As always there is war in my country.
But as always, two different wars are waging in Manila and in Mindanao.
In Mindanao the Maute group – sympathizers of International terrorist group Daesh – are assaulting the Islamic city of Marawi in Lanao. Duterte has declared Martial Law over all of Mindanao. In response the Communist insurgents – another group of terrorists – added to the fire by bombing my city of Kidapawan, injuring 2 policemen.
In Manila, the war is between those who are supportive of the Durian President, and those who are condemning him for being Marcos 2.0. Fears of human rights violations (already there because of Digong’s bloody war on drugs) are being aired, and rallies have been and continue to be organized by university students and others to oppose the declaration of Martial Law.
But this time, there is a war between these two wars.
Anti-Martial Law activists are under fire for intervening with Mindanao’s business, Pro-Martial Law Mindanawons are being accused of Regional closemindedness.
I do not begrudge the activists in Manila for rallying, that is their constitutional right and I celebrate their freedom to do so. I do not agree that they have no say in the debate of Martial Law’s appropriateness.
But I am still accusing them of Manila Imperialism.
Here in Mindanao the paramount concern is the threat of terrorism (which was the motivation behind the declaration of Martial Law in the first place). Texts messages and chats are being circulated from city to city of bombings being plotted in Malls and other city centers, images circulate on Facebook of the chaos and violence in Marawi and the ongoing acceptance of refugees in Iligan. Amidst the Budots and the Basketball tournaments, a faint climate of worry hangs in the air over Davao.
And once again, Manila has hijacked National attention by insisting its own experience with Martial Law is more important than fears of terrorism.
Sure, remind us of Manili and the killing of Favali and of Ilaga and of all the horrors of the last Martial Law in Mindanao, I’ll be the first to preach the importance of remembering historical injustices (Favali was buried just ten minutes from my ancestral home in Kidapawan). It is almost arrogant to assume the Mindanawon does not know his/her history, and even if he/she doesn’t, there is nothing but the top-down education system – centered in Imperial Manila – to blame for not teaching local history.
All the injustices and fears of history repeating itself are second priority when public safety is at immediate risk. There are three peoples in Mindanao, each of them with their own harrowing experience of the Marcos years, but the attitude of Mindanawons to Martial Law is far more complex and far more nuanced that just fear of a heavy-handed government. All this talk of rights possibly being violated because of abuses under Martial Law only reveals Manilenos’ imposition of their own experience of military rule on Mindanao.
And we here in Mindanao don’t need Martial Law to have our rights abused, rights have been abused here for centuries. Bud Dajo, the Manhunt for Mangulayon, Malisbong, Manili, the Estrada offensive – Mindanao earth is no stranger to blood being spilled. Remember that military rule was declared in Maguindanao after the Maguindanao Massacre.
Marcos’ Martial Law was a horrible thing for Mindanao, but it was not the first, and it certainly wasn’t the last horror we have seen. Military rule itself did not leave a bad taste in our mouths.
If anything, a Mindanawon President leading Martial Law in Mindanao for many means order, security, and a firm command of the crisis. Whatever abuses may be committed by government forces, they are a preferable evil compared to the much worse threat of a Taliban State or a Khmer Rouge being established here.
Right now we don’t need history lessons, we need solutions. Martial Law is the only solution being presented to us, and instead of giving alternatives those critical of the move are simply indulging in the thrill of being outraged.
We here in Mindanao try our best to understand. It would be best if those in Manila try to understand us too.
I finally got to meet the most successful Filipino writer in the world.
Miguel Syjuco was disarmingly friendly, as he had always been online. Perhaps it was the death threats.
The Man Asia prize winner came to Davao at a very politically charged time: a consistent critic of the Duterte administration, he has been very vocal with his concerns about the many victims of alleged Extrajudicial killings in Metro Manila and other urban areas.
When he confided on social media that friends were warning him about his safety as he entered the baluarte of a politician he publicly criticized, Syjuco received a barrage of death threats, which only seemed to confirm his friends’ concerns. I had assured him there was nothing to fear, and he went to Davao anyway.
I met and hosted him as a Duterte supporter, as one who has been so since I was young (I had urged our then mayor in this blog to run when he was not even making national news yet), and whose family is passionately pro-Duterte.
