THE BANGSA MORO STRUGGLE IN THE PHILIPPINES
[From: E. San Juan, US IMPERIALISM AND REVOLUTION IN THE PHILIPPINES, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008]
When this so-called battle [at Mt. Dajo, Philippines, where U.S. troops slaughtered 600 Moro men, women and children] was over, there were certainly not fewer than two hundred wounded savages lying on the field. What became of them? Since not one savage was left alive! The inference seems plain. We cleaned up our four days’ work and made it complete by butchering those helpless people.
–MARK TWAIN, “Comments on the Moro Massacre,” March 12-14, 1906 (1992)
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child….
–RUDYARD KIPLING, “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and the Philippine Islands” (1899)
The working class cannot be indifferent to the most intolerably barbaric oppression [of any nation] …Even the most inhumane material oppression is not able to provoke such wrathful, fanatical rebellion and rage as…religious or national oppression.
–ROSA LUXEMBURG, Foreword to “The Polish Question and the Socialist Movement” (1905)
The young man whom you rejected / was a poor man, it’s true./ But now he is fighting for the homeland / and offering his life / in the struggle for the faith.
–from MILF Rebel Song from Campo Muslim (in McKenna 1998)
From the perspective of a globalized world system, the ideal of a multicultural democratic society is often celebrated today as an already realized good, a spontaneous offshoot of the “free market” and the universal circulation of mass-produced commodities. But the current “war against terrorism” and the debate over the “clash of civilizations” confirm the postmodern interregnum of “undecidable” particularisms belying any consensus on foundations and axioms. Representational differences trump material commonalities. Amid the conflicts of paradigms and world-views, however, everyone still acknowledges in actual practice a world “out there,” intractable, tough, and heterogeneous.
My view conforms to realist principles: the articulation of diverse cultures and democratic institutions can be envisaged as a feasible project only within the complex and changing social formations that they inhabit in the historical continuum. In the case of “third world” societies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, colonialism introduced a politics of difference that multiplied boundaries within and without, over and beyond the “us”/”them” binary: the subjugated communities were polarized internally and against one another. Mastery entailed disintegration of the subalterns. Differences marked by race, class, gender, religion, nationality, and other ethnic particulars functioned as the instruments by which the hegemony of the colonial power was established and maintained. In effect, a policy of stratified pluralism was devised and applied in order to disintegrate formerly cohesive groups, nourish antagonisms between and among their members, and prevent any sense of unity (class, national) that would challenge colonial rule. With an apartheid regime of asymmetrical cultures, the antithesis of democracy–political and economic inequality–flourished. Racism reigned supreme in multicultural class-differentiated polities in most of the “free world,” North and South.
In reviewing the struggle of the Moro (the preferred term for “Muslims” in the Philippines) people for justice and autonomy, I subscribe to the imperative of historical specification. In my view, the politics of identity, multiculturalism, ‘otherness,’ and ‘difference’ cannot be fully comprehended “in abstraction from material circumstances and of political project…All propositions for social action (or conceptions of social justice) must be critically evaluated in terms of the situatedness or positionality of the argument and the arguer” (Harvey 1996, 363). Cultural ethnic traits find their efficacious valence only within the totality of social relations of a historical region and epoch.
Colonized for over 300 years by monarchical Spain, the inhabitants of the Philippine islands acquired a sense of national unity after 350 years of peasant revolts culminating in the revolution of 1896-98 (Pomeroy 1992). Filipino nationality was forged by an alliance of classes and popular sectors (not including the Moros) that established the revolutionary Philippine Republic which challenged Spanish colonial rule. This decolonizing nation-state with its bourgeois Enlightenment ethos was destroyed by the military and economic might of the United States in the Filipino-American War of 1899-1902. In due time, the natives were thoroughly Americanized for a Herrenvolk social order (van den Berghe 1967). The new nation-state entity to which the U.S. granted independence in 1946 reflected a half-century of missionary colonialism (the official policy was called “Benevolent Assimilation”) instanced by the imposition of the English language as the medium of communication in business and government. The dominance of a market-centered commodifying habitus persists amid residual customs and archaic practices in various regions, with 20 major ethnolinguistic groups articulating their demands for recognition and for their share of the socially produced wealth (for habitus, see Bourdieu 1993).
Before illustrating how the politics of “postcolonial” liberalism operates in the Philippines today, allow me to quote a capsule description of the country from an American geographer. The Philippines, writes George Demko, is characterized by sharp class divisions refracted by multifarious markers of underdevelopment:
A few landowners have acquired massive wealth, while almost three quarters of the population of 65 million live in direst poverty, unable to satisfy basic needs. Mestizos make up 2 percent of the population but garner 55 percent of the personal income….[Demko then describes the dependence of thousands of Filipinos on the U.S. military bases, part of the U.S. Pacific Defense system, dismantled in 1992.] Communist guerillas–the New People’s Army–are spirited. Muslims have fought a secessionist war in Mindanao. Most of the people are Malay in origin, but there are more than 75 ethnolinguistic groups. All but 5 percent of the population live on the 11 largest islands. Some people like the Tasadays live so remotely, they have only recently been discovered, and disturbed, by the outside world. About 75 indigenous tongues, including eight major ones, are spoken. The official one is Tagalog (1992, 295-296).
Most tourist guidebooks expunge or ignore class divisions (Hoefer 1980; Peplow 1991;Harper and Fullerton 1993). What is striking here is the configuration of a social order constituted by the complex dynamics of class, language, ideology, religion, locality, and so on, aggravated by colonial legacies. One American political scientist explains the failure of the Communist-led Huk peasant rebellion in the fifties as due to “stubborn linguistic-regional loyalties” so that the perception of the guerillas as mainly “Pampango” led to its being shunned by Tagalogs, Ilokanos, and others (Enloe 1973, 221). The Philippines seems vibrant with discrepancies and disjunctions–at the price of the suffering of the majority of its citizens.
A quick overview may be useful here. In most anthropological accounts, the two main unifying features of the Philippine formation are the racial type (Mongoloid) and the Austronesian or Malayo-Polynesian language family. In general, the majority is supposed to share the “lowland peasant culture,” a Malay culture characterized by settlement patterns determined by geography and by the two major religions, Christianity and Islam. Such differences are said to come “from the specific ways ethnolinguistic groups adapted to their particular environment over long periods of time, the varying impact of outside influences…, and the degree of their involvement in national affairs” (Roxas-Lim 1996, 617). In the sixties, an American political scientist commented that despite the efforts of the government’s Commission on National Integration (CNI), “for all practical purposes, the non-christians are excluded from the designation ‘Filipino'” (Grossholtz 1964, 53). Eric Casino, former official anthropologist of the Philippine National Museum, noted that the 1957 revision of the CNI’s mission adopted an assertive assimilationism, when the goal of fostering “mutual intelligence among the groups” was changed to one of making “real, complete and permanent the integration of the National Cultural Minorities into the body politic” (1987, 246-47). What the nature of this “body politic” is, becomes the crucial and decisive factor often omitted (or assumed as the unquestioned status quo) in practically all existing studies interpreting and evaluating the Moro struggle for either autonomy, secession, or national self-determination.
In the static tabulation of factors that supposedly explain cultural pluralism, the classic stress by traditional scholars on geographical conditions (settlement and subsistence patterns) is supplemented with the standard reference to kinship, sociopolitical institutions, and religion or belief systems. The status quo becomes reified when this ethnographic scheme erases the material inequalities manifest in group antagonisms. Among the Muslims, one study observes, “contemporary national institutions are weak and splintered; thus greater reliance is placed on mutual support groups through extended kinship ties which are fundamental and are rarely, if ever, transcended even within the framework of governmental and national organizations” (Roxas-Lim 1996, 618). Why kinship becomes paramount in this setup is really never explained except as a consequence of weak governmental and national institutions, which in turn requires explanation. One concludes that in contrast to industrialized urban societies today, a dependent peripheral formation like the Philippines shows an extremely uneven, disintegrated polity where shifting identities and mutable affiliations thrive amid economic and political vortices of strife. Liberal pluralism gravitating around the competitive exchange of goods and labor-power indeed depends on, and fosters, a perpetually crisis-ridden, class-torn society.
