Friday, March 21, 2014

Don't forget the social aspect of the peace agreement

On 27 March 2014, the Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have set the historic and formal signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). Hopes are high, but reality checks won't hurt if we do them right.

Conflict does not necessarily end in the signing of peace agreement. It mainly addresses the political and economic issues of the conflict which are structural in nature and perceived to be the causes of the conflict. What is often overlooked is the underlying social issues of dysfunctional and asymmetric relationships of the groups involved. In the Philippine case, the groups involved are divided along ethno-religious lines.

Here, I would like point out three things: 1) as ordinary citizens of the Philippines, we can help in this peacebuilding effort; 2) signs of times are in advanced and matured stages for peacebuilding to take root; 3) importance of intergroup trust in the consummation of the peace agreement.

As ordinary citizens, whether Christians or Muslims or non-believers, as Filipinos or peace-loving people, we have a stake in this historic moment. Peace in Mindanao means peace to the whole Philippines. As our saying goes, "Ang sakit sa kalingkingan ay ramdam ng buong katawan" (The pain of the small finger is felt by the whole body). To paraphrase, if parts of Mindanao get burnt, the whole Philippines is in pain. Thus, we must take an active stance on this peace agreement.

Signs of times related to intergroup relations are favorable to this agreement to take hold. For example, in August 2012, the first Muslim newscaster appeared on a Manila-based national television wearing a hijab and traditional ethnic dress to project her ethno-religious identity. Later that year, the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed paving the way for the historic signing of CAB along with pertinent and detailed Annexes of the agreement. These incidents are indications of attempts to ease and end the conflict.

However, any attempts to end the conflict through formal peace agreement must be backed by social understanding of the situation. What is the evaluation on the integroup relations? How do Christian and Muslim ethnic groups interact and deal with each other? Are they willing to be friends or neighbors? Can they allow an out-group to hold power?

In our study, Ethno-religious groups, identification, trust and social distance in the ethno-religiously stratified Philippines (Abanes, Scheepers & Sterkens, 2014), people's unwillingness to make contact with out-groups, as measured by social distance, is low. Generally, Filipinos tend to be less socially distant from their religious out-group. We found out that what explained this low social distance between ethno-religious groups is trust. When Christians and Muslims trust each other, they are less likely to oppose religious out-groups to be their friends, neighbors, or to hold power such as police, civil servant, and mayor. With trust, they are more likely to accept their religious out-groups. Without trust, social barriers and issues may emerge to block any progress towards that elusive peace, even with the peace agreement in place.

Let this historic moment, 27 March 2014, be an opportunity for the groups involved in theconflict to build an inclusive Philippine society of which Bangsamoros and other ethno-religious groups are all part.

Monday, January 27, 2014

As non Moros, how to help advance the peace agreement between the Philippine Government and MILF

When the Philippine Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed the final annex of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro on 25 January 2014, national newspapers carried the news on their headlines. Why not? The agreement is hoped to end the four-decade old conflict that killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions of Filipinos.

In social media, the buzz about the agreement is not as enthusiastic as in the mass media. Only several friends of mine in Facebook and Twitter shared the news with others.

Well understandably, most of my friends are non-Moros. To me, the news is good news not just to Moros in Mindanao but to all Filipinos anywhere in the world. This good news must be shared and advanced to achieve its goal and guide its course towards building lasting peace. As Filipinos, this is also our peace agreement.

As non-Moros, we can help advance this peace agreement. How?

I have tried to identify a number of ways:

1) The easiest way is to share the good news that the Philippine Government and MILF have signed a peace deal. Do this through Facebook, Twitter, Google plus, and other social media outlets. Below are some news related with the peace deal from local, national and international news outlets: Mindanews, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippine Star, RapplerNew York Times, BBC, Aljazeera.

2) Participate in any forms of discussion regarding this peace agreement. Get as much as information as possible from those who took part in this agreement. Read about the conflict and its history. Ask questions.

3) Blog, write and create something about this good news. Share your questions, your thoughts, your joys, your worries, your concerns, your optimism or skepticism. Let people know about it, discuss it, or even debate about it. The more people talk about the peace agreement, the more that the decision-makers will feel that people care about their decisions. Whether you agree or not, whether you are optimistic or not, whether you reserve your opinion or not, let your voice contribute to the discussion in the social or mass media.

4) As a citizen and voter, you can write to senators and your own Representative in Congress to support this agreement. Let them know that you have a stake and that you care about peace in the country.

5) If you have a Moro friend/s in Facebook or in person, send them a message inquiring what do they think about the peace agreement. Engage them in conversation and discussion to make them feel that this good news is also ours. Let them feel that we are interested in this agreement and we want to see it actualized in our generation.

6) If you see a Moro, smile at them. Let them feel that you are happy with this good news. Let them feel that they are part of our national community with common and shared future together. Thus, they are our partners in our pursuits of peace and development.

Before this agreement, there were two sides. With this agreement, we are all on one side. Non-Moros no more, we are all Filipinos.We want peace in Mindanao, we want peace in the whole Philippines. We want it now! [as in NOW!].

No more war, no more violence against our own peoples, no more discrimination. Let us be one to end these all. Let us start a generation of engaged citizens for peace and development.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Frack U Mexico from NarcoNewsTV

This is how to popularize and inform the public about an issue! Getting the side of the government is ingenious! There is so much to learn from this video. Thank you, Greg!

