Mindanao’s Stockholm syndrome
Signs seem to point to a looming nationwide martial law. Mayors are being shot in broad daylight; the inflation rate is at 5.2 percent; the Consultative Committee has turned in a draft charter that might, for its largely secretive and suspicious nature, only cause further disorder and alarm; and, ultimately, we still have a loose cannon for a President.
Ask, however, almost everyone here in Agusan, and they’ll tell you that there’s nothing wrong with martial law; in fact, it should be declared everywhere else in the country.
They’ll tell you it’s peaceful here. Fewer “tambays” and “adiks,” and more men in uniform. Mindanao, an island that, historically, has hardly felt the national government and has at some points even thought of breaking away from the country, has finally felt Manila showing it tough love with a declaration of an overstaying martial law. Pretty soon, Mindanao, sick with Stockholm syndrome, will be the first to support the President’s formal declaration of a nationwide martial law. It will pat Luzon and the Visayas on the back and say, “It’s gonna be okay.”
But the “peace” martial law has provided us is really no different from the “peace” we’ve had for quite some time now. The “lumad” remain under the close surveillance of the military and mining companies. The same swift and quiet silencing of opposition figures, dissenters and activists exists. It’s basically a rerun of the scenario of the poor getting poorer and the rich getting into office. Martial law hasn’t brought us the change our Davaoeño President promised.
Last June 29, six regional broadcasts of TV Patrol signed off. TV Patrol Caraga gave a tearful final newscast; viewers who used to watch the 5:30 p.m. broadcast found themselves shedding a tear, too, perhaps wondering what made them stop watching the news. On July 2, these regional newscasts began contributing to “expanded” newscasts.
The development follows the existing trend in corporate media: more fluff, less hardcore journalism; more convenient politics, more viewers, more money. All this is compounded by Facebook and Twitter’s substitution of TV and print media. The last viral post of TV Patrol Caraga to reach nationwide popularity was a story of a man in Agusan del Sur who had been living for three years on top of a coconut tree. That was October 2017.
The irony here is that, while government is taking steps to federalize, corporate media seems to have given up on producing more localized news. In provinces, not just in Agusan, commentary trump reporting. Radio remains the most popular source for news, and commentators have to side with their preferred politician for security and stability. It’s hard to expect anyone from the media outside Manila to dive deep into an issue and challenge Goliaths. Once they do, you can expect to find their bloodied bodies strewn on the front page. Or, perhaps, more chillingly passing through your Facebook newsfeed, on top of ads, over congratulatory messages and under birthday greetings from your friends.
There are many things wrong with martial law here in Mindanao, but not many will—or can—talk about it. For a lot of us, it’s just that new checkpoint at the city border, or that spot inspection by men with guns who search your bag for whatever they might find suspicious. These are but minor inconveniences. But the opportunities that we no longer allow ourselves to take now are opportunities gone from us forever. It is through this fear that martial law reigns.
Many Manileños argue that, even without Duterte’s formal declaration of martial law over the entire Philippines, it’s already in place now. I differ—it will be worse. On our 408th day under martial law, I’ve realized how imprisoning it is, this imposition to say yes to whatever our government says. It’s a whole lot of fluff and much less talk, and, pretty soon, you’ll hear nothing from us.
DLS Pineda teaches at Father Saturnino Urios University, Butuan City. After finishing his undergraduate and master’s degree in UP Diliman, he decided to reside in his father’s hometown in Agusan del Norte.
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