Johan Galtung’s comments on the Philippine internal conflicts

(Prelude: Last week, in yet another roundtable on the Mindanao problem, I chanced upon a good friend from way, way back, Cesar Villanueva of Pax Christi and Transcend Philippines. Seeing Cesar, I was immediately reminded of the observations of  Johan Galtung on the conflicts in the Philippines. When I reached home, I searched for that file of that speech of Galtung made in February 2009. Here it is. Such a gem, such insight. Reading it again, after over two years, one can sense how things have changed and how things have also fundamentally remained same.)


(Johan Galtung)

The comments heard about the vertical peace process dialogues between the Government panels and the parties for social change in class and nation relations are: limbo, paralyzed, no prospects, stuck, insincere, broken, not implemented. And yet the parties are mesmerized by the process and want to get unstuck. How?

The key positions of the parties, lifting the most needy out of misery, and some autonomy for the bangsamoro nation (the Muslims + in Mindanao who arrived long before today’s Christian majority) are anchored in the basic human needs and rights for well-being, and for identity. But the government of a modern state has other priorities than the basic needs of the citizens.

Modernity is a secular version of the traditional rule of the rex gratia dei, a King by the grace of an omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient God. The State became the carrier of omnipotence, the Market of omnipresence and Science of omniscience. The top priority became monopoly on force against any armed resistance, a unitary state against other power centers, and power growth. The second priority became a unified market within the state and economic growth, seeing poverty as the root cause and economic growth as the remedy for most social problems. And the third became rationality, and scientific growth as opposed to religion.

This sets the stage for failure. Poverty is not the cause. Inequity —I am poor because they are rich — is. And repression — I want to be ruled by my own kind however imperfect but am ruled by somebody else – is. The issues of equity and autonomy have to be solved to bring about an equitable and sustainable peace. The road to disarmament –demobilization-reintegration (DDR), reconciliation and development passes through solution, not vice versa. Putting the cart before the horse aims at pacification, not peace-building.

Rule of Law, Primacy of Constitution, Sovereignty, Territorial Integrity and National Unity matter, but Universal Human Rights matter more. Laws can be changed, constitutions can be amended ( cfr the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art 28 ), state  sovereignty is shrinking in a regionalizing and globalizing  world, subsidiarity- autonomy-federalism strengthen territorial integrity against independence, and the Philippines has at least three nations (Christians, the bangsamoro, the non-Islamic Indigenous, and more languages beyond English and Tagalog). But State Unity, and shared Filipino Citizenship, make sense.

 A government would tend to privilege DDR, and if necessary go for “a war of rapid conclusion”, Sri Lanka style. Military victory in a war will be confused with conflict solution. For the parties engaged in centuries long struggles it is only a lost battle, and the struggle continues fed with more bitterness and determination.

If disarmament is achieved root issues may be left unattended. A government is many-headed. A signed panels MOA may be blocked by executive power higher up (including the military), by the legislative powers (senators and local representatives) seeing their power curtailed, by judiciary power (the Supreme Court) declaring a MOA unconstitutional, by a referendum with majorities neither in misery nor moro, or by the international community (eg., the US and other embassies) listing parties as “terrorist”.

This is today Philippine reality. The conclusion is not that a governmental panel is insincere but that there are more parties involved. The same applies to the non-governmental side of the class and nation issues , today left unsolved, making that rich –in natural and human resources – country, so much less than it could be, running around in a process that is none. This shows up in the division into more parties, also because of issue complexity.

 Here are some points about getting the peace process unstuck:

[1.] Get out of the verticality and the limitation to two parties (fatal in Israel-Palestine and Sri Lanka) into multi-party, multi-channel and horizontal dialogues. Issues my be related and better served by round table dialogues all over the country.

[2.] Ask the people for advice, for instance by essay contests in schools and dialogues all over on “The Republic of the Philippines I would like to live in” , aiming at creativity, not consensus.

[3.] Aim at compelling images of future solutions, not only verbal agreements drawing on the Spanish-Roman Law tradition.

[4.] Let hundreds of peace zones, social experiments in equity and harmony etc blossom, gain experience, public and inspiring, more drawing on US style pragmatism. Mas hechos, menos  pactos.

[5.] The Government should be unpackaged, placing arguments on the table for open dialogue, including the arguments of certain foreign powers, not as backdoor politics.

[6.] The class struggle parties, while keeping the governmental channel open, start exploring with other parties, for instance

  • openings for middle men who may be  losers under marketing from cooperatives to consumers, for fair prices to the producers;
  • the Millennium Development Goals, MDG, are basic needs oriented, aiming at lifting the bottom up—but it should be remembered that the issue is not only to take away poverty but also injustice.
  • those high up who feel threatened that if those lower down come up “ they will treat us like we treated them” to design non-threatening social and economic strategies;
  • fair distribution keys for the proceeds from mining and minerals between local communities, regions and the state (cfr Art 1 of the Human Rights Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights).

[7.] The nation struggle parties, while keeping the governmental channel open, start exploring

* directly with the Christians—with whom the Moros will continue to live together–equitable and sustainable forms of co-existence like above as examples, in no way an exhaustive list.

** economic cooperation, such as joint enterprises;

**military cooperation, such as joint patrolling-peacekeeping;

**cultural cooperation, such as ecumenical work, mutual religious learning, joint worship, joint religious texts acceptable to both, revised history books acceptable to both, and- or leaving contentious issues to the judgment of the readers;

 **  political cooperation, such as joint decision-making in neighboring autonomies, subsidiarity and the varieties of federal options combined with sharing power in the Center;

* with groups in Indonesia for a possible formal or informal Indo- Fil condominium over islands between the two countries;

* with ASEAN (5 Buddhist, 3 Muslim, 1 Confucian and 1 Catholic member) for observer status and aseanization of some of the issues;

* with  OIC (56 members) for associate membership;

* with former sultanates from Aceh-Pattani to Mindanao for ways of blowing new life into a historically important archipelago.

* with all of the above formal or informal consulates representing the bangsamoro, not embassies, that is for the State.

And all of the above in the Islamic dar-al-ahd tradition, not dividing the world in a dar-al-harb and dar-al-Islam only.

And  all of the above in the gandhian spirit of being the future you want to see, not only waiting for an agreement to give a legally binding shape, with very many if often very small steps.

And keeping in mind that along the road traveled so far there are traumatized masses, including the displaced persons, downtrodden minorities and others – in  need of the consolation of reconciliation and the inclusion religion offers so much better than scientific rationality—learning from the Australian model.

And upholding the dignity of each person created in the image of God who deems the peacemakers blessed as they reflect His character.

(Johan Galtung, 13 February 2009)


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