CHANGING CONTEXTS, LOCALIZED ASSYMETRY AND CULTURAL COHESION IN MINDANAO A LOCAL AND GLOBAL CHALLENGE

Maayong buntag kaninyong tanan, mushi-mushi, good morning everyone.

Before I begin, may I invite you to stand for a minute of silence and pay tribute to the valiant lives lost on all sides including those of the innocent civilians in the tragedy that transpired in Mamasapano the other Sunday.

Thank you very much.

Thank you MISS for the invitation for me to speak at your annual convention. Am humbled and honored as seldom do civil society voices get to be heard in significant gatherings such as yours. I am thus also challenged to perhaps provide a different, perhaps some fresh perspective in the concerns and issues that you are tackling in this meeting.

The aim of your conference is to discuss the significance of Mindanao to the country and to the world. This is very apt in these challenging times.

In a sermon on Peace in 1967, the Rev. Martin Luther King spoke of a world beyond the parochial intents of society. He said;

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that’s handed to you by a Pacific Islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that’s poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that’s poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you’re desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that’s poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that’s given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world. This is the way our universe is structured; this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.”

What Dr. King posited is akin to the Filipino proverb “Sakit ng kalingkingan, sakit at dama ng buong katawan.” If that is so, then it also means that the cure to that little wound in your little finger will have to be healed by your entire body.

Clearly then, what happens in Mindanao has repercussions to the rest of the country, the region and the entire world. And it is ironic that the Mamasapano incident very obviously illustrates this. It is not just a little wound in our pinky that the country is grappling with now. It is a gaping wound in the body that we are all trying to heal. But it is also a wound that some of our fellow citizens—specially those who are not from Mindanao—would want to fester, who want to obliterate the entire body with their carte blanche hatred and prejudice and calls for an all-out war against our Muslim brethren.

Globalization in the 1990s transformed every aspect of human society bringing with it new opportunities, new-fangled challenges, winners and losers, progress and mal-development. Dr. King’s words spoke of the obvious fact of reality that has been taken for granted, allowing powers that be to take humanity for a ride. In an effort to overcome the challenges of globalization and seize the opportunities offered by it (to big capital and state interests), the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines-East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) was born. The bounties of Mindanao were again offered to big (and medium) capital, ready to be exploited. All these, of course, were being done in the name of INTERRELATEDNESS and SOLIDARITY. But whose interrelatedness and solidarity? And at whose expense?

Those who were talking about BIMP-EAGA were the states of the areas and their respective private and business sector. Were the peoples, communities, villagers ever consulted about this grand project? Were they privy of the possible implications and costs this project will bring to their livelihood, their habitat and natural resources?

There was one Malaysian firm for example that was already building a resort complex in Samal island that displaced hundreds of Lumad and local families. And this same corporation was also building the largest dam project in the region in Sarawak displacing thousands more of communities and indigenous peoples. The Samal and Sarawak communities had something in common. They had the same problem and the same “enemy” so to speak. But they were not “connected”.

My organization, the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) was organized in order to mobilize solidarity between peoples by overcoming real and imagined barriers and building bridges that celebrate both unique and common identities. That People-to-people solidarity as an expression of internationalism was its catchphrase. This was the kind of interrelatedness and solidarity we wanted to build and not that what a project like BIMP-EAGA was unraveling. We sought to do away with the notion that negotiating and handling political affairs is solely within the purview of the state. We wanted to empower peoples with the skill to handle their affairs through their own representatives.

IID moved to Mindanao in the early 90s cognizant of the need to add its voice to the call to “globalize” solidarity and peace for the troubled region.

Fast forward to the present day and the expected profound impact of BIMP-EAGA’s attempt at realizing a regional consolidation to challenge the weight of global capital on the economies of the countries involved has hardly taken off. Albeit, the global economy has faltered, capitalism is in crisis, religious fundamentalism gave birth to terrorists with unimaginable ferocity; the context has indeed changed in ways we never imagined decades ago, but the basic issues remain the same.

IID has since added more spirit to its political and ideological menu by means of its advocacy for genuine peace. Peace is qualified as authentic because it is a condition borne by the necessity and/or option to wage war. The context for peace in Mindanao is the state of war we are all a part of, either as clueless bystanders or willing participants.