“Manifest Destiny” on the March
The Philippines (including the territories inhabited by the Moros] was annexed by violence and diplomacy at the threshold of the twentieth century. Way back when a five-member Peace Commission was appointed by President William McKinley to sign the Treaty of Paris ending the Spanish-American War and Spain’s cession of the Philippine Islands to the U.S. for $20 million, Whitelaw Reid, publisher of the New York Tribune and Commission member, wrote in his journal: The Philipppines “embraced a great variety of races, pure and mixed, including many still in a stage of savagery…. A large section of the South [Mindanao and Sulu] was under the control of the Mohammedans, who had never been conquered by Spain, and who were believed to be depraved, intractable and piratical “ (quoted in Ocampo 1998, 236). One product of U.S. “Manifest Destiny” in civilizing these “intractable and piratical” hordes may be witnessed in the famous photo of carnage taken at Mt. Dajo in 1906 by an army photographer (see Attached).
About two decades after the defeat of the revolutionary Philippine Republic headed by General Emilio Aguinaldo, W. Cameron Forbes, a former civil governor, described the strange customs of ther Moros, highlighting the familiar signs of truth-bearing discourse:
When a Moro became tired of life he could go juramentado. Such a Moro would shave his eyebrows, get blessed by a priest, don a white garment, and rush in to kill as many Christians as he could before meeting his death….. The juramentado will steal up toward his intended victims, keeping as much as possible unobserved, until a chance arrived to rush in and start slashing with a cold steel. One Moro was seen to seize the rifle of his opponent and pull the bayonet through himself so as to get near enough to reach his adversary with his kris before dying (1928, 282-83]
One would think that after formal independence in 1946, the Philippines would be more open and accessible for the Moros to be better understood and appreciated so as to correct such revealing distortion as that authorized by Forbes. However, positivist social thinking could not move away quickly from the aura of immediacy surrounding received representations of the newly acquired natives. It could only contrive what Georg Lukacs calls “a formal typology of the manifestations of history,” taking reified appearances and fetishized ethnic traits as unmediated truths (Shaw 1975, 73). Thus we find structural functionalism in U.S. scholarship applied to the task of identifying, for example, maratabat as personal esteem, pride in one’s honor or that of kin: “Injury to one’s maratabat demands revenge, most appropriately in the form of killing” (Chafee 1969; see Bentley 1991). This seems to have established the accepted pattern of knowledge-production of the Moro and other indigenes in the Philippines for the rest of the century and the next.
We find this hypothesis confirmed in the historian David Steinberg’s invidious reference to “sporadic terrorist attacks” (the word “terrorist” becomes an easy imprimatur of authority) launched by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the eighties. We also will encounter this mode of interpretation somewhat refurbished in an essay on the Abu Sayyaf by the anthropologist Charles Frake (more later). Frake locates the explanation for the violence of the Abu Sayyaf and other local organizations in the quest for affirming personal identity “in the face of deadly indifference” (1998, 51). This echoes the postmodern anatomy of Filipino violence by another anthropologist, Jean Paul Dumont, in which the depoliticized peasants are blamed for their passivity, thus acquitting the exploitative social order. And the reason for this is that violence “is informed and constructed by a variety of factors that transcend the hic et nunc of its occurrence” (1995, 277). In short, there are multiple highly mediated factors that make incidents of violence enigmatic, so that adequate cognition may not be readily available, if at all. While such phenomenological investigations may yield some provocative insights, they tend on the whole to mystify, if not actually render unintelligible, the actual if complex historical situation of millions of non-Western peoples being studied by American/Western scholars. Would experts on cultural pluralism or multiculturalism be more reliable in this regard?
One of the theoreticians of the concept of a pluralist society, John Rex (1997), posits a neoWeberian paradigm centered on the split between public and private domains. This split is analogous to the distinction made by the sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies between Gemeinschaft (primary groups revolving around the family, kinship, ethical relations) and Gesellschaft (impersonal bureaucratic and judicial processes in cities). My reservation about this paradigm concerns its displacement of unequal power/property relations by the in-group/out-group binary grid and its corollary, the theory of minority-majority group interaction.
The limits of ethnicity-based analysis of social problems will soon become evident in the following critique. Rex believes that the ideal of multiculturalism is consonant with equality of opportunity for all classes, a fundamental democratic principle, when a society is unified in the public domain (law, politics, economics) but at the same time encourages diversity in private or communal matters (domestic life, religion, morality). Obviously this requires the separation of church and state, and the nearly total secularization of a citizen’s life, thus excluding Islamic-centered states and polities. When, on the other hand, a society is unitary in the public realm and also enforces unity of cultural practices in the private realm, then we have an assimilationist polity like France—but not Germany (until recent reforms) or Japan. Another setup alluded to by Rex, which strikes me as quite problematic, is the U.S. Deep South before the reforms of the Civil Rights era. In the South before the sixties, differential rights in the public sphere presumably coexist with homogeneous cultural practices shared by whites and blacks alike–“separate but equal.” Finally, the opposite of the multicultural society–almost a parody or ironic mirror-image– is the South African apartheid order where differential rights of groups prevail in the public domain together with the law-governed disparate cultural practices of incommensurable nationalities. The bantustan phenomenon, a type of autonomy within a culturally exclusivist nation-state, is the index of such segregation in both public and private domains.
In my view, Rex’s argument hinges on an elided contradiction. Rex assumes that the public domain characterized by the formal equality of individuals (as proclaimed in a republican constitution) can coexist with an unconstrained diversity of private/communal groups with their ethnic particularities (morality, religion, kinship network of diasporic cohorts tied to various homelands). Indeed, this model of bourgeois civil society underwrites the role of hegemonic institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. But surely Western juridical regulations infringe on and delimit certain practices such as those involving marital arrangements and codes/mores of sexuality. In the United States, for example, cases of Kampuchean ritual sacrifice of animals in church have been brought to court, and the mass media have condemned the beating of children by immigrant parents with more authoritarian ethos. Despite such incompatibilities regulated by the neoliberal state (now eroded by the moral panic over “terrorists” triggered by news of the Arab/Muslim participants of the 9/11 attacks), Rex insists that dialogue and tensions integral to civic culture represent the normal functioning of a multicultural democracy.
What is normative in modern society subsists on repressed contradictions. The normal equilibrium of everyday life in a multiethnic society hides sharp internal contradictions of class, race, gender, and so on. And this is occluded by the mode in which the state and its ideological apparatuses legitimize the way one group exercises hegemony–in both coercive and consensual senses–over others. In this hegemony, the control of land, labor-power, and other productive forces, is the key element. When we examine the ongoing conflict in the Philippines between the Moro nation and the central government, we find Rex’s theoretical dualism and other structuralist-functionalist concepts inadequate. The sheer asymmetry of status and power (based on control or ownership of material resources) between Moros (mainly workers, peasants and middle strata practicing Islam) and the bureaucrat-comparador elite (predominantly Christian) renders the static distinction between individual and collective untenable.
Pacifying the “Infidels”
The situation of the Moros may be taken as exemplary of the problematic nature of a formally plural (not yet genuinely pluralist) society constituted by violent dispossession and subalternization. While the antagonism between Muslims and Christians dates back to Spanish colonization from 1565 to 1898, and U.S. colonial domination from 1898 to 1946, the present conflict is not religious as usually construed, but fundamentally political and economic in terms of the division of social labor and its satisfaction of developing human needs. It was the Spaniards who, trying to establish theocratic rule over the islands by conquering and converting the indigenous communities, established the boundary between the “Infieles” (Muslims) and the civilized (Christians). Ethnic difference, of course, legitimized the violent exploitation of the natives and theft of their lands and resources. Such pacification failed, even though it disrupted the progress of the Sulu Zone commercial network and statecraft based on piracy and control of slave manpower (Warren 1998; Casino 2000).
