Today, the Second Mindanao Bloggers Summit is taking place in General Santos City. I was supposed to attend but my illness over the past week required my staying home. I’m glad they decided to invite The Jester-in-Exile instead. You can follow the proceedings on Ria on Tumblr.Here is what I intended to say at the blogger’s gathering.
You tasked me with “Looking South: An Outsider Pundits about Mindanao Politics, History and Commentary.” Let me begin by asserting there can be no outsiders in a Mindanao overwhelmingly composed of outsiders. And that furthermore, it is in embracing being outsiders that the true potential of both Mindanao and the Philippines will be realized.
Bluntly speaking, the period from 1935 to 1960, the first twenty-five years of our modern nationhood, were supposed to be; this was the chance to integrate Moros fully into the body politic; this was the time when the policies that made today’s Mindanao possible, for better or worse, were laid in place. The infrastructure was planned and implemented then: harnessing the hydroelectric capacity of Maria Cristina falls was mapped out in 1936, requiring a junket of nearly the entire legislature to Mindanao to instill in them the desirability of development; and contemporaneous with that scheme was another, which has yet to be implemented -a railway network, again first mapped out in 1936.
The late Max Soliven used to recount the slogan of the Commonwealth years, “Go South, Young Man!” itself borrowed from Horace Greely’s exhortation, “Go West, Young Man!” as a manifestation of American Manifest Destiny. And how an entire generation of privileged young men heeded that call, to turn frontiersmen in Mindanao. It was a national summoning up of the will to undertake something totally alien to us now: nation-building.
Along with that unrecoverable urge to consciously contribute to the building of a new nation, was something else completely unrecognizable to any Filipino except those who, perhaps, arrive to see Mindanao’s vast open plains and rolling landscape for the first time- the sense of vast, empty spaces, of a wilderness that so many at the time, not only Filipinos but say, the Japanese who colonized Davao and established ramie plantations in the 1930s, saw as practically begging for settlement.It is no coincidence, I think, that the basic infrastructure of Mindanao was laid down, from bridges to roads to ports, airports and even cities like this very city, GenSan, in the period from 1935 to 1960.
It is no coincidence that at this time the integration of the Moros into our national politics was accomplished, beginning with the writers of the 1935 Constitution taking into account the views of the traditional Moro ruling families for a kind of limited democracy in their domains: the Sultan sa Ramain pleaded for their traditional notions of authority to be respected, which was bitterly opposed by Christian politicians like , who wanted a general plebiscite in the area; the irony is that this is used, today, to promote the fiction that Moros somehow were not a party to, the formation of the present-day Philippine state.They were. And they even fought for that nation as the guerrilla movement in the Moro areas during the Japanese Occupation shows.
But the sad truth was the experiment in political integration began to show its limitations early on, the chief symptom being the 1949 elections that first put forward the concept of the birds and the bees, the flowers and the trees, not to mention the dead, voting in places like Lanao: that election gave birth to the term “lutong macao.” It’s latest manifestation was the controversial results of the senatorial race in these same areas last year.
The next quarter century, 1960-1985 was supposed to be the coming of age of Mindanao and indeed, it began well with the election of Emmanuel Pelaez as Vice-President of the Philippines in 1961.But that opportunity, instead was squandered: murder and mayhem afflicted Christians and Muslims both; the late 60s, much of the 1970s, a great deal of the 80s, was spent with the shadow of military conscription hanging ominously on young Filipinos wherever they were. Instead of coming into its own, Mindanao descended into chaos: Climaco being gunned down, showing no self-respecting Christian leader could flourish on one hand, Mohammed Ali Dimaporo being the new breed of buccaneering Moro politico on the other. The AFP riding roughshod over everyone, Christian and Muslim alike, the heroism of individual soldiers tarnished by the barbarity of some our commanders.
The biggest casualty of all was the notion of a society and a country where all ethnicities could coexist in peaceful co-habitation.
