“As a young kid, in one old book I actually wrote, ‘Ambition: To defend the oppressed’. I can’t stop laughing at it. But it’s all been a progression of that kind of ambition.”

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Episode notes

Rufa Cagoco-Guiam is an anthropologist based in General Santos City. Over the course of several decades she has worked on dozens of peacebuilding and development initiatives in the wider southern Philippines.

Her perspective cuts across the usual disciplinary lines, with Rufa’s CV including a lengthy academic record; stints as a newspaper editor-in-chief and columnist; and a wide range of consultancies with international institutions.

Topics discussed:

[02:00]  Beginnings of involvement in Mindanao, coming from a small village in the northern Philippines. Childhood ambitions to “defend the oppressed”, and how they evolved into first steps as an adult.

[10:20]  An early conspiracy with a friend to escape a constricting family environment. Getting onto the right trajectory in anthropology, with a dash of political economy.

[18:20]  Rufa’s stint as editor-of-the-chief of the Mindanao Cross. The importance and the hazards of reporting around inter-religious tensions, violence against women and political corruption. Some slightly surreal episodes of threats and intimidation.

[32:30]  Academic life, and work with international development agencies following the 1996 peace agreement. Experiences with the Moro National Liberation Front.

[41:00]  Takeaways from nearly three decades of work on inter-religious and peacebuilding issues in the southern Philippines. Why a peace agreement is like a marriage.

[44:35]  What academics can contribute amidst conflict and severe political divisions. Why this potential often goes unrealised in the Philippines.

[54:10]  Career lowlights and highlights. What international agencies usually get wrong in the southern Philippines.

[1:03:00]  Rufa’s book recommendations (not what you’d expect!).