In contrast, the United States, based not on a tributary but a capitalist mode of production and exchange, applied a dual policy of violence and diplomatic ruses. Shaped by the experience of genocidal wars against the American Indians, U.S. policy-makers considered the Muslims as savages to be disciplined and their barbarous practices suppressed. U.S. Secretary of War Elihu Root formulated Moro policy with the Supreme Court 1831 decision on the case of Cherokee Nation v. the State of Georgia in mind; he considered the Moros “domestic dependent nations, “wards” in a “state of pupilage” (Gowing 1972, 49). While the Bates Treaty of 1899 between the new rulers and the unsubdued Muslims recognized the Sultan of Sulu as a “protected sovereignty,” thousands of ordinary Moros fiercely resisted U.S. control in various ways amid the cooptation of the local datus (appointed by U.S. officials as “headmen” of their wards) and the erosion of sultanate power through the technique of “divide and rule.”
In June 1907, the U.S. devised the Organic Act for the Moro provinces which provided for a measure of local autonomy except in the area of customs, forest revenues, pearl trade, and so on. Such autonomy, however, did not mean the toleration of practices such as slavery (the American anthropologist Dean Worcester wrote a sustained invective against non-christian cultures in his report of 1913 entitled Slavery and Peonage in the Philippine Islands). Religious practices remained untouched, but ethics and family life could not but be affected by universal mass education geared toward individualist competition in entrepreneurial careers and government service. The Moro historian Samuel Tan examined the few but revealing written responses to American domination. He observes that the U.S. carried out a strategy of liberalization by eliminating the economic resources of the sultanates to the extent where their political influence on the datus and other local leaders declined, especially after popular education was introduced in 1916. Consequently, aside from slaves and servants running away from the sultans, “the opportunities for employment in public works, services [in the colonial bureaucracy after 1915 when civil government was installed], and businesses under American control offered attractive alternatives to the masses” (Tan 1998, 128). The first three decades of the twentieth century was characterized by “the intensification of local political rivalries to gain favor in the eyes of the colonial government, as well as by violent outbreaks and armed disturbances by those unable to cope with changes in society…. [Despite the Bates Treaty] there was no prohibition nor hindrance to the entry of Christian missions, especially Protestants, into Sulu to undertake educational, social, economic, or cultural tasks for colonial interests, including the establishment of churches and missions. It was this indirect means of social change [including the encouragement of immigration of Christians, Chinese and other nationalities] that helped American colonial rule” to change gradually the totality of social relations and power structure in the “Moro provinces” (Tan 1998, 128).
Reflecting on the accomplishments of U.S. tutelage, Governor General W. Cameron Forbes (1928) praised the forcible imposition of a legal system that dismantled the linkage between public and private in a tributary or feudal system. But contrary to the argument that the U.S. initiated a “decentralized, electoralized institutional grid” as the chief mode of crafting the postcolonial state, the fact is that such a grid served to sustain a political economy based on semifeudal clans owning large estates and compradors manipulating the bureaucratic machine, a neocolonial structure (after 1935) that held the peasantry and workers in check, coopted the intelligentsia, and justified U.S. military and economic control of the country long after formal independence was granted in 1946. The Moros suffered under this grid, gradually losing their lands and their “ancient liberty” (kalimayahan) except that which is now retroactively and prospectively being identified with Islam.
There is no doubt that the U.S. policy of integration/assimilation through mass education, jurisprudence, and “free enterprise” led to the obsolescence of datu power and sultanate authority. But it was the government-sponsored migration of Christian, Chinese, and other settlers–accelerated by President Ramon Magsaysay’s resettlement of former Huk rebels in the fifties–that exacerbated the land disputes raging throughout the entire period of U.S. colonial rule. Unknown to most Moros, the Torrens land title registration system nullified the traditional communal land system, resulting in numerous protests, among them the 1926 Alangkat uprising led by Datu Maporo and the 1950 Kamlon insurrection in Jolo. Despite the influx of Christian settlers, the Moro provinces remained impoverished, with the lowest literacy rate and the highest unemployment in the whole country (Majul 1988a).
An alarming breakdown of law and order characterized the decades after World War II and the onset of martial law in 1972. Meanwhile, the rise of a Moro intelligentsia educated in Egypt and the Islamic resurgence in the Middle East led to the evolution of a youthful ulama mindful of a revitalized ethno-religious identity. In 1961, four years after the Moros were declared a “national cultural minority” ripe for integration, Representative Ombra Amilbangsa filed a bill in Congress seeking the separation of the Sulu archipelago from the Republic. The 1968 founding of the Mindanao Independence Movement by Datu Udtog Matalam was a prelude to the current secessionist and separatist trends. Government reforms and industrialization/modernization schemes premised on the country’s dependency on foreign investment and multinational corporations have worsened the plight of the Moros. The full-scale war between the MNLF and the Marcos dictatorship is a symptom of the failure of a liberal-capitalist policy of integration via differential incorporation based on ascribed “primordial” life-ways. While Muslim religious rituals and familial customs were tolerated, denial of economic opportunities to the displaced majority continued precisely because the patronage system preserved the datu patriarchal regime while the necolonial oligarchic rule promoted a genocidal frontier model of development framed within the Cold War strategy of imperialist finance capital (Stauffer 1975; Tadem 1980).
Arguably, the Moros have been one of the most brutalized victims of colonial domination and religious chauvinism in world history (Ahmad 1982). When the United States annexed the Philippines in 1898, it had to suppress open and covert native opposition up to 1915, at the cost of 1.4 million lives. The historians’ consensus is that the fiercest resistance (of at least 41 organized rebellions from 1900 to 1941) was mounted by the Moros in the battle of Mt. Bagsak, Jolo, on 13 June 1913, where 3,000 Moro men, women and children were killed; and in an earlier encounter at Mt. Dajo, Jolo, on 9 March 1906, where U.S. troops ruthlessly massacred over 600 men, women and children (Tan 1987). Unable to subdue the Moros by military violence alone, the US negotiated tactical compromises with the local datus, coaxing their support with “education trips” and other concessions (Majul 1988). The U.S. “policy of attraction” tied to coercive pacification accounts for the careers of Moro chieftains like Hadji Butu, Datu Piang, and others who preferred American tutelage over “Filipinization” through the Philippine Commonwealth and the Republic (Asani 1980).
Over half a century of politico-economic dispossession and cultural discrimination of the Moro people occurred simultaneously with the construction of a neocolonial state and a backward, dependent economy. From 1946 to the present, the general social condition of the Moros has deteriorated, with their lands, labor-power, and natural resources lost to predatory settlers, bureaucrats, military occupiers, and foreign corporations (Stauffer 1981; Silva1978; Third World Studies 1979). Only 15% of the land in Mindanao and Sulu, their traditional homeland, belong to the Moros. They constitute a majority in only Lanao del Sur, Basilan, and the Sulu archipelago. Comprising the most impoverished ethnic group in the whole country, the average income of roughly 7.5 million Moros is only a fifth of the national average. Over half a million refugees, and about 120,00 dead (preponderantly Moro women, children, and the aged), have resulted from the continuous fighting between Moro guerillas and government forces since the seventies (Stankovitch 1999). In his 1981 testimony to the Permanent People’s Tribunal, Dr. Parouk Hussin described the “systematic and diabolical campaign of genocide perpetrated by the Marcos regime and his fascist and terrorist armed forces, aided by their imperialist master, the United States of America…This total extermination only points to the grand design of permanent colonization of our people’s national homeland…This precisely is the message behind the desecration of thousands of mosques” (1981, 257, 260). This testimony forms part of the rich Moro archive of the “common fate.” It is this notion which Otto Bauer theorized as the defining substance of the nation– “a collective memory of persecution, exclusion or massacres [which] creates a national community of fate”–which, together with acts of resistance and revolt, contributes decisively to forging the identity of the Moro nation (Lowy 1998, 49).
