Last week I had a chance to address an international gathering of people affiliated with Liberal parties, on the subject of Asian Values versus Liberal Democracy. My thesis was simple: at the heart of the contention by proponents of “Asian Values” as some sort of superior alternative to Western-style Liberal Democracy, is an appreciation -from long practice by senior-citizen politicians- of the motive power of the anti-colonial struggle. It is no coincidence that Lee Kwan Yew is the primary ideological exponent of “Asian Values” and for the purpose of defending the political heritage shared by the nations that emerged from Western colonialism in our part of the world: the one-party state in which political dynasts coexist cosily with big business. But, I told my audience, former colonies have been independent for close to three generations now (in the case of the first to emerge from colonial status, namely the Philippines and India), and for the rest, at least two (or in Brunei’s case, a full generation). The end of the Cold War also marked the end of our part of the world as one of the battlegrounds of the Cold War, and so, the even the era of neocolonialism can be considered to have passed. The motive power of resisting democracy as part of nationalist reawakening, is fading; and with the passing of the generations who can still recall life before independence, to my mind, so will pass the idea that Liberal Democratic values are an alien concept.
But my talk got me thinking further on how we frame our problems in a manner that dates back to the days prior to independence, with the challenges of getting a newly-independent nation on its feet in mind. One such question is that of Muslim Mindanao, which tends to be framed by neoconservatives in a manner reminiscent of the confrontation between Japanese and European Fascism and the Western democracies; it is no coincidence that if Radical Islam pines for the restoration of the Caliphate that came to an end with the secular Republic of Turkey and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, then Rome on the other hand is fighting a two-front war against secularism and Islamic influence in Europe, and that American neoconservatives and Bin Laden both view their struggle for power from the perspective of the Crusades.
In our own case, the question of Muslim Mindanao continues to be perceived from the point of view of our peaceful struggle for independence: that Muslim Mindanao is in danger of being lost. That the solution must be to contain the Muslims, and if possible, to prevent a power vacuum in Mindanao as a whole, and that can only happen by filling it with Christians. the problem, of course, is that Mindanao’s already filled with Christians; while Muslim Filipinos are now reproducing so vigorously, that their populations have taken to finding living space elsewhere in the archipelago.
Yet most of us, I’d suggest, still think that Muslim Mindanao is one discrete place, and one which can be cordoned off, if only the national government could muster the political will and military might; that we take it for granted that there is an immemorial territory that defines who Muslim Filipinos are, is a mentality to which many of our older exponents of Federalism also subscribe, and what they and the non-traditional Muslim Filipino leaders who’ve emerged since the 1960s have in common, is the belief that the Philippine nation-state must be refashioned as a means to achieve what they believe will be a historical vindication for their sub-nations: with some proposing outright nationhood and secession.
To be sure perhaps as recently as a decade or two ago, this notion remained sound, in that they could speak as advocates of populations who dwelled in defined territories and who shared a common culture defined by a common language; today, I believe it’s increasingly untenable. I’ve mentioned before that the old obediences are being eroded not only by migration and immigration abroad, but migration at home; dynasties must constantly shrink their territories, to hold them, as new residents arrive, devoid of the traditional notions of obedience these dynasts could once upon a time.
Take a look at this Wikipedia map, which divides the country along lingguistic lines. And then bear in mind some observations made to me by former U.P. President Francisco Nemenzo, a Cebuano, when I ran into him in Cebu’s airport some months back.
He said that a kind of mapping project has been taking place, and formerly lingguistically-pure areas have started to change, often quite quickly and usually, remarkably.
The examples I recall are that areas surrounding Iloilo have turned Cebuano-speaking while areas of Mindanao formerly Cebuano-dominated are now turning Ilonggo-speaking; if I recall correctly he even said the growing lingguistic population in Mindanao were the Ilonggos and no longer the Cebuanos; as for Cebu itself, he said, fully ten percent of its population was Muslim, a trend that began with refugees during the Marcos-era Moro Wars, and that the Muslims in Cebu were mainly Tausug. There are growing pockets of Muslim Filipino residents not only in Metro Manila, but up North and even in the Visayas; when I took the fast ferry from San Carlos City in Negros Occidental to Toledo City in Cebu, the ferry service was Muslim-owned.
