The Curriculum of Unfairness

(Appeared on Davao Today 12 September 2017)

 

In the Philippines, students are not created equal.

A high school student of the special section gets to use a flush toilet in a tiled and well-maintained bathroom which he shares with his just two hundred fellow honour students.

But a regular high school student has to pee in a cubicle made of rotting wood – sometimes simply an outhouse – that she shares with the six thousand seven hundred other regular and heterogeneous students, flushing with a tabo if she’s lucky to have running water. And she has to pay for using this latrine.

The stratification of the Philippine caste system begins in school. Like breeding livestock, we separate the goats from the sheep, our teachers handpicking a small and exclusive portion of our studentry from a young age and grooming them to aristocracy. The vast majority who weren’t anointed would have been culled if they were pigs, but instead they’re simply neglected.

The select, privileged cadre of students are lavished with resources and opportunities almost entirely denied from the rest of the student body: more and better materials, newer and better furnished classrooms, more competent teachers, more chances for involvement.

My girlfriend Nal, who was moved (demoted, really) in high school from the special section to a heterogeneous section in Koronadal Comprehensive National High School, relates to me the sheer unfairness of the system: while their old, pre-war classroom continued to have holes on its rotting wooden floor, the school administration planned to aircondition the special sections’ tiled, concrete classrooms. (as a silver lining, Nal would later cherish the fact that her dilapidated school building was an historic Gabaldon building).

When I was in elementary at Boys (what people in Kidapawan call the Notre Dame of Kidapawan College long after it had ceased being exclusive), I was not handpicked to write on the school paper, and it was only when the school paper moderator in high school – I was already third year – liked my writing that I got my chance. Now I’m writing for this column, while those who had an early start abandoned writing altogether and are busy microscoping stool samples.

In private schools, it’s a matter of common practice among teachers (one they do often get in trouble with), but in public schools the pyramidal stratification is institutional. There isn’t even any of that Animal Farm pretense at ‘some being more equal than others,’ being a public school student meant you had to fit into the rigid caste system. You knew your place and you stayed there.

And the public school caste system is defined by sections: at the top of the pecking order are the students of the special sections (SpEd, Pilot classes, Sci-Cur, STEM, the elite come by different names). Just below them are the regular sections, students who don’t quite qualify as elite but are still relatively decent. At the very bottom of the hierarchy are the heterogeneous sections, what the previous two orders call the “lower classes”, “the stupid students”, “the bulay-ogs”. The delinquent, dimwitted urchins in elementary who grow up to become rugby or Sukarap boys, Three-Rounder girls or teenage mothers in high school. “A basket of deplorables,” to use the Ivy League graduate Hilary Clinton’s language.

This discrimination is systematic, but more seriously it is cultural.

I had recently served to train student publication advisers of the public elementary and high schools in Kidapawan, and I saw this culture first hand. From DepEd district superintendent to the teacher-facilitators, the whole public education machinery was bent on winning student press conferences. Presscons, if you don’t know, involve around twelve student publication staffers per school: in a school of around seven to ten thousand students, DepEd is focused on investing its energies on developing the skills of these twelve privileged students. With the battlecry of “Kidapawan, always number one,” teachers were enticed to make their thoroughbred, showdog students win presscons so they can go to places like Baguio and Boracay. The rest of the student body hardly mattered.

Kidapawan, always number one: the number twos and number threes and number seventy eights do not matter.

Just the simple recollection of names is visible (and to a student, lasting) sign of favouritism and discrimination. Like a farmer naming her favourite piglets but not bothering to name the rest, teachers in Boys will call their favorites by the first names – sometimes even nicknames! – and the rest of us by our family names (if they remember our family names at all).

And of course, where teachers lead, students will follow, but in their own more horrible way. In KNCHS, Nal shares how the culture of special section elitism worked. When a regular student managed to get high enough grades to get into the privileged classes, she is met with hostility: “she’s not one of us!” Doubly so if this happens when a special section student suffers demotion into the realm of mortals, as the other special students will defend the worthiness of their brethren to remain over this lucky stranger. In high school proms, there are proud traditions maintained for the special section students that do not apply to mere commoners. In all programs the special section students sit up front while the mortals sit at the far back. And of course, all the student council seats, varsity team places, and graduation awards are tacitly reserved for the special sections.