Seizing the Crisis to the Breakthrough
After the imposition of martial law in 1972, the MNLF (founded in 1969) mobilized 15,000-30,000 troops of the Bangsa Moro Army (BMA) against the Marcos regime in large-scale conventional warfare. On 28 April 1974, the MNLF issued a Manifesto establishing a revolutionary Bangsamoro Republic whose goal is complete independence, that is, freedom “from the terror, oppression and tyranny of Filipino colonialism which has caused us untold sufferings and miseries by criminally usurping our land, by threatening Islam through wholesale destruction and desecration of its places of worship and its Holy Book, and murdering our innocent brothers, sisters and folks in a genocidal campaign” (Asani 1980, 38). This Manifesto enunciates key inaugural principles:
That the Revolution of the Bangsamoro people is revolution with a social conscience. As such it is committed to the principle of establishing a democratic system of government which shall never allow nor tolerate any form of exploitation and oppression of any human being by another or of one nation by another;
That those Filipinos who may wish to remain in the Bangsamoro national homeland even after independence, shall be welcomed and entitled to equal rights and protection with all other citizens of the Bangsamoro Republik….
That the Bangsamoro people and Revolution are committed to the preservation and growth of Islamic culture among our people, without prejudice to the development and growth of other religious and indigenous cultures in our homeland;…
That our people and Revolution, upholding the principle of self-determination, support the right of all peoples of all nations in their legitimate and just struggle for national survival, freedom and independence;
That the Bangsamoro people and Revolution are committed to the principles that they are part of the Islamic World as well as of the Third World and of the oppressed colonized humanity everywhere in the world (Asani 1980, 38-40).
With this historically oriented affirmation of an anticolonial, democratic philosophy and rejection of “any form of exploitation and oppression,” a new radical conceptualization of the “Bangsamoro Nation” entered the field of political discourse. Its vision is essentially egalitarian, progressive, and democratic. The category of the Bangsa Moro nationality assuming a modern secular outlook, promoting Islamic culture, and upholding equality of religious beliefs, then became the salient marker of contradiction between the MNLF forces and the AFP/Marcos regime. The polarity was between colonization and popular self-determination, not Islam and Christianity (as it is tendentially for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front [MILF] and unequivocally for the Abu Sayyaf).
Historical circumstances, however, foiled the early victory of the liberation struggle. The ideal of full sovereignty for the Bangsamoro nation, via the mediation of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) which conferred legitimacy on the MNLF, has devolved into the reality of an “autonomous unit” within the framework of the 1987 Constitution and the sacrosanct territorial sovereignty of the oppressor state. After the failure of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, the MNLF settled for autonomy instead of genuine independence and signed a peace covenant with the Ramos administration in 1996. Still treated as an alien bloc, the MNLF now appears hostaged to the precincts of four garrison provinces of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. In effect, the real purpose of OIC-supervised negotiations worked according to formula: “[L]imited autonomy agreements tend to undermine the political cohesion of the communal group [Bangsa Moro] and reduce its fighting capacity” (Gurr 1993, 303).
At the outset Misuari espoused a militant secessionist nationalism. He believed that the Moro homeland was violently annexed and colonized, hence Moro freedom required political separation. His radical roots in left-wing student activism blended with a sense of an aggrieved Moro identity that fused public and private, the personal and the collective (Asani 1984). While the MNLF originally derived inspiration from the radical anti-imperialist programs of the Algerian Revolution and the Bandung Conference of non-aligned nations, the group that splintered from it, the MILF evinces more orthodox leanings; its supporters are the mainstream World Islamic League and the World Islamic Conference—one reason why the Marcos apologist Leon Maria Guerrero haughtily dismissed the Moro resistance as the fruit of outsiders’ intrigue, a conspiracy reminiscent of cacique “back-room” deals (Guerrero 1979, 21; Noble 1987). Like most clerks of the Establishment, Guerrero could not conceive of Darul Islam or any kind of internationalism beyond the parochial limits of the old Intramuros aristocracy.
Other separatist groups, according to the testimonies of veterans and insiders, fragmented from the MNLF when the Tripoli Agreement collapsed. The MILF and elements of the Abu Sayyaf are mounting a more formidable challenge to the apparatuses of symbolic and physical violence, expressing the collective resentment to the deeply rooted chauvinism of elite officials, bureaucrats, managerial technocrats, military personnel, and middle strata. Because they judge this profound if subtly sublimated habitus of suspicion as the real threat to the value of their lives in spite of the ecumenical spirit of the bourgeois public sphere in a constitutional republic, they demand shariah law and an Islamic state. Why this is so, may be explained by the respected scholar Cesar Majul:
More than other groups in the country, the Muslims have a keen sense of how their religion and culture have become an intimate part of their ethnic identity…They are aware of themselves as an historic people with a long independence and a history that has run a course different from that of others who had fallen under Spanish sovereignty and adopted Catholicism. The historical antagonism between Muslims and Christians, so well nurtured by the Spanish church, has not yet been fully eliminated in the country….The refusal to recognize Muslims as a people having a separate culture, different religion, and cherished moral values for which they are willing to fight also underlies the Muslim restiveness. At this stage in their social and political development, Muslims as a people can now demand a bigger role in forging their destiny; more than ever before, they are in a better position to defend what they consider their legitimate rights and patrimony (1988a, 182-83).
With the pressure from the conservative OIC, the MNLF was finally persuaded to accept a limited form of regional autonomy crippled by all kinds of regulations. This compromise is miles apart from the MNLF ‘s original objective of vindicating the Moro “right to their national homeland” by “the strategy of mobilizing the masses by organizing them to play their revolutionary task” (Hassan 1980, 253). Except for the now imprisoned Misuari and his followers who have returned to the original goal of a separate Moro nation (Tan 1995), the rest of MNLF militants have become outright bureaucrats or functionaries of the Realpolitik of “Philippine colonialism.” The Muslim-inhabited provinces and cities of the Special Zone of Peace and Development—a parodic substitute for the “Moro homeland” –is the new battleground of antagonistic factions and sects belonging to a reconstituted ummah. Perhaps a new Islamic-oriented civic ethos of versatile subject-positions will evolve in this new collaboration between ex-MNLF militants and their Manila patrons while U.S., Japanese, and other foreign corporations assisted by the World Trade Organization intensify their extraction of as much profit as they can from the cheap labor of Moro workers, peasants, women, and intelligentsia (for a detailed critique of the 1996 Peace Agreement, see Bauzon 1999).
In the Vortex of Contingencies
On June 7, 2002, military forces of the Philippine government rescued the American missionary Gracia Burnham from her kidnappers whom the media labeled as partisans of the Abu Sayyaf. Unfortunately her husband was killed, together with a Filipino nurse, after a pursuit of several months; all in all, the operation was a failure. More than 1,200 U.S. troops were sent to help in this local operation, in what the mass media called “the second front in the worldwide war against terrorism.” To date, eleven U.S. soldiers have died in the Philippines in connection with this “military exercise” (New York Times, 3 October 2002) that promises to drag on in the wake of the continuing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere against “international terrorism.”
One rationale for the political decision to send U.S. troops with the AFP was the belief that the Abu Sayyaf (“Father of the Sword”), now notorious for kidnapping civilians for ransom, had previous links with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Jamal Khalifa, a distant relative of Osama bin Laden, organized a Muslim charity organization in the 1980s and befriended the group’s founder, Abdurajak Janjalani, an Islamic scholar with the MNLF, who was killed by the AFP in 1998. This tenuous link was magnified by the current Arroyo administration as “a pretext to gain hardware and logistics for her own army [numbering 250,000 troops], which has failed to quell the insurgency” (New York Times, 4 November 2001, B4).
All accounts concur that the Abu Sayyaf, whose members draw from the two major Muslim groups (MNLF and MILF), was founded on fundamentalist Islamic principles and thus committed to an independent Islamic state encompassing 13 provinces, the historic Moro homeland. The MILF originally split off from the MNLF in 1977 (accusing Misuari of Marxist or communist leanings) to pursue a genuine regional autonomy as envisaged by the 1976 Tripoli Agreement. Since 1980 the MILF has shifted to demanding a separate Islamic state, striving for political, economic and military self-reliance. Having demonstrated its capacity to wage interminable warfare, the MILF has signed a truce with the Arroyo administration and is now negotiating for land redistribution, recognition of Shariah law, rehabilitation of war-ravaged areas, implementation of previous agreements begun by the MNLF and the government, and so on (Gershman 2001). With the MILF’s temporary suspension of its secessionist agenda, the Abu Sayyaf is the only Moro group that can claim to be the agency for realizing an independent Islamic state for the Moro nation. And despite its terrorist and extremist sectarian means, the Abu Sayyaf with its sloganeering can engage actors and agencies in the discursive field of ideological contestation so long as the desire for emancipation from Christian chauvinism—rampant if hidden throughout the society—and full enjoyment of its life-form defined by Islamic values and rituals cannot be satisfied by the existing political order. The issue of Moro self-determination remains the key, the Archimedean point, to the prospect of security, civil liberty, progress, and above all justice, throughout the Philippines.
