OUR nation, like many others around the world, is in the tightening grip of an economic crunch. Prices of oil, goods and services are skyrocketing, and the supply of food is slowing. Despite the fact that a good many Filipinos are able to land jobs abroad, local unemployment and underemployment remain high. In Mindanao, unstable peace and order conditions considerably exacerbate these problems.
Economic crises tend to radicalize political decisions and polarize mass behaviors. The rise of Nazism, which led to World War II, was initially prompted by the economic adversities of the Germans. Hunger ignited the French Revolution and subsequently The Terror. Geography, Nature and history have been kinder to the Philippines, but at the cost of economic greatness thus far. Worsening global conditions and local security problems now conspire to rob the little that Mindanaoans have. The threat, real as it is, can easily lead to a hardening of political postures and social attitudes – and more violence than we already have and cannot afford.
It is a challenge that is best resolved long before the problem actually erupts, such as the not unlikely collapse of the ceasefire and another wide and open resumption of Bangsamoro hostilities, aggravated by the Maoist insurgency. The cost of such wars will not only be in government funds instead of getting invested in economic productivity going instead into ordnance and military expenses. Where fighters will march, farms and shops will lie idle; evacuees will be dependent on doleouts and will cause more social problems. Tourism and other economic enterprises will take a nosedive, if not collapse, further feeding a vicious cycle of conflict and violence.
This may look like a worst case scenario, though not morbid. It happened to Mindanao in the early 1970s, at the height of the MNLF war, and the price of then plentiful crude oil was only $3 a barrel. Today the price is over $140 an increasingly-scarce barrel, still rapidly rising, and the economy is now inextricably global. Even the Americans for all their money and social security programs fear that the sky is falling, indeed.
For Mindanao, the only hedge against if not solution to the threat lies in peace-building and peace. Terrorism has to be effectively curbed, the insurgencies peacefully resolved as soon as possible. A culture of peace observed by the majority will result in social and economic cooperation and dynamism – and a reasonably better life for all. Local politics will become truly benevolent, corruption must end its monstrous reign.
Faith and hope have moved mountains before, and Mindanaoans have an opportunity today to show that Manny Pacquiao is not the only one among them who has true grit and the heart of a champion.