When I was a student in Boys our prejudice was against the non-Notre Dameans (I grew up thinking all schools other than my own were lowly public schools), who when they trespassed their way into our walled world of a campus we called “outsiders.” Young women from Notre Dame would agree to always walk together when passing by a public school, lest the lawless public school kids come to include them in their anarchy, while young men were advised to avoid public school campuses altogether because the gang-boy students there were prone to picking fights with strangers. When a classmate found themselves having to transfer to another school, we pitied them. When a transferee from another school entered our ranks, we expected them to be some miraculous prodigy emerging from the wilderness.

The school is a microcosm of the country, and what an accurate microcosm the Filipino school is: run by teacher-bureaucrats preoccupied with promotions and lakbay-laags, dominated by a subservient, self-entitled elite in a teacher-student padrino system, while the vast majority of us are denied of opportunities.

Inequality is a natural result of a healthy society, the best emerge on top while the inefficient lose out as everything works in Darwinian order. I would be the first to point this out.

But school should not be some Hunger Games where you pit student against student until the most toxic wug kills the rest and emerges victorious. School is where we develop our children, give them the skills and opportunities to grow and be prepared for the challenges of a competitive life.

But our schools are limiting opportunities for a select few, justifying it as “rewarding hard work.” How can you reward hard work when you limit the students’ chances to actually try? Non necesse habent sani medicum.

“Rewarding hard work” is far too often an excuse made by schools to justify their misplaced priorities: abandoning quality education for all by limiting their resources to a select few to increase their chances of getting higher accreditation and quantifying success with Sports Meet wins and NCAE high scorers.

What is happening to our schools isn’t simply inequality, it is unfairness. These pilot class students – these oration contest fodder and varsity players – do not become the elite because they excel on their own merits in a leveled playing field. More often than not they’re privileged because of initial advantages. Many of these students have been teachers’ pets since pre-school, and a substantial bulk of them are the children or relatives of teachers and principals (how my mother often deplores the ugly kagid scars on the legs of majorettes from public high schools during city fiestas. “Anak ng teacher, kaya pinasali,” she would mutter in condescension.) A student with no such connections and who is too shy to display her intellect or skill will stand little chance of getting the opportunities and awards.

And there is even less hope for the defiant student, because of course the pecking order is all about compliance and subservience to teachers. I said something my high school chemistry teacher did not like, and she badmouthed me in all the high school sections until I graduated (thank goodness I did not rely on teachers’ opinions for my success as a student). I stepped out of the line, I was banished from Olympus.

This, incidentally, is how we have killed Filipino criticality. Our political thought is mind-numbingly orthodox because we have taught our kids what to think, complete with mandatory Jose Rizal quote. The little actual criticism our people exhibits is more the result of sourgraping (the salutatorian who was sidestepped from being valedictorian) than of any genuine ideological objections.

Instead of producing well equipped, critically thinking intellectuals, what we get from these privileged cadre of “young leaders” are self entitled snobs who thrive by complying and conforming.

A lifetime of being given the privilege of opportunities allows them to grow up subconsciously thinking that they alone have the society’s agency – “l’etat c’est moi,” as Louis XIV would have put it. When they hear (and quote ad nauseam) that Rizal aphorism of “the children being the future of our nation,” they understand that quote to be referring to them specifically. They are the world, they are the children.

And why shouldn’t they think so? They’ve been handpicked since elementary (kindergarten even!) by titateacher to compete in inter-school orations and quiz bees, participant in Leadership camps and Youth fora, go to Tagaytay or Dumaguete to join NSPCs. In high school they were the chosen few anointed by tita-principal to take the UPCAT so the school gets a high passing rate. They are the student leaders (in Ateneo’s case, the inadvertently elitist label “sui generis,” oh how special they are). The elect of God. The future of the nation.

It is a point of profound irony that this is the background of many progressive-leaning, “pro-poor” student activists that serve as rally fodder (remember that their schools allowed only them to take the UPCAT or groomed only them to get high enough grades for a DOST scholarship).

In college, they encounter the plight of the urban and rural poor and the displaced tribal peoples, see this as part of their natural enlightenment, and understand it to be their God-appointed duty to take up Marxism and call for equality. The rest of us who do not fall within the protectionist, nationalist, socialist mould they envision – well, we’ve always been stupid even back in elementary, we were never in the honors lists! They’ve immersed in poor communities for months, interviewed a few victims of landgrabbing and EJKs, joined in many rallies. Of course they understand inequality better than us.

