I write better when I smoke. Don’t ask me to reduce it to a science.


I was all het up about that whole Bangsamoro Juridical Entity idiocy; just like everyone else, I suppose. And just like everyone else, I was all about Philippine sovereignty, and and multi-culturalism, and not giving in to bandits.

But then I gave it some thought, and i realized all my anger wasn’t really achieving anything. I’m no shaper of public opinion; i’m no politician – hell, for all my influence on the course of national life, i might just as well be a fly on the wall. Once I realized how little I could affect things, all my passion for this debate just sorta drained out of me.

And then I spent the weekend in Cotabato.

The place was crawling with soldiers. Every fifteen minutes, a huge armored personnel carrier would come rumbling down Sinsuat Avenue, followed by trucks laden with soldiers in camouflage fatigues, all toting M-whatevers, looking all grim and distant. It was a faintly disturbing sight, every single time.

It was there that I experienced an epiphany. Watching the soldiers drive past, I suddenly realized that this latest secessionist spasm we’re undergoing is actually inevitable – the product of the fact that we are not a nation; a nation here defined as a form of self-defined cultural and social community.


Personally, I feel no strong kinship with the Muslims of the South, except in the most tenuous and strictly intellectual of terms. I am not a Muslim; I do not understand, much less accept many Islamic tenets – including the taboo against pork; and I have no ancestral roots in the South.

Come to that, neither do i feel kinship with the Ilocanos of the North, nor even the Visayans. About the only group I actually feel any cultural and social identity with is the Hiligaynon, and we’re mostly in Bacolod, Iloilo, and Guimaras. I’ve met Ilonggos from Cotabato, but even they feel sort of alien to me. And I don’t even feel Chinese.

And because we are not a nation (we’re a country, certainly, but that’s not the same thing), it is fairly difficult to sustain outrage at the possibility of the rise of the BJE. Intellectually, I rage against it for the sake of the concept of a sovereign country, but there is no personal affront. And when there is no outrage at the personal level, how long can you actually go ignoring the arguments in favor of the creation of a BJE. I mean, think about it. It’s like Israel.

Israel, most people believe by default, is the perennial target for victimization by terrorist Arabic states. What most people forget is that Israelis were actually the very first terrorists. Hell, they created the modern concept of terrorism back when they were blowing up buildings to agitate for the creation of their Zionist state. So, it follows that if we were to be objective about it, if a Zionist state was able to build up international legitimacy despite its terrorist birth, then an Islamic state carved out of an existing country has every right to look forward to a similar future.

Do Filipinos feel as strongly about our cultural identity as the Zionists? As the Moros? I strongly doubt it.

We are a country cobbled together by the chains of colonialism. Pre-Magellan, the people inhabiting the various islands were a fractious lot, fighting among themselves yet still mutually acknowledging each other’s kingdoms. When the Spaniards came, they conquered each of these separate kingdoms and united them under the Spanish crown. That didn’t make us a nation, anymore than stringing tiny pearls into a single strand creates one large pearl. There is even less reason to presume that the Moros can form part of this string of pearls since the Spaniards were never able to truly colonize Mindanao.

As Leon Ma. Guerrero proposed, Jose Rizal may well have been the First Filipino because he was the first one to conceive of the various ‘tribes’ of Pampangos and Tagalogs and what-not as one Nation – the Filipino Nation. And of course, the Moros still remained outside even the nebulous conglomeration.

But just because one guy dreamed it up, doesn’t necessarily make it reality. In fact, the whole concept of Nation prolly lived in glory only in Rizal’s head. Bonifacio certainly didn’t see it that way. Everyone else likely took Rizal’s notion and simply used it as a means of galvanizing public support for the revolution against the Spaniards. Which was ironic because the originator of the concept – Rizal – didn’t even want independence; he wanted equal status as a subject of the Spanish crown.