My experience of Mindanao began in the late 80s and to the 1990s with close friends from Davao, who themselves had been sent to Manila by anxious parents worried over the violence in their city; and so it was as much through their eyes as through my own, that I discovered the optimism of Mindanao in the 1990s, when, finally, peace seemed to have returned, prosperity was nigh; there was something dizzyingly excioting about winding one’s way from Davao to GenSan in the early 1990s, at a time when the policy of the national government was both to maximize the benefits of the Moros splintering over ideology while maintaining the peace. Cielito Habito claims that Ramos entered office to see 6% of the national budget devoted to Mindanao and raised that percentage to 33%; but that the ratio has once more settled at 6% for Mindanao. Maybe what he told me was self-serving; I do remember the optimism of this city and it seemed, all of Mindanao at that time.But it was not to last.
Turning a blind eye to the MILF’s growing strength however had its limits as war re-erupted during the Estrada years, to great national acclaim. Peace was then restored and a brittle one maintained until the current president pulled the BJE-MOA seemingly out of thin air, causing national panic and possibly setting back the cause of peace by another generation.
I’d ask you to read Herbert Docena’s Towards a memorandum for self-determination which lays down the case for a divorce of Moros from the Philippine body politic. Together with the writings of a Mindanawon historian, Patricio Abinales (see his Re-constructing Colonial Philippines: 1900-1910) and Zainudin S. Malang’s Examining the Nexus Between Philippine Constitutionalism and the Mindanao Conflict, the increasing intellectual vigor -compared to the increasing cluelessness and ignorance of their Christian counterparts condemned to living in a perpetual present by our crumbling educational system- points to two problems, side-by-side and overlapping from time to time.
There is Southern, Moro Mindanao, with its twin problems of the failure of its own ethnic leadership and the cunning ability of non-Moros to make chumps of the Moros, on one hand, and the identity of Northern Mindanao, Christian, also suffering from misgovernance on both the local and national level, on the other. The former is an ethnic problem with religious characteristics; the second, the problem of old frontier towns wrestling with the problems of the frontiers finally being closed yet the institutions for stability not yet being fully in place.
The old -for the aspirations of Moros as articulated by its more radical intellectuals, leaders, and Christian sympathizers, derive their legitimacy from a particular assertion of antiquity- ever clashes with the new -the rambunctious impatience of the frontiersmen and women of Christian Mindanao.And government finds itself increasingly catering only to the professional political classes while ritually proclaiming they derive legitimacy from the consent of the governed -who are both liability and asset to these political classes, whether Moro or Christian.
Since while essentially undemocratic, our leadership has to go through the motions of deriving consent from the governed, the energies of our governors is increasingly diverted towards creating more manageable -whether by guns, gold, or goons- political real estate, regardless of where the true, rational, developmental interests of the population lies. Both Christian and Moro political leaders have increasingly carved up Mindanao into small, often bizarrely-shaped provinces, for the purpose of gerrymandering: political convenience camouflaged by shallow excuses that it’s for democracy or development.This increases the vested interests of our leaders in maintaining the status quo at all costs, regardless of the costs in opportunity to the electorate that, by increasingly being fragmented, increasingly becomes powerless. And yet that electorate comprises a culture old enough to have well- if broadly-defined, political characteristics.
Let me propose that most Filipinos are patriots but not nationalists, and that generations of intellectuals from Rizal onwards have been suspicious of patriotism and more interested in instilling nationalism – hence the obsession of the latter and the leaders they influence with both the rights and obligations of citizenship (“active citizenship”) , while most citizens themselves are interested only in rights, hardly ever on obligations, and roused only when rights are trampled (we can call it “reactive citizenship”).
So intellectual and political writers have been exploring, slicing, dicing, dissecting in every which way, the question of Mindanao, including the theoretical pros and cons of according Moro areas either Commonwealth status or outright independence; while it took one simple question -BJE-MOA, yea or nay?- to lead Filipinos in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao to erupt in alarm and indignation: “is the President giving away our national territory?” What the pundits had analyzed to death over decades was reduced to a simple slogan -“Sellout!” pithy yet ferocious yet representing everything, in a word, the public feared and cared about. And by public I include significant portions of the Moro population, too.
I believe there is more that unites us than divides us. The slogan “sellout!” that greeted the BJE-MOA deal had at its core the belief that officialdom couldn’t be trusted to keep the interests of constituencies at heart; dig deep enough, and it is a suspicion and resentment that burns brightly in the hearts of many Moros, too. Yet theirs is a resentment different from those of their Christian fellow citizens, in that they are better able to articulate a past than their Christian peers. The provenance of that past is a separate question neither relevant nor the proper place to delve into here.
