. Scholar? Military hero? Builder? The new constitution? Reorganization of government? Builder of roads, schools? The green revolution? Uniter of variant and antagonistic elements of our people? He brought light to a dark country? Strong rallying point, or a weak tyrant?”

Based on a paper by Nicole Cu Unjieng of the University of Pennsylvania, this self-flattery was expected of the man who, in the same diary, claimed that God had spoken to him and had chosen him to be the country’s savior. “The only person who can do it… nobody else can”.

This claim to have received a messianic calling straight from the mouth of God is as ancient as the belief in a people’s champion. Not only the ancients, but even recent history is awash with instances where men carried the conviction that they had been summoned by God to “get my people out of Egypt” — Egypt being the embodiment of exploitation and enslavement.

This same idea catapulted tyrants’ political careers to heights never before imagined, eventually dragging the world into what history now calls some of the bloodiest events ever to mar the human psyche.

The 21st century, according to the words of David Brooks of The New York Times, seems to be “turning into an era of globe-spanning holy wars at a time when the appeal of actual religion seems to be on the wane”.

He wrote in an article, “When Dictators Found God,” republished by the Baltimore Sun, that “Authoritarians found God. They used religious symbols as nationalist identity markers and rallying cries”.

Later in the article, Brooks mentions “The pseudo-religious authoritarians have raised the moral stakes. They act as if individualism, human rights, diversity, gender equality, LGBTQ rights and religious liberty are just the latest forms of Western moral imperialism and the harbingers of social and moral chaos”.

He mentions China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin as the modern-day shapers of this pseudo-religious authoritarian dogma.

Adolf Hitler was one of them. His persona as messianic champion of Germany’s masses was fashioned ‘round the narratives of two prominent members of his inner circle. These two ideological masterminds shaped Hitler’s messianic notions at the start of his National Socialist movement, which later transformed into the Nazi Party.

One is Dietrich Eckart, a 50-year-old Bavarian right-wing playwright, journalist, and dramatist who, by his writings, shaped the Führer’s idea of being the savior of the Fatherland.

Eckart stood as Hitler’s mentor in more ways than the teaching of mere social graces can offer. The wealthy and well-connected Bavarian writer provided Hitler the justification for, and centerpiece of, his racist ideology: that Germany is the progeny of the so-called Aryans, the lost race of the City of Atlantis.

At the time, many wealthy Germans gathered together in bars and watering holes for the purpose of pondering their conspiracy theories. Eckart, who had an insatiable taste for booze, had been mainstay in these bars, discussing his theories with Germany’s elite.

Hitler, coaxing his ego by believing Eckart’s creed that he might just be what Germany needed — the “messiah” — bought the script hook, line and sinker. This later provided the cornerstone for the racism upon which Nazism was erected.

Like Marcos, self-flattery, it seems, was one of his weaknesses.

The young Joseph Goebbels was another character. Prior to being part of Hitler’s inner circle as minister of propaganda, Goebbels worked as a journalist with a strong anti-Jewish bent. While accounts of his life say he was more a Marxist than a national socialist, his encounter with Hitler brought out the opportunist in him, and stood by Hitler’s side “against his own inner convictions”.

Goebbels, too, believed in Hitler’s “messianic” calling after hearing the new chancellor of Germany speak. Thus, Goebbels was partly to blame for the Hitler myth of “god-leader”. He used Nazi publications to rally the people to his cause, namely Der Angriff, and later on Das Reich, where he sat as editor.

Goebbels was a firebrand. From Bavaria to capital Berlin, Goebbels argued for Hitler’s his-time-has-come moment using fiery speeches and rhetoric. This captured the attention of Nazi officials, putting him in the position he would later occupy as Minister of Propaganda.

Given that Nazi Germany consisted of nearly 60 million Christians at the time — “Roman Catholic (ca. 20 million members) or the Protestant (ca. 40 million members churches. The Jewish community in Germany in 1933 was less than 1% of the total population of the country” — based on figures culled by the Holocaust Museum, the question remains: why?

Why did much of Nazi Germany later place their trust on the largely fabricated story that Hitler was the fatherland’s “savior,” enough that even in the middle of murdering six million Jews, they looked the other way?

Brooks observed that anti-immigrant attitudes latched onto ultra-conservative Christian attitudes easily, and brought about a “them” and “us” dichotomy of society.

He adds, “The pseudo-religious authoritarians have raised the moral stakes. They act as if individualism, human rights, diversity, gender equality, LGBTQ rights and religious liberty are just the latest forms of Western moral imperialism and the harbingers of social and moral chaos”.

President Rodrigo Duterte assumed power in 2016 largely on the basis of this same myth: that “God appointed Duterte to cleanse Philippine society of its social ills,” and that “God appointed Duterte to root evil out of communities”.

Senator Manny Pacquiao in 2018, in fact, had argued that while the Bible prohibits killing as matter of God’s law and principle, it does not restrict governments from taking a life through capital punishment. He quoted Romans 13 as proof of his convictions.

During the administration of US President Donald Trump, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, drummed up in 2018 the same chapter-verse in Romans to defend a policy that stirred many a hornet’s nests: “the separation of migrant children from their parents at the US-Mexico borders”.

This warped view of Paul the Apostle’s admonition in the Book of Romans seems to have a big following among members of the church. This despite Paul’s clear words in verse four, where he categorically defines God’s chosen leader, the one to whom Christians should submit, as “God’s servant for your good [emphasis mine].”

