Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Southern social -isms

The election-related massacre of 58 people on a Maguindanao highway (the Philippine Daily Inquirer says 64 people), including 34 journalists, members of a gubernatorial candidate’s family, the candidate’s lawyers, aides, and motorists either mistakenly identified as part of the convoy or simply eliminated as possible witnesses (“collateral damage,” as military parlance goes), happened on a November 23, 2009 afternoon. In its aftermath, the tragedy dug out—or manifested in plain view—the variety of elite cultures and territorial beliefs within the omnibus Philippine political cultural spectrum, cultures and beliefs that have long ruled our archipelago with classic impunity. According to ridomap.com and a book titled RIDO: Clan Feuding and Conflict Management in Mindanao, there are currently 255 ongoing blood feuds in Maguindanao and 1,470 in the entire Muslim Mindanao provinces, revealing an entirely different nation of beliefs alien to Manila society with its belief in one law, the law of the land (in spite of laws being made to fit a ruling party’s desires by corrupt justices).

     These various micro-political beliefs, or -isms, must be fully brought to light, not only so they can provide us crucial clues on
towards an understanding ofthe motives and psychological forces that had been at play in the gruesome act of the Maguindanao massacre and similar killings in the months and years and decades past, but also they can lead us to ideas for taking the necessary steps in mitigating tensions, fixing quandaries, resolving conflicts, and checking the avarice, the avarice that is a clear and present danger to human existence not only in Mindanao but the rest of the country as well. That is to say, should we decide one day to do just that: try to mitigate tensions, resolve conflicts, mend wrecks, purge evil.
     Now, while our country’s leaders from the elite or new elite class are still trying to decide whether they as a collective want to be on top of these mending, many ask: what could have motivated the gruesome act of that which has internationally been touted as “the single deadliest event for journalists in history?
     Sure, there has been a rain of conjectures. Layman psychology offered us the possibility of a narcotic influence in the men who, in the act of inflicting harm, probably could not avoid doing something else beyond killing the bodies screaming in front of them. This is an understandable theory, considering the many cases of similar unhindered violence and mutilation due to drug-induced psychoses. But, given that, illegal drug intake alone cannot be the main rationale for the mass murder itself, taking into consideration the near-finesse of trying to get rid of the bodies after their murder. Other reports even state that the deed had been planned days in advance. So, . . . what could have been the other possible socio-political, filial, or personal motivations, not only for the killing but for the post-murder mutilation that should presuppose deep anger?
     Another offered view is the personal angle, namely, hatred for a family who may have inflicted hurt on a man or men within a chronology of painful words and insults, coursed through word of mouth orperhapsthe local media. Although possible, qua simple accumulated hatred, this psychology behind the murderous deed would necessitate confirmation by some deep and objective research into the history of the Ampatuan-Mangudadatu families’ enmity and feud, and by deep we mean deep into the families and their confessions and stories. Did one of them call one of the sons sissy, or something like that, for example, enough for one to want to plan on when and how to slit the others throat?
     Another angle offers jealousy as the culprit, involving a woman or women (or a man, for that matter). Why did an Ampatuan suspect display such deep hatred for the wife of a Mangudadatu as to lacerate and puncture her feminine parts even after death? But this angle, too, would require an intensive research (deeper than that for the insult angle), and immersion in the families, for it to be able to come up with a reliable documentation of stories and confessions.
     Finally, there is—apart from the temporary-insanity-due-to-drugs theory—the imaginative angle that proffers a non-drug-induced insanity as a likely explanation for the killing and subsequent mutilation and abuse of the murdered bodies. While psychological testing of one or two of the suspects is possible, it is—however—hard to imagine a collective insanity operating among a hundred armed men, although it is possible the mutilator was only one of them, not all of them.
     Whatever was the psychology behind the murderous act among the inflictors, my interest is really in the larger -isms that led to the act itself, by which I mean the social -isms that inspired or motivated the personal -isms or psychological defects among the involved that enabled them to do the deed.
     Now, in scanning these -isms I do not seek to pinpoint one as singularly responsible, but rather would like to imply interplay between the various -isms that—inadvertently or advertently—may have supported each other.
     It may be true that, as some analysts say, a balance was ruined (for instance, there is the proposition that the Macapagal-Arroyo administration may have favored the Ampatuans over the Mangudadatu clan that thus resulted in the one lording it over the other, with the other rebelling in turn). But I am less interested in the analyses of détente or mutual neutralization or the toleration of one party’s abuses or the nurture of this party’s -isms. . . . I am less interested in those specifics than with the drawing of the tree where hangs the long-standing fruits of this hierarchy of -isms functioning as a support system in the Philippine jungle we like to call Democracy.
     So, instead of trying to debate with pundits on what may have triggered the moment, let me just examine the larger history and web involving the various -isms at play.

