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Multiple transcripts as political strategy: social media and conflicting identities of the Moro liberation movement in the Philippines

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Abstract

This article explores the engagement of online new media for political mobilization by movements of dissent from the margins based on a case study of a Muslim minority revolutionary organization in the Philippines. We find that, enabled by hybrid features of online media outlets, minorities use multiple transcripts that target diverse audiences and oscillate across multiple, fleeting representations, narratives and articulations. Our article supports the view that ‘infrapolitics’ (the politics of disguise and concealment that lies between public and hidden transcripts of subordinate groups) is crucial in understanding online dissent. The article argues that new strategies of political discourse foregrounding infrapolitics help minority groups to circumvent traditional barriers of political communication and alter the quality of debate between minorities, state and the international community, and challenge national limits and boundaries.
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This is a preprint. For the published manuscript, please refer to:
Soriano, C. R., & Sreekumar, T. (2012). Multiple transcripts as political strategy: social media and
conflicting identities of the Moro liberation movement in the Philippines. Media, Culture & Society,
34(8), 10281039.doi:10.1177/0163443712454262
Multiple Transcripts as Political Strategy: Social Media and
Conflicting Identities of the Moro Liberation Movement in the Philippines 1
Cheryll Ruth Soriano & T T Sreekumar, National University of Singapore
The Muslims are a minority in the Christian-dominated Philippines and decades of
impasse in entitlement debates and superficial power sharing have pushed them to demand
self-determination leading to armed uprising and State repression since 1969 (Quimpo, 2001:
275-76; Majul, 1999; Abinales, 2000). The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is
considered the biggest organization leading the Moro strugglefor self–determination in the
Philippines. Besides being a major party in the peace negotiatons, the MILF is estimated to
be the biggest armed group in the country with about 12,000 troops (Coronel-Ferrer, 2010).
Over the recent years, they have developed a wide set of Internet based propaganda strategies
including online narratives, discursive spaces, and productions in websites, blogs, and social
networking sites. This paper studies what constitutes agency in a technological discourse and
what it means to ‘creatively appropriate’ technology, based on lived experiences of a Muslim
minority (Moro1) revolutionary organization, in their engagement of online media for
political mobilization.The case represents a departure from prominent discussions of
minorities and new media which has largely focused on migrant communities (Bailey and
Harindranath, 2006; Siapera, 2007; Leung, 2005; Oo, 2004) or indigenous peoples
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1!Paper prepared for presentation at the International Communication Association Conference, Political Communication
Division, May 24-28, 2012, Phoenix, Arizona, USA. A revised version of this paper was recently accepted for
publication in Media, Culture, and Society.
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(Landzelius, 2006; Brooten, 2010). Building on Scott’s notion of infrapolitics (1990) and
Feenberg’s (2004, 2009) democratic rationalization of technology, we develop the concept of
divergent transcripts as a strategic appropriation of technology.
Enabled by the multiple platforms and characteristics of online media, divergent
transcripts refer to the use of multiple subjectivities and divergent narratives that target
multiple audiences. This paper will discuss how multiple divergent transcripts allow activist
groups to surface new forms of political discourse, alter the nature of debate between a
minority group, the state and the international community, and challenge national limits and
boundaries. Nevertheless, the literature also point to the need to understand the nature and
circuits of what are often described as the ‘Western, hyper-global-media’ that pose dangers to
identity and struggle, especially for movements of dissent from cultural margins (Ginsburg,
etal., 2002; Landzelius, 2006; Dean, 2002). Further, as the spread of the Internet enables
transborder activity and the challenging of nation-state limits and borders, our conventional
understanding of political agency ought to be rethought (Rodgers, 2003: 3). Using the
framework of democratic rationalization, the paper probes what constitutes minority activist
agency within a technological discourse and examines how minority culture and history of
grievances are articulated into political discourse and guide the formation of agency. James
Scott (1990) has argued that members of subordinate groups are continually engaged in
resistance to domination, although these may be disguised through the use of symbolic and
low-profile forms of dissent. Scott’s view supports the ‘duality of agency’ argument
(Giddens, 1984) that while agents are constrained by structural conditions, actors have the
capacity to improvise, interpret, bend and negotiate their experiences within structures.
