THE Kidapawan Encounter is tragic and deserves utmost attention of a nation that not only prides itself in democracy and respect for human rights but also exhibits the potential for business growth. Fortunately, there has so far been a free flow of information in bringing to the fore the issues that Filipino farmers face. Unfortunately, the discourse tends to be stuck in political rhetoric.
There are so many angles from which the encounter can be viewed and subsequently acted upon. At present, the discussions gravitate around human rights, political misgivings, and the call to social action in providing immediate relief to those who have been hurt. It is imperative for these discussions and efforts to continuously evolve, but not at the expense of the need to deeply reflect on the bigger picture.
To a crisis scholar, the Kidapawan Encounter can be considered a focusing event, a concept studied profusely by political scientist Thomas Birkland. Focusing events are characterized by suddenness and tend to draw special attention from the public. Ideally, focusing events are an opportunity for key players to learn, and—where appropriate – putting in place structural solutions. I would further argue that since defining key solutions is a negotiated process, events like this also provide an opportunity for stakeholders to leverage their position and contribute to the discourse. To this end, there are two points for reflection that I wish to raise as a member of the academe who endeavors on crisis management schola rship:
First, the Kidapawan Encounter should be used to cast some light on the root causes and potential pervasiveness of the issue. Was the encounter a result of an incremental threat that we have overlooked for a long time? For example, climate change has long been perceived as an abstract threat to the routine operations of food producers. When the farmers in Kidapawan called for food relief, it was a sign of vulnerability to a threat that has grown incrementally over time. Drought is too strong, rainfall scarce, and farmers are drawing attention to how their day to day routine are being altered because of contextual changes in the environment. What actions can be put forth to address these vulnerabilities? Are these vulnerabilities localized in Kidapawan? What other localities are experiencing this vulnerability across the country, and what can we do to avoid an encounter like Kidapawan?
Second, the Kidapawan Encounter should prompt business players to use their voice and influence. At its core, food production and distribution in the Philippines is a business activity. Businesses are powerful players that can dictate trends and legitimize certain market behaviors. The encounter unveiled some vulnerabilities and a looming crisis which enterprising business players can transform into an opportunity. How can this event be used as a precedent to initiate the transformation towards more sustainable market practices? In sustainability management literature, for example, scholars argue both incumbent business actors (the corporations) and new market entrants (entrepreneurs) can interact with one another to advocate for products and processes that are socially and environmentally sustainable. Entrepreneurs are likely to bring forth alternative innovative ideas that address social and environmental problems, while corporations are in a position to bring such innovations to the mass market. It is time that we contemplate how events like Kidapawan can reinforce business players to play their part.
Focusing events provide an opportunity to revisit the vulnerabilities of the society at large and learn where adjustments in policy and practices need to made. The Kidapawan Encounter made that opportunity possible for our country—we ought not to overlook it, lest the country sees itself through another unnecessary tragedy.
Eula Bianca Villar is an EU Marie Curie Fellow and PhD Candidate at La Salle – Universitat Ramon Llull in Barcelona, Spain. Her research interest includes organizations that operate in crisis and disaster environments. She is also a faculty (on leave) at De La Salle University Manila’s Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.