Self-entitlement is the easy precursor of self righteousness.

While Philippine education is becoming more and more accessible, the pace at which it moves to become more inclusive is still deplorably glacial.

And it just goes to show how utterly blind these elitists are to their own self-righteousness when, in spite of this more chronic problem, they called instead for free higher education (and when Duterte signed it into law, claimed full credit for it). It would be being uncharitable to insinuate that they had been rallying to get tuition fee incentives for their own university education, but one does wonder.

Because far from free higher education, what our country urgently needs more is better and more inclusive basic education. High education should be optional in a society where quality education is given in the primary and secondary levels.

The budget that could have been allocated to the improvement and greater accessibility of our basic education services will instead be eaten up by the free college subsidies.

And for what? Because there are no mechanisms to ensure that state-funded education results in national service, the country is not earning back what it is spending: most graduates work in the private sector, with many even going abroad, so at most we’re just adding taxpayers, something the private schools are already doing. Even among that vocal progressive portion of our privileged student activists, most of them that I know are in well-salaried private jobs, their ‘call for social justice’ reduced to angry tweets and quarrels on Facebook.

We will simply be subsidizing – as we always have – the self-righteousness of the elitists we have created.

I daresay we are not only breeding our next generation of snobs, but also our next generation of graft and corruption perpetrators. I so dare because I have at least one case to cite: in 2014, the student president of Negros Oriental State University (where I was teaching at the time) was expelled for failing to account for almost three hundred thousand pesos worth of funds. I’ve seen the culture of “student leaders” in that state university, and it’s just as described: the president of several clubs who has been valedictorian since elementary and who is running for magna cum laude couldn’t even pronounce “voila” correctly. In this case, the word was that the missing funds were used by the president for a weekend outing with fellow student officials to Siquijor. This is just one case, there are many others out there of our “promising youth” pilfering money for themselves.

September will be National Teachers Month, and like our long-established school culture of unfairness and inequality, of elitism and selectivity, we will celebrate it the way we always do: praising our teachers for doing what they’re paid to do, requiring our students to make surprise greeting cards for their class advisers and even pitch in from their meager allowance for a lunch kumbira that they or their mothers cooked – all while their creaky old classrooms remain riddled with holes in the floors and leaks on the roofs, their bathrooms still no more than urine-stained holes in the ground, their battered old books still grossly not enough.

Not the special section students, of course. Why should they cook when they can always ask for budget from tita-principal for catering.

 

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Nakapangyayari ang Sambayanan

(Appeared on Davao Today 6 September 2017)

Few Kidapawanons know the official motto of Kidapawan city, much less understand what it means.

‘Nakapangyayari ang sambayanan’ is banderoled on the city’s official seal, just below the escutcheon. The seal, designed by then Tourism Officer Benjamin Mallorca, was adopted by Kidapawan when it became a city in 1998. I have yet to find any official documents pertinent to the motto, but because I cannot find any use of it before 1998 I’m assuming it was also adopted upon cityhood.

The rather lofty Tagalog motto officially translates to ‘the people are sovereign’ (see the first few words of the Constitution’s preamble in Tagalog: ‘Kami, ang nakapangyayaring sambayanang Pilipino…’). It’s a metaphysical statement of nationhood: the word for sovereignty, ‘nakapangyayari,’ is rooted in the word ‘yari,’ ‘composition,’ but the morphology makes it an active state, ‘we who constitute.’ Sovereignty in Tagalog is implied to be active composition, thus making Kidapawan’s motto more literally ‘the people can constitute.’

But ‘nakapangyayari’ has another possible morphological derivation, leading to a more interesting alternative translation to the motto: ‘pangyayari’ also means ‘happening.’

The motto can thus also be translated: ‘The people can make it happen.’

Lovely idealism, you might think, one of those DepEd or DoH mandated themes that far too often are more the stuff of essay-writing contests for public school students that of any actual practice.

Kidapawan, in particular, has often shown that it is not the people but its government – the detached bureaucracy headed by the winning oligarch of the day – which makes things happen. The environment and natural resources are managed by the government. Law and order is the exclusive responsibility of the government. Festivals are organized by the government. The bulk of the education sector is run by the government. We rely, for everything, on the government, and so the government does everything.

But one recent development shows that, when they try, people can and often do make things happen.

This development, quite remarkably, is in another of those hollow principles we so often take for granted: the city’s history.