But above all that, I met him as a genuine fan: I had read Ilustrado some years ago, when the Cebuano writer Januar Yap gave me his copy, and was floored by the skill of its writing. I still believe it is the closest anyone has come to a Great Filipino Novel, and ought to be taught in all schools instead of Rizal.
Miguel came over for four main reasons: to see Davao for himself (he had not been here since the 90s); to lay the groundwork for a possible project with Ateneo de Davao; to give a workshop to my old club in Ateneo, SALEM; and to chat with my ninong, DCPO director Alexander Tagum.
In between excursions we would chat about politics, the Philippine literary scene, and some humorously bad jokes. He’d share personal struggles, his family’s not always successful foray into politics, and having to overcome the mob of pro-Duterte netizens who gang up on him.
In the lobby of the Marco Polo while he, I, and Nal had a drink on his first night, I joked that I hope he stayed safe, who else would win the Nobel for the Filipino people. He laughed it off with a National Artist’s name, though I was dead serious about him getting it. The only flaw Miguel Syjuco has as a writer is that he hasn’t written enough yet.
He has been saying he enjoyed Davao, though I feel he didn’t see as much as he should have. I’m hoping he finds time to return and see the Philippine Eagles.
Did we disagree while he was here? Surprisingly not much. What we learned early on online was that nobody is ever really entirely pro or anti anything. He wasn’t entirely critical of everything Duterte, as I was not entirely supportive of everything the President does.
We both agreed that the current climate of polarization, of painting everything black and white, is not productive for both sides and is unleashing a mob of hateful fanatics. Where the Duterte administration can improve with feedback, it turns a blind eye because all negative feedback is viewed with violent suspicion. Where it does good, the critics refuse to see because they only see the EJKs and a man who speaks nothing but murder.
And we both saw that while we stood on opposite sides of a political divide, we are linked together by a renewed passion for our country and its people.
On his last night while we lounged in the Marco’s lobby, a gunshot pierced the busy Davao evening. It turned out a guest who was surrendering his pistol to the guard accidentally fired a blank.
I asked, jokingly, if he thinks RJ Nieto had meant that as a warning.
(The Philippines has never had a more cunning politician for president than Rodrigo Duterte. The former mayor of Davao has displayed and continues to display political wit I’ve never seen in National Politics before. Breaking them down in the tradition of the Classical Chinese war treaties, I present some of them here. I will continue to develop this post as I observe more tactical moves from Digong!)
- Play the game as transparently as you can, no matter how ruthless. It projects a realpolitik prudence, sending the message that you mean business. Pretending to be principled is overrated.
- Do not come into a race as a main force. Let the main forces battle each other out first and destroy each other. When both sides are politically bruised, storm in suddenly like thunder as an outsider and offer a fresh, vigorous alternative.
- Delay filing your candidacy, then use an obscure electoral rule to file it after the deadline. The mass media, brainlessly hungry for a sensational story, will lap up the novelty and give you free publicity.
- Do not start a fight, most Filipino politicians have been stupid enough to mistake Western confrontational politics as a superior political tactic. Let your opponents commit this mistake, that way you can present yourself as the provoked peace lover. Remember how the Ming Emperor Yongle gained legitimacy to oust his nephew.
- When fighting a presently powerful force beyond your own strength, boost your own standing by siding with its enemies, present and past. Unchain enthralled dragons if you think you can control them, reopen old wounds and offer opportunities for vindication.
- Side with politically wounded forces. They will lend all their remaining strength to you. If they turn against you, they won’t be difficult to destroy. Do not side with a force who can overpower you.
- Steal your political opponents’ ideas. When playing the game in a disillusioned politics, capitalize on executive will rather than on grand visions and plans. Plus it will be hard for your opponents to contradict their own ideology.
- Drop the moral ascendancy. It is more difficult to criticize someone who admits his own faults.
- Nothing destroys a saint more than exposing a hidden sin: If an opponent’s credibility is founded on moral ascendancy, unravel it by releasing a sex scandal or anything that will reveal immorality.
- Magnanimity is also an offensive tactic. When you know you have International backing in a dispute, don’t pick a fight with the other side. The International backing can serve as a trump card in case you need to go on diplomatic offensive.
- Exploit the rivalry of two bullies for your own gain. Let them vie for your approval in spite of your weakness compared to them.
