CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/14 July) — Earlier on, in a public meeting in Zamboanga City where the crowd booed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) contingent, it’s lead speaker was heard to remark, “it’s all right; after all, that’s how it is in a democracy,” or words to that effect.
It was one of the rare times I’ve heard this gun-toting, violence driven, and terror-tainted group acknowledge democracy as the framework of co-existence among the peoples of Mindanao.
The remark begged a question rarely addressed in a forthright manner, namely: does the Bangsamoro believe in democracy and subscribe to democratic processes?
Another question: having emerged triumphant at the negotiating table, what happens to MILF’s original objective of secession? Will its vaunted firepower still hang over our collective heads like a Sword of Damocles?
It’s important to know because no one is sure if the group really cares to be a member of a democratic republic after all the gun-toting and war gaming. Will it submit to democratic processes, to peaceful resolution of disputes, earnestly and not just as a negotiating tactic?
These questions need answers in light of the still vague concept of a “ministerial form of government”—which they are insisting on while pointedly qualifying it as “asymmetrical” to our republican system; a studied distinction that may come in handy should matters lead to severance.
Relevance and context are important in agreements of this sort; all the more in situations where promoting democracy, institutionalizing its spirit, and the importance of adhering to its processes are neglected agendas.
When and where in Mindanao, for instance, has the Government, local or national, ever conducted an earnest civic education program?
In most of Mindanao even today, what passes for democracy is oligarchy, people power a dynasty. More often than not, development refers to exploitation by vested interests. And justice is a gunslinger.
There remains an abiding undercurrent of tension in our island region, unstable, volatile, unpredictable. It is exacerbated by the existence of private armies, the large supply and circulation of loose firearms, and the enduring traffic in munitions across porous seacoasts and mountain redoubts. Despite the talk, the atmosphere is not at all conducive to peace and stability.
How can democracy flourish under these circumstances? There is an ever-present possibility that violence may erupt; it keeps Mindanaons in the grip of suspense and uncertainty. Neither life nor possession is safe.
It is urgent that decisive measures be taken against insurgency, against loose firearms, and against traitorous government functionaries that feed into the atmosphere of insecurity. Yet there is no commensurate effort at civic education, peace promotion, or the urgency of disarmament.
Long years of unremitting stress have severely affected countless communities—has there ever been an effort to identify which areas and which populations? Do they need treatment for post traumatic stress disorder or other compensating/mitigating measures? The MILF cannot escape responsibility for much of the stress and suffering. Is there, should there be, a role for the MILF in this now?
In the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao, there are 2,500 barangay communities or so—the region’s grassroots. It is the demographic level where state power and authority reside
Yet it is also the level where democracy is generally perverted, the votes manipulated, the voters corrupted. So the inhabitants are confused or, worse, numb and apathetic. Too many of them don’t know or don’t care to govern themselves; too long have they surrendered governance to their officials.
If the health of our democracy is to be restored, something urgently needs to be done in those areas.
If democratic processes are not operative in them, at the grassroots, where else can it operate except at the level of the oligarchs, plunderers, and trapos?
But people tolerate it, even those who are supposedly educated, and especially many who are bound by solemn public duty to mend the rent in the fabric of democracy.
We cannot let political power at the grassroots be concentrated in petty dynasties and oligarchies and expect our democracy to live on to maturity and enduring stability! Democracy needs intensive attention and care now!
Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asian Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Government’s Peace Panel, and PPI-UNICEF awardee for outstanding columnist. firstname.lastname@example.org