Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Level of Awareness: Why Expats Need to Keep Up With Local Current Events

As a permanent resident in the Philippines, I try to stay informed about political events in this country, even though I'm a non-citizen and can't vote or otherwise directly participate in civic matters. But politics is a popular topic of discussion in the Philippines; so it's important to be conversant on these matters.  One way to stay on top of things here is via the  local daily newspapers. Personally, my favorite broadsheets  are the "Philippine Daily Inquirer" and "The "Philippine Star". Their coverage of news and of socioeconomic and political analysis is comprehensive, and their columnists in the opinion section offer excellent analyses of these events.

One of the major news stories that I've been following in these journals is the slaughter on Jan. 25 of 44 police commandos who were ambushed by hostile Moro forces while trying to capture two notorious terrorists hiding in the latter's midst.  In the course of the gun battle one of the fugitives was killed and the other escaped.This incident took place in Mamasapanto, Maguindanao, which is in the southern part of the Philippines (Mindanao). This island has been a hotspot of unrest and rebellion for hundreds of years,   carried out by the Muslim majority (Moros) of that region.  As separatists they've never fully integrated into Philippine society. Thus they feel little if any allegiance to the  Philippine  central government and would likely try to secede from the country if given the opportunity. As will be seen below, that scenario may yet come to pass.

Since the 1960's the rebels have stepped up their hostilities   In an effort to pacify them,  the Philippine government has worked out  with the  MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front)  leaders in that region an agreement known as the BBL (Basic Bangsamoro Law) and which is now under deliberation by the Philippine Congress and by their MILF counterparts.  This arrangement would increase the scope of Muslim self rule in that area  presently called the ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao), which itself came about as a territorial concession that the government granted in a previous deal years ago. The new treaty would in effect make this area a state within a state. Due to this and other  questionable provisions, the BBL may  violate the Philippine Constitutional. But  rather than change the terms of the BBL to fit that charter, there is a movement to amend the Constitution to fit the BBL. Talk about the tail wagging the dog!

And come to think of it, the BBL is reminiscent of another government plan in  2008 called the Bangsamoro Juridicial Entity which would have also given away the store to the Moros.  But fortunately the BJE was nixed by the Philippine Supreme Court.  So by going down that same road, again the BBL offer demonstrates how intent (some might say desperate) the government is to stabilize that region.

But can the MILF be trusted? Initially, the Philippines signed a peace treaty in the 1996 with a rebel movement known  as the MNLF, (Moro National Liberation Front). In turn the MILF itself is a breakaway faction from the MNLF and has supplanted the latter. And even though the MILF is conducting negotiations with the  government, it readily acknowledges itself as still being a revolutionary movement.

To add to the mix, now there is a breakaway  splinter group from the MILF called the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) which claims responsibility for the attack on the commandos. Yet as the result of family ties, there is an affinity between these two factions.And Maguindanao is not only a volatile locale in terms of its relations with the Philippine central government. There are also continual feuds and outbreaks of violence among the various tribes and powerful families there, one of which in 2009 resulted in another massacre. That one took the lives of 57 civilians.

So if the BBL becomes law, whether it will really improve the relationship between the Moros and the Philippine government is questionable.As noted above, previous such agreements which were hailed as breakthroughs have in the end fallen through instead usually because of bad faith by the Moro rebels. With the additional powers that the BBL would grant them,  the next step in terms of any further demands by the rebels may be the ultimate one: total independence from the Philippines.

So there we have it:  a news event that includes some of the politics, culture, and history of this country. The more that we as expats  know about this and other issues going on around us whether they are at the barangay, municipal, or national government level, not only can we then discuss these issues intelligently with the citizenry, but  importantly, the more we can also understand local culture. In turn this will facilitate our adjusting to life in the Philippines accordingly. .