Today we are faced with the aftermath of the botched Mamasapano encounter and everything that it entails. It is a travesty on all sides and it opened more questions than answers, chief of which is this: what happens now?
Mamasapano represents the beginning of a new chapter to a decades-old question in Mindanao politics. Indeed, Muslim Mindanao has always been “there”, as opposed to the “here” of the Greater Manila Area. Mindanao has always been a part of the Philippines, but not a part of the Filipino nation, and that, ultimately is one of the root causes of the conflict. We are facing a long and arduous peace process and one of the reasons everything is taking too long is that we are not doing anything about the root causes of the conflict.
One of my friends talked about the concept of multinational states once, and I think that now is the time we talk about this, more than ever. People have been mistaking nation and state to be interchangeable when there is a huge difference: nations are cultural and ethnic, while states are political in nature. The United Kingdom is composed of multiple cultures and nations, all united under the Union Jack. Pakistan split off from India because the Muslims cannot live peaceably with the Hindus. There is a reason why many people advocate a two-state solution with regards to Israel and Palestine.
The same is true with the Philippines. Let’s be frank: there is no one Filipino culture. Manilenos have little in common with Ilocanos, who have even less in common with the Bangsamoros. The country, although united under one flag, is still very much regional. People in Manila look down upon you, whether consciously or subconsciously, if you’re obviously from the province. People from the provinces look down upon you, whether consciously or subconsciously, when you’re from the city. Regionalism has been a staple of Philippine history, from “Iyo ang Tondo at akin ang Cavite” to regiments from Cagayan rallying to Enrile’s aid during EDA, to political analysts talking about politics in terms of “this family is strong in this region”. At the end of the day, the Filipino “nation” does not truly exist. There are Tagalogs and Cebuanos and Ilocanos and Moros, all under the Filipino state.
This is the kind of mindset that has marginalized Moros for decades. We’ve created this image of a “Filipino nation”, this imaginary “Filipino culture” that doesn’t really exist and/or means something else to everybody that Mindanao ends up being left out because they’re “too different”. In essence, this marginalization of cultures that stray from the standard “Filipino culture” image is the root cause of “Imperial Manila”. Filipino “culture” is Manila culture, and the fact that as you go farther from Manila this culture deviates or changes entirely ends up marginalizing everybody else.
The ill-fated Mamasaparo clash is a tragedy no matter how we look at it, and it brought to the forefront all the ugly questions that needed to be answered: What is our President doing? Can the MILF be trusted? Do we need to reform the PNP-SAF? What of the BBL? I think, however, it’s the perfect time for us to instead look at the root causes of the Muslim conflict. For far too long we have been reactionary instead of proactive. We have dealt with events as it happened instead of trying to figure out why it happened and preventing it. We are trying to answer questions without understanding why these questions have to be asked in the first place. This is why we are faced with questions about Bangsamoro. This is why we still talk of the “Moro insurgency”, some 40 or 50 years after it started.
What we need is a change of mindset. What we need is to accept that there is no singular Filipino nation. There is one state, the Filipino state, but we are composed of multiple nations, cultures and sub-cultures and ethnicities. We must do away with our current begrudging acceptance of things that are different from us. I think that once we learn to accept that, fundamentally, the culture of Visayas and Mindanao is different from the culture of Manila, we can go towards the next step, which is addressing the problem.
The way I see it, the problem lies in the stark difference in culture. We only have to look at other examples to see where this leads us. We need only look at India and Pakistan, or Israel and Palestine, to see that those very same conflicts apply to us as well. Let’s be honest with ourselves: the Conyos of Manila have nothing in common with the people in Zamboanga. This is the real problem. The fact that we have “special provisions” in the form of Islamic councils and special autonomous regions only drives home the fact that people think of the Muslims as outsiders, Filipinos only in name but not in spirit. We are not like Scotland and England. The solution lies in our culture: whether it is through total assimilation, or eradication, we must somehow bridge the gap between the all-too diverse cultures of Luzon and Mindanao. We have to find common ground and more importantly, we have to eliminate the marginalization of everybody outside the Greater Manila Area.
It is in this vein that the Bangsamoro Basic Law must not be passed. Giving the Moros their own political entity will only lead to further segregation. The existence of Bangsamoro as a political entity will lead only to federalism on a regional and ethnic level, or worse: total Balkanization of the Philippines. Instead we should address the underlying concerns of the Moros. We don’t solve problems by reacting to them; we solve problems by finding out the root cause and going from there.
I think this is the perfect time for us to look back and examine what it truly means to be a Filipino, to be a member of the “Filipino nation” and to know what the “Filipino national identity” truly is. Today we have to look and understand that, from Aparri to Jolo, as diverse as we are, we are all Filipino.