There is, though, a danger in bringing up the past, and that is: not only whose past, but how far back do you want to go? From Butuan, the riches of our ancestors have been dug up and there is a point where the Hindu golden artifacts of our ancient ruling classes gave way to golden artifacts of an Islamic nature; so why not Shrivijayan supremacists and not just Muslim supremacists, since it can be argued either by extermination, intermarriage, or conquest, the sultans and datus of old shifted from Hinduism to Islam just as one day some of them would shift from Islam to Christianity -but the essential difference between today’s Moro royalty and yesterday’s principalia, with many descendants still populating our political elite-Or do we look forward, and not back to the past; do we celebrate the supposed vulgarity and genuine frontier spirit of Mindanao -both Muslim and Christian- as more fully expressive of the wanderlust and entrepreneurial spirit of our common ancestors?
The Ilonggo, Cebuano, Capampangan, Tagalog and Ilocano migrant to Davao and General Santos City has more in common with the Moro merchants who have built flourishing ferry companies between San Carlos City in Negros and Toledo City in Cebu, and who supply the country with pearls, gemstones and dibidi, dibidi.
All -Christian and Moro- have shown disatisfaction with the latter-day sultans and datus called presidents, senators, congressmen, governors, mayors and councilors in their home towns, and have packed up and pitched camp elsewhere, bringing with them, in a sense, freedom: freedom from old loyalties, from the old obediences that made us a submissive people.
Your so-called Imperial Manila has not been, as Nick Joaquin, an authentic Manileno pointed out, a Tagalog City since after World War II; it’s no isolated bit of trivia that its first elected mayor, Arsenio Lacson, was an Ilonggo. I do not dispute, as the Chinese saying so eloquently puts it, that “The mountain is high, and the emperor so far away,” but let us get to the true meaning of this saying, which I suggest is at the heart of the issue of an Imperial Manila. As Martin Wolf wrote,
“The mountains are high and the emperor is far away.” This well-known saying captures what so often happened. When the emperor was weak, it became difficult to reach decisions. Officials looked after themselves and their families. Infirmity of purpose, corruption and an inability to protect the empire itself ensued. Sooner or later the dynasty fell, to be replaced by another, often after a period of chaos.
Christian and Muslim alike, we are living in a period of chaos. Crumbling infrastructure, a galloping population growth rate, a grasping political class increasingly alienated from the electorate whose opinions can be discounted: all are signs of a decadent not just political, but national, culture. If that culture persists, then I do agree that its inevitable consequence will be a divorce between Moros and their Christian kin, as Docena points out:
Supposing the Moros do succeed in getting greater self-rule, how the Moros will govern themselves is to be a continuing contest among Moros: it could well be that the rich and landed Moros, many of them already with the MILF, will only be replacing — or conniving with — current Filipino rulers in oppressing the Moro people. But just as Filipinos — to quote former Philippine President Manuel Quezon — should be able to choose “a government run like a hell by Filipinos than a government run like heaven by the Americans,” so should the Moros.
We will ever prefer our native corruption to foreign claims to superior government; else we would, as many Filipinos have, simply pack up and leave if what we truly prefer is to exchange native for migrant status.Yet preference for native filth is different from actually wanting to wallow in that filth.
We would, all of us, prefer cleanliness to being dirty.So how do we make our political surroundings more sanitary? Is there a solution?Perhaps, but the most difficult to accomplish, for it it is one based on attitude.
Only a combination of secularism -knowing there are Christians and Moslems both interested in the equality promised by a secular state, and who oppose the shackles of theocracy in any form- and also, embracing the opportunities brought about by the waning of what I like to call the Old Obediences enforced by church, club, and school, the old institutions that instilled the old values of a far smaller and pre-colonial Philippines- can bring us forward and end the strife of the past.If we are left with what we have now, and what we have had even before the coming of European colonizers, a society where each person was expected to know their place, and where the mores of ancient days remained a heavy weight on everyone’s shoulders, then we will only have what we have always had: internal migration, internal escape from one province to another, so that Cebu and the rest of the Visayas sends its migrant workers to Manila, and international migration.