But there it was, the concept of Nation used – primarily by peoples outside Mindanao – as a tool to gather strength for the Revolution. And when the Revolution failed – failed because we didn’t kick out the Spaniards. The Americans did – the patina of Nation simply was coopted into the fight to kick out the Americans. But that failed too. And so we were left with the concept and, I would suppose in a kind of collective defense mechanism, convinced ourselves that we believed in it. Y’see, we prolly instinctively understood that if we dropped the idea, then we would be more easily assimilated by the Americans. As it was, by maintaining the charade of Nation, we were able to continue agitating for relief from the colonial yoke.

The Moros on the other hand, remained outside the Nation construct. They just had the misfortune of being militarily overmatched by the Americans, and so were brought into the fold of what the Americans considered the Philippine colony.

But deep down, we remained Pampangos, and Ilokanos, and Moros, and so on. And, surprise surprise, that’s still where we are now. Is it any wonder then that the Moros – who never consented to the concept of Nation that everyone else agreed to – should want out? Like I said, inevitable.

We non-Moros bought into the fiction of Nation; and we still do. It’s gotten so ingrained in us that we insist we are one nation even as we remain xenophobic about other regionals. Ilocanos and Ilonggos are said to be natural enemies; Tagalogs constantly make fun of Visayans; and Visayans are deeply resentful over the primacy of Manila. This insistence that we are one nation, I believe, underlies the resistance to the idea of a separate Moro state.

The Moros, on the other hand, never swallowed the concept of nation, and so have no qualms about not calling themselves Filipinos. For them, Filipino is a meaningless word. It would be for us too, if we could just acknowledge that the whole idea of Nation was simply a defensive tactic and has not actually taken root. For multi-culturalism to work, there is required what i call a base culture. A commonly held set of cultural values and beliefs that everyone can agree on.

In the US – the best example of multi-culturalism I can think of – that base culture is described as the “American Dream;” the idea that hard work will bring prosperity regardless of race, belief, or religion. The existence of the American Dream as a concept leaves more than adequate room for various cultures to survive next to each other. Italians pursue the Dream their way, as do the African Americans, as do the Asians and so on. They each do things differently, but the goal remains the same: material prosperity.

Do we have that? Do we have a similar idea that we can all aspire to? I say we do not. If we’re being very frank about it, all we have is the idea that we are a nation. But that is an idea that has no foundation in anything; it is a bare declaration, arising from romantic notions and idealized politics. We say Nation on an intellectual level, but there is no resonance in the gut.

But the Moros, the Moros feel in their gut that they are separate from the rest of us. Their history and culture demand that they be considered separate from the rest of us. How can we righteously deny them that when for them, it isn’t just an intellectual exercise or politics?

More to the point, how can we deny them their inevitable hunger for self-determination?


We are now living in the age of country-states: geographical territories, whose inhabitants accede to a legitimized administrative and decision-making institution known as the government. I think that the future will see the rise of Nation-states: self-defined cultural and social communities that feature a legitimized administrative and decision making government.

That is, if existing country-states are able to let go of chunks of their population who consider themselves Nations. In a sense, a federal form of government is a half-way step to this future. In some places, like the US, federalism works. But in others, federalism will simply be a way-station towards the eventual rise of Nation-states.

In the sense that nation-states (as i define it, anyway) resemble huge tribes, the future I’m envisioning will represent coming full circle. Tribes eventually became city-states, which eventually banded together for common benefit thereby subjugating nation-identity becoming countries. And now, countries are slowly breaking apart again from pressures brought to bear by nation-identities reasserting themselves, leading to a return to the old paradigm of co-extant tribal states, only this time, super-sized to nation-states.

Of course, we’re a long way off from that future.

Over in Filipino Voices, Nick writes:

Just because there exist a marginalized people, we cannot abandon them, nor do we abandon the goal of caring and providing for these people. It’s the same argument with the poor and the least of our brethren, who have become marginalized, because they lack the political power in our government, our goal is the same nonetheless, to bring them into the fold, to provide adequate care, to provide freedom from oppression, both economic and political. We don’t create a homeland for the poor, nor should we create a homeland for the Bangsamoro people. We should think of ways, and solutions, to bring unity, not separation.

