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Draining the Sea to Catch Fish: Conflict and Internal Displacement with Dr. Sol Iglesias (F13)

March 16 @ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm

How does a weak state govern? In the face of a protracted Philippine communist insurgency, the state has sought a military solution. Consequently, conflict was the dominant producer of political violence in the post-dictatorship period from 1986 to 2016. By the mid-2000s the primacy of civilian rule—a norm since the restoration of democracy—eroded. This involved an increased willingness to target civilians and the “aboveground” political left. I will present evidence from an original violence incidence dataset, covering regions that are geographically spread across the country. Each of these regions faced a significant communist threat at the turn of the new millennium. The military used violence against insurgents and civilians alike; moreover, assassinating activists and left-wing politicians in Central Luzon and Eastern Visayas. The violence escalated to a high intensity, ending with the collapse of local insurgent strongholds. The military also played an increasing role in the defense of mining areas in Northern Luzon and Southern Mindanao. Because of the difficulties in combating insurgent guerrilla warfare, states tend to employ large-scale violence against entire populations: to quote a macabre counter-insurgency aphorism, “the surest way to catch the fish is by draining the sea”. A similar logic underpinned violence against, and displacement of, civilian populations in these areas. This study contributes new insights into the central-local dynamics of violence against civilians: a weak state like the Philippines is unable to monopolize the use of violence, and so targeting civilians, emptying spaces and controlling refugee camps have become part of counter-insurgency tactics. This presentation contextualizes the pressures that internal refugees and the “bakwit” (evacuees) face, highlighting the strategic targeting of civilians and the resulting atrocities committed against them.

Sol Iglesias is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of the Philippines. She has a PhD in Southeast Asian Studies and an MA in Political Science from the National University of Singapore, as well as an MA in International Affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a BA in Public Administration from the University of the Philippines. She was selected as a Southeast Asia Research Group (SEAREG) Fellow in 2017. She was selected as an emerging scholar on democracy and autocracy by the American Political Science Association’s (APSA) Democracy and Autocracy Committee in 2020 and won an APSA Asia Program fellowship in 2021. She was the first female, first Asian, and first Filipino director of Political and Economic affairs at the Asia-Europe Foundation in Singapore. She co-edited the book Asia in the Eyes of Europe: Images of a Rising Giant. She also worked as a consultant to the World Bank and the Local Government Academy of the Philippines. She has published extensively on political violence in the Philippines, on Philippine politics and current affairs, on political conditionality in the European Union’s relations with Southeast Asia, as well as on regionalism in Asia and Europe. She is currently writing a book, The Dynamics of Political Violence in the Philippines, on the central-local interactions that produced violence in the democratic interregnum between the Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. dictatorship and authoritarianism under Rodrigo Duterte.


March 16
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm


Crowe Room (Goddard 310)
160 Packard Avenue
Medford, Massachusetts 02155 United States

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