Scott’s important innovation in the analysis of the agency of subordinated groups, is the
distinction among ‘public transcripts’ (open interactions and presentations of the
subordinated), ‘hidden’ transcripts (discourse that takes place offstage), and ‘infrapolitics’ (a
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coded version of hidden transcripts that takes place in the public view). Infrapolitics, or
“resistance that dare not speak its own name”, “represents the politics of disguise and
concealment that takes place in the public view, but is designed to have double (or
ambiguous) meaning or to shield the identity of the actors” (Scott, 1990: 19). Infrapolitics
include strategies designed to disguise political message, the messenger, or both through
linguistic strategies such as rumour, folktales, jokes, poetry, songs, codes, euphemisms,
metaphor, and other linguistic acts, as well as behavioral strategies such as deception,
carnival, masquerade, or offstage parody. Infrapolitics, although articulated within the public
view, are designed to be invisible to the uninformed, or to be ambiguousor indirect as to be
capable of multiple interpretations, including a reading that supports the hegemony of the
public transcript. This is because while the audience may grasp the seditious message, the
sedition is clothed in terms that also lay claim to a perfectly innocent construction:
…what permits subordinated groups to undercut the authorized cultural norms is the
fact that cultural expression by virtue of its polyvalent symbolism and metaphor, lends
itself to disguise. By subtle uses of codes one can insinuate into a ritual a pattern of
dress, song, a story, meanings that are accessible to one intended audience and opaque
to another audience the actors wish to exclude (Scott, 1990:158)
The Muslim minority, unlike slaves used in Scott’s conceptualization, are able to
communicate some of their opposition publicly through printed publications, local radio, and
peace negotiations with government and international actors. However, they still operate in
hostile environments where their resistance can be met with military retaliation or in the
context of the virtual space, censorship and antagonism of their claims. What this paper
explores, in bringing Scott’s notion of hidden and public transcripts, is not only the dissent
articulated in the online space, but the Muslim minority group’s experience in negotiating the
use of Internet technology on the one hand, and the adaptive strategic behaviour in
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determining how (and how not) to represent themselves and their struggle in a public online
space, on the other. We pay particular attention to the Muslim group’s creative uses of online
media for launching multiple transcripts that target diverse audiences, representing interesting
swingsof ownership and denial, diplomacy and restiveness.
Methodology and Sources of Data
We initially conducted a search of Moro organizations which have available online spaces. Google and
Yahoo searches for minority organizations with online spaces were conducted from October-December, 2009.
The combination of key terms: Muslim, Moro, Philippines, Mindanao, Islam, organization, association, group,
blog, website, Facebook were used. The search was not limited to registered organizations or political parties
but also to non-registered groups engaged in political mobilization of the struggle, including revolutionary
organizations.
Seventeen organizations were found to have online spaces but only eight of them
maintained active sites. MILF was selected purposively as a case study (Yin, 2008: 91) based
on the following criteria: 1.) highest level of online activity based on recency of posts and
activity in the online spaces; 2) legitimacy of the organization, e.g. not fly by night
organizations based on expert interviews and secondary research and scope of network within
the represented community; 3) degree of online political mobilization based on initial review
of online spaces; and 4) agreement to participate in the research through interviews with the
leaders and members of the organization. As the research questions pertained to the
organizations’ meaning – making and experiences of Internet use, access to the members and
leaders and to other organizational data via in-depth interviews was a critical consideration.
Fourteen in-depth interviews with MILF leaders and members as well as social
activists and historians closely related to the movement were conducted to explore the
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group’s purposes and meaning-making of online political mobilization, situated within the
historical roots of the struggle and aspirations of the Moros. Follow-up interviews were
conducted online and by telephone. As online engagement entails multi-sited communication,
what is communicated online may be different from what is communicated offline and actors
may selectively disclose information online for a variety of reasons, making it important to
conduct interviews to explore the strategies. Ethnographic analysis of the organization’s
websites and social networking sites (two Facebook sites) from March 2010 to June 2011
was conducted to analyze actual uses of online spaces for political mobilization, engagement
of symbolic forms, and dynamics of interactions. Secondary data such as website statistics,
on site visitors and other internal documents and publications shared by the organization were
used.Finally, as the meaning of minority online media engagement cannot be fully
comprehended apart from their material circumstances and historical antecedents of the
online media use, we utilized archived documents, historical materials relating to the Moro
struggle, and interviews with Moro historians. This use of multiple resources and sites of the
media engagement and meaning-making was critical in surfacing multiple representations
and artful strategies being engaged by the Moros.