1. A country of datus
Off the bat and quite quick in coming to mind is the idea of datu-ism, or the belief that a Mindanao datu family (a Southeast Asian ethnic-Moslem form of monarchy) has the full right to the control of an area’s affairs, inclusive of its lands, its industries, its natural resources, its laws.
     Now, what would be in conflict with this entrenched utopia? The obvious contest to a datu-ism would simply be one from another datu-istic entity, i.e. another datuist family, that might wish to challenge the ruling datu family’s reign, although still from within the same datu-ist belief or system rather than without.
     However, such a challenge may not be that simple. Such a challenge to a datu family’s datu-ist rule, albeit from within the datu-ist system, may also in fact be a challenge to datu-ism itself in the long run. A datu-ist entity’s challenge, for instance, may be intent on seeking reforms within datu-ism, or—even better—the gradual eradication of datu-ism itself. The reasons for such a direction may be various (chief of which might be “everlasting peace” and the concept of that -ism we love to call “democracy,” along with the latter’s accompaniment, “free enterprise”).
     But the datuist philosophy itself, whether confronted by a democratic challenge or not, is certainly enough farm for greed rooted in the belief. Thus, qua farm patch for the dreams of greed, it would not be hard to imagine this psychological setup as reason enough for a person (entrapped in this datuist utopia) to protect his domain and thus exact the deepest of hatreds towards those wishing to challenge the same domain and (possibly believed-to-be-divine) privilege.
     Confronted with this ideology in the field, then, we are now duty-bound to ask whether, for one reason or another, we wish to allow datuism to continue to exist in Mindanao or not. And corollary to this question to our leaders is the necessary query as to whether a form of datuism in the Christian parts of the country exists also—among self-appointed Christian “datus” in certain provinces—or not, and to what extent these “datuisms” are practiced in terms of how they use violence or grave threats to achieve objectives. After all, not a few Filipinos may testify to the rampant presence of these “datus” all over the country.

2. Datuism vs. Islamism
Islamism is, of course, long reputed in this country to be easy in resorting to violence to service its mission to achieve an Islamist region, or at least momentarily to attain funds for its protracted mission to form an Islamist nation. After all, Islamism without violence would perhaps be a contradiction in terms if jihad is a requisite to achieving a necessary Islamization. As a religious crusade, therefore, Islamisms recourse to violence or armed struggle is not surprising but self-explanatory, in the same way that it is not surprising to see unorganized armies of the American conservative right (consisting of fundamentalist Christians known to their liberal friends as Christo-fascists) every so often finding it righteous to inflict bodily harm on such American social enemies as abortionists, gays, feminists, and blacks.
     But Islamism is a controversial term, and some personalities described as Islamists shirk from the tag due to its associations with violence and terrorism. We are using the term here to refer to the belief among certain Moslems that there can be no ideal separation of church and state in a territory, given that its ideal is the very opposing concept—that is, the marriage of Islamic and state laws within a claimed territory or geographical unit. Corollary to this idealization is Islamization through jihad or any other form of forcing the issue.
     Though datuism may be mainly Moslem-based in Mindanao, in the same way that monarchies in the Mideast are Moslem, Islamism is an enemy of datuism, and vice versa. This is so because although the religion of datus is often Islam, datus are not necessarily devout Moslems but may only be using religion as an alibi to promote certain personal or filial interests, in the same manner that some Christian sects pretend to be followers of the landless nomad Jesus of Nazareth to be able to dupe their followers into donating a hefty percentage of their real estate sales to their church.
     There are proposals of analysis to the effect that Nur Misuari’s renewed rebellion after his Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) leadership stint was precisely due to a Macapagal-Arroyo-sponsored return to datuism within such territories as Maguindanao. If that is true and correct, then Misuari’s neo-rebellion can be deemed justified (or at least understood), since by that Arroyoan sponsorship the ARMM rationale would have to be redefined from being for an autonomous Islamist region to being for an autonomous Moslem datuist region or compendium of datuist regions.