While Davao celebrated August with the Kadayawan festivities, on the other side of Mt Apo there were two celebrations in my hometown: the annual Timpupo Fruits Festival, and the town’s foundation anniversary.

The fruits festival was muted owing to the meager harvest (Kidapawan’s fruit industry is still picking up from the poor yield of the past decade), but the foundation was specially poignant. Not only was it a celebration of Kidapawan’s seventieth year, it was a celebration made possible by the efforts of its people.

You see, for the past decade or so, Kidapawan’s local government celebrated ‘foundation day’ on February 12. On this date in 1998, Fidel Ramos signed into law Republic Act 8500, declaring the Municipality of Kidapawan into North Cotabato’s first city. Earlier this year, posters from the City government promoting celebrations of the date called the day ‘Kidapawan’s 19th Foundation Anniversary.’

I had heard of negative reactions from Kidapawanons about this years before. Many people (including myself) still remember Kidapawan before it was a city, and so feel that this putting of the town’s foundation on the declarion of cityhood is a form of whitewashing. One friend pointed out that he was born in Kidapawan, and he was already in his thirties, so how could Kidapawan be only nineteen years old?

The more accurate foundation date being advocated is August 18, 1947. On this date Manuel Roxas signed Executive Order No. 82, creating ten different municipalities from existing municipal districts. Among them was Kidapawan, which was then a municipal district of the Cotabato province.

For much of Kidapawan’s history as a city, the only festivities held around that date were Fruit Festivals (which date often changed depending on the caprices of the harvest). During such events there was hardly any mention of the municipality foundation, and if there were no festivities during that month, the date passed unnoticed.

Much of the complaints about the February 12 celebrations were unaired, merely murmured at home among the city’s old timers.

That is until I made a blog post about it. In the post I called for February 12 to be called ‘cityhood day,’ and calling for August 18 to be celebrated as Kidapawan’s real foundation day. I lamented the whitewashing (specially if it was inadvertent), and decried the city’s disregard for its past.

I did not expect the post to go viral, but it did, eliciting rather strong reactions. On social media it was shared and reacted on. There were those who agreed and denounced the LGU for forgetting all those who came before them, but there were also those who called on me and those who agreed with me to move on because the municipality is gone.

But in the end the online sentiment (at least from what I saw) became overwhelmingly one of recognition for August 18. At the very least my post raised awareness about the date, and about its undeniable neglect. Informative posts like mine were easily shared on social media. And this made the neglect of August 18 all the more glaring.

I must have seen right, because by the time this year’s August came nearer, the City Tourism Office proudly declared that preparations for the city’s ‘70th Foundation anniversary’ were underway. The Tourism Office under Mallorca’s successor Joey Recimilla, has been very responsive to public sentiment.

But in this case, at least, the people of Kidapawan made it happen.

The celebrations also showed a strong appreciation for the city’s history – a complete reversal from the apathy I decried.

As early as 2010 (when I was still a student) I had been writing about Kidapawan’s colourful but long ignored local past. In 2010 I published a write-up on the destruction of the Sultan Omar Kiram mansion and the colourful life of its architect. In 2012, I and Vincent Cuzon (who had started being aware of Kidapawan’s history through my work) started the Kidapawan of the Past Facebook page, giving wider public access to old pictures of the town. A bit later I came up with another blog post, one on the obscure World War II martyr Eliseo Dayao Sr.

I received some responses from these efforts, but I never fully appreciated how much impact these efforts were making. I did not know that I and Vince (and later fellow Kidapawan of Past administrators Paul Gumanao and Clyde Vallejo) were slowly creating a demand for more information about Kidapawan’s history.

By the time the August 18 celebrations were held, the City Tourism office opened an exhibit of old pictures of Kidapawan, including portraits of the city’s mayors, of the city landscape in the distant past, and some domestic snippets (like my grandfather’s oathtaking as teniente del barrio of Baranggay Lanao). For the first time ever, historical figures like Siawan Ingkal and Eliseo Dayao was publicly remembered, and Rita Gadi’s poem ‘Kidapawan in my heart’ (which before then was unheard of in Kidapawan) was even displayed prominently.

Again, it was ordinary people who made it happen.

There will be – and in my work promoting more historical awareness there indeed have been – those who will dismiss such efforts as disruptive. I have been accused of ‘twisting history’ simply because I’ve presented versions of it that people are not used to.

But all change will be uncomfortable, specially change that is necessary.

