The below essay is currently a “hot item” among Filipino netizens. It’s a brilliant opinion about last Sunday’s horrendous Maguindanáo Massacre…
The Maguindanáo massacre predicts the eruption of wider violence and conflict as the nation heads towards the 2010 elections. Yet to dismiss this incident as “election-related” is to miss the fundamental political and economic implications of this evil deed. The massacre is rooted in the shift in politico-economic sources of violence and conflict in Muslim Mindanáo. It signifies the emergence of new-type warlords whose powers depend upon their control of a vast illegal and shadow economy and an ever-growing slice of internal revenue allotments (IRA). Both factors induce a violent addiction to political office.
Mindanáo scholars used to underscore the role of “local strong men” who were an essential component of the central state’s efforts to extend its writ over the region. The elite bargain was built upon the state’s willingness to eschew revenue generation and to grant politico-military dominance to a few Moro elites in exchange for the latter providing political thugs and armed militias to secure far-flung territories, fight the communists and separatists, and extend the administrative reach of the state.
The economic basis of the elite bargain has changed since then. Political office has become more attractive due to the billions of pesos in IRA remittances that electoral victory provides. The “winner-takes-all” nature of local electoral struggles in Muslim Mindanao also means that competition is costlier and bloodier. Meanwhile, political authority may enable control over the formal economy, but the bigger prize is the power to monopolize or to extort money from those engaged in the lucrative business of illegal drugs, gambling, kidnap-for-ransom, gun-running, and smuggling, among others. The piracy of software, CDs and DVDs, and the smuggling of pearls and other gemstones from China and Thailand are seen as micro and small enterprises. These illegal economies and a small formal sector comprise the “real” economy of Muslim Mindanáo.
The failure to appreciate how this underground economy, coupled with entitlements to massive government-to-government fund transfers, shapes prevailing notions of political legitimacy and authority in the region partly explains the inability of the central State to deal with lawlessness and conflict.
Political legitimacy in Muslim Mindanáo has very little to do with protecting people’s rights or providing basic services. People rarely depend on government for welfare provision, and are consequently averse to paying any taxes. People actually expect local leaders to pocket government resources, and are willing to look the other way so long as their clans dominate and they are given a small slice during elections. Legitimacy is all about providing protection to your fellow clan members by trumping the firepower of your competitors, leaving people alone, and forgetting about taxes. Click here for more!