A dilemma in case study research is whether to identify or anonymize the case studies
and there are important contextual reasons for each decision (Yin, 2008: 181-182). In this
research, identifying the case study is important because it allows the reader to understand
better the contextual background of the organization. We have obtained permission from the
group to identify the organization’s name.
The Moro people’s struggle for self-determination
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The Moro people’s struggle is historical, dynamic and multi-dimensional, and it has
multiple roots and consequences(Abinales, 2000; Gutierrez and Borras, 2004; Tuminez,
2008). At the same time, it can be differentiated, as some seek full assimilation (Muslim
Filipinos), while others’ ultimate goal is a separate state (Bangsamoro). The territorial and
economic roots of the Moro grievances are intertwined with their minority status in
Mindanao, which began during Spanish colonization, pursued under American rule, and
further intensified in an independent, Christian-dominated Philippines (Tuminez, 2008: 2).
As a capital in production, the Moros resent the entitlement failure connected to their “land”
(Mindanao) and livelihood resources, which they lost through the transmigration of
Christians in Mindanao and the establishment of multinational companies in the region. This
resettlement policy minoritized the Muslims in the region which they formerly dominated
with a well-functioning state, the sultanate. The Muslims were reduced from about 75% of
Mindanao’s population in the 1900s to 25% in the late 1960s (Rodil, 2004; Quimpo, 2001:
274; Guttierez & Borras, 2006). The influx of non-Moro farming migrants and the
framework of eminent domain and private property implemented during colonization led to
the alienation of the communal Moro land system and the alteration of their indigenous land-
use practices (Majul, 1999). Legal discrimination on the size of private landholdings that
was implemented in favor of Christians was also a strong source of grievance to the Moros
(Tuminez, 2008: 4).
Aside from dispossession of land and statistical minoritization in Mindanao, the
situation of resentment against the Philippine state is caused by the relative poverty of the
Muslim dominated provinces vis-a-vis other provinces in the country. The five provinces
with the highest concentration of Muslims have consistently occupied the lowest Human
Development and Human Poverty (HDI) rankings from 1997 to 2009 (Philippine Human
Development Network, 2009: 111-116; 2006: 101-109; Guttierez & Borras, 2006). These
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Moro areas, on the contrary, are considered as the country’s food basket and rich in arable
land, marine life, and mineral deposits, including oil and gas (Tuminez, 2008). Decades of
sporadic clashes between the rebel groups and the government military has devastated the
Moro-dominated communities, made health and living conditions fragile, and discouraged
infrastructure investments, including telecommunications infrastructure. Further, there
remains widespread mass media representation of the Muslims as inherently violent and
roguish. Wastage of scarce resources is blamed on Moro resistance as the war in Mindanao is
perceived to siphon off large amounts of funds from national development. The role of
Philippine mass media in fuelling the conflict through maligned and biased representations
has been noted in several studies (Abinales, 2000, 2008; Jubair, 1999; McKenna, 1998).
Luwaran.com: MILF Online
The MILF set up its first website, Luwaran.com in 1998. According to its leaders, the
website was built primarily to reach out to an external, international audience, provide an
alternative platform for which to communicate the real history of marginalization of the
Moros, and solicit concrete support that will help strengthen its capacity and realize its goals.
The MILF maintains four websites, (i) www.luwaran.com ; (ii) www.luwaran.net , its mirror
website; (iii) an Arabic Luwaran, http://www.luwaran.net/arabic/ , and (iv) The Moro
Chronicles, http://www.tmchronicles.com/. These three other websites all have direct links
from the Home Page of the main website, luwaran.com. Luwaran.com and Luwaran.net are
identified as organizational websites of the MILF, share exactly the same content, identifies
some of its leaders (both political and military) through photographs, and publishes its
official statements and archive of activities.
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All four websites are self-managed and maintained by the MILF with the help of six
to seven members based in Mindanao and overseas, and some are dedicated to monitoring the
websites for security attacks. The MILF sent its members for website management and
training in the Middle East, and some of those maintaining the website are now based in
Saudi Arabia(MILF Web team, personal communication, May 23, 2010). The Web team
shared system generated reports about its website readership through website analytics,
which implies that the organization conducts active monitoring of the visitors of their online
spaces. For the month of April 2010, Luwaran.com received 2,018,213 hits and 67,336 total
visits. It gets an average of about 2,100 visits daily, and in our log of visits to the website
Luwaran, it would always have more than 50 guests online at any time.
