Game of chicken

Reviewing the events of the past few days, I am reminded of the “game of chicken”. In game theory, the phrase “game of chicken” is used as a metaphor for a situation where two parties engage in a showdown where they have nothing to gain, and only pride stops them from backing down.

Bertrand Russell once compared the game of chicken to nuclear brinkmanship:

Since the nuclear stalemate became apparent, the Governments of East and West have adopted the policy which Mr. Dulles calls ‘brinkmanship’. This is a policy adapted from a sport which, I am told, is practised by some youthful degenerates. This sport is called ‘Chicken!’. It is played by choosing a long straight road with a white line down the middle and starting two very fast cars towards each other from opposite ends. Each car is expected to keep the wheels of one side on the white line. As they approach each other, mutual destruction becomes more and more imminent. If one of them swerves from the white line before the other, the other, as he passes, shouts ‘Chicken!’, and the one who has swerved becomes an object of contempt. As played by irresponsible boys, this game is considered decadent and immoral, though only the lives of the players are risked. But when the game is played by eminent statesmen, who risk not only their own lives but those of many hundreds of millions of human beings, it is thought on both sides that the statesmen on one side are displaying a high degree of wisdom and courage, and only the statesmen on the other side are reprehensible. This, of course, is absurd. Both are to blame for playing such an incredibly dangerous game. The game may be played without misfortune a few times, but sooner or later it will come to be felt that loss of face is more dreadful than nuclear annihilation. The moment will come when neither side can face the derisive cry of ‘Chicken!’ from the other side. When that moment is come, the statesmen of both sides will plunge the world into destruction.

Sounds familiar? The events in Mindanao, if not handled properly, might turn into a “game of chicken”.

Solve the problem

This may sound simplistic but if there is one thing I would like to say to our national leaders, it is this: SOLVE THE PROBLEM!

We are trying to solve a real problem and it requires real solutions. Not legal ones.

There is war in Mindanao. There exists (irrespective of whether we like it or not, irrespective whether we believe their cause is just or not) an armed group of about 12,500 armed regulars who are calling for an independent Bangsamoro homeland. They demand independence and are willing to use force to attain their end. They do not recognize our Constitution. They do not recognize our government’s jurisdiction over them. They will not lay down their arms (even if we say “please”). What is our response? Please do not tell me that our response is a petition to the Supreme Court.

Well, there are 2 possible responses. First, we can go to war. Declare all-out war like what Estrada did and try to eliminate all the members of the MILF and its symphatizers until there is no one left to carry the aspiration for a separate Bangsamoro homeland or until they are so weakened by the war that they will be willing to surrender their aspirations and live under our command.

If we do not have the appetite for war, then peaceful political settlement is the way. But the solution will be clearly political, not legal. It will require new power-sharing arrangements. It will require “new” rules. It will require re-imagining age-old concepts of “sovereignty”, “territorial integrity”, and “democracy”.

The challenge then to our leaders who are serious about the peace process is propose new political arrangements, new rules. Once that solution is found, to call on their lawyers, their constitutionalists and find ways to implement the solution. It cannot be the other way around.

To our leaders: do not focus on the challenge in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court may come out with a sound and well-researched decision. It may even be hailed as a legal “opus” but if the problem of conflict and war is not solved, if it does not bring an end to the war and violence in Mindanao, what good is that? What is the value of a legal victory if war persists?

The people are asking their leaders: how do we end the war in Mindanao? They are waiting for real answers, not press releases, not Supreme Court petitions. They have been waiting for over 30 years now. Will it all be in vain?