This book offers a very sharp, sustained critique of the Muslim separatist rebellion in the Southern Philippines. And it is a very timely one, coming at a time when the MILF and the Philippine government are about to resume their long running “peace talk” or, failing that, face the prospect of more bloodshed. While five of the seven chapters in the book had been separately written previously as individual essays or book chapters, their reissue under one cover serves as a series of multiple empirical and analytic grounding for the central argument of the book, namely, that the narrative underpinning the rebellion is something of a myth. It is this ideological “Invention of Tradition” that is under attack in the pairing of “orthodoxy and history.”
To better appreciate Abinales’ critique of the contending positions around separatism, it is well to remember that he does not deal in the common currency of ethnicity, culture, or religion, which are standard categories in the literature on Mindanao political and cultural history. He strongly believes “that in invoking cultural, ethnic or religious distinctiveness, many Mindanao intellectuals gloss over more fundamental differences like, class, warlordism and political clans and their access to and control over the resources of these extremely rich areas.” His preferred arsenal for debate are such categories as “institutional (national authority, armies, local states, economic agencies) and politico-organizational (movements, parties, patronage networks) and my debate is with scholars and public intellectuals who, like me, look at structures and general trends” (p. x).
To this reviewer one significant message from the book is the author’s dry and laconic remark as to why the faulty orthodox view continues to reproduce itself. It is because no new studies attempt to transcend the older studies so even the newer but unreconstructed works repeat the conspicuous lapses of their elders (p. 152). Abinales’ new book may be the first definite quantum jump towards transcending the orthodoxy. He sets a daring example of how public intellectuals might engage in a series of dialogues and debates that are openly passionate, lively, and empirically grounded.
— Eric Casino, Tambara: Ateneo de Davao University Journal, 23 August 2010