Add to this snippets I’ve picked up from people as I’ve pursued the topic Nemenzo brought up. In Quezon Province, for example, there are growing pockets of Bicolano speakers; Aurora province, on the other hand, is increasingly marked by an Ilocano presence; the Ilocos itself, in some parts, seems quite depopulated, and a decade ago I experienced an Ilocos Sur tourism official telling off a group of kids from whom we asked directions, because they talked to us in Filipino (from Cebuano educators I hear that Cebu City, at least, now has its first generation of youths who prefer to converse with each other in Filipino). There are, of course, entire areas well known for their populations being composed mainly of immigrants: Imperial Manila has been a Visayan city, for all intents and purposes, for two generations (Why then, I asked Nemenzo, haven’t more Visayan words entered the Tagalog spoken in Manila? His response was interesting: the effect of the Visayans has been not on vocabulary, but on grammar: the simplification of Tagalog, as spoken in Manila, and therefore, used in the media, is a manifestation of Visayans stripping Tagalog of its grammatical encrustations from the time Tagalog itself evolved from Cebuano in the distant past!).
This suggests to me that what we have come to take for granted, has been gradually disappearing for some time and is actually accelerating at present; and among other things, this means that viewing Muslim Mindanao as either a place to be contained, or something that can be lost (or, as I’ve considered in the past, something to consider detaching from the republic) is certainly impossible now if it was ever possible at all in the past.
I told the gathered Liberals (though it’s not too clear to me what the youth represents belonging to variously-named parties have in common, politically) -from the United States, Germany, Belgium, Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand, and of course the Philippines- that the false dichotomy between Asian Values and Liberal Democracy was a problem with a demographic solution: addressing the youth leaders from the two wings of the presently-divided Liberal Party in the Philippines in particular, I urged them to be confident that their decision to maintain solidarity among party mates from their generation, even as their elders squabbled, would be vindicated. But only, I said, when the party elders died and they, by sheer attrition, took over.
The same applies, I think, to many of the seemingly intractable problems we face nationally, with a political scene dominated by increasingly geriatric big shots who long ago abandoned their idealism and who have lost their capacity to be imaginative. It takes some time to understand it, but on the whole, there are signs that when the dinosaurs go, we will find a more highly evolved generation of Filipinos taking their place: one that might be more adept at balancing idealism with pragmatism, in problem solving, in cooperation, in sustained effort and so forth. Whether they are conscious of it, or only instinctively yet dimly aware of it, the elders now ruling the roost in mainstream politics and in the various rebel organization, are fighting the battle everyone eventually loses: against their own mortality. What was fresh, even radical, or even tried, tested, and true for their generation, whether you are Fidel V. Ramos, Juan Ponce Enrile, Joker Arroyo, Jose Ma. Sison, Nur Misuari, Joseph Estrada or even President Arroyo, was forged in the crucible of a Philippines that is dissolving. And so, they are furiously trying to write an appropriately grand epitaph for themselves.
Consider the relevance, however, of achieving a Muslim Federal State, at a time when a remarkable expansion of Muslims into other parts of the Philippines is taking place: or of demanding near-divorce from the Republic for Ilocandia or Cebu, when their own populations have changed drastically: demarcations that ignore changes in demographics, such as the movement of Ilocanos into areas once considered -and dominated by- Tagalog people. As it is, one of the big problems that exists in expanding the current territory of the ARMM, is that while once claimed by the old Sultanate of Sulu, among others, the areas being demanded as an integral homeland for Filipino Muslims takes neither traditional divisions within the Muslim community (Tausug versus Maranao, etc., etc.) into account, or how they ceased being dominated by Muslims long ago; or how, even, in these border areas, claims of Christian settler supremacy is often by means of hair-thin margin.