Engaging the “Enemy”
In 1991 the Abu Sayyaf catapulted to the headlines in random bombings and sensational kidnappings, as well as the burning of the town center of Ipil, Zamboanga. In 2000, when the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped 21 mostly European tourists in Malaysian territory, it received international attention surpassing that gained by the battle of Jolo City in 1974 (with its horrendous record of 2,000 casualties and 60,000 refugees in one night of fighting). Eventually the German and French governments (with the help of Libya) paid ransom money for the release of their citizens. In May 2001 the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped a batch of hostages in a resort in Palawan, part of the historic Moro homeland. Three Americans were included, the Burnham couple among them. There was speculation that the Burnham family offered ransom money, but both governments refused to help arrange the deal.
At this juncture, it may be pedagogically useful to pose these heuristic questions: What ethical and political concerns were addressed by the successful negotiation of previous years that were denied or ignored in this case? What group rights were involved? What ethical and moral issues are involved when a military solution to a situation of injustice and political oppression is chosen (Singer 1994)? Should we not examine the politics of everyday life for the ordinary Moro whose individual worth and historic sense of belonging is predicated on Islam as a modality of existence, an organic life-form, not just a religion? Should we invoke a “transcendent Muslim ethnic identity” (McKenna 1998) without including the concept of the ummah, the community of the faithful? Is ethnic identity sufficient to replace the claims of national autonomy governed by the shariah and the ulama that the Abu Sayyaf claims to be fighting for (Robinson 1994; Asad 2003)? What is the true political status of the Abu Sayyaf? From a more philosophical perspective, what is the ethical or moral legitimacy of the Moro struggle for dignity and autonomy invoked by everyone as the antithesis to the terrorist acts of the Abu Sayyaf?
A nuanced historical background is needed to elucidate fundamental ethical issues of rights and morality within a framework of democratic governance, civic responsibility, social justice, and self-determination. Disavowing essentialist and obscurantist approaches, we need to inquire into the diverse but singularly unifying expressions of the Moro people in their historic integrity. We need to confront the problem of their experience of colonial subjugation and subalternization by Christian and other forms of chauvinism, both the insult and injury, without which all novel or classic formulas of conflict resolution will simply be alibis for buttressing the status quo of accumulating oppression and injustice.
An International Peace Mission of notable personalities visited Basilan, Philippines, from March 23 to 27, 2002, in the wake of unprecedented AFP military operations against the Abu Sayyaf involving U.S. Special Forces—the largest deployment of U.S. troops after Afghanistan and the 9/11 attack. The Mission drew up a report which concluded that the Abu Sayyaf is a complex phenomenon caused by a convergence of decades of economic deprivation, religious discrimination, and political subordination. The Mission found collusion between the kidnappers, local politicians, government officials, and military officers; they wondered that if the Abu Sayyaf members are captured, “what happens to the accusations of collusion and the allegations of human rights violations committed by the military?” (International Peace Mission 2002). The Mission quotes the opinion of Eric Gutierrez of the Institute for Popular Democracy that these Moros are merely “entrepreneurs dealing in profit-motivated violence with ideological and political posturings, not a political movement with a serious political agenda” (Gutierrez 2000, 353).
There are profound, intricate ethico-political questions and juridical claims embedded in this incident that condenses a whole century of U.S.-Philippines colonial relations. One claim is that the Moro peoples have been colonized, exploited, and oppressed by various Christian (equivalent to Filipino) governments legitimized by the U.S. Under the UN Charter, the Moro people have a legitimate collective right to self-determination which includes the right to secession. They also have a right to practise their religion, languages, sexual/marital customs, and other singular forms of enjoyment and expression. It is within the framework of a universally agreed standard of democratic governance and justice that such claims can be properly adjudicated, even without the mediation of external agencies (OIC, UN Development Program, U.S. Agency for International Development) that are invariably on the side of the existing government/nation-state recognized by the United Nations.
Both general and particular issues of morality and political calculation are at stake in formulating a concretely reasonable understanding of the Abu Sayyaf phenomenon specifically in relation to the Moro people’s demand for national self-determination. Do we condemn these movements (of which the Abu Sayyaf is a specimen) simply as “terrorist” or extremist? Do we try to elucidate the manifold political, economic, and ecological forces that complicate their dense historical genealogy? Since they cannot be divorced from the larger context of the struggle for self-determination defined by civic Islam as contradistinguished from a political Islam (Amin 2001), should we formulate a more nuanced approach to the conduct of their struggle (peaceful or armed) as part of a legitimate process of growth? If we reject the “official transcripts” of the existing Moro organizations engaged in projects of exercising autonomy, are we able to comprehend the solidarity of Muslims in the Philippines without succumbing to unconscionable Orientalist assumptions (Bauzon 1999)? These are some of the questions that need to be explored concerning the ethical norms and political standards involved in dealing with the historic struggle of an entire people defined by Islamic faith (darul Islam) and a heterogeneous culture of resistance that defies categorization by the stigmatizing judgment of “terrorism.”
In endeavoring to frame the answers to the questions above, we need to keep in mind the conflicted but permanently altering relations between Muslims and Christian Filipinos, as well as Western colonizers (Spanish, American). We need to clarify the role played by normative but historically contingent notions of virtue, the good life, rights, obligations, as well as the utilitarian or consequentialist entailments of Islamic political practice and jurisprudence articulated by particular leaders or collective spokespersons of the Moro community. In trying to understand the ethical, political and cultural implications of the devastating war going on in the Philippines and around the world between religious and secular actors, among diverse peoples and cultures, we need to subject to critical scrutiny the putative “clash of civilizations” that claims to rationalize the tensions and conflicts among ethnic formations.
Following the emergent consensus, can we then simply dismiss the Abu Sayyaf as a concoction of the CIA and AFP (Vitug and Gloria 2000, 219), a bandit/terrorist gang of fanatics, a political machination or gambit of the ruling politicians to reinforce an inveterate anti-Muslim suspicion of MNLF/MILF integrity? Or can we treat it as a conjunctural response to the impasse of the Moro struggle? Indifference to this question is a symptom of the larger problem of either apathy to the plight of 7.5 million people of Muslim faith (over a hundred thousand Moros have died since hostilities flared up in the sixties), or complicity with the oligarchic elite in its chauvinist, anti-democratic oppression of the Moro nation. Insightful studies of the Moro struggle such as Marites Danguilan Vitug’s and Glenda Gloria’s Under the Crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao and Jose Torres Jr.’s Into the Mountain: Hostaged by the Abu Sayyaf are few and difficult to access, considering what I think is the enormously destructive impact and still unpredictable long-range consequences of the Bangsa Moro project in the irreversible crisis of the globalizing world-system.
There seems to be a public consensus that the Abu Sayyaf, like the MILF, was set up by the government to split the Moro struggle for self-determination, and to pressure the MNLF into capitulation. Since 1991, according to Senator Aquilino Pimentel, Gen. Alexander Aguirre, former president Estrada’s National Security Adviser, acted as “the handler” of the group, some of whose members were involved in the CIA-managed mujahideens recruited to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. But since 1995 the Abu Sayyaf has turned into a Frankenstein’s monster devoted to hostage-taking for ransom and terrorizing civilian communities, as in their attack on the town of Ipil, Zamboanga.