I advocated for August 18, 1947 to be celebrated as Kidapawan’s foundation day, but now I am seeking to further problematize that: Before becoming a municipality, Kidapawan was first a Municipal district during the American colonial period. The question now is when that happened. I have yet to get hold of the law creating the municipal district, but I’ve ascertained it to be somewhere between 1906 (when the Department of Sulu and Mindanao was created, and Kidapawan is not mentioned) and 1917 (when the Cotabato province was created, and Kidapawan is first mentioned as a municipal district).

There will again be change, yes, and many people will again have to adjust. But as the President and his hoarde of devoted minions like chanting, ‘change is coming.’

And I like to believe part of that change will be this empowerment of people to take governance – whether it be something as concrete as the running of a festival or as abstract as local history – into their own hands, to have a country that works bottom-up.

We need to see a smaller government and a bigger society. One where fiestas are organized not by the municipio from the poblacion but, like the neighbourhoods of Gion in Kyoto, by each of the Baranggays altogether. One where local communities play active roles – and even compete with other communities – to keep their public spaces clean and attractive. One where local businesses work together to revitalize the local industries.

Just as locals are used to having the local government do everything, the local governments are used to receiving directive and funding from Imperial Manila. The imminent prospects of a shift to Federalism – essentially breaking apart the top-down unitary state into more localized spheres of administration – will hopefully make change more likely and more lasting.

There are qualms about the shift as it is a fundamental and radical change that is, rather ironically, being imposed on localities from top down. Critics will say that such a top-down introduction will create artifical reform, just another foreign concept introduced to the locals.

But then again, ‘nakapangyayari ang sambayanan’ is a sentence just as foreign to the Kidapawanon as Federalism would be, and yet we have owned its foreignness and, far beyond our own expectations, we are learning to live it. The foreignness of Federalism is the foreignness of self agency to those who are used to having their destinies defined for them.

And it will continue to be foreign if local people do not take an active role for themselves in making it their own. Federalism is a change that must be owned if it is to work.

But if anything, Kidapawan history teaches us to trust the people. With little help from the colonial government the Obo Manobo started the municipal district. With little help from the Commonwealth government the district slowly grew commercially until it had to be declared a municipality. In the 1960s, they were so ambitious that they planned to build an airport, and while that has not yet materialized, nothing is preventing Kidapawan from still realizing that dream. And with little help from Manila, the municipality petitioned (for decades) to be elevated into a city.

Will Federalism happen and work for Kidapawan? Only time will tell. But of one thing I am sure. Its people can definitely make it happen.

 


On the Insensitivity of the Region 12 Hymn

Tribal Leaders in Kidapawan have raised an uproar over the regional hymn being mandated by the Department of Education for Region 12.

The leaders contend that the lines ‘mga Muslim, mga Kristiyano, at mga iba pang tribu’ reflect an ignorance in history and serve to marginalize the Lumad.

The full lyrics of the song can be seen here.

The Lumad are justified in raising this matter. The mere dismissal of the Lumad as ‘iba pang tribu’ just shows their othering, and their position in that sequence further implies their marginal position, mentioned merely almost as an afterthought. This is a gross injustice to the Lumad, who are Mindanao’s original peoples. This is why when I write about the tri-peoples of Mindanao I always write ‘Lumad, Moro, and Settler.’

The lyrics also show an ignorance in the sociopolitical complexities of ethnic and religious identity in Mindanao. The mention of ‘Muslim’ and Kristiyano’ only adds to the erroneous conflation of ethnic identity with religious identity. The more politically correct terms for the three peoples (at least in my experience) are Lumad or Tribal Peoples, Moro, and Settler. The Moro are the Islamized tribes but they are defined as an ethno-linguistic identity (a Tagalog who has converted to Islam can’t be a Moro).

The saddest part about this whole debacle though is that this is DepEd mandating it. It is the department which manages the country’s education system – the country’s learning and thinking – and yet it does not even understand the postcolonial and regional nuances of the tri-people arrangement. And because this is government we’re talking about, the mention of Muslim and Kristiyano may be taken as institutional religious segregation, a violation of the Constitutional provision on separation of Church and State.