- Let the pot leak to see the cracks: To establish a connection between an opponent and a suspected violator of the law, give confidential information to the said suspect. Wait for your opponent to reveal her links with him with a vanity press conference.
- Use opportunity as a weapon: If you are in position to give a post to your opponent, give her something either incredibly demanding, or something beyond her field of expertise, preferably both. Put pressure on her by tying her success up with peoples’ hopes – if she fails she will be hated. Capitalize on her failure by replacing her with an ally who can handle the task.
- To silence a consistently and vocally critical minority, offer them power for the first time. They will be staging rallies for you in gratitude. If they succeed you take the credit, if they fail you can blame them for it.
- Belittle an opponent’s importance by only dealing with her in informal terms, such as text messaging. Make such informal dealings publicly visible for maximum humiliation on her part.
- Discredit the media. They will not be reliable allies anyway, you might as well de-fang them. Exploit the growing irrelevance of mainstream media outlets to your benefit. Use informal spokespersons to let out information you cannot release officially.
- If you can’t unseat a position-holder, hold her agency in hostage by isolating her or dangling the sword of budgets cuts over her head. Fight with the purse. But be careful not to alienate the whole agency, make them blame her and not you.
- Do something controversial. Let the populace stage protests against it. Manage these protests efficiently to demonstrate tolerance and good governance.
- Steal the opponent’s arrows and use to fight, or at least as firewood: Let the mass media portray you as a psychopathic monster with a machinery for extrajudicial killings, then use that image to scare local government officials into getting their acts right.
- The greatest flaw of the current unitary system of government is that – like most of the things about our identity as a country – it was decided on by a select few and imposed on the rest of us against our will or without our fullest understanding. Our cluelessness about what happens to us is the root cause of our lack of National pride.
- Federalism, if we are to adapt it, must avoid that – it must be a destiny we will all choose to take, every step of the way.
- Public information dissemination and media coverage must be intense and sophisticated, from consultations to the referendum.
- Something as important as changing how the country works must dominate the public consciousness – I want to see Enrique Gil and Matteo Guidicelli having a brawl over it in public.
- Ralph Recto’s opposition to Federalism on the grounds of revenue disparity among would-be states shows both a lack of imagination and a blindness to the major root causes of regional backwardness – dependence on the capital, often operating as National-local cronyism (both executive and congressional), exacerbated by the red tape of the Unitary bureaucracy which demands approval of projects from faraway Manila, is why progress only trickles down the regions at best.
- Federalism would cut our low-earning regions’ allowances, but it would also give them the impetus and leeway to be more industrious and find allowances for themselves. Recto should know about that, his own father had once so eloquently advocated self sustainability and warned against the ills of economic dependence on a greater power.
- Sometimes, being a doting and overprotective parent can actually stunt the growth of your children.
- Capacity building for the would-be states must be an integral component of the transition process to a Federal system.
- The peripheries of power have been so used to relying on the capital that devolving power to them would be expecting Skyscrapers to be built with tapping knives and pick axes.
- The Philippines has long seen the bullying of the rural by the urban, by the industrial on the agrarian. Metro Manila, Cebu, and Davao have long stifled the growth of the rest of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
- No, Imperial Manila is not the only villain. There is also Imperial Cebu and Imperial Davao. And there are small-time bullies stealing all the lunch money in each province and region too.
- States must all sit on the federal table as equals, regardless of industry. The United Arab Emirates, where power is distributed in proportion to revenue, is not the ideal model in that respect.
- Otherwise, our states would only squabble. There is a reason why regionalism is a bad word, and the capital has used this to justify the imposition of National homogeneity with hegemony.
- In that respect, the upper chamber of the legislature needs to see fundamental reform. Right now the Senate is the exclusive club of the hegemons, those who succeeded in reaching the top of the vertical melee for power. It seats so many dynasts and oligarchs you might as well call it the Philippine House of Lords.
- Whatever you do with the Senate, it must serve to be representative of each of the Federated states: have senators elected at large per state like the American Senate, or give the membership selection to the State governments like the German Bundesrat. Ideally, each state should be given their own way of choosing their representatives for the upper house.
- Fundamental to Federalism is the cultivation of the individuality of each component entity, drawing strength in diversity. Because the other states of Federal Malaysia did not impose their system on Negeri Sembilan for uniformity, they were able to have a model after which their unique elected monarchy could be patterned.
