WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: They say, I hear By Gail Ilagan

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/11 Dec) – Some readers ask why they can’t read me as much any more. Some think that perhaps my professional concerns do not allow me to write about what I see and who I talk to. Others ask if I have retired from writing a blog on this column now that the world has caught up and everyone else has a blog.

Loyal MindaViews readers feedback that they miss a female voice on this page. Actually, they say they miss a woman’s voice on this page, but I say female because woman is now a political adjective and I have registered that some readers do not think that this female speaks with a woman voice.

Marion, in particular, decries missing out on “a painless way to be instructed on the data gathering methods of social psychology” and how my articles – especially the earlier ones long gone from the memory of the cyberworld – could actually present the findings from such exercises as “a refreshing look into the everyday familiar”. She surmises that my classroom must be pretty interesting and that if she were anywhere around she might even pay to get in my class now.

Last Thursday, I caught myself thinking about Marion’s email while checking a batch of students’ essays. According to one, the prelims period feels like finals with the load of work their teacher – me – demands. Nyuk-nyuk-nyuk. Can’t take my heat, get out of my oven.

Ah, no. I hear Bob Timonera in my head. Speaking through someone else in what sounds like the voice of an idiot (3 Idiots, actually), he says I should never abandon my weak students.

Right you are, Bob. Socialized instruction. To each according to his need.

For the moment, I have shut out the cacophony of concerns that my mind wants to wander off to. I would, for example, very much like to examine the prospect of our attention-deficient chief executive working out a national security agenda. Personally, I find quixotic this proposal to reinvent the AFP, working as it seems to do on the premise that it is the military institution that sets the national human security agenda.

Yeah, right.

Jostling for space in my mind is an image of a barbed-wire fence, interrupted by a rectangular gap the size of a hardbound book. There is a red face towel neatly spread across the lower edge of the gap, indicating to me a desire for my safety as, time and again, I would need to grasp the edge for balance so I can bring my ear closer and hear what the person on the other side of the wire is saying. He, too, bends his head to draw near. I catch the twinkle to his eye and a mischievous dimple playing hide and seek on his left cheek as he says hello. A scalp wound, long healed, shows through his closely-cropped hair. He moves with the grace of a panther, belying the pain from his midsection. The months of repeated surgery have blurred together in the haze of depression. Emerging from it, he says: “It is only now that I can entertain thoughts that maybe there still is hope.” The earth trembles.

My mind says I have to make sense of that jumble of images and sounds, lend it organizational coherence. This dream sequence must mean something, else why would my brain keep coming back to these?

No time. I have to push all of that back. The Tambara needs to be put out by month’s end. For months, we in the editorial team have been wrestling with this special edition on conflict research focusing on the impact of wars on community women and children. In particular, we would like to feature the community studies commissioned by the Mindanao Working Group (MWG) on Gender and Development in 2006.

The MWG had then tapped its participating universities and colleges to help draw its advocacy agenda for grassroots gender empowerment, especially for the most neglected and underprivileged among Mindanao females – the Muslims, the Lumads, and those in rebel transit areas.
Like it or not, these landmark papers have largely shaped the growing gender discourse in the Mindanao academe, especially among institutions that have just recently worked women and conflict studies into its research agenda.

The conduct of this exploratory research had been limited by time constraints and the security situation in the respective study sites, as well as by lack of access to the major players and pertinent documents on these local conflicts as they occurred. As a result, the individual reports do not provide a comprehensive context to the arena of battle that played out in the respondents’ backyards, much in the same way that these communities continue to be denied the context to why they are forced to play host to deadly encounters.

Sometimes, the reports read like a jumble of impressions without the luxury of reflection – similar to how the world and everyday experience would register to a people who live under constant threat to their security. Research purists might find the absence of a theoretical frame to be a serious flaw, but such caution had been deemed necessary to privilege the opinions expressed by the respondents and to avoid injecting researcher bias.

Collectively, these papers represent the shift in academic research focus in studying the wars in mainland Mindanao; it required the researchers to move beyond their comfort zone of traditional positivist inquiry to, of necessity, apply the less familiar tools of phenomenological investigation. This shift redefines the position of the researcher to privilege the experience of the respondents over official number counts. These attempts to view war and its aftermath through the eyes of those who had been and continue to be touched by it modestly capture snapshots of the conflict experience of those most affected by armed violence in Agusan del Sur, the Lanao provinces, Pikit, Compostela Valley, and Zamboanga. And even though taken together they do not form the whole picture, we find forgivable the limitations of these studies.

As the editor, I have long agonized over the merits of these papers in upholding the prestige of the Tambara as the official university journal of the ADDU. But in the final analysis, they do bring out the social costs of war on the least heard and most vulnerable of Mindanao constituents and it is our journal’s mission to provide Mindanao academics the voice to define our social reality here.

(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.)