In the midst of U.S. intervention in 2002, an International Peace Commission went to Basilan (as noted earlier) and produced what I think is the most comprehensive report on conditions in the embattled region. Its conclusion is unambiguous: the Abu Sayyaf is a symptom of the disastrous failure of the occupying state (the AFP enforces law and order in Mindanao and Sulu) to guarantee not only peace and security but honest and efficient government — both provincial governance and military-police agencies — in a milieu where the proverbial forces of civil society (business, church, media) have been complicit in the barbaric war. Enmeshed in corruption that involves local officials, military officers, and central government, the region where the Abu Sayyaf thrives has witnessed the reign of absolute terror over civilians. Nowhere in the entire country is the violation of human rights and the brutalization of civilian suspects so flagrant and ubiquitous as in Basilan. In this context, the deployment of U.S. troops in Mindanao, compliments of the Arroyo and Bush administrations, has only worsened the situation, demonized the Abu Sayyaf as an Al Qaeda accomplice, and fomented the entrenched hostility among various ethnic groups.
Given this propaganda war against the Moro struggle in general, what is the role and impact of knowledge-production in this field of ethnopolitical conflict? In the prestigious American Anthropologist, 1998 Issue, Charles O. Frake offers us a seemingly novel approach to the bloody landscape. In his article entitled “Abu Sayyaf: Displays of Violence and the Proliferation of Contested Identities among Philippine Muslims,” Frake is quite erudite in referencing the history of the Muslims from the Spanish times to the present. What is remarkable is the penchant of not examining seriously, except in a tokenizing and gestural mode, the political and economic context of land dispossession, political exclusion, and economic marginalization of the Moro majority. Is this a blindspot common to the discipline or a personal idiosyncracy? Instead, typical of the fashionable postmodernist optic, he focuses on the Abu Sayyaf as an attempt to solve “the logical gap in the identity matrix of Philippine Muslim insurgency.” Since the Moro movement has been weakened by ethnic antagonisms among Tausugs, Maguindanaos, Maranaos, Yakans and so on, the Abu Sayyaf, according to Frake, is “militantly Islamicist.” In short, religion operates as a foundational nexus, a sublimation of ethnic particularisms in dire anomic circumstances. Of course, Islam itself (including the Shari’a) has been interpreted variously, according to historical circumstances and pressures. Further, because the Abu Sayyaf leadership draws from the displaced and unaffiliated youth, as well as the traditional outlaw areas, the group represents “a new layer in the strata of kinds of identity laid down in the long history of conflict in the Muslim Philippines” (1998, 48). In short, the Abu Sayyaf is a symptom of the problem of “identity proliferation,” since the fault-lines of identity construction are often revealed in explosions of political violence.
Compared to the scholarly works of Thomas McKenna, G. Carter Bentley, among others, Frake is an example of a knowledge-producer skilled in disingenuous hermeneutics. Frake’s use of Geertz’s “thick description” leads him to focus on how participants interpret everyday happenings instead of clarifying the nexus of causality and accountability. Frake muddles along finally to pose the question: “How can such nice people [meaning the anonymous members of the Abu Sayyaf], at times, do such horrible things?” Mock sympathy here at such scandalous behavior! But his premise – that the central motivation of individuals in society is to be recognized as somebody, to establish an identity – is completely detached from historical specificities, even from the basic determinants of any cultural complex or location. The result is mystification compounded with trivialization.
Despite empirical citations and native informants, Frake’s attempt to deploy postmodern ethnography in trying to elucidate the Abu Sayyaf phenomenon results only in a simplistic reduction. He discovers that in situations of struggle, people fail to unite because they continually interpret what’s going on around them, thus multiplying “contested identities.” Such “thick description” is meant to produce spectacles of unintelligibility, obscuring instead of illuminating the plight of the Moro people. Vincent Crapanzano’s critique of Geertz seems appropriate here: the method of “thick description” “offers no understanding of the native from the native’s point of view,… no specifiable evidence for his attributions of intention, his assertion of subjectivity, his declarations of experience” (quoted in San Juan 2002, 234).
Earlier I took notice of anthropological excesses committed by American knowledge-producers. One symptom of this tendency to mystify the historical trajectory of the Moro struggle—a form of symbolic violence unleashed by Eurocentric epistemology—is the failure of these ethnographic accounts to include the canonical paradigm that valorizes the ummah or the solidarity constituted by Islam. This is a desideratum for a full and adequate comprehension of the durable and persevering endeavor of the Bangsa Moro for emancipation from colonial chauvinism and bondage (Bauzon 1991). Datu Michael Mastura informs us that “Muslim minority consciousness made the Filipino Muslims receptive to the argument that it was their obligation to protect and strengthen the ummah” (1983, 158). We can also heed W. K. Che Man’s observation that the Muslim protagonists (Moros and Malays) in the conflict will continue to resist “government policies of assimilation and bureaucratic exploitation or maltreatment,” convinced that national self-determination is “a fundamental right of every people, believing, with Woodrow Wilson, that ‘every people has a right to choose the sovereignty under which they shall live’ “ (1990, 179). Forcing a template of individualist psychology on the Moro project of self-determination automatically yields negative inferences and judgments that render further inquiry superfluous.
This is not to indict all of Western anthropology, let alone the hermeneutic methodology of the social sciences, in failing to help us resolve what has become, to my mind, the most barbaric genocidal war in Philippine history. Suffice it to mention here two examples of historical and political inquiries, aside from the writings of Cesar Majul: one is the work of the Indian scholar Aijaz Ahmad (1982), and the essay of political scientist Robert Stauffer (1981). In both these thinkers, the differentiated totality of Filipino society and its historical imbrication in the world-system of global capitalism serve as the two necessary requisites for grasping the dialectical linkages and contradictions in the Moro struggle for freedom and dignity. For these intellectuals are not only practitioners of a mode of scientific analysis of history, but also protagonists in the search for solutions to the most urgent social and political problems of our time.
Mapping the Contradictions
Given the horrible disasters occurring throughout the Philippines today—indeed, the Moro insurgency can no longer be confined to the geopolitical boundaries of Mindanao and Silu, it is difficult to imagine any intellectual who, endeavoring to grasp the roots of a long-enduring, complex “Moro problem,” will preemptively claim a disinterested stance. In fact, postmodernists like James Clifford openly announce their cosmopolitan point-of-view or stipulated subject-positions – if only to wash their hands, of course, of any complicity with US imperialist intervention. Professions of neutrality have been replaced with gestures of liberal guilt invested in philanthropic compassion. Unfortunately, these gestures only prolong the orientalizing supremacy of Western knowledge-production and its hegemonic power. In response to this Orientalism, we seem to offer only the panacea of the famous paradigm SIR (smooth interpersonal relations) codified by Frank Lynch, a famous social scientist connected with the Ateneo de Manila University. Incidentally, in 1970, an American sociologist, George Weightman, observed in his study of the Philippine intellectual elite that “the military academy and Ateneo appear to dispense the best SIR techniques for dealing with Americans” (1970, 28). It goes without saying that all educational institutions, all pedagogical agencies (in Karl Mannheim’s phrase, the “everyday constituent assembly of the mind”), are sites of ideological class struggle and none can be hermetically insulated from the pressures of material local and global interests. There is no vacuum or neutral space in the planetary conflict of classes, nations and communities for hegemony.
Because the Moro struggle for indepence and dignity is the key, virtually the catalyst and crucible, for the all-encompassing Filipino struggle for democracy, justice, and national liberation, it is necessary to affirm once more the right of the Moro people to national self-determination. What is involved here is essentially the practice of political democracy by the masses, principally the underprivileged workers and peasants, but also the middle strata of professionals and even including the relatively wealthy business/merchants and small landlords (the datus and their clans). Neither differences in language, religion, nor territory can limit this democratic right of any national collectivity to determine its life and destiny, particularly against a colonizing and occupying power. This right of secession is recognized by international law, contrary to the view that territorial sovereignty—national borders have changed in history through wars, conquests, ecological mutations, etc.– supposedly contradicts the right of self-determination (Quimpo 2000).
