The Miseducation of Young Bangsamoro

It all started in an online conversation with a well-meaning brother several weeks ago. The brother displayed on his social media the poster of an organized mass-based progressive group Anakbayan calling for a mass students walkout across the country as a protest against this current administration’s violence on vulnerable groups, taxation policies that will affect poor Filipinos, and the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao.

The poster, a call perhaps on an intersectional resistance against the fascist regime, bears the image of a hijabi as a representation of all the common tao resisting the Duterte government’s continued militarization in southern Philippines.

The well-meaning brother reposted Anakbayan’s publication material on his social media with his corrections highlighting the hijabi and then called on to the public to ask the organization to remove the veiled image from the poster; a call which obviously asking for Anakbayan to remove its poster from the public space. The reason for the call being that the poster was deemed to be culturally and religiously offensive to Muslims.

When Muslim women went to the status update and started to challenge the framing of Anakbayan poster, the discussion expanded and spaces were opened to more interesting perspectives from hijabis themselves.

Positions were challenged, arguments were clarified, and the interesting exchanges made the conversation on the issue more complex that if properly facilitated will definitely lead to several opportunities to discover new ideas and lenses to examine pressing cultural and religious issues in our communities.

The online debate, however, continued as a resident from Marawi entered the conversation thanking Anakbayan for speaking in behalf of them when most of the people and leaders kept their silence on the militarization in city and on the growing list of documented human rights violations during the military operations in Marawi last year. Unfortunately, the discussions were cut short when the post was removed from the public space.

The status update got my attention when it was shared by several friends from my circle. I seldom engage myself in public disagreements with fellow Muslims and I usually send an email or a message to make the conversations contained within our communities.

But we are living in a time that calls for a more public engagements since people’s lives are at stake and we are in a regime that while the Duterte government displaces indigenous people, murders peasants and activists, and the poorest sectors of our communities suffer from elitist economic policies the public cheers in reverence and blind admiration to a government that banks on its legitimacy as a false democratic institution to a populism of people’s ignorance and on the systematic state-sanctioned proliferation of fake news.

Re-reading the post and the reactions of some young Moros on the subtle framing of the issue as a religious discourse (that needed religious scholars instead of political discussions) was both an attempt to silence the dissent and a revelation of a deeper problem that we need to nip in the bud before it’s too late: that there is a growing number of young people sharing the Filipino elite’s burden that is the disdain to mass-based movements and organizations in country where the Filipino ruling class is composed of the landed oligarchy.

Disdain to organized mass movements

I am not an Anakbayan member but I have personal friends and colleagues who are active members of the group. There were several instances in the past that I got engaged in heated online debates with some members of the organization. The group was demonized by several administrations already and some of the members were harassed by military and police authorities.

But Anakbayan, true to its words, is a mass-based organized group composed of students, workers, progressive community organizers, and peasants – mga anak ng bayan (whether the bayan is the same as the banwa and the bangsa, I’ll explore this in another essay.)

But my real contention is this: What’s with the young, educated, urbanite, and professional Moros and their disdain to organized mass movements? This is not my first time to encounter that Islam and the tenets and virtues of Muslims are being utilized to either silence dissent or protect and champion the interests of the Filipino ruling class.

It was in the last national presidential election and in November 2016 that I encountered this seemingly maneuvered and consciously planned political strategy to control the language of the country’s Muslim population: when Bong Bong Marcos was running for the Vice Presidency post and Marcos was buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

In personal conversations and in the social media, there was the proliferation of “The children do not inherit the sins of their father” narrative as form of a spiel to dispel any criticisms against Duterte’s decision, in tandem with the Marcos family, in burying the remains of the former dictator at the Libingan ng mga Bayani: an attempt of this administration to rehabilitate the image of the family as they slowly returning back to power.

And what horrified me then were young Moros, leaders in their own communities and circles, educated and well-connected to the center and its networks and institutions, were the complicit drivers and peddlers of this narrative.

Are we creating a generation of Moros that would rather serve the interests of the Filipino elites and maintain the status quo than to continue the struggle to find the most desirable community for their people?

Are young Moros mimicking their generations of pale-faced spineless Filipinos who are educated but are ill-equipped to examine their own country in systems and structures, beyond political and showbiz personalities, their privileges, or can articulate the country’s struggle from the point-of-view of the masses and communities from the peripheries, beyond the official state narration of the nation?

How can we pin down this problem of elitism in our communities? Are we ready to face the consequences – Filipinos and Moros – of this project of creating a generation of young people who were told that their personal achievements in their education, in their professional careers, as government bureaucrats, and in their social and economic status will equate to as a contribution to the larger struggle that will benefit the most vulnerable members of the community?

