Yesterday I attended a roundtable discussion on “Framing the conflict in Mindanao” jointly sponsored by the Ateneo School of Government and the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies with the support of the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).
The roundtable featured 2 papers: one by Abhoud Syed Lingga entitled “The Assertions of Sovereignty and the Right to Self-Determination: The Philippine-Bangsamoro Conflict” and the other by B. Rudy Rodil on “Achieving Peace and Justice in Mindanao thru Tri-People Approach.
A word about “frames”. Frames are the
…mental structures that allow human beings to understand reality—and sometimes to create what we take to be reality.
Political framing is really applied cognitive science. Frames facilitate our most basic interactions with the world—they structure our ideas and concepts, they shape the way we reason, and they even impact how we perceive and how we act. For the most part, our use of frames is unconscious and automatic—we use them without realizing it.
Erving Goffman, the distinguished sociologist, was one of the first to notice frames and the way they structure our interactions with the world. Goffman studied institutions, like hospitals and casinos, and conventionalized social behavior, like dating and shopping. He found something quite remarkable: Social institutions and situations are shaped by mental structures (frames), which then determine how we behave in those institutions and situations.
To describe this phenomenon, he used the metaphor of “life as a play.” For instance, consider the hospital frame, with its clearly defined roles: doctor, surgeon, nurse, orderly, patient, visitor, receptionist, janitor, and so on. There are locations where scenes play out: the operating room, the emergency room, the recovery room, the waiting area, and patient rooms. There are props: the operating table, scalpels, bandages, wheelchairs, and so on. And there are conventional actions: operations, taking temperature and blood pressure, checking charts, emptying bedpans, and so on.” (Source: Frames and Brains, http://www. rockridgeinstitute.org)
The frame gives consistency, logic and shape to how one will view reality. It is very important then that one makes conscious the “frame” that he or she is under since most of the time, these frames are unconscious, automatic and accepted as true without question.
Applied to the problem of Mindanao, the “frame” is the internal narrative, the story that shapes how one views the problem, determines the basket of probable solutions and provides the emotions to one’s engagement.
The importance of understanding frames.
It is very important to understand the “frames” – one’s own and that of other parties in a conflict. If one seeks to make or build peace, the first act must be to understand the “frame”, the “worldview”, the “stories” and to hear the “voice” of the other. Before one can even think about the possible solutions or the strategies to employ in order to “defeat the enemy”, one must understand the “enemy”. The most difficult thing is to see and listen. We are so full of our our “frame” – our biases, prejudices, theories and traumas – that we fail in that very basic human operation: to listen and to listen intently.
The Frame of the Bangsamoro People according to Abhoud Syed Lingga
Abhoud looks at the Mindanao conflict from the frame of the struggle and resistance of the Bangsamoro people from the domination and colonization of the Philippine State. Thus, he stated:
The conflict between the Philippine Government and the Bangsamoro People is rooted in the assertion of the Government of its sovereignty and the assertion of the Bangsamoro People to exercise their right of self-determination.
Thus, for him, the Bangsamoro people
…see the problem in a different perspective. They want to exercise their right to self-determination but the Central Government does not allow them. They (The Bangsamoro people) tried to use peaceful and democratic means but to no avail. When they resorted to armed struggle to defend their communities from military incursions, the toll on human lives and properties have been heavy on both the Bangsamoro (people) and the Government. [Emphasis mine]
In sum, the “Mindanao conflict” is about the Bangsamoro people’s resistance and struggle to defend their ummah, their way of life, their faith and their sovereignty as a people from the very powerful, very dominant Philippine State.
The Bangsamoro’s “frame”, his mental structure is resistance and struggle. It is resistance and struggle that provides the narrative, the logic, the emotion, the justification of the conflict.
The “frame” of resistance and struggle immediately defines the roles in the play (freedom fighters, infidels, colonizers, outsiders, local corrupt puppets, sympathizers, fence-sitters, etc.), the locations where the scenes play out (the marshes of Maguindanao, in Lanao, in Sulu, etc.), the props used (military uniforms, insignias, guns, knives, religious symbols, etc.), conventional actions (war, peace negotiations, neutral third parties, ambuscades, attacks on communities, etc). And perhaps, more importantly, resistance and struggle provides the over-arching intangibles: justification, self-sacrifice, self-renunciation, and redemption.
(Next: The Frame of Non-Moro Peacemaker: B. Rudy Rodil)