What is strikingly unorthodox and triumphalist-before-the-fact is the recent position of the National Democratic Front (NDF) and the Filipino left toward this right of the Bangsa Moro nation to self-determination. While the NDF has supported the MNLF’s struggle against the U.S.-Marcos dictatorship from the seventies, the GRP-MNLF 1996 peace agreement has induced second-thoughts. In a paper issued on 16 February 1996, Luis Jalandoni of the NDF quoted the original commitment of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) to the MNLF made in 1977, and also reiterated the NDF 1977 Program to “support the national minorities in their struggle for self-determination and democracy.” In 1994, the NDF changed “national minorities” (the government rubric for Moros, Lumads and other non-Christian groups) to “indigenous peoples.” But a condition has been set: this right shall be “affirmed upon the establishment of the people’s democratic government.” By a scholastic sleight-of-hand, the exercise of the right of self-determination is postponed for a future time/space: “Under a democratic Philippines where the equality of peoples and nationalities is guaranteed, the Bangsa Moro shall be encouraged to take the valid and viable option of a genuinely autonomous political rule.” This clearly departs from the Marxist-Leninist position of the unconditional right of nations to self-determination, as expressed in Lenin’s April Theses and in the classic resolution of the 1896 Third International Congress which “proclaims the full right to self-determination of all nations” (Lowy 1998, 44).
Let us take the position of Jose Maria Sison, the founder and former chairman of the CPP, and principal adviser of the NDF. Sison reiterates in the abstract the principle of self-determination as an “inalienable right,” as a “weapon against the counterrevolutionary state, national oppression and Christian chauvinism” (1996, 24). Unfortunately, Sison becomes an empiricist scholastic when he begins nit-picking and dilating on census numbers, the petty-bourgeois nature of the MNLF and its inconsistent behavior, “Moro chauvinism,” the false claim of Moros to have remained unconquered, and the silence of the MNLF on the “Moro big bureaucrats, big compradors and landlords” (1996, 26). What is unforgivable for Sison is the MNLF signing of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement and its capitulation to the Marcos fascist regime. Sison condemns the MNLF for soliciting from both Aquino and Ramos regimes “the privilege of ruling the whole of Mindanao in utter contempt of demographic facts….Even as it has gone into peace negotiations and agreements with the counterrevolutionary state, the top leadership of the MNLF has repeatedly refused to negotiate and enter into alliance, cooperation and coordination with the forces of the national-democratic revolution” (1996, 27). What has happened here, it seems, is a general amnesia of Lenin’s lesson on the dialectical relationship between the national-democratic struggle and the socialist revolution. Commenting on the 1916 uprising in Ireland as a model of revolutionary realism, Lenin taught that the popular masses of the oppressed nation (not just the proletariat but also the peasantry, petty bourgeoisie, and even the relatively affluent politicians and businessmen who all suffer from neocolonial discrimination) are the allies of the conscious proletariat whose task would be to lead the struggle of this “disparate, discordant and heterogeneous mass…with their preconceptions, reactionary fantasies, weaknesses and errors,” against capitalism and the bourgeois state (Lenin 1916). There is, to my mind, no conditionality to this striving for revolutionary solidarity for a universal humanist ideal.
Whatever the historical limitations of the MNLF (or the MILF for that matter), given the incontrovertible evidence of their mass following—larger so far than what the CPP/NPA could amass at any given encounter with the AFP—and given the class structure of the Moro people (the majority of whom are exploited peasants and workers) vis-à-vis the majority of Christian Filipinos, there is no question that they genuinely represent the historic grievances and aspirations of their community. To be sure, large-scale political mobilization of Moro combatants with their civilian base may be viewed as participatory democracy in action, grassroots democracy in actual practice. Can self-proclaimed “Marxist” members of the oppressor nation, whatever their class belonging, in all honesty claim to set conditions and dictate on what their victims should do and still pretend to be democrats, let alone communists? The Marxist idea of permanent revolution, a critical universality actualized by proletarian-led struggles, enjoins socialist/communist militants to conform to the principle of reciprocity in speech and action, a principle at the heart of the right of all peoples to self-determination. If we who are fighting imperialism and all kinds of oppression cannot embody this principle in the praxis of our everyday lives, we cannot expect to come up with criticisms or responses that can construct speaking subjects who will recognize us, embrace us, and engage in meaningful dialogue.
To vary the register of discourse: no matter our good will or sentiments of mutuality, who are we to stipulate the conditions on what modalities and instruments the Moros should use to liberate themselves from centuries of national oppression and class exploitation? Who are we to say that Islam as lived and experienced by the Moro ummah in the Philippines cannot be the framework of their independent political, economic, and cultural life? We can understand the Abu Sayyaf phenomenon only within a historical-materialist reading of the history of Western colonialism in the Philippines, and the geopolitical subsumption of the Philippines in the world-system of global capital (Stauffer 1985). The situation of Islam in the Philippines and its effectivity for the Moro nation should also be analyzed dialectically, in the same way Roger Garaudy (1990) and Abdullah Ahmed An-Naim (1990) review the position of Islam as a historical religion and the Sharia in the light of the radically transformed contemporary situation. For the late-modern resurgence of Islam can only be comprehended as a dialectically selective response to concrete historical transformations: “The reassertion of self-respect in the face of generations of humiliation at the hands of Europe and American naturally bears an Islamic face, for it is among the villages and the new proletariat [in the peripheralized South] that traditional Islamic cultural expression has survived, and it is in those groups that the ideas of individual Muslim thinkers have found the mass support necessary to become a political movement of historical importance” (Nielsen1982, 3; see also Gilsenan 1982).
Ethnographic knowledge-production is not a new mode of pacification in relation to the Philippines and its ethnic groups. Not so long ago, we witnessed the glamorization of the “Tasadays,” a putative “stone-age” people discovered in Mindanao where fierce fighting has been going on between the Moros and the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986). The world media, such as National Geographic, indulged in a festival of commercial domestication. The attempt of the Manila government to enforce “primitivism” on the Tasaday reservations where indigenous communities have been confined pale in comparison to the deployment of its military juggernaut against the Moro insurgency. The Moros seem to resist this manner of positive commodification, given their fierce collective opposition to unremitting neocolonial capitalist aggression.
Strategies of exploiting the glamor of exotic primitives for tourist/media consumption continue to intrude and occupy the domain of ethnicity. They undermine the indigenous peoples’ right to survival and nurture of their cultural integrity. Given their role as suppliers of cheap labor and of reproductive bodies destined for resettlement (a deliberate colonial/neocolonial policy to alienate the tribal habitats), the struggles of this “fourth world” of “cultural minorities” coincide with those of the masses of oppressed peasants, workers, women, youth, and middle strata, as well as ten million Filipino migrant contract workers (chiefly women domestics) abroad, for social justice and popular democracy.
In the fifties, social scientists located the problem of the “cultural minorities” as one of acculturation, a euphemism for assimilation or absorption into the majority culture. Of all the ethnic groups, the Chinese are held to have successfully acculturated to the point where they are losing their group identity. Most academic experts criticize the Moros, Igorots, and other indigenes as groups lacking sophistication in the manipulation of the legal-commercial culture, unlike the Chinese. Most Filipinos are urged to learn the rules of liberal democracy, stop criticizing the presence of U.S. airbases, and persevere in the general “loyalty to Marilyn Monroe” (Espiritu and Hunt 1964, 11). In essence, according to these experts, the problem inheres in the difference between a barter economy practised by the indigenous groups and the monetary culture of the larger, “civilized” society. Clearly, the paradigm of modernization and developmentalism predicated on the superiority of Western political and economic institutions determined then, and continues to influence, the instrumentalizing technologies and policy implications offered by those who claim to be authorities on ethnic diversity and cultural pluralism in the Philippines and around the planet.
U.S. scholars are generally complicit in surveillance and disciplinary policing of the Empire’s expanding frontiers. Such fractious diversity of ethnolinguistic groups in the Philippines has led to the notion of a self-destructive Filipino nation that Stanley Karnow has propagated in his notorious apology for U.S. imperialism, In Our Image. Meanwhile, the historian David Steinberg has taught the American public that the Philippines is “a plural society” not so much because of colonial divide-and-rule tactics, or policies of resettlement and marginalization, but because of the “reality of the centrifugal, noncohesive facts of life” (1982, 18). In fact, Steinberg adds, the pluralism of the Filipino oligarchy overshadows the class disparities in the general population.
