F. Sionil Jose to MILF leaders: 'Be excellent Muslims'
On March 28 to 30, 2014, thirty-nine senior representatives from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front attended a three-day political party development training in Manila organized by the Institute for Autonomy & Governance and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. National artist for literature F. Sionil Jose spoke in one of the sessions. This is what he told the MILF leaders:
Let me congratulate you for achieving an important goal, to bring peace to Mindanao. We all know that we cannot progress where there is violence and war, but at the same time — we must understand why men rebel. The so-called stability and peace prescribed for them is the peace of the cemetery — that is to say, the status quo which denies them freedom and justice.
At the same time, we must recognize that revolutionaries who bring peace do not necessarily make good administrators.
And in this new and bright phase of our history, we need administrators, leaders with vision, who work very hard. When a revolution succeeds, this is the time that real hard work is needed so that the aims for which that revolution was waged will be reached.
I hope that you will succeed, not only for yourself, but, in a larger sense, for all of us Filipinos. I think that the way for this nation to develop and grow democratically is for power to devolve, for Imperial Manila’s hold on the national wealth to be freed to spread to the regions — in a federated union.
Let me tell you about myself, my bona fides. The most important, I think is, my age — I’m 89 years old. As a staff member of the old Manila Times, I got immersed in the Moro “problem” since the ’50s when I covered the Kamlon campaign in Sulu. The Sulu PC commander then was Col. Mamarinta Lao from Lanao. I traveled all the way down to Sitangkai in Tawi-Tawi, onto the Turtle Islands and southward to Sandakan and Jesselton in what was then North Borneo. I was a houseguest of the late Sultan Ismael Jamalul Kiram in Maimbung, Sulu. I also met Princess Tarhata Kiram.
When I was in college in Santo Tomas in the ’40s, I made friends with Mamitua Saber from Lanao and eventually stood as godfather in the wedding of one of his sons. I went around Lake Lanao all the way to Tugaya. One of my oldest friends from Lanao was the late Senator Mike Tamano. From Cotabato, my old friend, Michael Mastura, is still very much alive, I had hoped he would be a member of our Supreme Court. In the Fifties, too, I was a houseguest of Datu Samad Mangelen of Buluan, and I went crocodile hunting in Liguasan marsh. I was in Kapatagan in Lanao when the EDCOR farms there were being opened, and I saw the new settlements of Marbel and Tacurong sprout from the jungle. Buluan, a traditional moro town did not progress as much as Tacurong and Marbel — not because these towns are Christian but because they were motivated by the immigrant impulse.
But first, let me remind you — you are not the real minority in this country. The minority are our dispossessed ethnics — the Mangyans, the Aetas, the thousands upon thousands who eat only once a day, who sleep in the sidewalks of our cities, denied redress from the injustices inflicted upon them by a recreant government and an oppressive oligarchy.
After the Kamlon campaign, I realized that the “Moro problem” was not religious in nature, neither was the solution military. A minority problem will not go away, not even if this agreement succeeds. We have to work hard to see to it that it does not erupt into another shooting war, so that the other disgruntled groups in Mindanao and in the entire country will see in your example a solution to their problems.
Look at the United States — the racial discrimination has not waned with the election of a black president. It continues to this very day and far into the future. President Obama is to be appreciated; in spite of the many racial taunts to which he was subjected, he has maintained his “cool.”
Let us agree then on what we want — a peaceful and prosperous nation — suffused with justice for justice is the most important condition not just in democracy but in any society — justice as freedom from hunger and violence, justice as truth in action or it is not truth at all.
Business vs. Government
If your background is business and you join government, you have a lot to change in your thinking. The logic of business is profit; if you are a producer, your objective is how to create cheaper and better products to make them competitive. In other words, the market determines your goal.
On the other hand, the logic of government is service — to serve the people for which reason you are called public servants. You work with a bureaucracy circumscribed by rules. You have to motivate this bureaucracy that is often lethargic and at the same time serve the people — even those who did not elect you.
The men around you — beware of their flattery. Don’t put 100 percent trust in anyone, including yourself. In the first place the best people will not go to you. You have to seek them out.
I understand that Islam is not just a religion but a way of life. This is not limited to Islam — it is true of all religions so let us not argue about which religion is better. Many centuries ago, Christians killed other Christians. This is what is happening now in Islam — Muslims killing other Muslims.
So we must look beyond religion and probe into ourselves not as Muslims, Christians, Buddhists or Hindus, but as individuals, members of a family, a clan, an ethnic group, and finally as citizens of a nation.
Why political parties? What holds a people or a nation together is that institution called the state. To make one which will endure and which, at the same time, represents the people, a machinery is required whereby leaders are elected to run the state and for these leaders to have political parties supporting them and presenting them to the people. Our parties have little or no real ideology; they operate only when the elections come. They should work 12 months out of the year, and be organized in such a way that they truly represent the people, and their interests. Without such parties, the state will be disorganized, without national goals and become weak.
