Sunday, September 25, 2016

Spectacle in the Philippines


Killings in the Philippines are becoming a spectacle. News, images and videos of everyday violence dominate the landscape of mainstream and social media. What is disturbing is that these killings are nowhere near plateauing.

Supposedly, only drug users, pushers and drug lords are targets of these killings. But there are a 4-year old Althea Barbon, a 5-year old Danica Garcia, a 20-year old Jefferson Bunuan and a 22-year old Rowena Tiamson, the last two are both promising college students, and nameless others whose lifeless bodies were literally disposed like garbage. They are the victims of the Philippine government's vicious and violent anti-drug campaign under President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte came to power with a promise to suppress drugs and crimes within six months in a bloody campaign, reminiscent of what he implemented in Davao City where he ruled for decades. True enough, barely three months in office, drug-related killings have reached 3,140 and counting. Police operations under Oplan Double Barrel, a national campaign against drugs, accounted for 1,105 deaths, while shadowy vigilante groups took 2,035 lives. Police operatives seem unable to match the "efficient" carnage and shroud of immunity of the vigilante groups.

Even more disturbing are the President's statements and actuations on these killings. Confronted by media, Duterte stressed that he does not care about human rights. On possible UN investigation on extra-judicial killings, he declared that he would quit the UN. Questioned by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on the inclusion and involvement of judges in the drug list, he threatened to declare martial law. He said it before, it is going to be bloody because it is purgative.

What is more and more disturbing is that the whole spectacle is slowly dawning as a mass crime itself.

In his speeches, he sounded oblivious to the fact that as the leader of a democratic society who opts for and insists on violence as superior means to achieve a goal has the burden and stake to justify his decision. There is no escaping from a more forceful of the collective power of the governed on which an elected government heavily depends.

Duterte rallies his supporters that he is waging a revolution to get rid of drugs, crimes, and corruption. These are the realities and evils that ordinary Filipinos struggle with everyday, in which, in Galtungian view, are manifestations of violence.

Duterte has effectively unleashed an idea morphed into a belief to his ardent supporters that only violence can change dire realities, defeat evils, and overcome other violence. There may not be clear desired outcome from the elimination of these realities and evils. The violent means has become its own motive without humane end. It has become irresistible and now seen as imperative as if it were sole mandate.

That is why for Duterte and his millions of supporters, the murderous costs of the drug campaign are distracting toward the achievement of his promise and deliverance. More so, those who get in the way or potentially, including the Chief Justice, UN, media, innocent civilians and critics are to be ignored. Recently, he declared a State of National Emergency, calling the armed forces to respond to lawless violence he actually started.

His violence appears not to have a learning curve. It teaches primarily to Filipinos that violence begets violence.  Many Filipinos are beginning to find themselves again in an eerily too familiar rule that fell to disgrace not so long time ago. Ironically, he wanted that ruler to be given a hero's burial. 

For those who experienced the dictator and Martial Law, they know it will be a long struggle to end and free themselves again from this spectacle of intoxicating violence.

When several police chiefs were sacked for underperforming to meet certain targets, when the Catholic Church through Cardinal Tagle finally spoke against the killings, when the victims' sisters, mothers, fathers, brothers, families, friends and neighbors become actors and not merely spectators of this bloody spectacle, when ordinary people realize that this violence is not capable of changing their lives, and when his fanatics turn into disillusioned followers, they can all signal an eventual end to this enduring state of national emergency.

What is disturbing though is if Duterte sees no end. Six more months? It literally means more killings.

This spectacle of killings must end. We as a people could not simply watch one life after another being sacrificed for the deliverance of a promise and for an egoistic and rhetoric war. It's time to bring the curtain down. Lights off.

- END -

Monday, May 18, 2015

Draft statements of support: A survey from the Committee on the BBL of Ateneo de Naga University

Below are draft statements that express support for a, 1) meaningful self-governance for and by Moros through an empowered ARMM, 2) continued dialogue between anti- and pro-BBL to arrive at a shared commitment and decision to pursue lasting peace in Mindanao, and 3) passage of a constitutional BBL. Please read the statements and express your sentiment from five (strongly agree) to one (strongly disagree). Thank you for your cooperation.