This is far from the first manifestation of the ignorance of Philippine educators. For generations our teachers have called the regional languages like Cebuano and Hiligaynon as ‘the vernacular dialect’ (in the dismissively homogenizing singular). And I grew up hearing my teachers calling the tribal communities ‘indigents,’ the word ‘natives’ used in pitying condescension. ‘Settler’ and ‘Christian’ have always been conflated, and nobody ever taught me the audacity with which the Islamized tribes owned the colonial label of ‘Moro’ as their own.

If our own government and its teacher-bureaucrats aren’t even sensitive to Mindanao’s issues, how on earth do we expect our kids to?

 


On Senior High School Students Interviewing Filipino Writers

Recently in Mindanao, local writers have been surprised to receive emails and private messages on social media from senior high school students about their life and work. These questions and requests for interview seem to be from requirements being asked in school, an innovative class activity, I suspect, by idealistic young teachers who want our young people to get in touch with our local literary scene.

This is of course unprecedented, specially among local writers, as Filipino literature in general is largely underrated, unread by the Filipino readership. This is particularly the case with the youth, which largely consumes foreign literature, and if there is ever local consumption it is limited to works of popular fiction, very far from the literary crop.  Our writers rarely get so much attention.

How, you ask, did the writers react to this sudden surge of attention? Scorn.

Many writers decried the intrusive nature of the interviews. Others deplored how the students did not even bother researching basic information about them before asking. Still there are those who called on the teachers to teach their students to be formal enough and write a request letter. And others simply complained that with the barrage of interview requests, they don’t have time to write.

 

There is, first and foremost, nothing mature or professional about bashing senior high students on social media. If there are rude requests from them (and admittedly there have been), simply tell them off or ignore them without making it public that you have done so.

Then there is a certain arrogance to demand that any interview be conducted in formal terms.

This, I think, reveals the underlying elitism that so defines our literary – and our artistic – community.

The pervasive attitude among artists, specially writers, is that their art – and their dedication to the field of art – makes them important, somehow worthy of utmost respect and veneration. The artist is a sacred person according to the Filipino writer (many will always think of the celebrity of Neruda or the venerability of Hugo), and one ought not to treat them the way one would treat other, more ordinary people.

Filipino writers dismiss the dearth of readership they should be getting as the result of the unwashed masses’ lack of education and breeding. They scorn teenage Filipinos for reading Wattpad novels and Kilig Romances. Ironically they do so while espousing generally Gramscian ideologies.

The Filipino writer has long decried the lack of attention, and when she finally gets it, she complains it is not in the necessary note of reverence she thinks she deserves.

The truth of the matter is (and it is a painful reality I am saying as a writer myself), a writer who is not read is an irrelevant writer, and the vast majority of our so-called ‘literary writers’ are irrelevant writers who are not even read by one another. We are no important Hugos and Nerudas to whom formal letters of request have to be given so interviews can be asked, it is just downright arrogance to demand something like that when a polite, even if informal private message on Facebook, would have done.

There is even more arrogance in those saying students ought to research about the writers first. It assumes, first of all, that the writers in question are important enough to be on the books (trust me, even National Artists sometimes have very little information out there). They also forget the fact that in the Philippines, Filipino books and other material that deal with Filipino writers (academic journals, literary magazines, etc.) are both often prohibitively expensive (a 350 peso novel is average), and excessively difficult to find. I cannot even find anywhere the birth places of so many Filipino writers that I have to ask from common friends. This all just goes to show how out of touch our writers are to their own realities.

But I think the biggest manifestation of delusions of grandeur are in those saying they don’t have time to answer questions because they have to write. How utterly snobbish can you get. You refuse to entertain what can be your potential readers because you have to write stories and poems nobody will read.

It is very counterproductive. One of the frequent reasons cited by less egotistic writers as a reason why Filipino literature remains so inaccessible is because our writers are not introduced to our children. That is now being remedied, and even if the efforts are facing challenges, the sheer snobbery with which writers respond to them are far more damaging to the efforts than whatever glitches these first efforts may have.

We need our kids to start appreciating our very good body of local literature, but how do we expect them to like our work when their first experience of it is a writer publicly humiliating them on social media?

 

 


In defence of those in Mindanao not affected by Martial Law

Understandably, Mindanao is divided over Martial Law.

In response to outcry from Manila over Duterte’s declaration of it over Mindanao in response to the Marawi crisis, many in Mindanao have taken to social media to insist Martial Law reassures them against the spread of terror. I am one of those who have been very vocal on that score.

Since then there is growing dissent to this view from within Mindanao, most crucially from those directly affected by the Marawi crisis. Civilians are being killed by the indiscriminate firing and the air strikes, it is argued.