Transcripts and Narratives
Luwaran is a Maguindanaoan2 term for “Code of Laws”. When the MILF planned
the website in 1998, they wanted a name that will conceal their ownership of the website to
avoid security attacks while communicating the struggle to a broader audience. The term
luwaran was deemed appropriate, because it is symbolic for the Moros and cannot be easily
construed as an MILF-owned website. Initially ambivalent of the benefits and risks, the
group began with an apprehensive outlook about the full use of the Internet to communicate
the struggle. However, as it gained more prominence in the mid 2000s as the organization
leading the Moro struggle (Coronel-Ferrer, 2010; Abbas, J.A, personal communication, July
2011; R. Rodil, personal communication, April 2010), it became strategic to use the website
as its official communication platform for publicizing the struggle and reaching out to a
broader international audience. To date, Luwaran.com, is considered as the most prominent
online space communicating the Moro struggle and is being followed as a source of news
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content by local and foreign organizations, including Moro historians and bloggers (A.
Mawalil & J. Abbas, personal communication, June 2011).
Luwaran.com was originally hosted in a server located in Mindanao, but security
attacks have compelled the organization to invest in a secured server based elsewhere.
Security has been a major issue confronted by the organization in the virtual front. They
suspect that the attacks were not a result of random hacking but may be the work of
‘enemies’ because in several instances, the site does not simply disappear but is vandalized,
with website content and features replaced by pictures of pigs, a known haram (forbidden) in
Islamic culture (MILF Web Team, personal communication, May 22-23, 2010). A chat box
placed in the website was filled daily with spam and derogatory remarks about Muslims,
which later compelled them to remove the feature as it was used by enemies to malign them
in their own space.
Based on a study on Internet surveillance (Magno, 2009), Philippine national security
agencies claim that the Internet is open, and there is no intervention to censor or filter
cyberspace. However, for strategic reasons, it is to the interest of the military to keep the
Internet open because it is through the same technologies in which they can monitor the so-
called enemies of the state (Magno, 2009). This insight is supported by data gathered from
the Open Net Initiative that there is minimal to no Internet filtering conducted in the
Philippines (See http://opennet.net/research/regions/asia), although minimal filtering does not
mean that the information or strategy exchanged online by the revolutionary organizations
are not used by the military against them.
Since 2002, hosting of the websites was transferred to a facility based in the United
States. This security investment was deemed “extremely expensive”, “but worth the money”
because this allows the hosting of multiple websites with “practically no attacks” (MILF Web
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Team, personal communication, 23 May 2010). As the server can host four websites, this
encouraged them to open additional websites mentioned above.
Engagement and estrangement
When the MILF started negotiations with the government formally in 1997, it framed
its claims on the basis of an independent Islamic state (Bangsamoro) marked by political and
economic self-reliance and “self- governance” under Islamic ways of life. Therefore, the
current claims to right to self-determination on the basis of ‘ancestral domain’, which is a
more contemporary concept developed out of the indigenous people’s rights movement, is a
major departure from its earlier claims, especially its willingness to be subsumed under the
Filipino nation as a “substate”3. While the website reports the peace negotiations with
government and its shifting stance in its claims, a slogan in the Luwaran website also
expresses its original aim. Animated to attract attention, the slogan reads as, “Moro is a
nation. No to Integration, no to unitary state, uphold the Moro right to self-determination”
(www.luwaran.com). This contradicts to the political conciliation which the MILF has
voiced out in the recent peace negotiations, which is essentially a move towards integration
and not an independent state. Interestingly, this slogan used to be placed at the Homepage,
but now embedded in the linked pages. The retention of the slogan, despite shifts in actual
claims during political settlement, highlights the organization’s ultimate aim which is to
establish a state independent from the Philippine government. The possibility of making
divergent messages is possible by embedding multiple articulations within the website,
accessible by clicking through the linked pages.
One of its websites, The Moro Chronicles (TMC), is laid out as an online magazine
and is not explicitly identified as belonging to the MILF. Pictures of past and current leaders
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of the organization, as well as the MILF slogan and logos which figure prominently in
luwaran.com and luwaran.net, are not present in TMC. And yet, it contains content very
similar to that of Luwaran, organized according to themes (e.g. Editorial, Columns, Peace
Agreements, Articles, Documents). Identifying marks, such as ‘About us’, photos of
previous organizational leaders, and members’ publications are embedded inside the
postings, rather than taking prominent spots in the Homepage, as in the official Luwaran
website. Publications on the Bangsamoro struggle by its leaders are presented under
‘History’, and provides the audience a good background on the historical roots of the
struggle. A link at the bottom leads the reader to the Luwaran English and Arabic websites.
