Once upon a time, there was a corrupt autocrat in a blighted land who swore in front of the monument of that blighted land’s national hero that come the next election, he will give up all political power and just live the life of a common citizen.
The reason for this unexpected, uncharacteristic surrender was the autocrat’s subjects’ widespread discontent over his suffocating, oppressive rule, resulting to his being pilloried left and right.
Everyday the media of that blighted land headlines news articles detailing stories of corruption and abuse in high and low places of government and carries scathing op-ed pieces critical of his misrule.
After that unexpected twist—in which the national hero was believed to have turned over in his grave because the declaration to give up political power was received with general unbelief (because it was a fib)—the despot sent his emissary to his top war general to relay to him the following message:
“Our boss is no longer running for re-election. He wants me to tell you that you are to be his successor. He will support you as the next ruler.”
The war general, who had also served the despot previous to the current, was caught flat-footed and, of course, flattered.
“But I have no bullets, no amulets, no soldier, and no silver.”
The emissary, who’s very young, but was as corrupt as his lord, said:
“He told me to tell you that you are to begin gathering your bullets, amulets, soldiers, and silver,” the emissary said, winking an eye.
The war general took the instruction to heart (he had no reason to doubt the authenticity of the emissary or of the message). He begun to scheme and soon was filling up a war chest, using the clout and influence of his position.
In the next election, the people of the blighted land were dismayed when the autocrat, in a fit of amnesia, forgot his declaration and again ran for public office. He won with only a token opposition because the people were very afraid of his tantrums, and because he had the polls rigged in his favor.
No sooner than he had been sworn in that he continued to pillage the land, oppress his people anew, and ignored all laws and common sense to farther his fiefdom’s destruction. He lied a lot, too, ignoring all forms of criticisms. He even threatened to become ruler for life. He controlled all the levers of power, the police, the courts, and the bureaucracy and thought that he was free to do what he wished. Even his dogs enjoyed the free leash, amassing all wealth they could for themselves even as the subject-citizens were dying by the day, hungry and more oppressed than ever.
In the meantime, the war general was given new positions which gave him more opportunities to steal. He continued to fill up his war chest. He continued to gather hay while the sun was out. As he did this, he forgot that the ruler, mischievous as ever, was watching him and coveting all the riches he had stolen.
Many full moons thereafter, the citizens of that blighted land found the inner courage and elected a new ruler who was benign and democratic.
This ruler, though inexperienced and inefficient, has a sense of right and wrong. He tried to restitute the injustices done to his subjects by the previous ruler who was now being ignored as if he had leprosy.
The new ruler also kicked out from office the previous despot’s men. They are now roaming the streets, shedding tears of loneliness for their unlamented fate. Some of them, like the one who previously was in charge of intelligence security but was actually a kabuki actor, were plotting a comeback. But most were scattered like dust and face the prospect of retribution of the courts after their ill deeds were exposed.
Such sudden change of fortunes, irreversible as it is now, did not come unheralded by the new power holders. “Vengeance is ours, not the Lord’s”, they seem to say.
One day, the emissary of the deposed despot, who still can’t believe he is on the gutter of the political terrain, went to see the general and demanded that he turn over all the wealth he had amassed while in power.
“Our lord wants you to return all the bullets, amulets, soldiers, and silver that you have amassed—for him. He will use them to mount a coup so he—we—can come back to the castle. You see, the new ruler of this blighted land is after him—us—and he is concerned he—we—will be thrown into the dungeons in due time,” the emissary explained with a very worried face.
Upon hearing this, the general almost fell off in his seat. “He remembered. I thought he had forgotten,” he murmured under his breath.
“OK,” he said after recovering his wits.
“But you have to wait. It will take a long time before I can make a full accounting of them. Most of the wealth I had raised and gathered had been hidden and entrusted to some of our lieutenants, one of whom had mysteriously vanished. One had also died when he was ambushed at the airport. You know very well the new administration is all eyes and ears now. Spies are everywhere. Traitors are aplenty and I don’t know whom to trust. You have to wait,” he said. The emissary left.
Soon after, the new ruler’s allies in the legislature began an investigation on the wealth of another general. A spy had come out with testimony of how the generals of the previous administration bled dry the coffers of the security services.
Surprisingly, the spy had knowledge of how the chief war general of the previous despot allegedly gathered and raised bullets, amulets, soldiers, and silver. Another spy came out corroborating the tale of the principal spy. The crime, hidden for too long, seemed to be now leading to the previous despot’s doorstep.
The general was worried. He was tormented when a legislator, whom the disposed despot jailed when he was in power for talking back to him in one of their encounters in the castle (the solon was also previously the general’s subordinate in the security services), particularly fingered him as one of the main perpetrators of the dastardly crime of graft and corruption.
The investigation was not the only thing that worried the general. Unknown to the citizens and the investigators, the emissary of the deposed despot continued to hound him, asking questions about the riches he had amassed, pressing him to turn them over.
“This is it. This seemed to be the end of the road for me,” the general might have well thought. He felt that sooner or later, he will be called to testify in the investigation and asked what he knew and who he knew.
For a few days, he collected his thoughts. His conscience was bearing down on him. The investigation had devastated him and his family. His honor had been tarnished, and rightly or wrongly, he felt he needed to repair it and restore it to its previous luster. He was a man of honor, so he publicly confessed, and honor was the only thing that mattered to him, unlike his lord, the deposed despot, whose only concern, he felt, was recovering the wealth he stole. For him!
One fine morning, when the citizens of the blighted land was still asleep—when another new day threatened to continue to unravel the unbelievable saga of corruption and abuse in the past administration; when the new rulers and holders of power were comfortably seated in their living rooms and in the air-conditioned lobbies of hotels sipping their espressos; when the poor workers of the blighted land, together with their children, were preparing to go to work and to school; when the farmers and fishermen were contemplating the day ahead as another day of difficulty—the general ended his life.
Almost everyone wept, showing once more the hypocrisy that is the currency of the day.