Again what unites us, Moro and Christian alike, Mindanawon, Bisaya, and whatever ethnicity you come from in Luzon, is the desire to escape: escaping the choking and uninspiring realities of the local in pursuit of national and international self-fulfillment. Which is why the insistence on autonomy, when articulated by professional politicians, inspires misgivings in me, because it seems merely gerrymandering writ large.But the latter day sultans and datus, even as they war against each other as their ancestors warred against each other, will firmly remain in control so long as a Mindanowon can say to someone from Luzon, you are an outsider; it is the local that strangles the viability of the national, it is the local that has imprisoned the national.
A national orientation built on the fundamental premise that it was a search for individual prosperity that brought people to this part of the planet in the first place, is itself the only escape from the feudal ties that bind.
Everything new has its limits, of course, as does everything national: the Senate, on the whole, has produced more statesmen than the purely local House of Representative with its scions of bandit chiefs- but it, too, is degenerating into a not-too-bright collection of celebrities; yet it is better than the House, up to now; and all that the bandit chiefs can propose is the Senate’s abolition, which is literally cutting off the pointed nose to spite the sour face. Which survey was it, that had Mindanawons preferring the abolition of the House to the abolition of the Senate? There lies true wisdom and an appreciation of what truly ails this country.
You see, something has happened over the past 25 years that the policy-makers and the politicians and even media,I think, haven’t quite grasped. Just as the “Sold North,” the solid Ilocano ethnic voting bloc long an influential part of our politics withered away and vanished, so, too, has the ethnic isolation of provinces and regions begun to disappear.
I am sure many of you know many examples: Aurora Province is increasingly Ilocano and not Tagalog, Quezon Province is increasingly Bicolano and Batangueno, to give two examples closer to home, for me; Manila is Bisaya, and everywhere, from Cebu to Manila to Dagupan City in Pangasinan to Baguio, there are Moro enclaves where generations of locals only heard of Moros in fables.
Purity is the last refuge of bigots, chauvinists, and supremacists of every kind; the hybrid on the other hand is the survivor, the true champion in the game of life. The increasing reality of our nationhood is seen in GenSan and throughout Mindanao: the products of mixed marriages, multilingual, multiethnic, who are creating new cultures based on commingling of their parents’ cultures.
These are the people whose enterprise endures and transcends the best and worst that the inbred and degenerate dregs of our ancient cultures can dish out: the gerrymandering, warlordism, feudalism, transactional politicking and freebooting that unites the Moro and Christian political professionals -including the professional rebels who look to Allah, or Marx for guidance, who are in cahoots with those classes.
Mindanao taught me two basic things. First, a positive attitude is much more attractive, because creative and not destructive, than a negative one. Second, that the new is to be embraced, though a reverence for the best aspects of the old never discarded.
Set aside the idealogues, and in truth, the solutions have been mapped out and put in place here, in Mindanao, just as they have been in many parts of the Visayas, in Bicol, in Ilocandia and other places in Luzon. If only our leaders both in and out of power would listen -and perhaps, leave well enough alone.
Well, they won’t, not unless you tell them to; and as it was for Rizal, so it is for you: divide-and-conquer will triumph over you, unless and until you come to the conclusion as his generation did, that there is more than unites us, than can possibly divide us; and that in finding common cause lies the path to a simple but wonderful reality to which we should all aspire.
You and I should be free, to look for prosperity, and find self-fulfillment, wherever and whenever we can, unbound and unlimited by notions of religion, ethnicity, and why not, even citizenship. You should be able to find true love, as many, including surely many of your parents did, never mind if one is Tagalog and the other Tausug, or one is Cebuano and the other Ilonggo, one is Christian, the other Moslem, whether once born in Pampanga and now living in Cagayan de Oro.
If the Filipino family is both the bulwark of our civilization and in many ways, circumscribes that civilization, why can’t we see what is all around us? A truly Filipino family, one that incorporates the best of our various ethnicities, yet not bound by the limits of dogma, one that finds comfort, success, and contentment, irrespective of where one’s ancestors first saw the light of day.