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The IAG panel at the #PPSA2018 plenary session “Mindanao & the Duterte Agenda”: IAG Senior Policy Adviser Fr. Eliseo Mercado, Sultan Kudarat Islamic Academy President Atty. Datu Michael Mastura, International Alert Regional Adviser Dr. Francisco Lara Jr., and former MSU-Gensan Center for Peace and Development Studies Director Dr. Rufa Guiam with panel moderator Ms. Mags Maglana and IAG Executive Director Atty. Benedicto Bacani.

It was thus fitting that the panel discussion, which was organized by the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG), sought to shed light on Mindanao issues and how they have defined Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s style and governance approaches and conversely, how President Duterte’s responses have affected the issues.

Dr. Pancho Lara of International Alert pointed to the president’s latest pronouncement on reviving the peace talks with the National Democratic Front and agreeing on a ceasefire and stopping revolutionary taxation—and if need be, for government to replace the latter—as an example of how his grasp of Mindanao issues have shaped Pres. Duterte’s approaches.

On how Duterte’s responses have shaped Mindanao issues, Fr. Jun Mercado, OMI of IAG described developments (i.e., Marawi, Martial Law, and the Bangsamoro Basic Law) as trajectories that seem to have gone on parallel and even contradictory tracks. There is need for coherence. Fr. Mercado argued that under the circumstances of high levels of support and power enjoyed by President Duterte, there is no need for Martial Law to accomplish what he wants.

From the perspective of Atty. Datu Mike Mastura of the Sultan Kudarat Islamic Academy, the reality is that Filipinos are a divided community. Thus, federalism is an opportunity to address the divisions by redefining and reconfiguring relationships. Fr. Mercado recommended defining the vertical relationships first (i.e., differentiating the states and central government and how they will relate) and then defining the horizontal relationships among the branches. It is problematic to flesh out federalism from a unitary perspective. Given the magnitude of the changes and what are at stake, federalism has to be done right so that Filipinos do not get traumatized by the experience. Atty. Mastura reminded that the reconfiguration must address both historical and territorial injustices that the Bangsamoro endured.

There is need for understanding that is supported by research, particularly in relation to terrorism. Scholars must examine not just exogenous factors of terrorism but also endogenous ones. Prof. Rufa Guiam of the Independent Working Group on Transitional Justice-Dealing with the Past said that it is important to be mindful of context and concerns. Atty. Mastura emphasized that social scientists must exercise care in using reasoning that is based on religion and Prof. Guiam said that distinctions must be made between radicalism and violent extremism. Dr. Lara pointed out that there are emerging trends that are not yet fully understood such as growing involvement of women in violent extremism. He also mentioned that criminal groups in Mindanao, which have been able to connect to regional counterparts, seem to exhibit stronger capacity for multi-level governance than government or the private sector. These are arguments for more research rather than putting forward beliefs that only make people more uninformed and misinformed. With widespread access to and use of social media, students seek out chatrooms as venues for discourse and not just classrooms, according to Prof. Guiam.

Prof. Guiam spoke of her fears of joining a panel that can only offer “rambling thoughts from relics.” But rather than being dinosaurs, the panel proffered what could be said as rumbling thoughts from radicals. ‘Rumbling’ in that these are key discourses and ‘radical’ that springs not only from mathematical understanding but also from that of the social sciences.