Historical background and self-governance 
The people of Mindanao, especially the Moros and Lumads, have long suffered from protracted cycle of conflict and violence depriving them of peace, security and development. The Moros and Lumads were the original inhabitants of Mindanao. They consider Mindanao and its natural resources as their patrimony. However, colonial and post-colonial land policies marginalized the original inhabitants of Mindanao by instituting land distribution and resettlement programs designed for corporations and migrant settlers. This marginalization is one of the roots of Moro secessionism and conflict in Mindanao.

The conflict has affected our country as vital funds which could have been used for important
social programs alleviating poverty and addressing insecurities in our country are being funneled to
financing the government's war effort. War as a policy instrument implemented by the government is not a solution to the Moro secessionism. Not only does war destroy lives and properties, it distracts the government from tackling the core issues, such as marginalization and poverty. It also creates deep seethed wounds and distrust among the Moros towards the national government.

Moreover, lack of genuine political representation and legal institutional guarantees of the rights of the Moros (and Lumads) in the Philippine political system exacerbate their marginalization. Thus, there has been a heightened desire for Moro self-governance in Mindanao. The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is an expression and instrument towards fulfillment of this desire.

1. We support the desire and collective aspiration to have meaningful self-governance for and by Moros in Mindanao through a more empowered ARMM.

 (5) Strongly agree   (4)  Agree   (3) Neither agree nor disagree   (2) Disagree  (1) Strongly disagree

Bangsamor Basic Law (BBL) and peace process
The BBL is a proposed law that will substantiate and grant politically the Moros’ aspiration for
meaningful and more empowered self-governance characterized by their distinct culture and historical claim. While we mourn the loss of 44 brave Special Action Force (SAF) who dutifully performed their job, we must remember that civilians and Moro fighters also died in Mamasapano incident. Since thorough and impartial investigations are key in determining the truth, and consequently meting out justice for the victims and their families and demanding accountability of erring officials, let us take the opportunity of establishing lasting peace which has eluded  for so long the people of Mindanao. Let us be reminded that BBL is only a segment of the long continuum of peace process. Let us focus on the bigger picture which is peace in Mindanao. We have heard those who oppose or are tentative in supporting the BBL. Let their voices serve as an invitation to further review, discuss and scrutinize the BBL together with those who push for it. This is an essential part of the process before, if ever, we pass it into law to douse off the flame of Moro secessionism.

2. We support the continued dialogue with those who oppose BBL in the hope of converging 
at an understanding and a shared decision and commitment to pursue lasting peace in 

   (5) Strongly agree  (4) Agree  (3) Neither agree nor disagree  (2) Disagree   (1) Strongly disagree

A constitutional BBL
We want a BBL that is faithful to the provisions of the 1987 Philippine Constitution and upholds
the value of diversity and democratic ideals. There is a legitimate cause for alarm since the
abrogation of the current version of the BBL, in whole or in part, may be interpreted differently by various sectors especially its most affected stakeholders, the Bangsamoro people. This is an
incalculable risk since decades-long peacebuilding efforts in Mindanao might be laid to waste if an altered version of the BBL that does not fully provide the autonomy desired by the Bangsamoro people is passed. Balance must be made between making the BBL a constitutional legislation and providing an inclusive Bangsamoro political entity that will embody the collective ideals and aspirations of the Moros (and Lumads). It is in this critical historic juncture that sobriety and discernment are called upon us who are members of an academic community. We believe that it is incumbent upon us to express and make clear our stance in this very important issue.
 3. We support the passage of a constitutional BBL.

 (5) Strongly agree  (4) Agree   (3) Neither agree nor disagree   (2) Disagree   (1) Strongly disagree

Friday, December 26, 2014

Ethno-religious identification and intergroup contact avoidance: An empirical study on Christian-Muslim relations in the Philippines

Imagine being asked: “Would you change your religious beliefs to marry the person you love? Why or why not?” It was actually the question posed to the Philippine candidate in the 2011 Miss Universe pageant in Brazil. You know what her answer: “If I have to change my religious beliefs, I will not marry the person that I love, because the first person that I love is God who created me. And if that person loves me, he should love my God too. Thank you.”

