What a blighted world we live in when the most popular social media platform Facebook has introduced a “safety check-in” feature in response to terror events. Having been used only to party and concert event alerts, and opening my Facebook to the usual likes and comments and the occasional serious discussions, my notifications last Saturday morning was nothing but jarring. Filipino and French friends and colleagues were successively checking in as “safe” from the succinctly-labeled, but earth-stopping phrase “Paris attacks”. Have you ever had that fraction of a minute when your mind’s knee-jerk interpretation of information was something very comfortingly benign (it’s a gimmick, it’s a new film, whatever)? I had that. Then I googled it.
More than a hundred and twenty people have died in the attacks in civilian areas that have been blamed upon fundamentalist groups. Specifically, ISIS has claimed responsibility, saying it was in retaliation to France’s involvement in the crisis in Syria. Social media was, of course, immediately flooded with responses and shows of support to the French people.
It may be easy to contrast this overseas tragedy with the one closer to home, namely the continued perpetration of violence against Mindanao lumads. Some already have, in a well-meaning but, in my opinion, misguided attempt to value one tragedy over another. Besides, the current crisis in France and here in Mindanao with the lumad may have more in common than we thought. The current strain that permeates both is the phenomenon of “fundamentalism”.
This may be met with some confusion, given that here in the Philippines, the term “fundamentalism” is solely associated with the Moro struggle, stemming from our government’s enthusiastic embrace of the US’s framing of world conflict as that between “the free world” and “Muslim fundamentalism”. This has been widely adopted to the Mindanao context, and expect this framing to gain prominence once again (but perhaps this time in connection with ISIS), especially with the APEC meeting this week in Manila.
But this is not the type of fundamentalism I wish to call attention to at the moment, but a more recent (or only now noticed) manifestation, which I and my colleagues at the UP have been mulling over and call “lumad fundamentalism”.
I will detail this further in a bit, but first let us see what we mean with the word “fundamentalism”. The term nowadays often occurs in the context of geo-political discussions, but I would argue that it is more importantly an anthropological concept. Conrad Kottak (my go-to source for concise anthropological definitions) describes “fundamentalism” as an “antimodernist movement”, wherein fundamentalists perceive a dilution, or even corruption, of their beliefs and way of life within the modern mainstream, leading them to seek a return to “an earlier, purer” way of life. What is ironic here, Kottak says, is that anti-modernism, or fundamentalism, could only have emerged under the conditions of modernity. Not all fundamentalist groups engage in conflict, but there is tendency among many of them to assert that other aspects of life (for example, politics and governance) be subservient to their own often rigid interpretation of beliefs and morals.
This tendency we first began to notice to be articulated by the so-called “tribal chieftains” known to be on the AFP’s side. I had written earlier (Thoughts During A Dialogue) about how these “tribal chieftains” insisted on “kanya-kanya”, or to each his own, and that no tribe or village (or support group) must meddle with the affairs of their neighbors. I had written then that what appeared thence were “tribal leaders” that had completely imbibed the rhetoric of the State (which stood to gain from keeping the lumad disunited), but a more sinister dimension sprouts from their insistence that that perspective was the “real” belief of the lumad, and that no other groups better dare touch them.
More recently, in an exchange that was to me very shocking (as it was reported in the media), the gruesome murder of Alcadev educator Emerito Samarca was justified along these fundamentalist lines in a hearing called by the lumad diwata herself, Nancy Catamco. Samarca, the “chieftain” Jumar Bucales testified, had been “poisoning” the minds of the lumad, and that was why he was killed (bringing to mind the death of the great philosopher Socrates, likewise accused of poisoning the minds of young Greeks, and condemned to die by drinking hemlock).
Responding with a leading question, Catamco asked, “Iyan ba ang rason, dahil siya ay may nagawang kasalanan sa tribo, dahil inapakan niya ang kultura ng tribo sa pagtuturo ng isang ideolohiya (Is that the reason, because he committed a sin against the tribe, because he trampled on tribal culture by teaching an ideology)?”, to which Bucales answered yes.
Catamco then asked if the killing had “undergone a ritual”, to which Bucales responded “No.” This line of questioning was ostensibly to establish if the killing was sanctioned by tribal leaders, and god only knows what Catamco intended to do if the answer had been in the affirmative. Would she have absolved the “bagani” (warriors) that committed this act since, having undergone a ritual, the act of killing may be excused by her tribal standards? We will never know for sure, but what we do know is that Catamco had, time and again, defended “tribal leaders” with AFP links, protected known murder suspects (such as those in the Fr. Pops Tentorio case), and justified the creation of “tribal defense groups”, just another name for paramilitary with high-powered firearms.
All these moves (including the harassments in and outright destruction of community schools) are legitimized by Catamco and company to be under the auspices of their “traditional way of life”. Like other fundamentalist movements, these have resulted in two things. First is the isolation of the villages that have joined this cohort, rupturing kinship ties and other social linkages with neighboring villages (our Manobo friends from the bakwit and currently at the Manilakbayan tell us that ever since one of their villages, Barobo, allowed the entry of the AFP, the soldiers’ detachment there has pretty much become permanent; one then cannot walk straight along the mountain ridge from the interior villages to the more accessible villages and must instead take a roundabout route down the mountain, along the Talomo River, then climb back up).
Second are the brazen acts of violence that have terrorized many remote lumad communities. Like the gun and bomb attacks in the busy streets of Paris, the very public execution of Samarca, Dionel Campos, and Bello Sinzo, and the brash destruction of the MISFI schoolhouse in White Culaman, among others, were all calculated to instill the deepest fear among those who witness it (and it is always ensured that there are many witnesses).
These are all enacted with the articulated rationalization of strict adherence to “the traditional way of life”, of the prevention of “contamination” of the tribe (the sin, apparently, of award-winning teacher Samarca), of keeping “tribal customs” “pristine” and “unchanging” (made manifest in nitpicking about whether a sacrificial chicken should be white or red, or the validity of a ritual performed away from the ancestral domain, never mind that protests worldwide all possess a religious element, that Masses have been held in the streets, and that Filipino liberation theologians allow the use of tuba instead of red wine for the Eucharist), and of their unwavering belief that any deviation therefrom must only, absolutely, be the product of “manipulation” by “outside groups”.
From Paris to Talaingod, religious and cultural fundamentalism has reared its head to be a true enemy of vibrant peoples and dynamic cultures. But the crucial difference is that lumad fundamentalists here are coddled by the current-regime-in-place. They enjoy still being part of “lawful” society, of having friends in high places, and of being shielded from critical scrutiny. In the end, these lumad fundamentalists are not the rogues or the outsiders that ISIS and Al Qaeda are considered to be, but are clearly integrated in the ruling-class-interest-fueled mainstream.