A people, a nation, is usually led by heroic individuals, leaders whose legitimacy is inherited, i. e., kings, sultans. Others are elected, or recognized by their epic qualities.
What, really, is a leader? What are his qualities? Integrity is one of them; honesty in his dealings with his fellowmen; but most of all, honesty with himself, his capacity to recognize the “objective reality” not just about himself but, most of all, about the people he has to lead, to know what is wrong with them, for as leader, he must be a change agent, capable of convincing his people to change for the better.
So then, what is wrong with us?
First, our clannishness. I am Ilokano, and our clannishness has led to the traditional vendettas among the Ilokanos, vendettas that span generations. Alas, this is also so true among the Moros — what you call the rido, of family versus other families. The root of all this is not only clannishness, but what ails all of us — our yabang.
This is more pronounced with you because of your datu system. This should be altered, channeled into positive endeavors, with merit and excellence as the measure of status.
As members of a minority, you have a more meaningful sense of identity than, for instance, we Ilokanos. You must transcend this, think of yourself now not just as Tausugs or Maranaws, but as Moros, and beyond this, as Filipinos primarily because to progress nationally, we must think not only of our region but of the entire country. This requires us to accept that we are not just Ilokanos, Warays or Moros. And with this acceptance, we achieve unity without letting go of our diverse cultures and religious faith.
So many of our problems are culture-related. I had way, way back an argument with one of your older leaders. I said, in those areas where you are dominant —where Moros are also the governors, congressmen, mayors — why can’t you be like the Chinese who dominate the economy although they are very much in the minority? My Moro friend said, we can’t do it because it is not in our culture. Solution? Change that culture! Leaders are change agents. It requires not just vision and hard work to do this — but courage.
Study the dynamics of Iglesia Ni Kristo. The leadership is developed from the grassroots, from the local communities. And most important, the members pay dues. It was 25 centavos in the old days, but put together from a vast membership that is a lot of money. These funds went into the building of those distinctive churches. The members are proud of these churches because they know their money built them. They are involved with the church, the way members of a political party should be involved with the party.
You are mortal. Power/glory are transitory. Always listen to criticism; keep your cool! Whatever the critical motive is, you’ll learn something. You don’t know everything so be a good listener. Remember always (take down notes). Review, follow up on plans, projects, focus on the horizon but keep your feet firmly on the ground.
But be sure. As Magsaysay asked himself: can I defend this in Plaza Miranda? Meaning — will your constituents believe you?
To do this, be credible, believable. Promise only what you can deliver. Be stern, too, where punishment is necessary. Walang kamag-anak, walang kaibigan. But you can’t avoid patronage. The sick will go to you. They will ask you for all sorts of aid. If you can, give it then only to the deserving. Build those institutions that will help them, make them self-reliant.
Communicate —use clear language
Repeat, and repeat your objectives, what must be changed: Leaders are also teachers and repetition is an absolute necessity in teaching.
Lead by example: the easiest thing to do is to be prompt.
As I already said, all of us are mayabang, but I think the most mayabang are the Pampangos and the Ilongos, and the most industrious are the Ilokanos, the Cebuanos and the Batanguenos. And the laziest? The Warays and the Tausugs. Some of the richest regions in the country are where you live. And many of these fertile lands are poorly developed. Visit the Ilokos — incidentally some Moros have migrated there, which is very good. In the North you’ll see industry. You may get all the attention and assistance you need, but until you become industrious, all these aids will go to waste!
Stay with your people
This autonomy program will not succeed if you don’t stay with your people. In this way you are always available if you are needed. This does not mean you’ll be stuck with them. Remember that old adage, the usefulness of the postage stamp is in its capacity to stick to the letter.
The art of the possible
Politics is addition, not subtraction. Politics is grounded on possibilities, not impossible dreams. Avoid grandiose plans that won’t serve the people. Do you need a six-lane highway? Start with just two lanes. Do you really need a grand airport? A palace for a provincial capitol or barangay hall? Use the money for productive projects, one which will benefit the most, not just a few.
Let us return to Machiavelli. I think he was wrongly demonized. The Prince is actually a manual for aspiring leaders or leaders themselves. I urge you to read it for there is a lot of insight in it which could very well apply to us today.
An old Burmese saying states: “When the elephants quarrel, the grass gets trampled.” To this I add, when the elephants make peace, the grass gets eaten.
To avoid this, we have to create a strong people. A strong people means a strong nation. If we have a strong nation then we can fight foreign domination, Chinese intransigence, the cultural homogenization of America.
The last chapter in The Prince is an exhortation to the Italians about how, Machiavelli says, “to free Italy from the barbarians.”
Let me echo him.
Be true to your faith, be excellent Muslims. Above all, be true Filipinos.
The transcript of F. Sionil Jose's talk originally appeared in his column in the Philippine Star.