ARMM women play key roles in governance

John Unson - Philstar.com

COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Malacañang’s recent designation of two Muslim women as prosecutors for Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur made more relevant the 2016 commemoration in the south of the National Women’s Month.

This year’s Women’s Month in the Philippines, themed “Kapakanan ni Juana, Isama sa Agenda,” started on March 1 and will last until March 31.

President Benigno Aquino III had appointed prior lawyers Rohaira Lao and Loren Hallila Lao as provincial prosecutors for Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, respectively, both component provinces of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The two newly-appointed prosecutors, both Maranaws, are related to each other by blood.

ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman, chairman of the regional peace and order council in the autonomous region, on Thursday said while the Department of Justice (DOJ) is an agency the national government cannot devolve to the regional government, Malacañang’s having installed two female Muslim prosecutors are both an inspiration and honor for them.

“It’s a big honor for us, in general, and for the ARMM’s Muslim, Christian and Lumad women sectors in particular. The ARMM is not bereft of women who are qualified to help run the government in this part of the Philippines,” Hataman said.

Hataman said he and his constituent-officials in the region are grateful to Aquino for entrusting the provincial prosecutors’ offices in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur to Muslim women.

Lawyer Rohaira, most known as “Kookai,” is a Maranaw from Lanao del Sur. She joined the DOJ in 2007, after serving as legal officer in the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

Lawyer Loren, also from the same province, has had extensive lawyering practice before she became provincial prosecutor too.

A strong bloc of women is helping the Hataman administration govern since 2012 the autonomous region, which covers Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, which are both in Mainland Mindanao, and the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

The executive secretary of ARMM, human rights lawyer Laisa Masuhud Alamia, is a Tausug woman who fluently speaks the Visayan and Chavakano dialects besides her native vernacular.

As regional executive secretary, Alamia is the immediate “alter ego” of Hataman.

Baintan Adil Ampatuan (Maguindanaon), Amihilda Sangcopan (Tausug), Maritess Maguindra (Iranun) and Rahima Alba (Maguindanaon) are the ARMM’s incumbent regional planning director and secretaries of the agrarian reform, tourism and social welfare departments, respectively.

Dyan Sangkula Jumaide, a nurse from Tawi-Tawi, is ARMM’s assistant health secretary. Hataman's regional cabinet secretary is Khal Mambuay Campong, who is also a Maranaw.

The director of ARMM's Bureau of Fisheries is Janice Musali. At the helm of the Regional Commission on Bangsamoro Women is Jehanne Mutin, also from Lanao del Sur.

The solicitor-general of the region is lawyer Sahara Alia Silongan. Myra Mangkabung, a Yakan from Basilan, is the regional secretary of ARMM's Department of Science and technology.

There are also more than a dozen female assistant secretaries and directors in different departments, line agencies and directorate support offices in the regional government.

Two ARMM congressional representatives, Sandra Sema and Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman, repeatedly hogged the news before the start of the Women’s Month for defending the peace overture between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the House of Representatives.

The two lawmakers have earned the tag “iron ladies” for their strong advocacy for gender awareness and sensitivity, women’s right to education and adequate maternal healthcare and, most importantly, for their being overly zealous in helping push the Mindanao peace process forward.

Sema, who is congressional representative of the First District of Maguindanao and the 37 barangays in Cotabato City, is so identified with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) owing to the chairmanship of her husband, Datu Muslimin, of the largest of three factions in the MNLF.

Her colleague, Sitti Djalia, wife of Hataman, is representing the Anak Mindanao Partylist in Congress. Both of them are staunch supporters of the now 19-year government-MILF peace overture.

The incumbent congressional representative of Tawi-Tawi, Ruby Maquiso Sahali, is also a strong women’s right advocate.

Sahali was a former member of ARMM’s 24-seat Regional Assembly and had served too as social welfare secretary of the autonomous region from 2005 to 2007.

The director of the office of the National Commission on Indigenous People in the autonomous region is Fatima Kanakan, who is of mixed Teduray and Maguindanaon ancestry.

There are also two women in Basilan, Mayor Rose Furigay of Lamitan City and Gov. Jum Akbar, who are both just as active in helping the present ARMM government pursue its peace and development initiatives in the island province.

Furigay has jurisdiction over around 48,000 registered voters led by barangay officials known for what is for her "canine political loyalty" to Hataman, who is seeking a second term as official candidate of the administration's Liberal Party.

ARMM's regional vice governor, Haroun Al-Rashid Lucman, said nowhere in the autonomous region's now almost three-decade political history has an ARMM administration enlisted so many women in its ranks the way the present regional leadership did.

"It is wrong to believe that in Mindanao's Muslim communities, women are second class citizens. That's absurd. Muslim women are, in fact, the managers of the homes, molders of children into productive and God-fearing citizens," Lucman said.

He said family decisions cannot even be made without consulting the women in the clan first.

"Respect for them is a paramount obligation of Muslim men," Lucman said.

Lucman's mother, Tarhata, was provincial governor of Lanao del Sur during the 1960s. 

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