Her response did not make her win the Miss Universe title, but it won the hearts of many Filipinos. This was a clear indication of a strong religious identification and avoidance of religious out-group. In the Philippines, does this religious identification manifest in the social interaction with religious out-groups? Does it shape attitude and intention (i.e. contact avoidance) among university students who are often the most vocal sector of society? Despite increased interconnectedness through social media and global events, people are still being excluded not because of what they do, but mainly because of who they are, based on religion and ethnicity.

The Philippines is composed of diverse population groups. Several authors categorize it into Christian north and Muslim south. Behind this religious divide are ethnic groups, which are commonly identified as either Christians or Muslims. Thus, in-group and out-group can fairly be distinguished.

For decades, conflicts have been going on in southern Philippines. The conflict has conventionally been viewed “within the framework of historic ethno-religious conflict” because the groups involved are divided along ethno-religious lines.

This study looks at latent aspects of conflict through strained relations between ethno-religious groups in Metro Manila and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and adjacent areas.

Relations between these groups are historically characterized by majority-minority positions, hierarchy, competition and rivalry. Data collection through surveys and interviews in these areas was conducted in 2011-2012.

The aim of this study is to answer the following central questions.

1. To what extent is there a relationship between ethno-religious identification and contact avoidance? The hypothesis here is that the stronger identification, the higher level of contact avoidance.

2. To what extent can we explain the relationship between ethno-religious identification and contact avoidance by intermediate determinants? The general hypothesis here is that the relationship will be diminished because of the mediating effects of the intermediate factors.

To guide the process of finding empirical answers to these questions, this study set out to build on previously developed and well-established theoretical insights on intergroup relations.

As a dimension of ethnic exclusionism, intergroup contact avoidance could be explained by the general propositions of several theories. Realistic conflict theory posits that intergroup competition in a social conflict facilitates in-group cohesion and out-group hostility. Social identity theory involves the social processes of categorization, identification and comparison which induce in-group favoritism through social identification and out-group antagonism through social contra-identification. The complementarity of these two theories is summarized in the proposition of ethnic group conflict theory which states that intergroup competition at individual and contextual levels, mediated by perceived group threat, will reinforce in-group favoritism and out-group antagonism. The eventual outcome of which is ethnic exclusionism.

There are other theories that could well provide explanations. The inclusion of an indigenous concept called pakikiramdam (heightened awareness of self, others and situation) is a recognition of the cultural context of the research setting.

To measure intergroup contact avoidance, we ask, “To what extent would you accept or avoid having a Christian/Muslim” classmate, friend, boardmate, neighbor, civil servant, police, and mayor. In the Mokken scale analysis, both Christians and Muslims have an almost similar pattern for the seven contact roles.

They have the private domain, classmate and friend, with the most acceptance, while the public domain, police and mayor have the most avoidance. The contact role, neighbor, seems to mark the boundary between private and public. Moreover, both Christians and Muslims tend to avoid placing public contact roles, bequeathed with power, in the hands of out-groups, while they are less likely to do so with the private contact roles.

To measure ethno-religious identification, we treat identity as not merely a self-affiliation and knowledge of one’s in-group, rather, it undergoes a process in which individual actions and choices are crucial elements of the process. According to Phinney and Ong (2007, pp.272-273), the process of identification has several dimensions, such as exploration,, behaviors, commitment and attachment, relationship between ethnic identity and national identity, among others.

Who are then the people who tend to avoid contact towards out-groups? In our findings, they are those Christians and Muslims who have more religious in-group friends, greater perceived group threat, social dominance orientation, out-group religiocentrism and distrust, and fundamentalist attitudes. They are also members of religious organizations and they participate in religious practices.

Using regression analyses to test our hypotheses, the study shows the effects on contact avoidance by ethno-religious identification variables such as participation in rites of passage, number of ethnic in-group friends, and number of instances where ethnic language is used. The observed effects support the first hypothesis that the stronger the ethno-religious identification, the more contact avoidance towards the out-group. Explaining further the significant relationship between ethno-religious identification and contact avoidance, the intermediate determinants which decrease the observed effects of ethno-religious identification variables on contact avoidance are perceived group threat, out-group distrust, fundamentalism, and quantity of contact. As expected, the significant effects on contact avoidance of perceived group threat, out-group distrust, and fundamentalism, are positive, whereas the significant effect of quantity of contact is negative. Inclusion of these intermediate determinants in the model reduces most significant differences between ethno-elrigious groups. This is an evidence for the mediating function of these determinants.

