WAYWARD & FANCIFUL. Blazing the trail to nowhere? By Gail T. Ilagan

Take intercultural dialogue instead. What started out as hopeful interfaith dialogues in the early 1980s have now evolved into the uniquely Mindanawon art of public discourse. Primarily intended to make us focus on our shared reality, the use of intercultural dialogue over time has evolved rules of conduct to facilitate meaningful exchange of ideas. Today, these rules are not spelled out anymore. By tacit agreement, participants in Mindanao fora abide by these in the conduct of public discussions and debate. People unfamiliar with the way things are done here often come away from public hearings and conferences thinking, “This is a weird place.”

Among other things, intercultural dialogue had surfaced homegrown definitions of the Mindanawon identities, most notably in its dignifying of the term Lumad (instead of the more generic indigenous peoples) and the coining of the term tripeople to denote the collective Mindanao demographics (Lumad-Muslims-settlers).

Today, however, I don’t anymore hear the term tripeople being used in conferences and fora. Australian academic Adam Rudkin, a peace advocate affiliated some years back with the Davao City-based Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID), called tripeople a nonce term and predicted its eventual demise. Adam, I remember, desired so much the gift of augury. His prediction of the demise of the nonce term, while it drew much thrashing from the progressive NGOs when he said it, may yet be a portent of things to come for the man. (Hey, Oz, how are you?)

Recognizing the power of intercultural dialogue to bond Mindanawons to our shared reality, Kusog Mindanaw has for ten or so years now used this method during its annual round table conferences where diverse sectors come together to home in on points for agreement on major
issues confronting these islands. We come to a better understanding of each other’s position, and this does so much in eroding the psychological divide, if not the social barriers between class,
categories, ethnicity, and religion.

More recently, the Bishops-Ulama Forum, through the Konsult Mindanaw project it has launched, goes a step further in evolving intercultural dialogue as a tool to clarify a thorny issue we’re all confronted with. Konsult Mindanaw challenges political and administrative divisions in its attempt to surface the marginal voices that are calling for peace in Mindanao. If only for the fact that this is an attempt to democratize the expression of opinion, intention, and action for peace, in this human rights age, this project ought to be commended.

Intercultural dialogue works in Mindanao. It may very well be the blueprint that would allow us to transcend the intense regionalism that divides us as a nation.

I suspect, however, that intercultural dialogue may not lend to upscaling on the national level, much in the same way that many worthy initiatives in Mindanao have continued to remain to be quaint local practices to the eye of national policymakers. It is a puzzle, for instance, why peacebuilding theories, practices, and models manage merely to be of significance here where they have been demonstrated to apply and, more importantly, to work. Perhaps it needs some Western academic to come here and write about our reality before national power brokers give those theories, practices, and models a second look.

(Any moment now, my inbox is bound to be inundated with email accusing me of more than my share of inferiority complex. Yes, yes. I never contest name-calling while I’m on columnist mode. But, tell me something new, please. Like, what are we to do with peacebuilding theories, practices, models that have been demonstrated to work? Keep them here? Okay, then, why don’t you just ignore some more the intercultural tensions that Muslim migration in Luzon is causing? Oh, you’re going to surf for some East European model you can adopt to defuse migration tensions in Baguio? Okay. Suit yourself.)

Given anatomical limitations, it is indeed hard to see south when you’re always looking west. Looking everywhere but here merely allows us to still manage to put out elementary textbooks that try to dignify cultural diversity by saying, for instance, that Bagobos do not sweep their homes. I bet the writer is not from Mindanao. I bet further that the only way he knows to sweep is with the use of a Baguio broom, and that he had, in all probability, never been to a Bagobo home.

Meanwhile, down here, we keep breaking ground, well away from the eyes of the gatekeeper of the mainstream. Not to belabor the issue, but while many cities in Luzon and Visa
yas are yet to craft their Women’s and Children’s Code, Davao City has had one since 1997. Twelve years
later, we’re moving on: The Sangguniang Panglunsod is trying to come up with an Older People’s Code, and might very well be able to do it within the year. At the rate things are going, it might take other cities another twelve years perhaps before their constituents get to thinking that maybe, just maybe, we all have to grow old sometime, and wouldn’t you want your community to be ready for you?

Among the most worthy initiatives to come out of Mindanao’s social experimentations is the MR GAD project of the Davao City-based Health Management and Research Group (HMRG). MR GAD stands for Men’s Responsibilities in Gender and Development.

As background, mainstream efforts are at play to address domestic abuse through empowering its likely victims. However, I would argue that understanding – or even empowering – the victim does not in any significant way address the root causes of this social problem.

Addressing problematic behavior requires the transformation of the doer, not so much that of his victim.

Well, finally, someone agrees with me.

Since 2002, MR GAD has been piloting a community-based intervention to involve men in the effort to combat violence against women and children. Employing a non-judgmental, non-confrontational approach, MR GAD educates men on the cross-cutting issues of gender and
reproductive health, STI/HIV/AIDS, risky lifestyle, and domestic violence in a manner that is sensitive to the psychology of the Filipino male.

What is most remarkable about this pioneering male participation program is its adoption of the men-talking-to-men strategy. In engaging men and boys, this strategy is proving to be more effective at educating and influencing men to adopt more responsible attitudes and behaviors. Indeed, the strategy shows promise and is perhaps more effective than gender-sensitizing men through slaying them with guilt trip for their patriarchy-rooted privileged status or, failing that,
crafting national laws that privilege women, on the assumption that men have an inherent violence in them that could sooner or later be turned against their women and children.

These are just some of the initiatives in Mindanao that I believe ought to be diffused beyond Mindanao borders. In my engagements with national agencies, however, I find remarkable the relative ignorance of non-Mindanawon policymakers of these initiatives. A lot stranger is the fact that these initiatives are seldom championed by Mindanao legislators when deliberating on national policies.

I think maybe it’s hard to go mainstream when one is going against the tide. Chutzpah, however, is something Mindanawons have in abundance. So we keep breaking new ground in the call to order, and while it works for us, maybe it’s just not up to the more delicate palates of people in other islands. As a non-Mindanawon would be wont to say, “This is a weird place.”

You poor thing. (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan's column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail@mindanews.com. "Send at the risk of a reply," she says).