The “Terror” of Difference
The protracted struggle of the Moros for national self-determination returns us to the question of the ethnic belonging and “common fate.” After observing the centennial of the Philippine revolution against Spain in 1896-98, we need to pose the question whether the unity of the Filipino nation originally postulated by the revolutionary Malolos Congress of 1898 has been achieved over the bodies of Moros, Igorots, Chinese, and other indigenous communities. The legacy of Jose Rizal, the Filipino national hero, to the Asian renaissance (according to the Indonesian scholar Adriana Elisabeth) is “cultural rebirth and empowerment” (1998, 5). Whatever its European derivation, nationhood, racially or ethnically diverse, was then conceived by the ilustrado nationalists as an organic unity with one soul (kaluluwa), one mind (isip), and one heart (puso), a oneness founded on the security of the nation (bansa) (Bauzon 1991). Nation ultimately implied mass participation, egalitarian democratization (Veneracion 1987).
In post-independence days, the Filipino nation was analyzed in terms of theoretical models like the minority/majority and rural/urban dichotomy, Tonnies’ Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, and, most frequently, as a society governed by the patron-client relation, reciprocity, dyadic network, etc. U.S. experts have often deployed a structural-functionalist method that cloaks the political hegemony of the dominant classes with scientistic value-free aura, evident in statements like: the Philippines is “a conservative, capitalist society in which the value of private property is cherished and the importance of wealth is stressed” (Steinberg 1986, 34). This functionalist approach has served invariably to legitimize the social-economic stratification of the status quo, with cultural/ethnic difference deployed to explain the rationality of the unequal distribution of resources and the despotic exercise of power. Despite countervailing trends, mainstream scholars concur in ascribing to Filipinos the tendency to “stress tradition, authority, the importance of the group rather than the individual, shame rather than guilt, the particularistic rather than the universal, and the acceptance of fate rather than the demand to remake the world” (Hunt 58). This is a verdict also invariably pronounced by policy-makers and technocrats on the Moro struggle for justice and self-determination.
What is missing in the conventional doctrine of functionalist and empiricist disciplines is the historical context of social life. We miss the dynamics of conflict and its complex ramifications. There is no appreciation of the grounding in lived and remembered experience of various cultural styles or ethos, of the life-forms and ensemble of practices in which the agency of the interacting collectives—for the Moros, the ummah–becomes paramount. Cultures cannot be isolated from the complicated shaping of history and the manifold conflicts of social classes and groups for control of resources and habitat to sustain their singular life-forms. When social inquiry privileges the axiom of liberal individualism and ignores the problem of hegemony and control of resources–in Gramsci’s sense, domination and intellectual-moral leadership of a historic social bloc–then the ideal of laissez-faire multiculturalism degenerates into romantic hypostatization of cultures as flower gardens frozen in time. Postmodern relativism and neopragmatism may have fostered the version of multiculturalism that denies coevalness and reinforces the temporal distancing found in all Eurocentric “civilizing missions”(Fabian 1983). This may explain the recurrent resort to the fetishizing of national character and the allochronic taxonomy of traits that accompany it in the cognitive mapping of non-Western societies, a disciplinary process of research and inquiry that can only be a symptom of the profound alienation which afflicts the well-intentioned lay observer and academic expert.
The fetishizing of the Abu Sayyaf into a kind of floating signifier amenable to any and all manner of interpretation, as I noted earlier, signifies a dominant trend of knowledge-control espoused by the gatekeepers of scholastic learning. Empiricism and nominalist neopragmatism abound. As a corrective, we need to historicize and reinscribe the inventoried phenomena of what may be described as “indigenist” or “fundamentalist” actions in the world-system of uneven development, the evolving arena of globalization, in order to ascertain their import, resonance and intelligibility. The translation of the Islamic moral universe, which Talal Asad (2003) points out cannot so easily be juxtaposed as the opposite of Western secularism, of Islam as political and ethical index, into intransigent populist, revolutionary discourse (immanent in the Abu Sayyaf’s irruption into the field of political antagonisms) has to be contextualized in the dislocation of cultural traditions and ecologies brought about by the operations of global capitalism and its instrumentalities, the OIC, the Philippine neocolonial state, and so on (Sayyid 1994). Absent this political economy of religious movements and popular mobilization, we succumb as always to the easy nominalism and technocratic positivism of the scholars we have alluded to apologizing for the multiculturalist “free market” and the neoliberal public sphere.
In a famous exchange of ideas on multiculturalism, Charles Taylor, Jurgen Habermas and other thinkers from Europe and North America rehearsed the pros and cons of the politics of recognition of group identities vis-à-vis the primacy of individual autonomy that informs the “common culture” of most Western nation-states. The editor of this series of exchanges concludes that in spite of differences, the views all converged on the belief that “some form of constitutional democracy may offer such a politics, based not on class, race, ethnicity, gender, or nationality, but rather on a democratic citizenship of equal liberties, opportunities, and responsibilities for individuals” (Gutmann 1994, xi-xii). What is deeply problematic here is not the polarity of public and private domains I discussed at the start; rather, it is the use of the individual citizen as optic or measure of value, the valorization of the individual detached from the web of social relations that enable any subject to exercise transformative agency. It is here that we should heed this warning concerning the danger of Establishment multiculturalism: “Multiculturalism is based on a construction of community through a celebration and fossilization of differences” (Castles et al 1996, 365). With the intensifying commodification of ethnic particularisms, the multicultural spectacle now operates as the authentic “cultural logic of multinational or global capitalism”(Zizek 1997, 44).
Against this Establishment pluralism of a commodified system, I would counterpose a concrete universalism that privileges the liberation of all human beings from all forms of oppression, domination, alienation and degradation. This liberation is embodied in historically specific movements for self-determination, exemplied here by the Bangsa Moro struggle. This universalism may be deemed utopian as opposed to the ideological universality of Eurocentrism, the universality that posits (in Michael Lowy’s formulation) “the Western status quo as being the already-realised universal human culture, the end of history, the incarnation of the absolute spirit. Only a critical universality of this kind, looking towards an emancipated future, is able to overcome short-sighted nationalisms, narrow culturalisms and ethnocentrisms” (1998, 87-79) such as those touted by liberal, humanitarian conflict-resolution experts.
From the perspective of critical universality, the constantly reconfigured politics of ethnicity cannot be shirked or disavowed. When we talk of the ideal of multiculturalism in enabling social change, the question of leadership, of hegemony as a directive force uniting individuals as groups or collectivities, cannot be avoided, particularly if we assume that civil society in liberal democracies is the site where the power of capital is articulated with conscious effectivity, where cultural action or the production of meanings and affects takes place. In this context, the government or state can act as the organizer of consensus and the site where ideological struggle transpires. For the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf, it will be the ulamaa and the ustadz that will be instrumental in articulating the consensus of the umaah.
Genuine self-determination for the Moro nation cannot be realized under the rule of metropolitan and dependent capital. The negotiating parties at this historical conjuncture are not equal, hence the principle of reciprocity cannot be actualized. The hegemony of the propertied bloc in civil society (that is, the ideological subordination of the masses to the bourgeoisie instead of simple coercive domination) enables the elite minority to control the state; “it is the cultural ascendancy of the ruling class that essentially ensures the stability of the capitalist order” (Anderson 1976/77, 26). And this cultural/ideological supremacy as mediated by various compromises is equivalent to the consent of the ruled. Only when we factor in this historic process of the struggle for hegemony (and, by extension, for state power) among groups can we really begin a substantive discussion on the cognitive and pedagogical value of multiculturalism for “third world” societies such as the Philippines where, in most cases, the violence of the neocolonial state often supervenes over a polymorphous civil society characterized by ceaseless antagonisms across class, gender, nationality, religion, locality, kinship, and so on. Only then does ethnicity, culture in general, acquire its proper valence and efficacy in the complex plots of historical transformation.
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