This rationale of masking the Moro revolutionary identity from some of its online
spaces seems consistent with the way the MILF engages non-Moros to write for the website,
arguing that “when Moros speak for themselves, it may appear as propaganda. But when non-
Moros speak for the struggle, they tend to be more credible” (MILF leader, personal
communication, May 22, 2010)4. Although this may be seen as an accommodation into the
norms and standards imposed by the non-Moros, this can also be seen as a strategy to
establish credibility and gain wider understanding from the non-Moro community. These
strategies are also related to non-government organizations and research institutions affiliated
with the MILF in concealed ways (MILF leader, Personal communication, 22 May 2010).
We may construe the Moro strategy figuratively as that of a Marrano’s. Marranos were
former Jews from Spain and Portugal who converted to Christianity under coercion (Yovel,
2009: ix). Coined as “the other within”, they live under a superficial mask of Christianity to
cover their faithful Jewish religious practice in the backstage. While such “dual identities”
and “existential self-deception” were considered illicit and punished by the Inquisition at that
time, such identities are “a necessary form of human existence, which deserves recognition as
a basic form of freedom” (Yovel, 2009: xii). In Aporias, Derrida (1993: 79-81) referred to the
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Marranos as “that which lives without a name…anyone who remains faithful to a secret in
the very place where he stays without saying no but without identifying himself as
belonging.” Concealment of identity is engaged by the MILF not because revealing its
organizational ownership of such spaces and institutions would threaten their existence.
Unlike the Marrano, the Moros are not coerced to convert or assimilate to the mainstream.
Given the hegemony of overarching non-Moro cultural norms in the larger Philippine society,
the strategy of removing Moro identifiers from some of the online spaces and institutions,
along with the effort to invite non-Moros to speak for the struggle appears to be based on
MILF's experience that ‘being non-Moro’ tends to enhance credibility for and acceptability of
the pro-Moro views and positions that these agencies prominently uphold. In practice, the
MILF’s strategy to mask the distinctiveness of Moro presence in some of their online spaces
and initiatives looks strikingly similar to the process of mediating a Marrano identity, with its
cautious emphasis on the concealment of Moro identifiers, leading, in part, to a symbolic
compliance to the dominant norms and concerns of the cultural majority.
Strategic uses of websites and Facebook
The websites show that the Muslim minority’s use of online spaces is intended to
internationalize the struggle and draw foreign support, veer away from suspected linkages to
terrorism, and emphasize its participation in the Peace Process. This is with the end-in-view
that internationalization will make their claims more audible and legitimate, bolster the
struggle, and exert greater pressure to meet more serious attention by important Philippine
and international bodies while also building financial resources.
During the first set of website reviews conducted in March to May, 2010, a banner
carrying, “No to Terrorism! This website support peace Process in Mindanao, Philippines”
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was observed at the bottom of the website’s Home page (www.luwaran.com). The MILF
Web Team explained that as the international community rejects terrorism, there is a need to
ensure that all suspicions of them being a terrorist organization by website visitors can be
allayed. The emphasis on their participation in the peace process despite ten years of failed
negotiations, as highlighted in the banner is important, as the peace process is overseen by
international actors and monitored by an International Monitoring Team (IMT) composed of
non-government institutions in Asia and in the European Union. Most discourses in the
Philippines, tend to show Moro rebels as having a homogeneous identity refusing to
differentiate the MILF from the Abu Sayyaf. The website, arguably, helps in correcting the
mistaken perception that all Islamic revolutionary groups, including the MILF, are
terroristorganizations. The MILF conducts meetings with international organizations and
posts documentation and photographs of these meetings in the website. They note that if they
were considered terrorists, international parties would not agree to meet them.
With the prodding of its younger members, the MILF began to take on social
networking. It runs two active Facebook Pages, Luwaran Marshland and Luwaran5, and a
Twitter page and MySpace which as of July 2011, have no content. Being on Facebook is an
advantage because they are able to see the opinion of younger members of the organization,
“without having to answer for it”. They also argue that “this allows us to present the
organization soft and hard”, and explained that while they are often projected as violent,
backward, and terrorists, they can also project themselves as ‘humans’, modern, and capable
of articulating themselves both in diplomatic and informal ways (MILF Web team, personal
communication, May 2010).
