Books to stock in your chil­dren’s li­braries.

Esquire (Philippines) - - MAN AT HIS BEST - By Sasha Martinez

A CHILD’S CU­RIOS­ITY IS A PRECIOUS, oh-so-whole­some thing—a wide-eyed thirst for knowl­edge that must be cher­ished at all costs and nour­ished and ad­dressed. Dad, why is the sky blue? Dad, what are hic­cups? Dad, why do my fingers wrin­kle up when I stay in the bath too long? Dad, why does Mommy cry when­ever she’s wash­ing the dishes? Dad, was Fer­di­nand E. Mar­cos re­ally a dic­ta­tor and was his decades-long reign, in­clud­ing his dec­la­ra­tion of Mar­tial Law, the true mod­ern dark ages of the Philip­pines and not the golden era that all th­ese strangers on the in­ter­net tell me when I go on­line to watch Shaun the Sheep re­runs?

So pure, so adorable. So pre­co­cious.

Next time you tuck your spawn into bed, best whip out Ito ang Dik­tadura by Equipo Plantel and il­lus­trated by Mikel Casal. This damn­ing chil­dren’s book lays out some of the most straight­for­ward de­scrip­tions of a dic­ta­to­rial rule by run­ning the reader through a day in the life of a despot: Wake up grumpy, get briefed by your of­fi­cials dur­ing break­fast to en­sure there are no up­ris­ings on the hori­zon, etc., the usual. It reads like a check­list: Is his name on ev­ery­thing? Are there cel­e­bra­tions in his honor spon­sored by his gov­ern­ment? Are his crit­ics en­e­mies of the state or in jail or ex­iled or dead? Are his friends rich beyond be­lief and un­touched by his laws?

Chil­dren—and, sure, maybe even the more will­fully ig­no­rant adults among us—won’t have much trou­ble with the book’s enu­mer­a­tion of the dic­ta­tor’s play­book: He sets the laws; he sets the re­wards; he sets the pun­ish­ments. You’re not al­lowed to think for your­self, and es­pe­cially not against the gov­ern­ment. You’re not al­lowed to not like the gov­ern­ment, or the dic­ta­tor. The dic­ta­tor is the bravest and the strong­est, the smartest and the most cun­ning, the best at pretty much ev­ery­thing. The dic­ta­tor will keep on re­mind­ing you of this. The dic­ta­tor is a bully.

Casal’s il­lus­tra­tions are de­light­fully retro but oddly haunt­ing—the wood­cut prints and the color blocks should bring one cheer, but the jux­ta­po­si­tion only un­der­scores the gloom and hor­ror of what they con­vey. The dic­ta­tor of the sto­ry­book—mildly ro­tund, dressed in blue, topped with a blocky orb for a head—also looks fa­mil­iar. It’s his stone-faced ex­pres­sion, we think.

Adarna House im­me­di­ately scooped up the lo­cal trans­la­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion rights for the book, Así es la dic­tadura, when it went vi­ral on lo­cal so­cial me­dia a few years ago. The book’s end pages—which looks like a psy­che­delic po­lice lineup of his­tory’s ab­so­lute worst—had Mar­cos, pursed lips and po­maded hair, rub­bing el­bows with Fidel Cas­tro, Joseph Stalin, Ben­ito Mussolini, Sad­dam Hussein, Kim Jong-Il. Oh, and Adolf Hitler, you may have heard of him.

Ito ang Dik­tadura, and an­other book in the im­ported se­ries, Mga Ur­ing Pan­lipunan—which reads as a primer on so­cial sys­tems and is pretty much a con­dem­na­tion of ram­pant so­cial in­equity; some light read­ing for you there, kids—were orig­i­nally pub­lished as part of the four-vol­ume Li­bros para Mañana (“Books for the Fu­ture”) by the Barcelona-based pub­lish­ing house La Gaya Cien­cia in 1977. That’s a mere five years af­ter Mar­cos de­clared Mar­tial Law over the Philip­pines, and the world was pretty damned sure that guy was a dic­ta­tor.

In their in­tro­duc­tion to their new edi­tion, Adarna House notes: “Nearly 40 years have passed, and we be­lieve that the spirit and the mes­sage of th­ese books re­main preva­lent.” Un­for­tu­nately, we’re go­ing to have to agree with that one.

And when your off­spring start ask­ing you the real ques­tions—Dad, does Wi-Fi come from the sky? Dad, why is Mommy emp­ty­ing our cab­i­nets? Dad, why is it that de­spite over­whelm­ing ev­i­dence of the re­al­ity of Mar­tial Law and the Mar­cos fam­ily’s acts of cru­elty against an en­tire na­tion, they still get over­whelm­ing sup­port from cit­i­zens and the gov­ern­ment?—hit them up with the old stand­bys guar­an­teed to hold them fast against the pro-dic­ta­tor­ship In­ter­net trolls and ran­dom Ti­tos who drank the Mar­cosian Kool-Aid. There’s Raissa Robles’ Mar­cos Mar­tial Law: Never Again. Nick Joaquin’s Re­portage on the Mar­coses is a clas­sic. The Con­ju­gal Dic­ta­tor­ship by Prim­i­tivo Mi­jares—one of Mar­cos’ top pro­pa­ganda guys who turned against the regime, and who dis­ap­peared upon the first pub­li­ca­tion of the book— has been reis­sued in an an­no­tated, dead-tree edi­tion by Mi­jares’ es­tate and has eas­ily be­come an es­sen­tial vol­ume in the li­braries of Filipinos worth their weight in adobo flakes.

You say in­doc­tri­na­tion, we say this-shit-re­ally-should-be-in-core-cur­ric­ula. Potato, po-tah-to.

The DIC­TA­TOR is the bravest and the strong­est, the smartest and THE MOST CUN­NING, the best at pretty much ev­ery­thing. The dic­ta­tor will keep on re­mind­ing you of this. The dic­ta­tor is a BULLY.

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