- A healthy federation is pied, dappled, freckled.
- Sionil Jose’s concern that Federalism would empower the local warlords– a concern echoed by Grace Poe’s opposition to it in the elections, is not unfounded. And yet his own recognition of Duterte’s revolution is the answer to that: Federalism would help to localize this revolution, not giving a boost to the local powers, but cutting them off from their hegemonic National protectors. No more national padrino system or complicated top-down bureaucracy centered in distant Manila to blame, if a state is doing poorly the people know who to lynch.
- Local self determination is more than just economic and administrative. More fundamentally, it is cultural – it is existential. For would-be states to stand up on their own feet, they must first know who they are.
- Structural decentralization must occur not only administratively, but also socioculturally. Philippine Federalism must first and foremost be a cultural federalism.
- Most of the eleven states in Nene Pimentel’s Federal Model for the Philippines are cultural chimerae, regions lumped together even if they had little shared history, soulless products of the illusion of National homogeneity imposed from the hegemonic capital since the time of Quezon.
- Region 12, SOCCSKSARGEN, is a prime example of how local identity has fallen victim to the Unitary hegemony. The poor region, whose convoluted acronym of a name nobody can pronounce, was frankensteined from the dismembered remains of the historical Cotabato sultanate, and its provinces rarely interact. Struggle as it may, as a region it has no sense of identity.
- The federal state to which Region 12 would belong in the Pimentel Model, Southern Mindanao, is equally soulless as a polity. The Kidapawanon has little affinity with the Tagumeño in Davao del Norte or the Pantukanon in Compostella Valley. If not kept in check, Davao would dominate the whole place, or Davao and GenSan would squabble to the detriment of the other towns.
- The fact that local history is not taught in our schools is both one cause of regional resentment against the national, and the reason why it is inconceivable to the likes of Senator Recto that the regions cannot support themselves. We have for so long seen the Philippine peripheries as mere dependents on the might and money of Metro Manila. Teaching local history, and national history in the context of the local, will teach our local children to own their destinies because their historicity will be taught from such an immediate perspective. This will be crucial to making Federalism a success.
- Education, culture and arts, social welfare – all of that, and more, have to be bottom up. Federalism would be hollow if those were not devolved.
- The communities of the would-be states, on the local level, must take the responsibility of adapting cultural self-determination into their own hands, carving their own collective identity against the grain of the imposed homogenous national. No more National offices to give you curricula and templates, you must build your souls from indigenous materials.
- Percy Bysshe Shelley could not be more relevant to the debate on Philippine Federalism. The poets, he once proclaimed, are the unsung legislators of mankind. Our cultural devolution lies crucially in the hands of our local artists, whose duty it will be to create our local sense of selfhood –to carve our collective souls from the wilderness.
- If they would only stop banging on about Duterte and each other. We need our intellectuals to be intellectuals right now.
The President of the Society of Ateneo Literature and English Majors (SALEM), student literary org of the Ateneo de Davao University, has a colourful history.
The club was revived from a defunct course club in 2010, and has since become one of Mindanao’s most prominent student literary organizations. Since re-founding, it has had five presidents.
Over the years, certain expectations of the student occupying the post have become conventions, many of them solidifying as responsibilities and qualifications. As the second to hold the office, I think I can say that the SALEM President is expected to:
- Begin his/her term by helping out with the Ateneo de Davao Summer Writers Workshop
- Be one of the leading – if not the leading student literary writer in Ateneo
- Be published, at least once, at least on the local level (meaning at least the Davao Writer’s Guild’s Dagmay), with a literary work, preferably before taking office
- Be a voracious reader, who can namedrop at least three Filipino writers he/she has read, and talk about at least three literary theories in informal conversation (the numbers are arbitrary but you get the point)
- Be well versed in Ateneo de Davao’s own literary tradition
- Be an intellectual with a chagrin for any proud display of ignorance, but must never be a grammar prescriptivist
- Actively, audaciously, and prolifically conceptualize and initiate activities that will lead to the growth and development of the school’s aspiring writers – ‘Keep the AdDU Writers awake,’ as the battle cry from Ricky de Ungria puts it
- Connect Ateneo students to the greater literary community in Davao, in the Philippines, and if possible in the world
- Have the wide network of literary contacts necessary for the above two
- Inform, involve, and exploit SALEM’s large and moneyed pool of alumni about in and for club activities
- Regularly represent SALEM and AdDU in all literary gatherings and events in Davao
- Help outside parties who want to bring literary events to AdDU
- Bring outside parties into AdDU to have literary events
- Actively cooperate with other club presidents in Ateneo (SALEM pioneered collaboration between clubs)
- Be inclusive and accessible to students, specially members, and be contagiously passionate about literature
- Nurture and take special care of the new members,making them feel the love of the club through the President
- Groom, as early as possible, the next President who meets, or who has the potential to meet, the above qualifications.