The website is used strategically to narrate their version of history of the Moro
struggle, present a detailed account of the Moro’s political ideology, differentiate itself from
terrorist organizations and assert an identity unique from ‘Filipinos’. This assertion of “a
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unique Moro identity that is not Filipino and not terrorist” is crucial as it forms the
fundamental basis of the Moro struggle for self-determination and self-governance. The
website also allows the group to emphasize its diplomatic position by highlighting its
participation in peace talks and challenging predominant prejudices. The same group’s
Facebook page (linked to its official website), Luwaran, on the other hand, presents a
completely different picture. Run by those claiming to be the “youth leaders and members of
the organization”, it surfaces open hatred of Muslim youth over the government, the
government military, and the Christian settler community in Mindanao and openly advocates
an armed struggle arising from frustration over decades of failed peace negotiations. These
so-called ‘youth member-activists’ post pictures of drones and missiles on a regular basis,
and write about the need to “advance the group’s technological capability” in arms and
weaponry to move the struggle forward. Such posts obtain reinforcement through the
Facebook support system of ‘Like’, presenting an image of an articulation that is well-
supported by the community of users.
While this Facebook page began as a sounding board of the MILF website, it has
evolved into a space for heated argumentation and debate amongst participants. The debates
surface elements contrasting the contents of the Luwaran website and some of the diplomatic
positions advocated by the MILF in their website. For example, where the website highlights
its participation in the peace process and its ‘non-terrorist’ stance, several postings in the
Facebook page reflect frustration over the peace process, imploring the leadership to stop the
peace talks and move on to war. For example:
We must stop the peace talks with enemy. We should go to war, 12 year of peace
process is a wasting time. Let us try it without peace talks, we will wage guerrilla
warfare, hit and run attack, destroy all enemy power resources… (Mars Basco, some
words translated from Filipino, 7 November, 2010, 7:14pm,
https://www.facebook.com/pages/luwarancom/390099909273)
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Interestingly, such calls for dropping peace negotiations and to move towards an
armed struggle is accompanied by street mass actions and protests in Mindanao organized by
Moro youth and civil society organizations (IRINAsia, Feb 2011).A collection of posts from
the Luwaran Facebook page from March 2010 (since the Facebook was started) until July
2011 shows that the online space is being used to mobilize the Moros, express their anger
over the military and Philippine government and frustration over the MILF leadership and
internal conflicts. Several of these posts also express hate towards the Christian settlers in
Mindanao, counter-attacked by those who express severe prejudices towards the Moros:
Fellow young mujahideen, our ultimate targets must be the settlers who still
occupying our lands in Mindanao. If we only attack the military camps, there is little
impact. .. but if we attack the settlers, we burn and massacre, this will fast track the
negotiations between the Philippines and Bangsamoro (Mars Basco, 13 July 2011,
translated from a mix of English-Filipino-Visayan)
A careful analysis of the Facebook posts would show that similarly themed posts of
waging war, ending peace negotiations, and hatred towards the military and Christian settlers
come from five or six names of different posters that seem to belong to the same person. The
messages seek to spread hatred and violence and provoke the members to break civil norms
without respect for humanitarian conventions. The posts also project “a method of combat in
which random or symbolic victims serve as instrumental target of violence”, which can be
classified as a terrorist strategy (Schmid & Jongman, 1988, p.1).
Throughout the Facebook page, some members have also suspected that these
postings, as well as ‘Likes’ came from the same person or group. Such posts ignite an
exchange of violent threats, as those claiming to be anti-Moros would also retaliate with
expletives. As a result, members have begun to express concern, “Why are we always talking
about war here? This is making the Bangsamoro look like barbarians” (Jay Galura,
Facebook posting, 15 July 2011). As one camp posts to aggrieve the other, the other camp
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retaliates, and the Facebook wall page is chequered by violent exchanges of words between
the warring camps, albeit from contested identities. Some participants are suspected of
having been planted by the enemy to spread radicalism in order to tarnish the image of the
Moros. There are threads where the members suggested that the administrators block the
non-Moros and “fake posters” who propagate a terrorist image of the organization, and yet
the same posters remain active in the page.
