Flourishing Amidst Conflict: A Yakan Filipino Experience of the Good Life and Implications for Social Development

Will, Matthew Steven (2014). 'Flourishing Amidst Conflict: A Yakan Filipino Experience of the Good Life and Implications for Social Development' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

 This paper seeks to develop a concept of flourishing and its implications for social development for a group of people in the Philippines. Research was done between and with people who hold a Yakan ethnic identity and live on Basilan Island, Mindanao, Southern Philippines. The Yakan have adapted to the ebb and flow of conflict for more than forty years. This project generated a list of domains that, when accessed, can increase the ability to flourish. If these domains are hampered, people have less ability to thrive. The domains are ranked according to salience and connectivity and connected to corresponding rights obligations. Furthermore, through use of 'think description' (Roberts Wood Foundation, 2008) the research is transferable. It can be used to guide the development of conceptions of 'the good life' in other localities. This paper comes from a human development and capabilities approach perspective.

The vulnerabilities associated with conflict in the Southern Philippines have been an international concern for decades. For example, in late 2013, Zamboanga City came under siege.  More than 200 people were killed and 6,600 people lost their homes in the fighting. The impact of the fighting was experienced on Basilan Island where participants of this research live.  People on Basilan have lived with this kind of conflict for generations.


The Philippines National Government and the leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are working to create a new autonomous political entity in order to decrease conflict and vulnerability.  The intended agreement will set in place a new governance system in relevant regions of the southern Philippines; the country's highest level of poverty (as measured by the Human Development Index - HDI) and conflict are found in these areas. The proposed autonomous entity will be called Bangsamoro, of which Basilan Island will be a part. In 2005, Basilan was ranked as the fifth lowest province on the country's HDI (The Philippines Human Development Report, 2005, p. 103).


There are numerous ethnic groups living on Basilan. One particular group, the Yakan, are hospitable, friendly, and peace-loving people (Sherfan, 1976, p. 3).  However, Basilan has been affected by years of conflict.  Groups promoting terrorist ideologies are based on Basilan. Reasons for conflict are complex. Historically, people fought for recognition by the government, more autonomy, decreased vulnerability, and cultural protection. More recently, groups such as the Abu Sayyaf have used conflict and kidnap for ransom to promote their cause.  These actions have caused those living outside of Basilan to label people living on Basilan, including the Yakan, as 'terrorists' or 'rebels'.


In the midst of conflict and disadvantage, people who are Yakan try to live their lives as normally as possible.  They are born, grow old, and experience both joy and pain.  Conflict continues to disrupt their lives.  One example of the effects of long term conflict is where people reside.  A survey was conducted as a part of this research.  The survey used convenience sampling.  It was conducted among Yakan populations in three municipalities. 90% of people surveyed said their families would live in a different location if they had not been forced to move to new locations because of the conflict.  Another example of the affect of conflict on people is the experience of fear.  In the same survey, 79% of people said they had experienced fear due to war. Of these 79%, over two thirds remember first experiencing fear because of war before the age of 18.


Participants of this research developed the following list of domains as being necessary to have a good life.  The domains were the ability to:


· Have fear and faith in Allah (SWT).

· Love one another.

· Respect one another.

· Have a peaceful community.

· Be educated.

· Work.

· Have shelter.

· Have good health.

· Take part in government.

· Travel. 


All these domains are important to have a good life.  To understand how the domains interact with one another pair-wise comparison was used.  A prioritization grid (Bolles, 2012, p. 212) was used to ensure all domains were compared with one another.  The prioritization grid made the comparison more user friendly.  This was done within the same survey discussed above. The question asked of every pairing, 'If missing, which of the two domains in the given pair had greater influence on being able to experience a good life?'  This created a comparison of relative connectivity for all the domains.  The pair-wise data reflects how different domains interact.  The domain order above shows the strength of domains relative to one another.  The data is desegregated and compared by gender, geography, and age.  Overall, the ability to have fear and faith in Allah (SWT) had the greatest influence as compared to other domains.  The ability to travel had the least.

This paper articulates the idea of flourishing or being able to have a good life within a context of conflict. It does so through the development of a list of domains created and compared by Yakan people who live on Basilan.  This list of domains was subsequently connected to corresponding international and Bangsamoro-specific human rights obligations (2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, 2012, pp.7-8).  The connection of obligations and domains was done by Yakan participants in this research.  This enables social development possibilities to be identified for development planning in Basilan and among the Yakan people. Finally, suggestions are made for a methodology to develop local conceptions of flourishing to be used for social development planning and practice in other locations.

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