Rep. Aliah Dimaporo: Southern Belle

MANILA, Philippines - In Arabic, “Aliah” means “lofty” and “sublime.” A mirror of her name, Lanao del Norte Rep. Fatima Aliah Dimaporo is not only one of the most beautiful belles in her native Mindanao, but also one of the fastest rising stars of the House of Representatives.

After earning a degree in Sociology from the Mindanao State University, magna cum laude Aliah went to New York City to work as executive director of the World Youth Alliance Foundation, Inc. A few years later, she returned to the Philippines where she ran – and won – as representative of Lanao del Norte’s second district in the 15th Congress.

Styles of Culture

 Having received her secondary schooling in an international school in Manila, Aliah is no stranger to diverse influences. Her political lineage and her experience as chief of staff to her father and predecessor in the second district, former Rep. Abdullah Dimakuta Dimaporo, and her exposure to people of different cultures and backgrounds opened her eyes to various world views early on. But asked how her experience living in New York has affected her own world view, she confesses, “In New York, I craved my identity. I craved Maranao food. I started to become more religious. (And I realized) I’m Maranao and I should show this to the world.” 

For this reason, she celebrates the beauty of her culture, primarily through dressing up. “As much as I can, I wear something indigenous, like a woven piece or beads from the South, as a tribute to my heritage,” she says. Her personal style reflects the vibrant colors and earthy shapes of Maranao culture, as well as her own taste and unique mix of inspirations.

One of the 15 exemplary women who epitomize the best qualities of a Filipina in Human Nature’s — Pinay & Proud campaign, she also made a dent in metro fashion last year as one of Manila’s Best Dressed laureates at the 12th Manila’s Best Dressed (MBD) Gala Awards Night held at Dusit Thani Manila. 

Child of the World, Woman of Lanao

 Asked how she would like to be known, she says, “I’d like to be perceived as someone from Mindanao. I’d like the public to see that there are people like me who have been exposed abroad, (but come home to serve their native Mindanao).”

As to the advantages of her culturally diverse upbringing, she says, “I see both sides of the world and can find the middle ground.” And truly, to have a conversation with this lady is like hovering in the middle ground between heaven and earth. 

She also expresses maturity beyond her age of 30, a maturity that ironically reveals her youth and idealism: “(The power I wield, the position I hold today) is only temporary anyway.” She does not aim to be re-elected. Rather, she wants to ensure that she can deliver and serve the people of her district well. Speaking of how she wards off the temptation of selfishness and personal corruption, the legislator divulges, “I don’t put my name on anything. I try to keep my name as pure as possible. (And I remind myself that) whatever I do on Earth affects my brownie points in heaven.”

She likewise admits that her focus is on local bills, instead of ones on the national level. “Countries abroad copy our bills, which means we have good bills,” she says, explaining that the national bills passed into law are already sufficient. For this reason, she concentrates instead on the ones that promote and improve her district and region. “I don’t have a personal vision. I adhere to my region’s pre-established Vision 2020 to be an agro-industrial state,” she says. Acknowledging the groundwork that her elders have already set up, she reveals that she wishes to continue the legacy and vision of the leaders who came before her, including her father’s.

This she reveals is one of the reasons why she decided to return home from New York and run for Congress. “My father was in his last term and (with the Maguindanao massacre still fresh in the minds of the people) I was worried that there was no candidate on his slate strong enough to overcome other candidates with reputations as warlords, and no one knowledgeable of the vision developed for Lanao del Norte. I believed I was a fitting candidate to run on my father’s slate because I have been involved in my parents’ work since grade school. I understand the populace and could carry his vision,” she explains.

Championing the Indigent

 Aside from seeking justice, Aliah’s sole advocacy on the national front involves the promotion of, and the endowment of, certain privileges to the Philippines’ indigenous ethnic groups (including her own). She proposes a re-evaluation of the Indigenous People’s Rights (IPR) Act, which aims to provide benefits to indigenous peoples in a manner similar to the United States’ Affirmative Action.  

As legislator, she also champions environmental protection, such as the preservation of the Inayawan rainforest and endangered animal species like the Philippine eagle, sharks and rays. She is likewise a vocal opponent of the controversial Reproductive Health Bill in Congress. “You shouldn’t allow the state to limit or define the choices of a person,” she says.

On whether she considers her views conservative, she says, “My decisions have to reflect what my constituents want. Since my constituents are more on the conservative side, I have to reflect their stand. And after (a rigorous process of) consulting with them on this issue, my stand reflects what my constituents really want.”

Aliah’s advocacies reveal her life-affirming and peace-loving nature. During her father’s term in Congress, as his chief of staff, she says she learned a lot from the peace-promoting programs he set in place, such as Sports for Peace. Consequently, apart from focusing on the goals of Vision 2020, such as ensuring that her province comes out of its Class 3 Province rating, and that it becomes an approved economic zone, she also devotes her time and energy to projects that address Mindanao’s peace and order problem. She does this by diverting people’s attention to more productive pursuits.

One of the programs she is actively advocating is the Alternative Learning System Project, which she started in 2009. This program allows out-of-school youth to learn the basics through the computer. Since its inception, the project has delivered 20 computers each to three municipalities and has produced 140 successful participants. “I’m definitely a believer of education (as a solution to many of Mindanao’s problems),” she says.

As to whether she encounters criticism and opposition from political opponents for her advocacies, she says that surprisingly, the only resistance she encounters comes from the people she offers the programs to — her constituents. “People can’t really feel what’s long-term, because I don’t have something tangible to give them yet,” she explains. In spite of this, at the end of the day, “people are people and they like being communicated to. (They want you to) give them ideas,” she says. She admits that her toughest job as congresswoman is in redirecting her constituents’ focus and priorities to more long-term goals.

Just as her name suggests, Aliah is indeed working hard to make Lanao del Norte a lofty and sublime place. And she starts it by instigating a culture that has long been absent in most traditional politicians – a culture of change. 

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