Insurgency, Complexity and the Moro Problem (Part 2 of 3)

Photo AmilA return to normal times?

In the thinking of government, their task is to bring “normalisation” or a return to “normality”.  Their idea of “normal times” is that  government “controls” this complex environment. That government has the monopoly of force. That government enforces law. There is peace and order. Basic services are delivered to the people. That government renders justice. That government is seen as “legitimate”. Overall, that the government is seen as the neutral and impartial arbiter of competing interests. That is government’s idea. Obviously, this is not the case in the conflict-affected areas of Mindanao. In the perception of the Moro, the Philippine Government is seen as a “foreign” government. It is not their government. The feeling of the Moro is that they are governed by people other than their own. And when one is government by people other than your own, resistance is a duty. Thus, government must see itself is a major part of the problem.

This however is not a cause for despair though because historically there never has been a “normal time”. The Americans, and the Spaniards before the Filipino government, has tried and failed to “control” this contested political space. The Philippine Government never, at any time, fully “subjugated” these areas. There never has been a “normal” time.

Uncertainty, time lags and non-linearity.
Since Mindanao is a complex system, it important for everyone working in this theater of Mindanao to see the situation in a “complex system” way – that is – to see the whole and how it is emerging via the interactions and decisions of the multiple weak agents who have no monopoly over power but can influence the outcomes within the complex environment.

Three things important things to remember if one is operating in a complex situation. These are uncertainty, time lags and non-linearity. A word on each.

“Uncertainty”. There is a measure of unpredictability in the context. An example would be the Maguindanao massacre. Nobody predicted such event to happen. By hindsight, of course, one can say that it was inevitable because of the interactions and decisions of different actors, both local and national, which lead the Ampatuans amassing more money, more guns and more political power than anyone else in Maguindanao. It is of course no a secret that the Ampatuans were used against the MILF. It was really unexpected.

“Time lags”. There will always be a gap in time between input and the consequent result or output. For example, failure to deliver quality education today to young muslims, if such continues to be unchecked will most likely increase the cohort of possible insurgents in 10 years. But since it is too far in the future, education or national officials does not see the perils of the failure of education today. On the other hand, delivery of education services today may also lead to increased insurgency because of the frustration that comes at the end of education – knowing that there are no jobs or livelihood opportunities for them at all.

“Non-linearity”. Input does not equal output. There will be unintended consequences of what could otherwise have been a straightforward solution to problems. For example, the pursuit of private armed groups after the Maguindanao massacre event would have logically brought down the level of violence. But it did not. Why? because the unintended consequence of “dismantling” the private armed groups converted such groups to leaderless, formless networks consisting of armed men who still needed to feed their families. Once we cut off the support given by their patrons, they had to find new sources of livelihood and since their skill sets were limited to the “war economy”, they are now in the employ of traditional politicians, or even of insurgent groups, like the MILF. This is an example of an unintended consequence, of non-linearity. (To be continued)

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