Sounds to me like the white man’s burden.

Who said that giving the Moros their homeland is tantamount to abandoning them? In fact, who says that they need help? Or that non-Moros should be the source of that aid? I think they should be given the chance to fend for themselves. In any case, can we not let the Bangsamoro free, and give them aid anyway? Sure they are impoverished. But they are a nation. At some point, they will overcome. It is, I think, wrong to assume that these people cannot help themselves if they are not part of the Philippines; just as it was heinous for the Americans to think that the Filipinos would not survive unless we were colonized.

This is precisely the key blockage that will prevent country-states from acknowledging Nations within their existing territorial boundaries. And it goes both ways too. Country-states will be leery of giving Nations independence out of fear of losing resources. In this BJE flap, isn’t one of the main sticking points that the BJE will be given control over natural resources?


Filed under: musings, politics, ,

6 Responses

  1. BrianB says:

    Wow, even with all its flaws, it’s a great post ROM. Very honest. Of course, we are not used to the realpolitik thinking of Americans, but we want Mindanao intact because we don’t want an enemy country so close to us. If some parts of Mindanao seceded we will have no assurances and no means to assure ourselves that these “people” will not be attacking us when they become capable. At any rate, the secessionist feelings have a root cause, and that is the neglect of the central government. That is the real reason here. If we allow this secession, what will stop, say, Palawan from seceding as well?

    BTW, most nations are “charades” of nationalism. But you did pointed out the Philippines as idea. Well, that idea has been LAW for a long time. Think about it. LAW matters still.

  2. BrianB says:

    Oh ROM, the Ilonggos are bisayas. We’re the original. We can trace our blood from a Visayan tribe from Indonesia. Now, they’re in Borneo. Just take a look at their facial features and fair complexion:

  3. In this BJE flap, isn’t one of the main sticking points that the BJE will be given control over natural resources?

    considering what RP has to lose, no bloody wonder.

    same goes for US and Malaysian involvement.

  4. Bencard says:

    great post indeed, rom. how can you whip up such a scholarly treatise in a jiffy? now i know why you were not here for a few days.

    i cannot ignore the realities you mentioned. but i believe in nationhood and, i think, most filipinos do. we may hear and talk about petty regionalism and ethnocentrism but i see that, for the most part, everyone born in our country, except perhaps most of the muslims in mindanao, consider themselves as one people, one nation, living in a defined country with one government, under one constitution and one set of laws and legal system.

    i am a bicolano, with pangasinan and ilocano ancestry, who speaks tagalog, and married to a kapampangan. i can say, without fear of contradiction, that most current inhabitants of the philippines are in similar situation. it maybe that our ancestors up to the second or third generations had their uncompromising ethnic prejudices and sense of exclusivity. but this is 2008. if we have not been thoroughly assimilated into one distinct nation, we may never be.

    i think its a function of the family, among other things. the seeds of prejudice is planted, fostered and nurtured in the family. an impressionable child is vulnerable to models of discrimination, bias, judgmental behavior and, unless corrected by true education, could be carried well into adulthood. then the cycle goes on ad infinitum.

    i hope you’re wrong that humankind will retrogress to the ways of the ancients with respect to city states, formed along racial/ethnic lines, where power emanates from the effectiveness of its weaponry. but then again, we had our chance to live as one, in peace.

  5. […] person contests, an interpretation of history, everyone has to acknowledge that what matters is what the majority subscribes to. I’ve pointed to the dominant narrative in Some readings on Mindanao, and that dominant […]

  6. […] person contests, an interpretation of history, everyone has to acknowledge that what matters is what the majority subscribes to. I’ve pointed to the dominant narrative in Some readings on Mindanao, and that dominant […]

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