Johan Galtung on “Class, Nation and the Philippines”

TRANSCEND News, 21 Feb 2009

TMS Interview

TMS: Professor Galtung, as you write in your TMS editorial [week of 16-22 February] “Class, Nation and the Philippines,” about conversations you maintained from 4 to 9 February 2009 in Manila, you met with Government and Parties for a dialogue about the future of the peace process in the Philippines on issues of class and nation relations. What was your impression of this dialogue?

JG: Very open, rich, honest and clear. But then one basic condition that I insist on was well satisfied: only one party at a time. They said repeatedly that they had not had such opportunities to talk freely, that they were always put prematurely into debate and negotiation contexts. The organizers, Bishop Tendero, National Director of the Evangelical Churches, and Professor Cesar Villanueva used the word “Conversations” of which there were seven, for the seven parties–the government being one.

With such a long history of violence between the conflicting parties, I would imagine that there is a great deal of fear and mistrust. Were all parties to the conflict represented at this dialogue you facilitated? If not, who was missing and why?

JG: The missing one was one: the major forces in the class struggle are in exile in Utrecht and I’ll visit them there – or under arrest in the Philippines.  But they sent an excellent explanation of their views in writing, for the publication to come out of this.

In your editorial you described the Philippines as a modern state that is pushing for National Unity and Territorial Integrity at the expense of equity, autonomy and Universal Human Rights of repressed groups (such as the Bangsamoro nation in Mindanao). In your prescriptions, one of your suggestions is to “get out of this verticality and the limitation to two parties…into horizontal, multi-party and multi-channel dialogues.” As a mediator, how do you ensure equity in the process of dialogue when there is a power imbalance, especially with the presence of military threat?

You know, the TRANSCEND idea is to go beyond those very real asymmetries by developing, through dialogue, a vision of the future so compelling that the parties, strong and weak in various types of power, simply go for it. Negotiations tend to lead to compromises, somehow reflecting the asymmetries; that is not the way to travel.

What impact neo-liberal policies in the Philippines had on this conflict?

Neoliberal policies, with the total absence and elimination of solidarity, have sharpened the class conflict and set a new setting for the nation conflict.  But Muslims are clever, honest and less extravagant commercially – they may actually reap some harvest from the present breakdown of jungle capitalism, also hitting the Philippines quite hard.

TMS: According to the Human Rights Watch 2009 Report on the Philippines, in fiscal year 2008 the US government provided the Philippines almost US$30 million in the procurement of military equipment. What is the role of foreign actors in this conflict, in exacerbating violence or in promoting peace? What is the responsibility of the international community in this light?

Difficult to tell as they defy all democratic principles of being publicly accountable, preaching democracy while putting pressures on a receptive government with lists of terrorists, etc. It is important for these outside powers that Muslims shall not get their rights to autonomy satisfied, afraid as they are of domino effects elsewhere – instead of trying to solve these conflicts.  And the money you mentioned is used for state terrorism, helicopter bombings, etc. But there are also pure cases of banditry operating to be handled by police methods.

TMS: There have been a large number of disappearances of activists, organizers, religious leaders and journalists, and hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians in Mindanao in recent years. What are your thoughts on security in this case?

JG: Exactly. These are among the methods of state terrorism. The present regime has little or no popular support. The presidency that ranks highest by far in the Filipino consciousness was that of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos; hence so important to demonize them.

You did not mention the media in your prescriptions, could you tell us what you feel is the role of the media in this conflict?

JG: I didn’t, it has a ring of the obvious now, but I guess it cannot be said often enough. There is actually much peace journalism in the Philippines, like in Indonesia also, due to the excellent work done by Jake Lynch and Annabel McGoldrick. And long interviews with me about creative solutions on TV, radio and print media – very competent questions.

TMS: Are you hopeful that this conflict will be resolved nonviolently? What gives you hope?

JG: If there is a solution, it will be nonviolent. Violence against so much state terrorism has no chance. I think much depends on the changing world balance, with the US empire declining and falling, and East Asia coming up. There will be forces in that Catholic enclave in East Asia wanting better relations to their Islamic predecessors and the non-Islamic indigenous, and to China — picking up both from another island in the Pacific, Australia.

And they will be grateful for the Moro asset in the country as a bridge to the Islamic world. Time will work for the solution indicated, and it may suddenly move quickly like it did in Australia after Howard left the scene, also literally by being absent from the vote in the Canberra parliament on the apology. The Philippines, much like Israel, is in some kind of political coma, but so was Australia. But the world as a whole is certainly not in coma but highly dynamic. That gives me hope!


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 21 Feb 2009.

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