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  By Neric Acosta
September 2, 2008


(Special to the Business Mirror)


Turning and turning in
the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things call apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loose, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack conviction, while the worst
are full of passionate intensity.


In his “Second Coming,” the poet W. B. Yeats conjured rather ominous imagery of a world disintegrating around the end of the First World War.  “The centre cannot hold” depicts a sullen foreboding of havoc and destruction of Western civilization, with the fear of fascism or communism taking hold over Christian Europe.

Such evocative if dire words written almost a century ago still resonate in many places all over the world.  “The blood-dimmed tide is loose” – over the last century in the spread of nationalist, anti-colonial struggles, in Cold War proxy conflicts in Latin America, Asia and Africa, and global terrorism in the modern age.  And, for that matter, so-called irredentist, separatist or secessionist movements that persist within the formal boundaries of a nation-state.

For those of us who grew up in strife-torn regions like Mindanao, the specter of renewed violence and age-old ethnic and religious hostilities today depict yet again a “widening gyre.”  Another peace agreement that was supposed to have moved the country toward a new era of hope has ironically inflamed deep-seated prejudices and hatreds and set Mindanao on a warpath yet again.

The carving out of a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) encompassing over 700 barangays within an “ancestral domain” with vested rights to land, air and sea separate from what is a larger framework of national territory spooks many in now Christian-dominated, migrant-heavy communities all over Mindanao.  The dreaded “Ilagas” whose bloody encounters with Moro groups preceded the rise of a full-blown secessionist war in the early 1970s, are now said to be reqrouping.

Several Lumad communities, conveniently forgotten in this drawn-out discourse of self-determination, now clamor as well for their patch of ancestral earth.  Mindanao’s divides of tribe, ethnicity and faith will deepen; notwithstanding legitimate grievances and the rights enshrined in the Indigenous People’s Rights Act of 1995, such chasms of culture and identity might degenerate to “mere anarchy loosed upon the world.”

Mindanao’s already fragile “center” is made precarious as over 160,000 displaced people flee from their shell-shocked villages in Lanao and Maguindanao, and military troops consolidate to wage war anew.  A deposed former President, who once boasted that his jingoistic “all-out war” policy in 2000 decimated the ranks of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, exhorts the government to unleash the dogs of war again on a recalcitrant minority.

Local officials in Christian-dominated area rattle their sabers and warn of a republic on the verge of dismemberment.  Peace advocates and groups, who invested heavily in what now appears was a deeply flawed and nontransparent process are at a loss.  A Supreme Court dallies on reaching a categorical arbitration on a memorandum of agreement (MOA) that legal experts decry as an unconstitutional sell-out of “sovereignty” and “territorial integrity.”

Public opinion sees the intentions of the government and a sitting President, whose legitimacy remains questioned, as largely suspect – a peace process hijacked for self-seeking agendas.  The flag of peace is hoisted on a pole of constitutional change – to usher in legal justifications for term extensions and a protracted hold on official power.  Or worse, use the anticipated, if orchestrated, conflagration in Mindanao as a pretext for the consolidation of emergency rule.

There is cynicism all throughout and social trust is low; indeed, the “ceremony of innocence is drowned.”  Civil society quarters bemoan the lack of principle and trust, asking pointedly how serious this government is in waging peace and how much bad faith there has been in a process kept cryptic and largely hidden from the gaze of a free media.

In Mindanao’s three-decade-long saga of bitter contestation – over land and resources, over the reading of its history and the definition of various identities – Yeats’s words indict present and past leaders on warring sides:  “The best lack conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

In the fury that attends the MOA and the sweeping configuring of a BJE vis-à-vis the larger issue of state power and the motives to maintain a grip on such power, questions of process, institutions and social trust become pressing.

Is there a way we can extricate Mindanao and the country from a widening gyre?  Can we salvage a desecrated peace process in the context of a deeply distrusted government?  Will the hardening of sides and calls to avenge death and mayhem push reasoned debate and spaces for dialogue to the margins?  Is society headed toward a slippery slope of war-mongering and heightened Christian-Muslim animosities – making future initiatives for dialogue and negotiation even more difficult?

The country does not have the luxury of time, but there is urgent need for clear and deep thinking – and honest self-criticism – in policy circles and the echelons of leadership.  And for all communities to be integrally a part of the search for answers – to Mindanao’s peace and the country’s unfulfilled promise – where, perchance, “the falcon (does) hear the falconer.”

(Neric Acosta was Liberal Party congressman of Bukidnon from 1998 to 2007 and is now a professor at the Asian Institute of Management and the Ateneo de Manila Univesity.)


SOURCE:  Business Mirror, September 2, 2008.

  Copyright 2011 Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication