(Trying) to understand Mindanao
(A Personal Essay)
It’s still a world of instant coffee.
A friend from academia dropped a message in my inbox to ask for an online chat via Yahoo Messenger or Google Chat. I was surprised since the last contact we made was two years ago in a UP e-group.
He said as a journalist I could give him a quick explanation about Mindanao, its indigenous peoples, the issue of ancestral domain, the Mindanao conflict, why some IPs oppose mining, and also the peace process. He was trying to prepare a primer on Mindanao.
I knew it was an overview paper. It was an ambitious overview paper. It is doable I’m sure. I find preparing a primer on Mindanao, however, out of synch and possibly a waste of time. Such primer could be for anyone rushing. But I think one shouldn’t rush any attempt to understand Mindanao.
A primer or an overview should be short. But preparing one on Mindanao should take in more than a “bird’s eye view.” It should be as good as the ant’s view, the side view or the under the table view. Maybe, that’s not a primer anymore? I am usually an eager informant. But I refused this time. To be the key informant of such an expansive row of topics required apt mind, heart and experience aside from hours of freedom.
For now I’m not a freeman. I’m tied to a lot of work, including backlogs. Besides, I know I could refer him to the experts of each specific topic, which I did,rather than monopolize and assume with my generalist’s take. He obliged, fortunately.
To talk about those things for his paper is quite demanding. For a graduate paper I found the topic too broad, too.
But that was not my point.
First, I don’t claim to understand Mindanao just because I’m a journalist.
Second, there is no quick way to study Mindanao.
We need a complete mix of sources to be able to do that. Here are a few means:
- Being here is a requisite. One cannot claim to study in absencia. They can study from afar, but they should have enough time to use books and other materials to grasp A PORTION of the knowledge and understanding.
- The books,newspapers, and the mass media are a big help, but not enough
- Mindanao as a span of coverage is also broad. What is Mindanao and who are in Mindanao? If you talk about Mindanao, who are your cast of characters? The people in cities, in power, in conflict? That in itself is a complex field of study as it touches on sensitive issues of forced and organized migration, dislocation, and location.
- To understand one has to get through a shift of paradigm — bearing in mind the subject of the study’s distinct world view or understanding of things. Like one basic thing is to understand that many people, especially indigenous people, do not traditionally measure distance by kilometers and height by meters, or wealth by cash. In short, they have their own worldviews. One should understand that worldview first before even attempting to understand them. If that’s too complicated, well, I guess that’s it.
- The best way to get a world view into your sleeve is to be with the people – to talk to them, eat with them, dialogue with them. This I think is useful on why lumad groups oppose mining and logging companies in their ancestral domains. Their lifeworlds could be altered.
- As to the culture and the struggle for self determination among the Moro and the Lumads, I find listening to them narrate their experiences as revealing, informative and enlightening. Especially for the lumads, whose stories and experiences are still off the print and have remained in their oral traditions
- As to the Mindanao conflict, the books and other materials with accounts of the roots of the conflicts are useful materials. But more interactions should brew among the peace dreamers and workers, not just the combatants.
- As to the peace process, one cannot just look at one sector —the government or the funding agencies supporting the government for peace. The real witnesses to the making and unmaking of peace are the people on the ground. They are at the frontlines of hostilities. When clashes occur between the two major parties to the conflict, say the GRP and the MILF, the people are in the combat zones busy either evacuating or crying helplessly under firefightings.
- There are peoples organizations who could tell the real picture of what happened and what they dream to happen instead.
- Sometimes we are tempted to just ask those “experts” and the top officials who claim to have enough preparation and experience to discuss the peace process or the Mindanao conflict. We often neglect the voice of the voiceless and the powerless. Their voices matter, too, and oftentimes the ones that truly matter. Ehem.
- As to the interplay of these different scenes in Mindanao,in one side those working to develop and make Mindanao economically grow as the other side grapples with the taxing peace processes, one needs to be a keen observer. Library work cannot be much of help as much of these are not yet in books. Some could be found in the internet. But the bulk of these needs to be squeezed from all the stakeholders who take hold of the key to understanding and peace.
- Plus, many other means from other sources who probably know better.
The complexities and inter-related-ness of the micro issues and concerns behind, below, be side and above the bigger isuse of unpeace and poverty in Mindanao cannot be simplified.
The short of it all is that there is no short cut to understanding Mindanao. There could be some careful means to be able to take into account the facets that form part of the whole. But it is a long and wide history/histories (apologies to the gender sensitives).
I am not saying it is impossible to understand Mindanao. All I’m saying is it takes time, involves a lot of sources, and uses a much wider facility of means and efforts.
By YM or Google chat, no. Certainly, it goes beyond finishing a cup of coffee.