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PEACETALK: Would Mindanao be a better place without media?

(Welcome remarks of Atty. Benedicto Bacani at the media forum “Beyond Mamasapano: Reporting the Bangsamoro Peace Process” on July 24 in Cotabato City)

Welcome to Cotabato City and to this meeting on Media and the Mindanao peace process.

Last night, I was with a friend, Atty. Bong Montesa who consults on the peace process but on weekends, Bong runs the De Bono school that propagates critical thinking for children. Bong’s passion for process and critical thinking made him a repository of innovative and sometimes wild ideas. We were brainstorming on my remarks to you today and Bong said that perhaps I should ask you to imagine a world without media or in particular, would Mindanao be a better place without media? I will leave the answer hanging for a moment and reflect on the question itself.

The question made me think on one of the fundamental problems we face in the Mindanao process. I refer to “compartmentalization” that inheres a narrow lens of seeing, thinking, understanding and reporting on Mindanao’s problems and proffered solutions.

We compartmentalize issues to legal and constitutional, political, cultural and historical as if the truth lies in only any one of these boxes. We thrive on sound bites: war vs peace; BBL or war etc. We box in people as peace advocates, spoilers, fence sitters, ideologues, moderates, extremists etc. We tend to focus on things that reinforce positions than build acceptance of compromises; on entitlements than accountability and responsibility; on issues that divide than unite; on conflict over peace. Compartmentalization leads to nitpicking. It distracts our focus to the interrelatedness of issues and the big picture, to frameworks and storylines.

We are all guilty of compartmentalization—not just media. We brought the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro) and the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) to Congress and in the public arena with the President’s political capital as the primary driving force. When the President’s political stock took a beating in Mamasapano, we left with no choice but to allow the CAB and the BBL to rise and fall out of its own merit. We always hear that Mamasapano has resurfaced biases and prejudices especially by the Christian majority towards Muslims. Biases and prejudices are borne out of lack of education and information that is not narrow, selective and self-serving.

It is my hope that this meeting will help develop a wholistic lens by which media looks at the Mindanao peace process. And let me get back to the question: Imagine Mindanao without media? It is a wrong question. The right question is Imagine Mindanao without media, politicians’, lawyers etc.? All of us desirous of peace need the tools and lenses from disciplines other than our own. I get uncomfortable when people talk about legal issues and preface it with “I am not a lawyer but…”. Or when I’m asked only legal issues because I am a lawyer. In this age when all kinds of information are readily available in cyberspace, no one has the monopoly of knowledge. All of us are consolidators of information and meanings. There is therefore no excuse for compartmentalization—for narrow views, thinking and reporting. Thank you.  (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Atty. Benedicto Bacani is the Executive Director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance) 

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