Or, are we creating young Moros who are more Filipinos than the Filipinos who would rather keep their silence, fight tooth and nail to protect the status quo and their privileges, and follow orders from the ruling families that run their country since time it started to call itself a ‘nation-state’ of confidently ignorant Indios? Philippine history tells us that mimicry has its price in the end; we just need to patiently wait for that tragedy to come post-independence.

Miseducation: integration, counter-insurgency measure, or simply colonial education

Of course, the culprit is the educational system.

Nationalist historian Renato Constantino, in his 1966 essay ‘The Miseducation of the Filipinos’, demonstrated how education was used by the Filipinos’ former colonial master, the Americans, as a tool to pacify the citizens of the newly established republic and eventually introduce the colonialist agenda to the new subjects.

Constantino’s assertions rested on the fact that the American colonial masters used education as an instrument of warfare as “the most effective means of subjugating a people is to capture their minds.”

The narrative of the Bangsamoro struggle is the long centuries of resistance to foreign domination from all the colonial masters who attempted to subjugate the Bangsamoro people – from the Spaniards to the Filipinos. What makes then the Filipino education post-1968 catered to the young Moros different from the former colonial masters? Nobody dared to examine this and we are still waiting for younger generations of progressive and forward-thinking Moro intellectuals to raise the flag.

The Philippine government utilized education as a tool on integrating the Moros in the Filipino body politic. The Mindanao State University system was established in September 1, 1961 to provide young Moros access to knowledge and skills that will keep them abreast with their Filipino counterparts and as one of the interventions to the so-called ‘Mindanao problem’.

Scholarships were also provided by the Philippine Government to Moros who would like to study in Manila and in the country’s premier public universities. The University of the Philippines’ Institute of Islamic Studies was established by Marcos in 1973 to create ‘deeper understanding’ and ‘rapport’ between the University and the ‘Muslims of the Philippines’ – the word ‘Moro’ and ‘Bangsamoro’ then were still unknown perhaps in the vocabularies outside the military camps and bases. Nur Misuari, the chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front even received a UP education.

Was the Filipino education designed for the Moros successfully integrated the latter to the Filipino body politic? Was this kind of education created a generation of Moros that will continue the struggle for their people’s right to self-determination, or was it a tool to pacify Moros and the eventually create a generation of employees that will be beneficial to the labor force requirement of a domestic economy run by few families or the country’s labor export policy?

Or, to ask the most haunting Constantino question: Are we creating a knowledgeable and educated Moros, or ‘good Filipinos’?

The Other Suspects

Post 9/11 and the series of ‘all-out wars’ from the former Estrada and Macapagal-Arroyo administrations invited hundreds of nongovernmental organizations and foreign funding institutions to come to Muslim Mindanao to provide trainings, seminars and other interventions to young Moros with leadership potential.

Aside, of course, from the MSU system in Mindanao, which is a state apparatus, do you think these scholarship programs, extension trainings, youth camps, young leaders workshops and congresses, cultural exchanges, field trips, on-the-job trainings heavily offered post-9/11 in Muslim Mindanao by aid agencies or organizations with donors from aid agencies abroad created a generation of Moros as young leaders with a disdain to organized mass movements, purveyors of neocolonial and neoliberal economic and political ideologies, subservient to the institutional and bureaucratic demands of the Establishment?

One observation I can draw from several years of my interactions with the young leaders as products of these interventions is this: that there is that constant drive to reduce the narrative of the Bangsamoro struggle from a collective struggle for the right to self-determination to a mere expansion of civil liberties and access to privileges in Filipino institutions as a recurring theme of their advocacies.

On the surface, there is nothing wrong with this. But how long will this kind of ideology be essential in keeping a community that is more humane, tolerant, inclusive, and will provide equal access to all stakeholders? In the binary opposition of reform and revolution where can we locate the accountabilities of these young Moro leaders and their complicity to the power structure that narrates and convinces us at the same time that the Bangsamoro struggle has reached its end and we need to move forward to integration at the expense of their agency, the narratives of historical injustices, and the freedom of their people to chart their own destiny?

Rage against the machinery

The first step perhaps is to critically re-examine the history of the educational system as an intervention by the Philippine government for integration and pacification of the Bangsamoro. Obviously this initiative will not come from the side of the government but from the new generation of Moro intellectuals who are keen on locating the Bangsamoro struggle in the consciousness of the young generations of progressive and forward-thinking Moros.

For the progressive Filipinos on the other hand, it is their duty to expand spaces for more discussions, debates, and to engage the government and its activities and interventions to find a lasting peace in Mindanao.

Only a fool will believe that change is coming by keeping what has been there for so long. We can be at least a Filipino for a time; but we can’t be too Filipino all the time.

This essay was originally published in my column for Tingug.com

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