We know that this page is a worldwide page that can be read by all people of this
planet and the plan of this people who promote mass destruction under the umbrella
of the Moro struggle is to show to the world that Moro people is no more but an
extremist, fanatic and backward minded terrorist….the enemy of Islam will be very
happy to see the Muslim ummah to become a more backward mentality terrorist, I
wish to say that we are not one of that idiot used by the enemy to destroy our own
religion (Helton Lamb, 23 January 2011,
1:51pmhttps://www.facebook.com/pages/luwarancom/390099909273)
The exchange of contested identities and postings create multiple and divergent
representations depending on when one views the page. It also confuses the reader on the true
identity of the posters. The posts expressing radicalization by those claiming to represent the
Moro youth are also countered by those who argue that terrorism and civil war are against the
tenets of Islam and the MILF.
Seeking international support
Although Luwaran.com and Luwaran.net have the capacity for translating its content
in various languages, the MILF deemed it important to publish a website catering to an
Arabic/Islamic audience for financial and moral support. A team of MILF members and
supporters maintain the Arabic website and translate the local content from English to
Arabic, although unique content is also generated for the Arabic website. Apparently, the
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Moro leaders are able to find audience, sympathy and financial support from Muslim
activists, intelligentsia, philanthropists, and supporters from the Middle East and other parts
of the world-- both reformists and extremists. Political Islam is not homogeneous, thus, it is
important to differentiate within global Islam as they seek international support. However,
they shared some of the challenges of reaching out to the Islamic community that has
contrasting beliefs and ideology. They narrated that some ‘hardliners’, in response to their
online spaces, question their continued participation in the peace talks and pledge to offer
support for more aggressive operations to achieve their political goals, “they would say, don’t
you see that your enemy is viciously waging war against you? Because of that sometimes
they don’t want to help…xxx…That is the backlash, they would say, this MILF is engaging
in the peace process. Just go to war…” (MILF leader, personal communication, May 23
2010, translated from English-Filipino)
Besides potential Islamic supporters, the organization’s website also targets the
members of the International Monitoring Team, onlookers in neighboring countries in Asia,
and the United States. Based on website analytics, the MILF has become aware that several
institutions based in the United States are actively monitoring the situation. They emphasized
the importance of protecting MILF-US relations in the hope that this can help ‘rectify
historical wrongs connected to the annexation of Moro communities to Philippine territory’
during the grant of Philippine independence in 1946, and where the US played a key role.
They interpret the increased attention from American institutions towards the struggle as a
possible route to pressuring the Philippine government into taking the peace negotiations
more seriously. However, the MILF leadership also recognizes the realities of US relations
with the Philippine government which has recently been heightened by joint efforts towards
counterterrorism cooperation (MILF leaders, personal communication, May 22-23, 2010).
From the examples above, we see that the aspirations of reaching out to multiple
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international entities are channelized through use of multiple media platforms negotiating an
evolving balance between radicalism and diplomacy. It can be seen that Moros use certain
platforms to assert religious identity and reticently uphold radical postures but at the same
time certain other platforms are used to negotiate alliances with potential supporters with a
different ethico-ideological vision. It is for this reason that the MILF raised the issue of
difficulty in having the right people and writers who ‘fully understand the MILF’s political
ideology and strategies’. The leaders shared that the experience of managing several online
spaces has helped in terms of ‘reportment of skill’, in determining which members imbibe the
ideology and complexity of MILF’s operations and relations.
Online divergent transcripts as infrapolitical
The multiple online spaces used by the MILF represent mediation of multiple
identities, constant movement of owning and disowning of online spaces, debunking and
accepting representations, and marking and unmarking articulations. The flexibility afforded
by social media allows them to oscillate across multiple representations depending on what
may suit its purposes. The multiple online spaces engaged by the MILF unveil several playful
transcripts that tend to reverse the positions that the movement publicly takes in its official
website. The use of online strategies where the message and messenger are made ambiguous
through techniques of disguise and concealment, also facilitate open criticism and
contestation as well as uninhibited expressions. Although MILF’s website has direct links to
the Facebook page and TMC online magazine, the multiplicity and ambiguity of possible
authors provide a protective cover, and thus, no clear author to round-up or investigate, and
no official manifestos to denounce. Such is an infrapolitical form of political action designed
to obscure the intentions or to take cover behind an apparent meaning or author (Scott, 1990:
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200). Precisely because infrapolitical strategies make the message or identity ambiguous,
they often escape notice and yet, such strategies represent truthful transcripts of grudges and
aspirations that serve as foundation for vengeful dreams, resistant subcultures, and elaborate,
open, and institutional forms of resistance. The MILF’s online spaces, as component of its
broader political communication strategy, serve as their platform for mobilization, reaching
out to a broader, global audience, present discourses alternative to those offered by
government, and complement its own ‘official’ press releases. Catering to multiple
audiences, we see this use of divergent online transcripts as strategic appropriation of
technology. The online initiatives represent careful planning, especially as the group
negotiates technological, state, military, and international relations and controls. The MILF
leaders explained that the international exposure received by the website has helped the
organization tremendously in expanding the reach of the struggle and in gaining prominence
as an organization at the forefront of the struggle. The international linkages help them in
enhancing their bargaining capacity with the government.
