POSTSCRIPT / November 3, 2011 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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In talks, we don’t hear of cultural integration

NOT A WORD: It is remarkable that while the government negotiates peace with Moro secessionists, not one earnest word or one official line is said about a mutual intent at integration, assimilation or acculturation leading to national unity.

Many Filipinos of goodwill would like to see a gradual blurring of ethnic and religious differences among various sectors through normal interaction even if in the process we lose a little of our respective identities.

Most minority groups — referred to as tribes by colonizers from the West — have allowed themselves to be integrated into the persona of this nation. But with our Muslim brothers digging in in Mindanao, integration has been comparatively difficult, at times bloody.

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SCARY SCENARIO: I watched a recent TV program where a teacher in a madrasah (school) in, I think, Lanao was interviewed.

After the segment showing the ongoing class, she confirmed that she and other teachers who had trained abroad drill into their pupils, shown in the background, that this land is their ancestral home and should not be taken away from them.

Does the government have any say on where these teachers train abroad and what they are tooled to teach when they return to their Muslim communities?

It is alarming to see children at that tender age being politicized and led to believe that they should resist all attempts at integration. It easy later to hand weapons to them as jihadist recruits.

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DEPED ASLEEP?: That teacher is on the government payroll. The school and everything in it are presumably being maintained by funds of the Department of Education. Why is the classroom being used to promote a separatist and hostile attitude among the children?

Does the DepEd ever review the curriculum of schools in the hinterlands? Does it monitor the content and methods being used by its teachers? In the interview, the teacher was so emphatic in rationalizing the righteousness of her ideology.

Are teachers in public schools not mandated to emphasize love of country, civic duty, and values that contribute to national unity?

What is the DepEd doing?

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ACCULTURATION: We might hold back at assimilation, a process that more or less will replace a pupil’s native culture with another set of values taught or insinuated in the classroom.

But there could be a less obtrusive process of acculturation where other values are added to the child’s original or familial beliefs, thereby preparing him for a richer relationship with a bigger and diverse society.

In some madrasahs in Muslim Mindanao, however, such enrichment of the cultural fabric is being neglected.

We are wont to ask if the government, specifically the DepEd, is afraid to assert itself in classrooms in Muslim communities.

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MEET HALFWAY: It is on this issue that Muslim elders, including leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, can come in positively.

The MILF, which the White House prefers as representative of the Muslim minority in the peace talks, can show good faith by working with the government along integration to achieve the oft-repeated slogan of “unity in diversity.”

If it is truly interested in integration leading to peace and progress in Mindanao, the MILF should meet the government halfway and agree on pushing certain programs for integration.

There should be a widening of contact and the erasing of animosity at all levels, including the schools and market places.

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CONTACT, NOT COMBAT: In media reports on the peace process, we do not come across mention of a mutual expression of a desire to integrate and gradually smoothen the roughness of ethnic contact.

We are denying ourselves the beauty of peaceful coexistence and the seamless interaction of diverse cultures. Embroidering the national fabric through acculturation adds strength to it.

In acculturation, members of an ethnic community retain certain aspects of their home culture while imbibing and adjusting to a new layer of values, beliefs and practices.

If assimilation or the gradual disappearance of ethnic or tribal differences follows acculturation, so be it.

Is this being discussed at the peace talks? By using the “peace” tag in their negotiations, the MILF and the government seem to imply that combat is at the core of their agenda.

The panels should consider devoting more time to improving contact or community interaction, in addition to the problems of combat and its painful consequences.

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MULTICULTURALISM: If in the religious realm we have ecumenism, let us strive in civil society to usher in cultural pluralism. This is a situation where various cultures simultaneously operate without any one of them dominating the rest.

Ultimately, one strong culture might gain the upper hand, but let that happen in the most natural way without official attempts to make it the dominant culture.

Language is an interesting example of how multiculturalism works.

In malls in some populous provinces, Cebu for instance, where a dominant language (Cebuano) is expected to be spoken, one notices the wide use of Tagalog (technically Pilipino) without anybody ordering it. Its creeping presence comes naturally.

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LET IT BE: If that is the trend, if speaking the preferred tongue comes naturally to the speakers in their social and commercial interaction, why stop it?

If the same acculturation in the normal course of things in Muslim Mindanao happens – with no government imposition or organized resistance – let it be.

If all the amenities, gadgets, practices, usage and political beliefs of cultures being introduced into the place are absorbed by a willing host community, so be it.

In the long run, a leveling off – a golden balance – will emerge, hopefully leading to national unity and peace.

Let not the current majority insist. But neither should the minority resist. Just let the water flow and seek its own level.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 3, 2011)

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