3. Federalist warlordism
But, of course, that picture proposing a conflict between two interests among the Moslem Mindanao elite may be too simple. For interwoven into the complex thread is a national patronage system that has its own complex of -isms. Part of the complexity of political relationships and affiliations is the patronage system involving the electoral process, among other processes, corrupt and/or not.
     We have, of course, heard of the federal system. Now, while the Philippines is not a federalized country, the federal system of political patronage has long been in place.
     In the federalized system of electoral processing, a set of national leaders is supposed to be patrons of a set of local leaders, Mindanao datus or Visayan or Iloco or Bicol warlords though they may be. Those in the latter level return the patronage promise to deliver votes through thorough and perfectly legal campaigning and/or through extra-legal means (threats or even assassinations should it be necessary).
     In this type of democratic process, votes (numbers) become more important than voters (people), and thus would perfectly regard warlordism as an ideal if not a necessity. In this social system, therefore, it is normal to hear reports of canvassers, teachers, watchers, campaigners, or even journalists disappearing, or at least being threatened with the disappearance of either their own persons or their families’.
     This -ism in Philippine society is a classic and has long entrenched superior clans and dynasties in many parts of the country and practically promoted (consciously or subconsciously) violence as the rule more than the exception—although as much as possible delivered discreetly, away from an unwavering journalistic glare. Again, these local warlords are made possible not by themselves alone but through a Philippine type of warlordic federalism. It may be worth noting that the federal or central regard for a journalist, for instance a reporter covering a Department of Agriculture national fertilizer-fund scam, is usually seen as the inspiration or model for the regard for a local journalist, say, for instance, a Leyte broadcaster who mentioned someones illegal logging of native forests in Samar that could inundate towns with floods.
     But despite the assassination of journalists, this federalist warlordism can also be considered as one of the systemic reasons why the Philippine archipelago has continued to remain a nation, or as one country, instead of as several island-nations governed by different warlords. In fact, a warlord from Isabela can even borrow space in Samar for a certain period of time while his logging concession lasts. Datus and warlords can be friends, in the same way that intra-royal marriages were resorted to in Europe from the period of Ancient Antiquity to Early Modern Europe in order to maintain the peace.

4. International Capitalism
But federalized warlordism is not possible without goods dangled by a national or federal center. And that federal center, though reliant on goods from its local entities, is much more reliant on goodies from abroad.
     These international goodies may take the form of weapons aid from a certain country or certain countries, delivered in the name of keeping in check two external -isms that dream of entering the territories of the status quo—Islamism and/or communism.
     These internationally-derived goodies may also take the form of loan packages for projects that make sense (farm-to-market roads) to projects that dont (an auditorium at a far edge of a city), the rationales for which are either contractor- or supplier-determined (instead of need-determined) or otherwise season-determined (say, the election season). In the first rationale, the benefits to the local warlord (or simple, mild-mannered politician with secret kidnap-and-torture goons) is in terms of hefty commissions. In the latter rationale, the benefit is either for commissions or electoral image-building or—at best—both.
     In return for the international loan package from abroad, both national/federal warlordism (with borrowed elements from the Armed Forces of the Philippines as their own private warriors) and local warlordism (with Civilian Volunteer Organizations [CVOs] for warrior units) may then deliver to the national/federal level the very reason why the loans were approved in the first place: natural resources for international capitalism.
     But notice that warlordism cannot be content with police for warriors, demanding CVOs with high-powered ammunition. The reason for this discontent with a simple police force is simple. A contest often does not derive from mere citizens or journalists, who are usually puny targets for easily contrived “accidents,” and which police can take care of. The enemy may be real competitors who are aware of the natural resources at play, whether these be oil in Sulu or nickel in Palawan or silicon in Maguindanao (totally beyond the meager value of the provinces plywood industry thats not really worth killing journalists and other datuists for).
     In Mindanao, these contesting groups would include the Islamists and the Davao-provinces-based communists who consider each other Mindanaos anti-foreigner liberationists.

5. The corollary alibi
Yes, apart from the conspicuous Islamists are the obscure Mindanaoene Communists.
     But, you know, the Islamists and the communists are really part of the overall equation. While their presence provides voices of resistance against international corporate expansionism, it also presents a rationale for the perpetuation of militarist arrangements that in turn feed on datuisms and federalized warlordism.

@ @ @

So what is left to the general populace?
     The general populace has its journalists who, though necessarily operating from within a corporate setup, are required by the competition of the journalism trade to be non-partisan, objective, or freedom-conscious. Unfortunately the -ism of journalism runs counter to the tenets of datuism, federalized warlordism, and international corporate expansionism. Thus it often finds itself an easy and juicy target for the Philippine sport of truth assassination.
     Now, speaking of truths or truisms, there are also the citizens themselves, led sometimes by civil society groups or NGOs. The NGOs, whose purposes in life are to solicit funding for a project they can think of, projects that range from digging safe drinking-water wells for rural barangays to supplying villages with solar-powered generators for an environment-friendly future, also may have well-meaning civil society directions that could be in conflict with the interests of datuism and federalized warlordism and international corporate expansionism: for instance, certain mercury droplets coming from an international corporate expansionist mining exploration with toxic substances killing fishes in an NGO-funded local fishpond livelihood project would lead to a ripe situation for a conflict. The government can only be expected to side with the international corporate expansionist, for the obvious reason that it has to maintain the everybody-happy status quo of the Philippine social -isms equation.
     Now, given these conflicts with the interests of the eternal Philippine triangle involving the local warlordist and the federal warlordist and the international expansionist, it is also no surprise to find the local NGO and journalism trade threatened by the unforgiving hatred of the triangle, mostly involving people who don’t like to be disturbed by truth problems while they’re enjoying their 18-hole golf game fantasies, complete with fantastic piña coladas in a dreamy afternoon mist.
     Would they think twice about killing people in the name of their utopia?
     Hell, in the Philippine social -ism we love to call Democracy, voters are important, yes. But they’re no more important than the votes. [END]


