Soyez Realistes (Be Realistic)

Recently, a student political organization at the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) was called out on social media for misquoting an article by a faculty member of UP Cebu in the organization’s official statement about the recent attack on the Haran evacuation center. ADDU’s PIGLASAPAT took down their statement and apologized to Prof. Regletto Imbong after the latter posted on both Facebook and Twitter about what he called as a ‘misrepresentation’ of his study, or “at worst, a lack of genuine scholarship.”

Now, I am not personally familiar with either PIGLASAPAT or Prof. Imbong, and have followed the issue from some distance. As for Prof. Imbong’s reaction, I can understand how it can be annoying at the least, and infuriating at worse when your carefully crafted claims get used in ways you don’t intend for them to be. But that is always a possible outcome when you put your ideas out there. In the unfortunate event that this does happen, unless the offending usage is a complete mangling of the cited author’s intent in order to argue for the opposite, or unless we are convinced that the offending party is “lying in the guise of truth” (when a fact or a truth is used deceptively), it is important to be just as sober and measured in our response as we are with the articles that we put out there in the first place. In this case, these are students after all. While for me they will definitely incur deductions in points for the poor usage of the cited reference, whether they deserve to fail or not will depend on the overall work, of course.

The statement, for me, isn’t the most perfect in the history of the universe. The way I read it there are two weak points (that can nevertheless be discussed in a manner that can be beneficial to those concerned). First, I’m not such a huge fan of ‘calling for more research’ (and lumad leader Bai Bibiaon agrees, see here). Why? Because this call as such and delinked from other human ends, may just translate to puerile pursuits of cognitive enjoyments – after all, at what point can you actually say that you know everything you need to know? This in turn could inhibit mature political engagement, and so this is not the best “cornerstone” call in a political statement. But on the other hand, this is not unexpected from an organization which, being comprised of students and moving about in a university, appears to give much weight to intellectual endeavors.

Second – and this appears to be the bone of contention here – the statement depicted the lumad as having been caught in the middle of, and thus victimized by, armed conflict between the Philippine government and belligerent groups (specifically mentioning Muslim secessionists and the New People’s Army or NPA). Prof. Imbong has made it clear that citing him here to make this particular point is erroneous. He emphasizes that it is “militarization” and “state violence” that have “caused these massive displacements.”

On this particular point I agree with Prof. Imbong that we need to disturb this “commonsensical view” of the lumad “being caught in between the civil wars.” But nevertheless, having such a view in itself has never been a sufficient basis to write off potential supporters in lumad advocacy. No less than legal luminary Dean Tony La Viña popularized such a view that was, at that time (in 2015), widely shared by many others who were genuinely concerned for the lumad. I wrote a cautionary intervention to such a view about which I was energetically engaged in opposing, but friendly, discussion by a fellow activist writer who evoked the Brechtian call to ‘use what you can’ in the bumpy terrain of alliance-building.

Are there no redeeming qualities about the statement? Based on my own work with the lumad, there are points in the statement that could be productive to think about further. For one thing, it clearly states that “industries and capitalists also produced [a] significant share in the displacement and violence done towards the Lumads.” If this particular statement is meant to point us towards holding the current economic structure responsible for violence against the lumad, then this is certainly a point worth expanding and one with which I have no quarrel.

The second redeeming point is a bit trickier, and is in fact the statement that seems to have earned Prof. Imbong’s ire more than the portion that cited his study inaccurately. It reads: “the Lumads and their ways of life have not just [been] heavily disturbed but were destroyed by many external factors, which have pushed them to divide and to submit their fate to platforms and groups in order for them to advance their rights.”

Again, and on the one hand, I understand the consternation with this statement because it seems to echo pro-military views (for example, see here Prof. Solita Monsod’s opinion on how the NPA had “divided” the lumad). Also, the awkward-sounding (to me anyway) formulation of the lumad ‘submitting their fate’ etcetera is little help in forwarding a convincing argument.

But on the other hand, what is so exceedingly objectionable to the claim that the lumad are divided? Of course they are divided – what sector or class of people isn’t? From being a point of contention, this should instead be an important point of departure for any current discussions about the lumad. What does become contentious is how we frame this division. Monsod simplistically framed it as being either pro-NPA or pro-military. But for those who actually work with the lumad, it is a divide that should be drawn not in terms of simply who is holding a gun, but in the knotty matter of what visions of their future and their society are they striving for.

Point is, that this org statement posits that there is an internal division among the lumad already makes it more thought provoking than a lot of other statements of support that still seem to treat the lumad always as a cohesive, untroubled, unified entity – a view of the lumad that is to me is more counter-productive. At least the open recognition of division ushers us on to the next important line of questioning, and that is what do the lumad then do in the wake of their divergent choices? If PIGLASAPAT can more clearly articulate what their view of this is, then we can happily engage the issue and move the conversation forward.
Having said this all, the “worst” thing (and I use this term very loosely) that PIGLASAPAT’s statement can be accused of (aside from poor citation) is that it simply reflects a typical middle class persuasion that strives for “balance” and ends with a very moderate call to action; in the face of tense conflicts, such a position may tend to support the status quo.

But as I said in the beginning, this is not unexpected. Of course anyone’s analysis will almost always tend to be made through the lens of their class consciousness and its moment-to-moment dynamics. Yet that has never been a hindrance to engaging amicably with anyone, to the extent possible. Crucially, therefore, the onus is on progressive groups to work with other peoples’ limitations and capacities (as well as our own) if the aim is to persuade, create alliances, and clinch victories.

Lastly, I do not think I need to repeat here how truly perilous the position of the Haran lumad bakwit is, and sincere shows of support are needed from everywhere. For all its limitations the PIGLASAPAT statement was one more voice that tried to make itself heard (think of it this way: they didn’t have to come out with a statement). That it was taken down not only means that there is one less voice, but also now stakeholders no longer know what that organizations’ official stand is, and that makes public discourse about it poorer. I really do hope that PIGLASAPAT, with lessons learned, revisit this decision. (davaotoday.com)

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