We are fools if we accept at face value this crude reformulation by President Aquino of the old appeasement-or-war chestnut.
Whatever the options now offered, this is a prime example of the false-dilemma fallacy in reasoning or argumentation.
In this fallacy, the proponent of the argument tries to justify a questionable action by creating a false sense of necessity, to force a choice between two options, when there are other possible options.
In his body bags argument, with war being an unpleasant option, Aquino seeks to maneuver and scare us into opting for BBL as the only sensible choice.
This is crooked reasoning, and the citizen will see through it.
Atom-bombing of Hiroshima
Perhaps the most powerful illustration of the false-dilemma fallacy was the reasoning underlying President Harry Truman’s decision to drop the atom bomb on Hiroshima in World War II.
This is unraveled in Sociologist Kai Erickson’s analysis of Truman’s decision. Erickson contends that the Truman administration prematurely reduced the numerous options to just two: either drop the bomb on a major Japanese city or sustain unacceptable losses in a land invasion of Japan. He shows that there were other alternatives for effecting Japan’s surrender.
In his body-bags argument to facilitate the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), Aquino argues that war will ensue in Mindanao if the legislation is not passed. He prematurely and unilaterally closes out other options – including revising and improving the measure or negotiating a new peace agreement that will include all stakeholders in Mindanao and Sulu. He seeks to scare the houses of Congress into passing the BBL, and the public into supporting the measure.
To ensure that the deed will come to pass, he has created a peace council of citizen leaders to organize a national peace summit to help the public understand the BBL.
Peace council to the rescue
Last March 27, during the first anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), and mindful of the growing public opposition to the BBL, President Aquino announced the creation of a council of leaders to scrutinize the proposed law and explain it to the public.
He said the council will be “independent” and would be made up of “citizen leaders” known for their wisdom and integrity.” The council will convene a National Peace Summit that will address issues concerning the BBL.
Named as members of the council were: Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr, businessman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, former Philippine Ambassador to the Holy See and Malta Howard Dee, and founder of Teach Peace, Build Peace Movement Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman.
“They will gather other responsible and respected leaders to spearhead a National Peace Summit to deliberate on and discuss the BBL. They will dissect the proposed law in a calm and reasonable manner that will not incite anger and hopelessness,” said Aquino.
“This way, the BBL can be improved. They will write a report that will be made public, so that everyone may be informed, and so that more of our countrymen may understand the matter. In this manner, we will be able to advance a reasonable decision as regards the Bangsamoro Basic Law.”
A serious and credible alternative
In true fallacious tradition, Aquino equated the BBL with peace, and opposition to it as advocacy of war.
Aquino criticized those who do not support the BBL, without providing alternatives.
“Perhaps it is easy for you to push for all-out war because Luzon and Visayas are far from the conflict. But if the conflict grows, the number of Filipinos shooting at other Filipinos will grow, and it would not be out of the question that a friend or loved one would be one of the people who will end up inside a body bag,” he said.
This is Aquino spelling out his false-choice argument: It’s either appeasement or war.
But it’s not either/or. This is misrepresenting the position of those who seriously oppose the BBL, including yours truly.
Most of us do not want war, whether all-out or half-hearted. And we offer a serious and credible alternative, to wit:
1. Rewrite the draft BBL to ensure that it conforms to the Constitution and to eliminate the
provisions designed mainly to advance and protect the interests of the MILF.
2. Involve all Muslim communities, so they can all take part in peacemaking and benefit from the rewards of peace. Involve all Christian and Lumad communities in Mindanao as well.
3. Amend the Constitution in the way it prescribes, not on the sly, so that when the measure is brought before the Supreme Court, our learned justices will have no cause to nullify it.
Determining the real choices that exist
Of course, the choices facing the nation in Mindanao are difficult. And not all dilemmas are false. As rhetoric teachers have warned, people who reject all binary oppositions are themselves guilty of a false dilemma.
We have to determine through a rational and earnest process of elimination the real choices that exist. This requires the exercise of sound judgment and discernment.
This is why Congress is indispensable. And this is where the peace council could be helpful, if it means to truly serve the national interest, and not just the image of the president.
Will the peace convenors go around the country mouthing the president’s false-choice fallacy?
Can they convince the nation that the appeasement or war mantra is a reasonable choice to put before the people?
Will they themselves, given their exceptional schooling and experience, be convinced that they have been recruited for a truly patriotic venture, and not just for a public relations gimmick of the administration?
Let us wait and see.