(Published in the Dumaguete MetroPost 29 May, 2016)
Kidapawan was still tense from the recent shootings when I came home to it on Election Day. The location where the rally of April 1 took place was marked by a large tarpaulin.
It spelled out my hometown’s general sentiment on the incident:
‘Do not disturb my Kidapawan!’
I had an inkling of this feeling from Kidapawanons online even before going home. The blockade had been hurting local business and disrupting transportation in Kidapawan, and yet less than half of the protesting farmers were from the city. They had been protesting against the provincial government in Amas, not the city government, but they chose to stage the rally near Kidapawan’s border with Makilala on the other side of the city from the Provincial Capitol – Kidapawan was literally caught in between. And the city has been dragged to the spotlight against its will since.
One of the two confirmed deaths, Enrico Fabligar, was from Kidapawan, and was only a bystander. And yet the absurdity of his death – a poignant demonstration of how uninvolved Kidapawan was as much a victim as the farmers – was being drowned by the louder ‘Bigas Hindi Bala’ uproar.
‘The losses are huge,’ mayor Joseph Evangelista puts it simply on an interview with online news site Rappler.
Evangelista had to balance the interest of Kidapawan, the demands of the farmers, and the directives of the provincial government, and most of the Kidapawanons I talked to believed the mayor handled the situation as best as he could. City Hall insiders tell me the mayor was functioning as mediator between Amas and the farmers, but the protest leaders were refusing to sit down.
Throughout and after the debacle the mayor was articulating the general sentiments of Kidapawan’s residents. An open letter condemning the city’s negative publicity, penned by his office, stands in front of the city hall and is covered with signatures.
Come May 9 support for Evangelista translated to votes: he was re-elected mayor of Kidapawan with over 46,000 votes, almost the entire voting population of the city. And this in a city which often abstains when a candidate is unopposed.
In contrast, at over 25,000 votes the governor of North Cotabato, Emmylou ‘Lala’ Taliño-Mendoza, got just over half of that figure in Kidapawan. Over 10,000 votes from Lala’s provincial capital went to her opponent Lito Monreal, who is virtually unheard of in North Cotabato politics. This was clearly a protest vote against her.
While her term as governor has generally been well received in Kidapawan, the shooting has evidently caused Lala some support in her province’s only city.
‘She had been too bureaucratic,’ ‘she was being inaccessible when she needed to be there,’ ‘she was too proud.’ Along with these murmurs in the city were wild rumours that she had in fact withheld the distribution of relief rice in order to help boost the candidacy of a political ally. The governor had earlier faced allegations in Kidapawan of manipulating the price of rubber, a major product in the province. While the rumours are unlikely, she has undoubtedly gained the tendency to attract unpleasant speculations.
‘She should have just talked to the farmers,’ as one tricycle driver I chatted with put it.
From his tricycle I saw more posters and tarpaulins on Kidapawan’s iconic island of pine trees: ‘Kidapawan loves Peace and Progress.’ ‘No one from Kidapawan was in the rally, but Kidapawan had to sacrifice.’ ‘Do not disturb my Kidapawan.’
Tagum the Scapegoat
And one sign hints at the reason why Lala has accrued such ill-will in the city. ‘To serve and Protect,’ it reads, with the subtitle ‘We salute you.’
‘Luoy ang mga pulis (I feel sorry for the police)’ says manong driver.
My godfather Alexander Tagum, the provincial police director who led the rally dispersal, is a son of Kidapawan. Many of the police deployed – and who were injured – were from Kidapawan. It was not difficult to see why Kidapawanons sympathize with the police – their own sons and daughters – more than the farmers.
