Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Faith in School: Educational Policy Responses to Ethno-Religious Conflict in the Southern Philippines, 1935-1985

Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Faith in School: Educational Policy Responses to Ethno-Religious Conflict in the Southern Philippines, 1935-1985

Article excerpt

The colonial and post-colonial experience of the Philippines is illustrative of a commonly held faith in educational policy to foster national unity and development in contexts of socio-linguistic diversity and endemic poverty. Systematic analyses of the outcomes of these policies in the Philippine context, however, have been relatively rare. This essay explores the efforts of successive Philippine governments to deploy educational policy as a significant tool in their efforts to mitigate ethno-religious tensions that have repeatedly erupted into inter-religious violence in the twentieth century and have contributed to an armed secessionist movement on its southernmost island of Mindanao that has waxed and waned repeatedly for three decades. (1) An analysis of the history of educational policy in this context not only contributes to the improvement of educational policy-making in the Philippines but can improve understanding of the potential and pitfalls of educational policy as a tool for mitigating ethno-religious tensions in comparable contexts as well.

Historical context

By any measure one of the central features of Philippine history is its four-century colonisation by Spain from the mid-sixteenth century to the end of the nineteenth, and then by the United States in the first half of the twentieth century. For two centuries prior to the arrival of Spain, however, Islam had been gradually spreading in the Philippine South, fostering the evolution of more complex and cohesive cultural communities with the power to successfully resist Spanish attempts to extend political control and Christianity throughout the archipelago. (2) While Spain ultimately succeeded in establishing a tenuous political presence in some areas of Muslim Mindanao by the latter half of the nineteenth century, the region was not brought under the control of a Manila-based government until the first decade of the twentieth century. US colonial rule was characterised by the selective use of overwhelming military force to subdue resistance in Muslim communities and the systematic deployment of a public educational system framed within a discourse of civilisation and savagery designed to remake Muslim Filipino identities in accordance with ideals embodied in white, Western, Christian norms (which Christian Filipinos exemplified) in immediate practical terms) This mix of coercive and attractive policies elicited a complex of responses among Muslim Filipinos ranging from acceptance to accommodation to outright resistance.

Direct Filipino rule--under US colonial authority--began in 1920, and, inasmuch as it largely continued US policies, elicited similarly complex responses. (4) By 1935, however, with the inauguration of the Philippine Commonwealth, the Muslim-dominated areas of Mindanao had been administratively and politically integrated into the Philippine colonial state in ways that gave rise to a Muslim political elite that functioned as an intermediary between the state and Muslim communities and contributed to state formation in Mindanao. (5) Political and administrative integration, however, did not bring about the resolution of the Muslim-Christian dichotomisation of society in Mindanao even though it did, paradoxically, contribute to the beginning of a common Muslim Filipino identity among the various Islamised ethno-linguistic communities of the region. (6) Thus the legacy of 300 years of misunderstanding, mutual hostility, and open conflict between Christian and Muslim Filipinos continued beneath the surface of apparent political stability, ready to erupt into scholarship on the historical, political and cultural roots of the so-called 'Moro open warfare' again in the early 1970s.

Since that time the conflict has inspired a rather extensive body of scholarship on the roots of the so-called 'Moro Problem'. (7) Much of this literature-though by no means all--analyses the conflict within the framework of a popular social discourse that dichotomises Philippine society between Muslim and Christian. …

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