Monday, August 18, 2008

The blogger from Mindanao

This is my column today.

Once again, Mindanao has been getting screaming-headline treatment in the national media in the last couple of weeks. As usual, it’s mainly because there is expectation of general strife and mayhem in the proverbial Land of Promise.

Let’s make no bones about this: The only time media attention is focused in Mindanao is when there is something controversial, sensational, or contentious that’s breaking out (again!) in some part of the island.

And very often, it’s the kind of controversy that inevitably bolster the general perception That Mindanao is gasping at the throes of a major revolt; that it is a land where anarchists and barbarians hold court and threaten the supposed unity and sovereignty of the republic. Take your pick from the usual menu of news stories about Mindanao: Kidnapping, conflict, war, gunfight, poverty, etc. Thus, many among us, particularly those who have no physical or emotional connection with or to Mindanao, have gotten the impression that the Mindanao problem is nothing but a source of annoyance, a blight on our existence as a country.

This time, the intense media focus is over the controversial Memorandum of Agreement over Ancestral Domain between the peace negotiating panels of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The people who fancy themselves as pundits and as some kind of ultimate specialists on the “Mindanao situation” have been furiously peddling so-called expert opinions on the “problem.”
I’ve read many of these commentaries and quite frankly, as someone who grew up in Davao City and who continues to have a strong emotional attachment to Mindanao, I find most of these as nothing but intellectual swashbuckling (the description that I feel is more appropriate is the solitary sexual activity that most male adolescents indulge in, which unfortunately is not suitable for use in polite conversation).

Most of the gobbledygook that’s being spewed out there—and I must add, mostly by people who are from and in Imperial Manila—have only polarized the issues to the point of irrelevance. I don’t necessarily think that one has to possess an umbilical cord to Mindanao to be deemed qualified to write about Mindanao, but I wish that some people would at least try to acquire a multi-dimensional perspective of the issues before shooting their mouths off. There is so much about the issues that can only be understood through a comprehensive appreciation of the complex social, cultural and historical context of the struggles of the island and its people.

There is so much more about the “Mindanao issue” than the MILF problem. There is so much more about Mindanao than all the bad things that mainstream media finds newsworthy. The problem is that the other “content” about Mindanao is not getting equal media space.
Fortunately, there is now the blogosphere, hailed as the “new media.” And a number of bloggers from Mindanao have been proactively using the medium to debunk the bias treatment that Mindanao and its people are getting from the mainstream media.

At the forefront of the advocacy is Oliver Robillo, a blogger from Davao City who breathes passion and affection into anything Mindanao. I was in Davao City for work over the weekend and had the opportunity of sitting down with Robillo over coffee.

Robillo has the necessary academic pedigree and consulting portfolio to make it big in Manila or even in other major global centers, but he continues to live in Davao, occasionally shuttling to nearby Cagayan de Oro and General Santos cities for the much-needed change of atmosphere.

He is the proverbial “big fish in a small pond” doing various odds and ends, from business and information technology consulting, to column writing, to teaching, etc. But more and more, he is gaining reputation as the “blogger from Mindanao.” The description highlights his two main preoccupations: Strengthening the power and influence of blogging as the new media, and Mindanao. Incidentally, that’s how he is billed in this year’s Media Nation forum scheduled this week in Tagaytay, where he has been invited to talk about, well, what else, but blogging.
Robillo is more popularly known in the blogosphere by his nickname Blogie, which many assume he co-opted when blogging became a phenomenon. It’s not true, of course—I’ve known the guy for more than a decade now and he has always been known as Blogie even before blogs became a fad. He manages a number of blogs in addition to acting out the role as informal gatekeeper of Mindanao blogs and bloggers.

Robillo and the network of bloggers from Mindanao aim to present to the world what is true about Mindanao, from the point of view of the people who are from Mindanao. Robillo is quick to assert though, that their goal is not to paint a sugarcoated, sterilized, photo-shopped, mirage of Mindanao. “Only the truth about Mindanao,” Robillo empathically declares.

The network now comprises about 380 individual bloggers from all over Mindanao, and hopefully growing each day. The blogs run the whole gamut of interests and topics —from politics, to information technology, to photography, to culture and arts, to personal reflections on a host of topics. It’s a rich and dazzling buffet of content about Mindanao enabling and ennobling readers to acquire a more candid, personal, and ultimately—balanced and accurate— portrayal of Mindanao. In short, the much-needed context for understanding the “Mindanao issue.”

True to the spirit of the medium, the network is mainly a virtual community. Robillo, who also dabbles in events management, has put together several events that have enabled bloggers from all over Mindanao to physically converge in one location to discuss issues of mutual interest and benefit, such the annual Mindanao Bloggers Summit. Robillo is also at the helm of Word Camp 2008, the first summit of bloggers who use wordpress as platform, scheduled on Sept. 6 at the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde.

Clearly, there are more perspectives about and from Mindanao other than the self-serving rhetoric that’s being regurgitated by politicians with narrow interests and by near-sighted media organizations and personalities. But thanks the blogosphere and to Robillo and the other bloggers from Mindanao— we’re at least seeing glimpses of the real picture out there.

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