However, internationalizing the struggle online also presents lived dilemmas of using
the Internet for a Muslim minority group. First, while the group strategizes its online
engagement to broaden support towards the struggle, the nature of the online space imposes
material requirements that challenge genuine representation from its conflict-affected and
poverty-stricken Moro communities. Second, while the leaders believe that the website’s
return on investment is ‘tremendous’ in terms of gaining attention by the international
community that it seeks to reach, there is no effective gauge over how such ‘international
linkages and connections’ can contribute to a resolution of the struggle in the way envisioned
by the group. Third, the maintenance of a Facebook page where antagonists and members
challenge the identity and position that it seeks to build in the website can also work to distort
this identity. Although disowning of radical postings is already being articulated, the reach
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and interpretations of online messages are unpredictable, and the posts can be used by
antagonists to reinforce anti-Moro prejudices and nullify the seriousness of its demands.
Fourth, these findings present dilemmas over the dynamics of participation in the online
space. The publicly accessible Facebook page allows the organization to solicit the comments
and alternative perspectives of its young members and an external audience, possibly as a
space for dialogue which it does not have in its website, but also makes possible the entry of
‘enemies’ aimed at using their online spaces against them. At the same time, the uncontrolled
exchanges expose the organization’s competing ideologies, covert operations, internal
conflicts, and membership of extremist inclinations, that may cast a shadow of doubt over the
organization’s capacity to speak for and manage the rest of its community (an aspect which
they note is important to their international supporters). These experiences manifest the
challenges of venturing into the virtual realm, the difficulties of maintaining control over
organizational image, the challenge of finding capable and articulate ideologues, and the
importance of both pre-determined and emergent strategies of appropriation.
Conclusion
As the new media is not homogeneous in terms of configurations users can create
multiple, divergent representations across online spaces. The online strategies of MILF
explored in this paper show that the Internet technology enables the formulation of divergent
transcripts which organisations can use to articulate a wide spectrum of conflicting social and
political claims as a strategy of negotiating with multiple agencies including the state,
national and international media, grassroots activists supporters, fellow travellers and
funders. Enabled by hybrid features of online media outlets, we find that MILF used multiple
transcripts that target diverse audiences and oscillate across multiple, fleeting representations,
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narratives, and articulations. The politics of disguise and concealment that lies between
public and hidden transcripts of subordinate groups becomes crucial in understanding online
dissent. We have seen that these new strategies of political discourse foregrounding
infrapolitics help minority groups to circumvent traditional barriers of political
communication and alter the quality of debate between minorities, state, and the international
community and challenge national limits and boundaries.
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Endnotes
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1 The term ‘Moro’ refers to Muslims indigenous to the Philippines and will be used throughout the paper. The term Moro
historically contains a derogatory connotation, originating from the word ‘moors’ although the Moro revolutionary
organizations have used the term to define an identity for their struggle. The term ‘Bangsamoro’, also mentioned in this
paper, comes from the words “bangsa” (nation) and “Moro” (Muslim identity), and has signified the Moro’s clamor for an
independent state.
2Maguindanaon is one of the Moro ethnic groups in Mindanao.
3Ghadzali, J., Personal communication, May 22, 2010; See also http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/36947/aquino-milf-chief-talk-
peace-in-tokyo
4For example, a known non-Moro journalist, Patricio Diaz, writes about the MILF and the Bangsamoro struggle and is also
featured as regular guest writer in the Luwaran website
(http://www.luwaran.com/home/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=54&Itemid=541!
5The MILF has two Facebook pages: Luwaran https://www.facebook.com/pages/luwarancom/390099909273and Luwaran
Marshland https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000873888025. Luwaran Marshland functions as an official
sounding board and provides links to articles and documents available in the website. Luwaran is a more interactive space
where members and antagonists debate. (Review of Facebook pages, Mar 2010-July 2011)
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