He defines the leader whose authority comes from God as God’s servant (the same title Paul the Apostle uses to describe himself in the introduction of the Book of Romans), the one who is out to look after the common good.

“Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place (Jeremiah 22:3).

Leaders who live unrighteous lives, who indulge in carousing, corruption, murder, and the oppression of the poor, the needy, the widow and orphans as a matter of law and procedure will be held accountable as in Jeremiah’s day. God remains for all time in the mind of believers as a God of justice.

“Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labor,” says the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 22:13).

The church often miss the point of this strong leadership creed. Rappler’s news editor Paterno Esmaquel II wrote a piece in 2019 where he quotes a certain evangelical pastor as saying:

“It is God’s design that there is law and order in society. For example, we prohibit jaywalking because we don’t want anyone to die because of accidents. If you are law-abiding, you will be safe from any of these accidents. And you have to realize that the law of the land has God’s anointing. There is no law on earth meant to harm people. You look for one that hurts people. You will not find any. Never.”

How this evangelical pastor came to this naïve conclusion in light of the tens of thousands of the poor murdered under Duterte’s drug war begs the question: who is this God you are referring to? Surely not the God of the Scriptures. Didn’t Jesus Christ hang on a cross and die a “rebel’s death” in the eyes of Rome, and as a blasphemer in the eyes of the Sanhedrin?

The religious authorities of Jesus’ day used the very law of God on blasphemy, found in Leviticus 24:15–16, against him. This merited the death sentence.

Laws in and by themselves may not sound oppressive, but it is the interpretation and implementation of the law by oppressive rulers that seals the difference.

History likewise teaches that certain laws give way to oppressive ones. Wasn’t the pastor aware that Kristallnacht in 1933, or the Night of Broken Glass, in Nazi Germany came about as a result of hundreds of anti-Jewish legislation promulgated prior to the war?

One of these were the “Nuremberg laws” which institutionalized much of the anti-Jewish dogma which found its way into Nazi ideology, leading thus first to apartheid — segregation based on race — and later, the gas chambers.

What with the wheels of justice turning ever so slowly in a country neck deep in the magma of heinous crimes, to many, “swift justice” is the only way to go, more so on the matter of illegal drugs. And who would better do the job of inflicting swift justice than one “anointed by God,” thus free of any human accountability?

I would even go to the extent of saying that this mentality had pretty much rationalized the later implementation of the Anti-Terrorism Law, Executive Order №70, and Oplan: Double Barrel. Activists blame these laws for the indiscriminate murder, harassment, and persecution of human rights advocates, clerics, lawyers, poets, and journalists.

Yet, three years into the drug war, many Filipinos still gave it the thumbs up. The answer to this question remains within the purview of speculation.

The narratives of deific calling bring to fore several problems. First, no proof exists save the claims of the leader. Second, it immediately implies that since one is called by God, then the leader is free of any accountability for his actions, no matter how brutal they may be.

The calling of God and the will of God are two inseparable views in religious belief. You cannot violate one without mocking the other.

Third, the rhetoric silences the public from any questions regarding the actions of the leader. Think of it this way: no blasphemy could be bigger than to question or criticize God, who is replicated in the image of the leader, or so they think.

These presumptions hold no water in biblical thought, whether you’re a believer in holy texts or not makes no difference.

King Saul wasn’t spared the judgment of God regardless of his calling based on the account of the Book of Chronicles: “So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the LORD, even against the word of the LORD, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to inquire of it” (1 Chronicles 10:13). Saul died by suicide.

Apollo Quiboloy, claiming to be the “appointed Son of God,” tricks his followers into believing that the charges he now faces, one of which is sex-trafficking, is part of an elaborate plan to “persecute” him. They turn a blind eye regardless of the evidence found against him.

All this goes to show that the “God-anointed tyrant” rhetoric is, at best, a farce, a travesty designed for monsters to run amuck with impunity.

Ferdinand E. Marcos was no “messiah,” not even close. History and the courts have already proven him to be a thief, obsessed with grandiose ambitions and a bloody scheme to pull off the biggest heist of all: $10 billion of stolen loot outside of tons of jewelry, art pieces, and what-have-you.

As I have said in previous pieces, what better way to cloak stolen wealth than by hiding it underneath the dead bodies of the thousands he had killed, and an impunity sanctified by a twisted messianic calling.

And because Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr never once disagreed with his father’s actions, refusing to apologize for the latter’s crimes and that of his family, I wouldn’t put it past him to replicate his father’s atrocities.

Apollo Quiboloy giving his “blessing” to Marcos Jr.’s candidacy and that of Sara Duterte is more than enough proof that the dictator’s son will be no different from his father.

Who do you think would be the voices behind Marcos Jr. if and when he sits as President?

Giving one man the certainty of our undying devotion as “savior” regardless of the crimes that stalk his steps brings us to society’s profoundest question: will you risk your life and the lives of the bigger community on a belief that you cannot defend even with the slightest intellectual rigor? Even after all evidence to the contrary had been presented?

Make no mistake: your choice is never just your own. Each vote is counted with the vote of a larger whole. Each vote carries with it the lives and the future of generations.

Participating in the electoral process, assuming we have one that can be trusted, is by no means a justification for innocence. Who we choose spells either our honor or our guilt.

It’s not too late to change your minds.

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Joel Pablo Salud

Joel Pablo Salud

Joel Pablo Salud is the author of several books of fiction and political nonfiction. His opinions in Medium.com are his own.