Thursday, October 25, 2007

Critiquing Governance

Critiquing Governance
Cebu Daily News / Opinion
Past Forward

By Joeber Bersales
Cebu Daily News
First Posted 12:06pm (Mla time) 10/25/2007

Tolerance of Torture in Military Camps,” “Shedding Blood, Preventing Bloodshed: Conflict Resolution Among the Lumad,” “Visualizing State Violence in the Philippines,” “Bangsamoro Self-determination,” “The Practice of Corporate Social Responsibility in Low-Income Communities,” “The Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area: The Paradox of Conservation.”

These are just some of the 26 papers that will be presented today and tomorrow in a national meeting of Philippine anthropologists at the Ateneo de Zamboanga University with the theme, “The Practice of Governance.” The event is co-hosted by AdZU, together with Ugnayang Pang-Aghamtao, Inc. or UGAT, the professional association of anthropologists in the Philippines. This is Ugat’s 29th annual national conference and the ninth time to be held in Mindanao.

One of the highlights of this two-day conference is the launching this afternoon of the book “Rido: Clan Feuding and Conflict Management in Mindanao”, a collection of studies on the phenomenon written by anthropologists and other social scientists and funded by the Asia Foundation.

The conference comes amidst a week marked by a lessening of tensions following indications that the Glorietta blast was an unfortunate and avoidable accident. Zamboanga as a conference site was almost called off at the height of tensions in Basilan and Sulu in July because some thought that the violence there might spill over in the form of bombs planted in malls and public places here in what is dubbed as the “Latin City of the Philippines.” Like General Santos and Cotabato, this city has been caught in the crossfire in years past due to the intermittent skirmishes that have marked much of Muslim Mindanao since time immemorial.

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This gathering of anthropologists also comes 20 years since the Atlantic Monthly published James Fallows’ scathing essay on the failure of governance in the Philippines, which he traced to what he phrased as a “damaged culture.” Many social scientists and political pundits, stung by the rebuke from a journalist who spent merely two months in a country barely a year out of two decades of dark authoritarian rule, quickly protested what they saw as a wanton trampling of recently-regained Philippine pride. In between those years we have gone through three presidencies and are going through a fourth one, which ought to help prove or disprove this “culture-as-culprit” thesis.

UGAT has rightfully chosen to tackle the practice of governance as the conference theme this year not so much in celebration of the damaging Fallows diatribe, of course, but to come together to share what new knowledge has been generated to help provide critical understanding of how Filipinos deal with or exercise power and authority – or the lack thereof – whether as one “nation” or as individuals, groups or communities.

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In my message for the souvenir program as national president of UGAT, I urged my colleagues and the general public to attend the meeting since this is a vital opportunity to see how anthropologists and other social scientists tackle governance at various arenas of practice: from governance writ large as the apparatus of the State vis-à-vis particular geographic regions or of particular aspects of State power and its impacts on particular groups, down to enduring practices and authority systems among indigenous communities.

Anthropologists, whether as critical academicians or as advocates for indigenous rights and welfare, have reason to take stock of the phenomenon of governance. For much may have changed during the last two decades since the end of the Marcos dictatorship yet so little is felt by the everyday person in what one social historian has referred to as this “changeless land.”

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