How to build lasting peace

Herbert Docena
Why does it seem so easy for hawks to whip up public support for another all-out war?


As the drums of war beat louder, crucial questions are drowned out: How true is it that police chiefs weren’t even informed of the attack – and why?

Given that peace talks are ongoing, why didn’t the government “coordinate” the attack with the MILF? With their previous experience with Philippine government double talk, could the rebels really have been expected to just sit back as government troops started shooting without apparent provocation? What was the United States’ role in this “mis-encounter”? For the sake of all those who were killed and who cry for justice, an independent truth panel or commission must be immediately formed and heads must roll once accountability is established.

But a bigger question also demands deeper reflection: Why does it seem so easy for hawks to whip up public support for another all-out war? Why do many ordinary Filipinos seem all too ready to junk the peace agreement and support bombing the Moros back to the Stone Age?

Could it be because many Filipinos still have not abandoned the official state narrative that “we Filipinos” are the “good guys” and the Moros the “enemies” in this tragic war—despite the fact that it was the Philippine state that immorally, if not illegally, effectively annexed Morolandia without the Moros’ consent in the early 20th century, backed foreign and local corporations in taking over thousands of hectares of Mindanao lands for their plantations or mining projects, drove hundreds of thousands of landless families from Luzon and the Visayan to settle in the “uninhabited” lands of Mindanao to quell agrarian unrest in the North, and unleashed terror when the displaced people began fighting back? Despite, in other words, the fact that “we Filipinos” have treated the Moros and others in Mindanao as the Spanish, American, or Japanese imperialists treated us “indios”?

Could it be, in short, because the ruling oligarchs who dominate the Philippine state – they who have benefited the most from plundering Mindanao’s resources and subjugating both Moros and Christian landless peoples – have succeeded in depicting the history of Mindanao as anything else but a history of settler-colonialism, in portraying themselves as other than colonizers, and in casting the Moros and other indigenous peoples as other than anti-colonial movements fighting for self-determination? 

Could it be because the current government, while pushing for a peace settlement, has refused to altogether repudiate this ideology of war?

And could it be because even those of us in the Left or in the peace movement have – for fear of being lynched, of losing votes or potential allies, of being dismissed as “extremists,” or of being cast out of the “imagined community” – shirked from countering this right-wing nationalist ideology that has so successfully dominated the ideological terrain and shaped the consciousness of millions of Filipinos?

Is it any wonder then that many Filipinos seem to think of all the concessions in the peace agreements that successive administrations have entered as some kind of “gift” to the Moros, a sign of “our” superiority and benevolence – rather than as something that the Moros have fought for and deserve as a matter of right? 

Uncomfortable truth

Is it any wonder that when the restless “natives” fail to “behave” as they should despite the “gifts” we give them – when they refuse to just roll over and let colonial forces just reenter territory that so many of their brothers and sisters have died for, many ordinary Filipinos – goaded by hawks and war-freaks – are all so ready to jump the gun and call for all-out war?

Should we be surprised that so many Filipinos seem all too willing to once again open the gates of hell to the Moros and to make the innocent pay for the offences of the mighty—so as to perpetrate the colonization of Mindanao?

Should we be surprised, in short, that many Filipinos have internalized the subjectivity of the colonizer?

These are, no doubt, unpopular questions to raise in this emotional, incendiary atmosphere, and those who dare ask them will no doubt be isolated, “unliked,” and even be cast as “traitors” for even suggesting that “we,” or the Philippine state, may not necessarily be the “good guys” in this conflict. 

But there will be no lasting reconciliation, and thousands more may yet again die, for as long as we don’t confront and counter the historico-cultural conditions that generate so much of the hysteria and hate that pit the oppressed of different nations and faiths—the lowly-paid Filipino soldier from Samar and the desperately poor landless peasant from Maguindano—against each other. 

Public support for a just and enduring settlement will remain brittle for as long as we do not come to terms with the uncomfortable truth that, while the colonized are sometimes driven to commit horrible, unacceptable acts as they fight back—acts that must always be strongly and unconditionally condemned—the Philippine state, or the oligarchs that run it, have been the colonizers and therefore the aggressors in this tragic war, and that there can be no lasting peace for as long this colonization continues. –

Herbert Villalon Docena is a PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley who has conducted research on and in Mindanao.