‘Alex was used as a scapegoat,’ as one relative put it. Lala earned some flak for the way she handled the shooting, but she did not get as much damage as ninong Alex. Relieved from his post pending investigations, Tagum’s career now faces a bleak future in light of the imminent return to power of the Piñols – he had a verbal tiff with then governor Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Piñol when he was still Kidapawan’s police director. ‘Tagum’s only fault,’ says the relative, ‘is he can be too gentle for a police officer. Hopefully Duterte won’t be too vindictive.’
The Duterte Factor
The election of the country’s first Mindanawon president complicates post-shooting Kidapawan politics further. The Duterte camp was very much involved in the incident: he is seen as being close with the Left, which has been accused of orchestrating the rally; he has publicly castigated Lala for her handling of the situation; and he has Robin Padilla.
His ties with the Piñol family, through its most prominent member Manny, mean the very idea of him is a key factor in any political situation in the province.
Any bid for public office by a Piñol is consequently seen as implicitly with Duterte’s backing, and with him in the land’s highest post this is a huge boost for the clan. Combined with the potential for being a protest vote post-shooting against Lala, the Piñols are in for a comeback.
In this election they had already made significant gains across North Cotabato: Joselito Piñol successfully transitioned from mayor to vice mayor of M’lang, and Gerardo and Socrates Piñol got hold of seats in Lala’s provincial board.
And most shocking for Kidapawan, Bernardo ‘Jun’ Piñol made a remarkable comeback as Vice Mayor after a few terms in the wilderness since being routed out of his congressional seat some years ago.
Jun Piñol’s election may have been a protest vote for Lala’s handling of the shooting or a show of solidarity with Digong, but the clear victim of his comeback is the defeated incumbent, Rodolfo Gantuangco.
Then again, Gantuangco was practically a political sitting duck. The former mayor of Kidapawan was cast in a negative light by the 8 million peso deficit in the local coffers when he turned over the Municipio to Evangelista. And in the previous election the bid of his brother Nido to unseat Evangelista damaged him both ways: he was seen as disloyal to Evangelista, his running mate, to those who thought it was his plan to make his brother run (and he thereby alienated the Evangelista vote); and he was seen as so untrustworthy his own brother endorsed his opponent as vice mayor.
They now say in Kidapawan that the third casualty during the shooting was Gantuangco’s political career.
‘And now Jun Piñol is poised to run for mayor when Evangelista’s term ends,’ a city hall insider tells me. As Piñol and Evangelista are not the best of political friends, a Piñol mayoralty can be the worst situation for Evangelista’s many projects. This is what is making the people in the Municipio most anxious: Evangelista’s term has seen the city grow rapidly, and a change in administration can waste all the progress. ‘But politicians can learn to be civil,’ notes my insider with hope.
Rice among the Bullets
The aftermath of the shooting isn’t entirely bloody for Kidapawan though. Evangelista’s able handling of the situation is a boost for him too, and when his term ends his bid for Amas can be much easier. For all the trouble it had to put up with, the shooting may be a catalyst for Kidapawan to finally see one of its sons elected governor of North Cotabato.
And the return of the Piñols isn’t necessarily a bad thing: a possible Piñol mayoralty, and speculations of a cabinet post for Manny, mean Kidapawan – and North Cotabato for that matter – might get a closer voice to the president’s ear.
At the very least, Kidapawanons admit, the international attention isn’t entirely bad. ‘At least I don’t need to explain where I’m from,’ a friend quips wryly on Facebook. Kidapawan, for whatever reason, is being talked about. And that in itself is certainly a welcome thing.
(Because we have our first Mindanawon President and he is from Davao. This is based on the 2001 version by Raul Roco)
Ginaibig ko ang Pilipinas, aking Lupa na Gisilangan.
Ginatirhan ng aking lahi, ginakupkop ako at ginatulungan
Para maging malakas, masipag, marangal.
kay mahal ko man ang Pilipinas,
Pakinggan ko ang ginasabi ng aking mga magulang.
Sundin ko ang ginaturo ng paaralan,
Tuparin ko ang mga dapat gawin ng Pilipinong makabayan;
Nagalingkod, naga-aral, at nagadasal ng totohanan.
Ginahalad ko ang aking buhay, pangarap at pagsikap sa Pilipinas