This reaction comes in the context of the discourse of Mindanao identity, a contentious and deeply divisive problematique which pits Lumad against Moro against Settler. People in Mindanao claiming to feel safe under Martial Law, viewed through one lens of such a context, are in fact merely bourgeois Settlers serving to silence the Moro subaltern, blind to the plight of the most vulnerable in the island. (this is a very rich topic to discuss and I think it deserves a separate discussion altogether).

True enough, the Settler community has always been guilty of silencing the two other peoples of the island, just as the Moro has been historically guilty of silencing the Lumad.

But I contend that the present situation is not so straightforward.

The problem with any subaltern perspective is that it always thinks because its problems are indisputably the most pressing and serious, it is the only perspective worth taking, its concerns the only ones worth considering.

Of course it is horrible that civilians are dying in Marawi, of course we have to find a way to avoid it, of course many Lumad will not even have IDs to present at checkpoints, of course Martial Law is a double edged sword.

But in this complicated, deeply divided land, one man’s bane is another’s boon.

This is a terrorist crisis, the tables might turn anytime, and we who are currently privileged and safe may suddenly be the ones being brutally mistreated, accusing those who are currently suffering of being privileged.

Can you imagine what horrors non-Muslims face (and the possible advantages the Moros have) if an Islamic State was established? And worse, the heat of warfare may breed a communist totalitarian regime like the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, which may well make even being educated a crime.

There are many historical examples of this recurring horror already, of the marginalized suddenly oppressing the originally privileged and using their marginalization as justification for oppression.

How many of the privileged Tutsis in Rwanda did the Hutus slaughter? What atrocities did the working class revolutionaries in China commit to the scholar-bureaucrat class during the Cultural Revolution? How did the Taliban, Al Qaeda and Daesh take advantage of Western interventionism and local resentment to destabilize governments and perpetuate the systematic slaughter of non-Muslims – and of Shiites – in the Middle East?

It is being close-minded to insist people are being selfish just because their security comes at the cost of that of other’s.

‘We’ feel safe in Mindanao because of Martial law, and that plural first person pronoun may not include everyone, but it includes a significant portion of Mindanao’s population, one which is now at risk of being actively and deliberately neglected. The current victims are not the only ones affected by this crisis, everyone is at risk.

And it is no coincidence that I am also against the class struggle being advocated by the communist terrorists – it is rooted in divisiveness and exclusion, responding to silencing and oppression with more silencing and oppression that only perpetuates a vicious cycle of endless conflict.

We who are urban Settlers are not silencing the Moro or the Lumad subaltern here (if we are, we do so unwittingly).  As a matter of fact hearing them plea against the horrors they suffer under Martial Law is very welcome, as it helps improve the declaration’s implementation.

But with their response to our positive attitude towards Martial Law, they’re already bordering on wishing to silence us, seething with resentment at what are perceived as intentionally committed injustices.

They versus us.

The dispossessed Moros are playing right into the Extremists’ hands, sowing hatred and division among themselves against non-Muslims. And the privileged but morally self righteous in Manila (and even in Mindanao) are only making it worse by amplifying the message of divisiveness.

The message all this UP-centered opposition to Martial Law is sending to the ordinary Moro is simple: ‘You’re a victim, this Martial Law was declared to oppress you, the non-Muslims like it even if you’re suffering, hate the non-Muslims.’

And all for what? In more practical terms, do you think these suffering sectors will be safer without Marital Law? Do you think the situation will be better if the declaration was revoked? If we are to be silenced for our shortsightedness, what better alternative is there?

Can we not simply work together to address the problem at hand and improve one another’s solutions so that they work for all, instead of bickering about being excluded?

Extremists, communist terrorists, and Imperial Manila are all pitting our three peoples in Mindanao against one another.We must resist this, we must resist the temptation to think only from our own perspective, Lumad, Moro, and Settler alike, and try our best to listen to one another.

Now is the worst time to be divided as peoples living together in this beautiful, beautiful land.

 


Why people in Mindanao don’t mind Martial Law

(Featured in the Esquire Website’s Unpopular Opinion section)

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.


Meeting Miguel Syjuco

Syjuco

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.

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My now missing copy of Ilustrado. I lent it to someone and I forgot to whom. I had a shaky hand with this photo!

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.

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Miguel with SALEM

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.