Frack U. Mexico

Directed by Greg "Gringoyo" Berger
Screenplay by Al Giordano

Good news! Mexico has the fourth largest shale gas reserves in the world, and the Mexican Congress is about to change the constitution so that private companies can drill for it. That means that U.S. companies will soon be there, fracking for gas. Sure, there may be some complications from the more than 500 chemicals that will be pumped into Mexico's aquifers, but never fear: Joe T. Hodo, President of "Frack U. Mexico!" is here to show you why Mexicans should stop worrying and learn to love fracking...or else.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Years that were ASEAN, and Indonesian: Collection of Essays

The period between 2008 and 2010 was significant to Southeast Asia. During this period, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Charter came into force. The idea of one economic, political, and socio-cultural community for the 10 Member-States was ever more inching closer to reality. While this was unfolding, I was able to witness this community-building process by being at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia in 2008 and at the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity in 2009-2010.

This collection of essays (The years that were ASEAN, and Indonesian: Facing the odds towards regional integration and community building) revisits the significant events, burning issues, and memorable times in ASEAN and so in Indonesia in 2008-2010. They attempt to shed light on these events, issues and rekindle the times when nationalistic and regionalistic fervor was at the peak.

There are five topics that organize the essays. The first one is on regional studies. It starts with the banner year, 2008, for ASEAN when the new Secretary-General, Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, took his office and the role of the regional organization in the humanitarian operations and reconstruction projects in Myanmar in the post-Cyclone Nargis. One essay questions the inclusiveness of the regional integration process of the envisioned one ASEAN community when it comes to peoples participation in the process. The last essay on this topic is the security threat posed by North Korea and how ASEAN can address the threat.

The second topic deals with the environmental issues. Two essays focus on both the regional trends that cause problems and the regional capabilities and structures that can buck the trends.

The third topic is on the political developments in Indonesia. The Commission for Truth and Friendship (CTF) report is examined and its contextual usefulness. Then, the second presidential victory by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) is put into a global political perspective by looking at the wave of victories of oppositions in various national politics.

In the fourth topic, national security issues are discussed. In 2008, the streets of Jakarta saw the violence of student protests. At the other side of the violence are the works of the government. The last essay in the national security issues describes the deadly stampede which is a symptom of social injustice and structural violence in the country.

The last topic is on the nationalistic fervor and travel insights. Celebrating Independence Day and winning an Olympic gold generate emotional attachment to the flag and nation. Being in Jakarta, masjids and gerejas are landmarks which offer not only religious symbol, but spiritual refuge as well. Writing Jakarta without any mention of traffic jams and motorcycles is prejudicial to what it really is.

Most of these essays were published in The Jakarta Post in 2008-2010. Get the book here.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Obsession for grand things in one season: Egypt's Arab Spring

There is a growing obsession to achieve grand things in one season. The Arab Spring that swept Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya has shown that regime change is possible through popular revolt. In the three regime changes, the long-running authoritarian regimes were toppled. Then we thought that democracy would take root and blossom.

A year after in Egypt, that Spring has returned. As any season, the spring is entitled to have a spot in a year. Millions of Egyptians took hold of the season and brazenly showed its colors on the streets. They reflected on the sky as military helicopters carried red, white, and black.

And so we thought.

After ousting Mubarak from power, democratic election was held to determine who would replace him. It took two rounds of voting which were both very tight races. In the first round, Morsi of Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party topped with 24.78 percent of the total votes. The next candidate, Shafik, who was independent but closely associated with the ousted regime, got 23.66 percent. The top two candidates combined could not even muster majority of the votes cast in the first round. In fact the third placer in the first round, Sabahi, had 20.72 percent of the total votes. Thus, the run-off between Morsi and Shafik was on. It was a proxy fight between anti-Mubarak protesters and Mubarak loyalists. Morsi won the run-off with only 51.73 percent of the votes. It was clear that the country was divided, and the Morsi from the first round was not a popular choice among Egyptians.

After a year in power, Morsi was confronted with mass protests all over the country, calling for his ouster. The protesters were still enamored by the ideals of Arab Spring - one of which is regime change. However, the difference this time was that Morsi was in power because he was democratically elected with a fixed term. Nonetheless, the call for his ouster grew and grew louder until the military stepped in. That sealed Morsi's fate, but not his grip on and appeal to legitimacy of his power.

With all what the military did, it is very difficult to see the regime change and take-over of power as not a coup. First, it was the military who gave the 48-hour ultimatum to Morsi. In the effort to appease the protesters and military, Morsi offered a dialogue towards reconciliation. The offer was rejected by the protesters. Second, it was the military who drew the roadmap of the post-Morsi regime. The military through its Chief of Staff General El-Sisi acted on its ultimatum by ousting Morsi from power and detailing its roadmap to suspend the constitution, dissolve parliament, and form an interim council until a fresh election is held. Third, probably on the side, the military arrested the top leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, including the elected president. Whatever people may call it, coup is looming on its shadow.

Now, the Muslim Brotherhood is threatening mass protests and veiled violence against those who violated the rights of their leaders and to restore and respect democratic institutions. In a democracy, regime change is through election.

Exceptions are welcome for a regime change. In turbulent times and conditions, the tempest of those in power must be tamed. Again, Egypt is under the tempest of Arab Spring. But the power is clearly at the hands of the military. Until now, the military's roadmap coincides with the protesters' will. But the details, and so the devil, reside in the post-Morsi scenario.

Seasons come in full circle, regardless of people's conditions. After spring, the summer heat may be too much. The discontent lingers, and so the obsession for grand things in life.