  1. Well, as usual your latest blog leaves me on the brink of despair & chomping at the bit to come up with some tiny hope of light at the end of the bleak and dank tunnel you’ve so artfully portrayed. The question is, will I be able to come up with that glimmer, or even glint of hope? Presently, the answer has to be, “I don’t know.”

    I can’t tell you how tempting it is to sit here in the comfort of my home and redesign the political structure of the country. The problem with that is, in the first place, no one would ever dare to try it and in the second place (and more importantly) it probably wouldn’t work. I do, however, have an irrational belief in people. Oh ho! You say. What can mere people do against such mighty –isms as you have so concisely described? Well, at the moment, under the present structure, the answer is, almost nothing. And that is exactly what has to change.

    Now, here’s another nefarious thing about the mood that Ampatuan (wait! Am I talking about the massacre, the man or the clan? Does it matter?) has put the nation in is one of deep distrust of local government. I contend that that is nefarious because change will have to come from the bottom up just as much or more than it comes from the top down. Anyone who reads the constitution of the statutes or even the court decisions of this government will see right away how hard it will be to make really meaningful top-down changes. All of those documents are written in such tortured language the you have to hire somebody to tell you what they say. And we all know that a hired interpreter will say that the documents say whatever he thinks the person paying him wants them to say.

    Let me put it another way. Since independence, everyone has insisted that rule from Manila is the only thing that will work. And all during that time, has it actually worked? Tell me when.

  2. I know the problems of local leaders turning into warlords. It’s nothing new. I’ve seen it myself for 40 years & heard the stories about the rest of the time. But all those years, the real control was in Manila. If you live in Samar & you want the street fixed in front of your house, who do you call? Manila! And what happens in Manila? Well, your congressman vies for his share of the pork, takes what he can get by with taking directly out of the pork pot, contracts a lot of his relatives and barkada to do other (non-accomplished or poorly accomplished) projects, builds a covered basketball court that will keep the sun off him while he campaigns for re-election and finally…eventually…if there should by chance be any money left…might do something about the road in front of your house.

    What we need in Manila is simple rule of law. If we ever had that, then warlords would have something to fear. If local governments & provincial governments had a direct & fair share of tax money, then the local officials could be the ones you expected to fix the road in front of your house in Samar—under pain of never getting elected again.

    Oh ho, but what if the local guy, or the provincial governor’s son runs off to Macau and gambles away all the tax money. Well, then the province or the local town or city would be broke! What would they do about it? Extract justice! Because there would be rule of law in Manila. One thing for sure, the politician who ran off with the money would only get by with it once—he’d never hold office again. But as it stands now, the same guys rip off the same towns & provinces year after year after year. Are you (or anyone) telling me that that works better?

    The good news is, there is no need to play around with the constitution (not right away, anyway. Not while there’s a power hungry trapo hanging about looking for a mail chance to hang onto power. No, the document we’d need to look at is the local government code. Actually, as I understand it, it’s not such a shabby document right now. The problem is that no one’s ever tried to seriously put it into force. Oh, there have been a few brave souls who have taken it at its word and done pretty well in a few scattered locations, but the rule of law part—the part that it’s incumbent on Manila to enforce—has somehow never been on the side of the angels. Wonder why that is?

    If I try to go any further than this, I’m just going to put my foot in it. Let’s start with what we have. Let’s see if we can just put the local government code into play & back it up with genuine rule of law. That may or may not be the light I was hoping to see at the end of the tunnel, but it might be a start.

  3. Well said, Anonymous. We need more people like you.

    I, for my part, will do my bit of depressing more people to the edge until I am able to awaken their anger. Risking the possibility their anger might also include me at the receiving end, I see no choice other than to do this, firmly believing that it is only by holding up the nastiest mirror image can I and my sort be able to awaken tears behind the cornerstore laughter. Hoping this depressant brings more people to the realization that they have actually been terribly duped all their lives, with somebody else actually having the biggest laugh over their heads all these years.

    But this is not to contest what I said earlier, that we need more people like you. People with actual proposals coming from their quiet rooms, faithfully chomping away at the bit despite the odds.