At a recent International Studies Association panel presentation about military mergers, I was asked how I got access to the ex-combatants-turned soldiers in Mindanao with whom I did a focus group discussion. I am often asked this type of question by foreign audiences, and my standard answer is: I have built a considerable personal network within the armed forces and have a decade of field experience in my belt; I know who to call or send text messages to. By comparison, I never get asked this sort of methodological questions by Philippine audiences, not for lack of critical spine, but because field exposure is considered de rigueur in any Social Science research project.
A colleague, who is now Assistant Secretary of National Defense, once told me he likes my work better than another similarly-inclined “strategist” whose conceptual anchor is notoriously rusty and whose data is suspect. He says the empirical data I bring gives an “added value” to my work. In retrospect, this is standard research practice to academics in my University. There’s an emphasis on primary data-- interview, focus group discussions, and direct observations. That this primary data is secured at a heavy cost (think days of fieldwork in remote and inhospitable locations; literal armies of survey enumerators tasked to hop household-to-household; hours of facilitation with bureaucrats to secure FGD participation) is commonplace where I come from. There’s an implicit understanding even about what it takes a lot to earn your “research” wings, including a close brush or two with guns, long hours of trekking (forget about public transportation; there’s none) and a several nights of un-hygenic situations. None has beaten the record of my anthropologist-colleague Dr. Alicia Magos whose pioneering research on the Sulod-nons’ (indigenous people of central Panay highlands) oral tradition of epic chanting required her befriending communist rebel commanders and military officers alike at the height of insurgent conflict in the area in the late 1980s.