IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD: Anger, violence and reconciliation in Mindanao

PENANG, Malaysia (MindaNews/26 Sept) – It has not always been easy to realise and accept that we come from a society that is angry, and to a certain extent, have turned physically violent towards others. In the young minds of Moros who have perennially experienced discrimination and hardships, the expression of anger becomes the probable response given that in most cases, they are constantly not listened to.

I say these things as I try to understand, how we have become the “angry Moros” that we are today. Recalling how the audience have frowned upon the angry response/s of Datu Mike Mastura (at that AIM-organised forum on the MILF proposal of a Bangsamoro State months back), I can assure you that a typical Moro would feel the same when asked of a seemingly innocent question, but is in fact, condescending and insulting to our identity and history.

While it may be true that anger can translate into violence, or specifically, to physical violence, we have to make the distinction between anger and violence, since the two are not synonymous to each other. Anger is a human emotion that finds its source from a person’s sense of desperation and failure. And while violence is the behavioral outcome that intently harms others, or, even the self. If we want to find peace between the Moros and the Christian settlers in Mindanao, it is crucial that we somehow study this anger and violence that permeate us. Why are there angry Moros? And why are there angry Christians? Is absence of war the end of violence? What makes up violence in Mindanao? Is it possible to achieve a less violent environment?

Professor Adam Curle gave a lecture in 1975 wherein he talked about “Reconciliation, Violence and Anger” as human conditions that have challenged the conflict societies even after the postcolonial phase of our international community. In his arguments, he further supported the idea of “structural violence” that Johan Galtung was promoting by then. He reiterated that the assumptions and impositions of a majority over a minority is in itself the essence of this structural violence that we have in our society.

By using the example of modern day slavery, Curle explained how the masters (majority) continue to effectively preserve their status over the slaves (minority) by making the latter accept that their roles are interdependent, and thereby, guaranteeing some peaceful co-existence. Curle, however, insisted that this kind of asymmetrical relationship disempowers the minority. Worse, it gives a message, that “we are not equal and can never be equal.” It is this thought of majority-minority relations and its inequalities that have struck a chord to my own senses.

Curle’s lesson made me realise how true his ideas are in our own story in Mindanao. Recently, we have been hearing explanations to the same effect.. “The Moros deserve their Right to Self Determination, but the majority cannot accept this at this time.” To make things more disappointing, or make the Moros more angry, we are told to accept the thinking that the Moros will not be able to stand on their own and will wither away if they are to be given their wishes –this, as an imposition of the majority. Isn’t then a wonder why we have angry Moros?

As for the Christian settlers, they have grown accustomed to the narrative that Mindanao is their home and where they are the dominant community – in education, economy, culture, religion, governance, and in all aspects of life. Although, they are reminded time and again that for many of them, Mindanao was their place of settlement that the State engineered as part of its effort to de-populate Mindanao from the indigenous Moro and other tribes, they, however, are more than happy to uphold the deep belief that Mindanao, or some parts of it, have become successful economically, because of their own hard work. Therefore, Mindanao, or parts of it does not deserve to be given, or returned to the illiterate, rebellious, and non-Christian minority. Given this strong sentiment, it is but normal that the majority would feel angry that they are forced to accept any changes that will undo this imagined and real dominance.

Should the relationship between the Moros and the Christian settlers remain at the present status quo – in which the majority holds the destiny of the minority, it is clear that there is no hope for a long lasting peace in Mindanao, what more, of any path towards reconciliation. The present status quo preserves the violence that the minority continue to experience under the majority, just as Curle says. And in a country that tries to uphold democracy, it is a very sad situation. It is this imbalanced situation, that the Moros can only continue to be angry with.

While it is in the dangerous armed conflict in Mindanao that people normally identify the term violence, it is in the impact of the governing structures of the Philippines that the Moros feel more violence. The perfect example to this would be the highly debated existence of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). How many times will people have to say that this framework of governance is a failure? And how many times will the Philippine government continue to offer the same (or modifications of it) as part of a peace agreement?

Since the Moros are not fully involved and do not have their complete freedom in charting their own life and development, they are left to assimilate or settle in the periphery of the society. This environment consequently gave rise to the revolutionary movement that we have today. And because there is already a well established structural and cultural violence (since the Philippine governments started), it has constantly fed and nurtured the discriminatory attitude and behavior of the majority towards the minority.

Should it make the Moros happy that every Filipino associate the ARMM with the words “corruption” and “failure of governance”, despite that it is not entirely their own doing? And for the whole of Mindanao to be labelled as a place of violence and conflict when the Moros are not the sole source of these problems? It is, therefore, this violence that we have to put an end to. To have peace in Mindanao, the majority has to face the fact that they have become the tools of violence. It is them who are at the helm of power and perpetuating injustices. If they do not change this situation, they remain to be the obstacle to any peace that they want to achieve even in their own society.

In Mindanao, we have a violent majority, and an angry minority who have also become violent as their last resort. Nevertheless, the very absence of another armed conflict should not make us complacent. Instead, we should be afraid of how much this violence continues to nurture our societies – the Christian settlers and the Moros. Even as we teach the young to “love your neighbors, as you love yourself”, they will not carry the same peace culture because it is our own parents, teachers, religious leaders, and other leaders who define what the limit of that love is.

Is it possible to have a less violent Mindanao? It is, but we should start removing the structures that promote violence before we can earnestly build on a culture of peace. In order for us to internalise the culture of peace, again, it all starts on the longer term peacebuilding or conflict transformation. The concept of conflict transformation, however, does not selectively include only the elements that we wish to change, but it strongly teaches about all the elements that needs changing – the actors, context, issues, personal, and group. Also, to transform the conflict in Mindanao is to change the situation, attitude, and behavior (the pillars of peace education) that has long nurtured anger and violence.

With this in mind, can a reformed ARMM bring transformation to the Mindanao conflict? A transformation from a conflict to peace? Is it enough that we teach peace education in our schools? Will a presidential statement conveying that he is for peace finally resolve the grievances of the Moros? Or are we trying very hard, and creatively, continue to maintain the status quo, even in the name of peace? In the end, we have to ask the hardest question… “Is the majority willing to love the minority just as they love themselves?” It should be noted, however, that this love, should carry the unequivocable respect for freedom and rights of those who needs it most. And that this commitment needs to be reflected in the Philippine Constitution if we are to fully embrace Moro and Mindanao history as part of Philippine history.

A meaningful change can only arise if we forge a better relationship and new life among the Christian settlers and Moros. In today’s times, there is no room for masters and slaves in Mindanao, neither is there any room for anger and violence when the potentials and benefits of peace promises so much more than one can imagine!

(Ayesah is the coordinator of the Mindanao Peace Program at the Research & Education for Peace Universiti Sains Malaysia or REPUSM in Penang, Malaysia.)