On the Basilan conflict

Posted: August 20, 2007 in All and Sundry, Musings, Random Observations, Rants, war

A friend from overseas asked me this afternoon over yahoo messenger, “How’s Mindanao?” and my immediate reaction was “It’s at war” then followed by a “at least a small part of Mindanao.” After saying those things I immediately said, “it’s relatively okay.” It took me a few seconds to keep myself from banging my head on the wall. My reactions were clearly a reflection of how mass media (NOT media in the general sense of th word because people, you should know the difference) has influenced my way of perceiving Mindanao. What a shame! Coming from me, it was something to be ashamed of.

Lest I be accused of sitting comfortably in my “ivory tower,” I’d like to say that I am deeply concerned about the growing conflict in Basilan as more government troops are being deployed to the area. This is, according to the country’s defense secretary, in order to “crush the abu sayyaff to smithereens” so that they could no longer wreak havoc in the country. Just tonight, reports say that the government will not stop until all the members of the rebel group are captured despite the increasing pleas from family’s of the dead soldiers to stop the war.

I have been to Basilan around four years ago and have seen how rich in resources the island is in contrast to how traumas of conflict are etched on the faces of its people. While its coastal area is rich and can be considered “pristine,” the coastal communities I went to suffered from extreme poverty. Even access to drinking water is difficult as villagers had to walk several miles to fetch water from the only water pump in the area. There were no baranggay health centers around. No decent school buildings.

But beneath the surface of poverty, the island is teeming with richness in culture and heritage. And I find it difficult to watch soldiers on TV romping around the place. It burdens me to even think about how the island and its residents can be a site for warring groups to serve their own selfish interests.

With the current events, how can Basilan even reclaim its untainted name? How can it spring back from the images of war attached to it, when its people’s attempts to slowly regain peace is thwarted?

What bothers me the most is how major TV networks are insidiously turning all these events into a circus, weaving a narrative to sell their stories. The discourse is clear: this is a story of vendetta. Bossi was kidnapped. Then soldiers were beheaded. Then the rest of the military vowed to put to justice all those responsible for the beheading. Then more soldiers died, and everything spirals into food blockades, IDs for civilians to differentiate them from rebels, more blood… As if the ID system can possibly prevent deaths!

Tonight, one reporter from a major network reported that (to translate) “the abu sayyaf have regrouped and have regained their strength,” without even bothering to mention or attribute the source of the information. As audience, your next question is “according to whom?” In the end, the reporter sounded like a spokesperson from the military–a so-called embedded journalist who failed to ensure balance peace reporting and fair comment.

And so here goes the pattern of perpetuating the discourse of the military. The reporter repeats the words like “tutugisin ang mga rebeldeng Muslim” in an act of unwittingly spreading the discourse of the military to justify the war, eventually influencing and shaping public opinion.

As for me, nothing can ever justify war. Not even rumored threats to National Security. Because if we peel the layers of meaning that comes with this discourse of terrorism and anti-terrorism, what stares back at us is the reality that somebody is earning and is getting filthy rich from our woes. And it is definitely NOT us.

*more about Basilan next time

  1. […] Wahid Akbar about growing up in Basilan. Leyahred’s me, myself & i on living in a war zone. Adam’s Reef laments the war in Basilan and criticizes the media: “Beneath the surface of poverty, the island […]

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