"Checkpoints and Chokepoints" distilled the ponderous theme of this Mindanao Studies Consortium conference: Learning from Peace and Development Paradigms and Practices in Mindanao.
On the lighter side, it was amusing to see Carol Arguillas bristling at the military language used to emphasize the point – check and choke. Carol is at the moment trying to pocket a second masters degree, attending classes with combined MILF and GRP-AFP elements. By now, she is about as proficient as I am at comprehending military lingo. She still has to break her instinctual aversive response to it though.
Back at the forum, MindaNews' self-appointed book reviewer (who is yet to review my book) and real-life historian Jojo Abinales took time off his teaching assignment at the Kyoto University to present his draft paper entitled Mindanao in the Developmentalist Fantasy of the Philippine State. Jojo's was the only paper I tried to read. I couldn't help myself. I love fantasies. And also, the draft had too many spelling errors.
I'm joking. His is the only paper I read because the others delivered Powerpoint presentations.
I encourage my readers to read Jojo's paper though. I haven't seen Jojo in five years, but as usual, he did not disappoint. Not on paper, and definitely not on the stand. He was provocative, as only Jojo can be. Carol's mistah in her current graduate studies – who as member of PMA Class 78 happens to be PGMA's mistah also – would probably call him an agitator. (As non sequitur, that makes PGMA Carol's mistah. Har-de-har-har!)
Michael Mastura, obviously no fan of Abinales, alluded to "paper readers who concoct data" such that the input that they provide should not be made to matter, at least not to the consideration of the "best minds in Mindanao" that were around to register it. Less than two hours into the conference and the good professor had me in stitches with the Mastura Paradigm: Time is mine.
Okay then, who would want to wrestle the floor from someone who uses it as a forum to spit bile at having been called senile by the paper reader? Combatively, Mastura declared to the body, "We are the rebels. Hear us. Listen to us. Why do you think are we so aggrieved? It is because you do not listen." See the conference director fold up at that. Blagag.
Oh, man. That was fun.
Checkpoints and Chokepoints was an ambitious project. It was what another participant termed as the Mindanao conference to be, with its promise to assemble peace advocates, policy makers, development players, donor agencies, and various other stakeholders that make so much as a rustle in the consciousness of Mindanao enclaves. As a result, there was no way that the participants could in two days take in all the information the conference delivered.
In particular, the breakout sessions came down to making one's choice and living to regret having to forego discussions on other issues. Politics of aid or post-conflict transitions? Institutions, governance, or private sector? Inter- intra-ethnic relations, grassroots initiatives, or environment and conflict? MindaNews columnist Mac Tiu was ecstatic at the wealth of material for discourse analysis provided by the paper presentations and the reactions from the participants.
Listening with half an ear to Mac's intellectual masturbation, it struck me that there are many among us in MindaNews who are in the academe and who were at the forum in various capacity. Jojo and Mac, Carol and me. Then there's our colleague UPMin anthropology instructor Jowel Canuday who talked about post-conflict resolution afternoon of the first day.
Coming out of the session on environment and conflict on the second day where MindaNews staffer and ADDU Mindanawon's researcher Penny Sanz delivered a paper on mining, USAID's Bob Barnes waylaid me in the walkway to ask what my stand on the industry is. I can actually understand why many among the "best minds in Mindanao" are opposed to opening up these islands for mining. Their opposition is not at all unfounded. However, I also understand that there is no 21st century civilization that does not require metals. Theoretically, technically, there must be an appropriate way to get what is required.
Not my field, though. I leave the combative opposition to the experts, in the same way that I leave industry lobbying to hubby.
If there's anything that I've learned living the last 15 years in what the rest of the world sees as the "land of war", it is the importance of recognizing territorial boundaries, be they geographical, intellectual, religious, or ideological. Similarly, one learns appreciation for the aspiration of autonomy, self-determination, respect for identity, and the freedom to agree to disagree.
To my view, conferences are a necessary mechanism for democratizing intellectual capital. They allow a community to take stock, tying up today with what came before and allowing participants the fantasy of collective control over the communal future. But at the end of the day, conferences do not solve today's checkpoints and chokepoints even as at the end of the Mindanao conference to be, Presidential Assistant to Mindanao Jess Dureza optimistically predicted the readiness of the participants to do hand-to-hand combat as it were with the situation on the ground.
Carol, I believe, must be beyond bristling by now.