Can Peace be Achieved? (A Polsci 100 Reflection Paper)

Before one can reflect on whether peace can be achieved within President Aquino’s term, a proper definition of “peace” and its prerequisites must first be determined. This paper, then, shall briefly begin with a reflection on peace in general, then with an analysis (not the definitive analysis) of the Philippine situation, before going on to the main question, that is, whether this peace can be realized in the current administration, or if at all.

What we commonly understand as peace is an absence of violent events, usually accompanied by prosperity and overall happiness. And, despite the statement, “peace is not merely the absence of war,” this common understanding nonetheless is an indicator of peace. The above situation implies that conflicts are either non-existent, or, more realistically, resolved within excellent institutions that can reach satisfactory pronouncements for both opposing parties. And if all parties in such a society are able to settle conflicts and negate the causes for new ones, it is because they have reached a co-understanding, a mutual respect of their rights and persons without overstepping boundaries and exploiting the other’s interests—in a word, the society is just. Hence, “Only justice can bring peace.”

Philippine society, it has been said, has been anything but a just one. And if this is so, it is because injustices, unwittingly or maliciously, have been perpetuated throughout its history. And these injustices perhaps may be summed in two ideas, namely, “land” and “tribe.”

The first stems from the early Spanish era in the Philippines, when the colonizer, adhering to the feudal system then existing (though it was beginning to decline) in Europe, gave the land—the primary means of production—to the local chief, the datu. This marked the end of the communal ownership system in the archipelago, creating the first sharp divide between the landed and the landless, the rich and the poor. And the rich have sought, naturally, to maintain their land, and then their capital. Having been, from the first, among the local leaders, with ties to the colonial government, they have used their political power to keep their wealth. The landless they have viewed as mere labor, if not a threat, and so have been contemptuous and distrustful of them, building high walls over their lands and hiring private armies for their protection. On the other hand, the landless have grown resentful and hungry, and in their weakness before the structures of society, they have the landed for all of their misfortunes, rightly or not. And so they raise their pitchforks and torches and plunge the countryside into rebellion.

But the second problem, “tribe,” has been existent even in pre-colonial society. The Philippine nation, one may say, is a Spanish creation: prior to Legazpi’s governorship of the entire archipelago there was no unified sate, but rather, hundreds of small scattered villages, the barangays—and neighboring settlements were frequently at war with each other. And even after the conquista, and perhaps also aggravated by the divide et impera policy, the clannish tendencies have also extended to regionalism: the Tagalog is at odds with the Cebuano, the Tondo residents distrust the Caviteño, the peoples in Basilan and Sulu (who only happen to be Muslim-dominated, and have historically resisted Spain rule) feel that they are being usurped by the northerners (who only happen to be Christians), and so on. And even today we see the micro-level counterpart, clannishness, occurring in our society. Families compete for power especially in the political arena. One is expected to put the clan’s interest even before duty to the State. In short, we Filipinos have remained an intolerant people, unable to reconcile our differences, indeed unable to see each other, as well as foreigners, eye to eye, with non-judgmental eyes.

Throughout this paper it has been implied that the obstacles to peace in our country are rooted in a history, a tradition—and that which is so deeply rooted cannot be so quickly uprooted. Our government, our society, and our very individuals have been so sunk in the mire of “land” and “tribe” that a single and isolated thrust, however strong, may not be enough to get us out. And the Aquino administration, despite its promises to walk the straight path of honesty and justice, have so far made, at best, baby steps. If anything, the long and winding conclusion of the Vizconde massacre (and even now the true culprit, whoever he may be, is not behind bars), the lack of adequate resolution to the Maguindanao massacre and the hostage incident, and the unanswered Hacienda Luisita question are indicators of our government’s frailty. On the other side, our people’s exaggerated expectations, our inability to get past our differences and engage in a concerted action, and even our inability to obey traffic rules and throw our waste properly show just how perverted we have become as a society and as individuals.

This is not to say that peace cannot be achieved. Even the deepest of roots can be shaken: our history tells us that even during the early Spanish era the missionaries have converted much of the entire archipelago to the Christian religion, and one may say that, given hundreds of years of paganism, this is nothing short of a miracle. True, even now paganic influences still abound. But, just as Christianity has taken the heart of the greater part of the Filipino people, so one can hope that other things so steeped in our history can also pass away. It is very much possible for justice to take root, if the government and the individual both work together. This is a very vague notion, and yet we have seen one or two thrusts in that direction. Gawad Kalinga, Bayan Mo Ipatrol Mo, the government’s willingness to pursue peace talks with the NPA and the MILF… these by themselves do not seem to achieve much, but perhaps even these baby steps are going in the right direction. We must let the process happen in its own time: maybe all this will come to fruition in President Aquino’s term; maybe not. But it only remains for us to hope (and “to hope” means much more than “to wish passively”) in our good people, and perhaps also in one bigger than ourselves—and then it might just happen.

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