Understanding the context is the key to unlocking the door to genuine peace in Mindanao. Yet peace is not the mere absence of war. To describe the changing context in Mindanao as complex is an understatement. The layers of cultural imperatives, ethnic mandates, political regimes, and economic and social liaisons as well as deep seated disconnect among its citizens have to be unraveled, dissected and analyzed before one can even postulate an acceptable diagnosis of the current malaise.

A case in point is the hopeful enthusiasm of most of civil society and conflict actors in the island on the serious strides made on resolving the Bangsamoro question. Resolving the Bangsamoro issue would have been a seminal contribution of Mindanao to the country, to the region and to the world.

Decades of circuitous negotiations characterized by major failures as well as monumental achievements have made Peace almost at hand. One will be remiss if one fails to mention that on the flipside, Mindanao remains the bastion of the communist insurgency in the country and is the main battleground between the AFP and the NPA.

And then the Mamasapano incident.

The recent death of scores of PNP-SAF and Bangsamoro guerillas, and dislocation of thousands of civilians in Maguindanao exemplifies the intricacy of shepherding the myriad forces involved in making peace possible in the Bangsamoro and in this beloved land of ours.

Although every stakeholder in Mindanao has a plan ready at hand to ostensibly offer a viable solution to the economic malaise, festering armed conflict, and social disconnect in the island, it remains to be seen whether any peace plan will stand the test of practice and survive the challenges that will certainly come its way. Cutting across economic inequities, social injustices and cultural demagoguery are different threads of asymmetry that fester in local communities; sources of disconnect that on a daily basis fuel the armed conflict and are cannon fodder to armed resistance, political activism and state repression. Yes, the state’s immediate response to the challenge posed by armed/unarmed groups to its political authority is to use the repressive apparatuses of the state.

Peace negotiation is a necessity because the state and those seeking to overthrow its ascendancy over society have reached a point of stalemate, and the citizens demand it.

While the armed conflict remain and have been abated only to a certain extent, schism in the once monolithic social movement in the island gave rise to independent social movements and civil society initiatives. Civil society initiatives not beholden to the political and ideological agenda of the conflict actors have been able to provide a more nuanced understanding of the changing socio-economic, political, and cultural underpinnings of the armed conflict in Mindanao and the complexities of the alternatives offered by both the state and the revolutionary movements.

Taking the mantle of speaking for and in behalf of citizens—specially the victims of conflict, civil society initiatives including that of ours, have been able to cajole conflict actors into persevering in finding viable ways at political settlement. We have mobilized the citizens to become important stakeholders and actors in the peace process.

To work for peace in the island means keeping in step with the continually changing contexts, understanding the varying levels of unevenness that characterize the social dynamics, and recognizing that cultural cohesion is THE linchpin that will guarantee peace.

Let me end leaving you with these four challenges that could make Mindanao the foremost contributor to peace, progress and harmony in the country and beyond:

  1. Maintaining an upbeat mood – despite the recent setbacks, the peace process between the GPH and MILF must be pursued. It is easy for those on the sidelines and those who have no direct stake in Mindanao to encourage more violence. If the MILF-GPH peace process fails, it is not far-fetched for ISIS-like armed groups to gain the ascendancy in the Bangsamoro.
  2. Generating more international solidarity – the demand for more resources to support the MILF-GPH peace process will gain more traction from donors if the legitimacy of the process gains more international support.
  3. Mobilizing more solidarity between the Bangsamoro and Filipinos – non-Moros must realize the deep pain the Bangsamoro must have to endure by the insistence of most to impose upon them the Filipino identity, in much the same way that indigenous peoples (IPs) feel a deep disconnect when Moros insist on a common identity with IPs. Building bridges between these varying characteristics of asymmetry is much more difficult than ending the war.
  4. More local action – the word war is waged on the national and international stage, but the actual shooting war is fought in the cornfields, in and around houses, and within families, neighborhoods and communities in Mindanao. We must instigate peace where people are.

Maraming, daghang salamat po, shukran, arigato, thank you very much!

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