The interviews provide additional data and explanations on contact avoidance. Both Christians and Muslims report incidents of everyday contact avoidance as peers and barangay-mates.

Additional expressions of religious identification are from Muslim informants who find eating halal food and wearing hijab as their expressions of being Muslims in a predominantly Christian country. One dimension which is not measured by the survey is the relationship of sub-national (ethnic) identity with national identity. While Christian ethnic groups generally identify with the national identity as Filipinos, the Muslim ethnic groups voice out some issues with being Filipinos as a legacy of oppressive colonial history.

The additional explanations are found in the three contextual factors, namely education, mass media and history of conflict. For example, the school environment has considerable impact on intergroup relations. The more mixed the composition of the student population, the more possibilities for intergroup contacts and friendships there are, and less likely there will be intergroup contact avoidance.

In closing, it is confirmed, as predicted by ethnic group conflict theory, that perceived group threat is a strong and significant predictor of exclusionary attitude, i.e. contact avoidance. Also it is confirmed that out-group distrust, a by-product of social contra-identification explained in social identity theory and ethnic group conflict theory, induces ethnic exclusionism. The finding on the quantity of contacts supports the position of intergroup contact theory, which posits that contacts reduce the likelihood of exclusionary attitudes towards out-groups.

In light of the findings and data available for further research on intergroup relations, the potency of contributing not just to the understanding of conflicts, but also to peacebuilding efforts in conflict areas, specifically in Mindanao, is very encouraging.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Bicol protest: A continuing revolution from national to local

The day was supposed to be a celebration of something local in the national revolution. Unfortunately, as in any mainstream history, the national took up and consumed any local incidences.

On the 116th year of the Philippine independence, President Aquino came to Naga City in Bicol to recognize and highlight the role of Bicol in the 1898 Philippine revolution by remembering the martyrdom of 15 Bicolanos. Finally, a national event becoming a local one, I thought.

While he was at it, one student-activist interrupted and heckled him in Tagalog language. “Alis pork barrel king. Walang pagbabago sa bansa!” (Out pork barrel king! No change in the country.) Some meters away and out of sight from the president, hundreds of other activists were echoing the same sentiments.

Meanwhile, thousands of those who came to celebrate the day in Plaza Quince Martires, including me, were stunned by such boldness of one activist. I heard comments, “Ano na ‘yan pasale, dae man lang pigrespeto si ocassion asin bisita” (What kind of trick, it never considers respecting the occasion and guest). Many said in jest, “Dae man lang nagsabi, inibanan co cuta.” (He did not tell, I could have joined).

In Bikol culture, a guest is accorded habitually with over-welcoming and warm gestures. Thus disrupting an event with guests in attendance is not consistent with what is expected of Bikolano hosts.

However, the activist evidently did not act like a Bikolano host. Or probably he did not want to welcome certain guests and be a host to this event. Certainly for the police who apprehended him at that time, he was certainly not a Bicolano because he shouted in Tagalog language. It was not only the language that could be of interest to point out here. The message or content of the protest could also be examined. Essentially, the message was of national issue seeking national attention.

Had the language and message been of local, many Bicolanos and Bicolanas could have been sympathetic and supportive of the activist. Had he cried for autonomy for example, like others who said he could have joined him, I would have joined as well.

When the activist was dragged past near my location, he was still shouting, “walang pagbabago…”(no change), and obviously resisting several police officers who were dragging him away from Plaza Quince Martires heading to a another plaza called Plaza Quezon where I last saw a group of police surrounding him.

From a plaza named after local heroes to a plaza named after a national hero, it was like a local concern being brought to national attention which often suppressed any local origins. The revolution in 1898 will always be viewed as national, as if regional efforts reflected the national project. After 116 years, that project needs to be localized to embody regional aspiration for liberation. The revolution must be continued to finally free us from the hands of the guests in our homeland.

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.