Muslim women leaders for peace

FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas - The Philippine Star

The spate of horrendous attacks waged by Islamic terrorists in many parts of the world, including in Mindanao, puts much of the Muslim community in a bad light. I remember my female Muslim friends in Manila telling me in the aftermath of the 9/11 blowing up of the World Trade Center in New York, that they hesitated to wear their traditional head wear because of the hatred they felt by Christians towards them.

There could be a minority of Muslim women harboring hostile feelings towards Christians in the light of their perceived discrimination and neglect by the Philippine government. But female leaders like  the wife of  the governor of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao Mujiv Hataman  and Anak Mindanao Party-list (AMIN) Rep.  Princess Sitti Djalia T. Hataman,  who, while actively working for the elevation of Muslim women’s status, decries the actions of radical terrorists, including the beheading of Christians and bombings of non-Muslim sites.

In a statement sent this columnist, Rep. Hataman said:

‘’Radical Islamic terrorists are not true Muslims. True Muslims are peace-loving and persevering advocates of human rights, and are for peaceful co-existence with people of different faiths and ideologies. We true Muslims strongly condemn and denounce Islamic radicalism.

“Islam is about peace, it is about moderation.”

Rep. Hataman is one of the respected Muslim women leaders in Mindanao.  Coming to mind are former Sen. Santanina Rasul, Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sinsuat Sema, Princess Tarhata Alonto Lucman, Mayor Eleanor Dimapuro Lantud of Pantao Ragat, Lanao del Norte, Samira Gutoc, DILG Asec. Nariman Ina-Abdullah-Ambolodto, NCMF Sec. Yasmin Busran Lao, Potre Sorhaida Abbas Tamano, Raifa Adiong  who is  married to Lanao Sur Gov. Bombit A. Adiong, and Mayor Nashiba Sumagayan, who  is married to lawyer Odin Sumagayan. Add to that list Amina Rasul.

These women  remind us of the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s observation of the existence of “a type of woman who does not let her husband narrow her horizon.”

Meir’s statement aptly applies to  the women above whose husbands’ positions in government, or in communities, do not hinder their aspirations for reforms.

Let’s zero in on two of them. Mayor Lantud strives to improve the quality of life of her constituents in the little-known town of Pantao Ragat. 

Eleanor’s father-in-law and husband were mayors who served for three terms. While her male predecessors faced tough opposition, Bae Eleanor ran unopposed. “It’s probably because I’m a woman,” she says. 

 Since taking the helm, she has pushed for reforms in her town. On her first year in 2007, there were no day care centers to prepare young children for elementary school.  She  then hired unemployed undergraduates to tutor the children and help them overcome their timidity. 

“We Maranaws in remote areas are too shy. I encourage them to do what they can to the best of their ability,” says Eleanor. 

In seven years, over a hundred day care centers have sprouted in 20 barangays.  

“The education standards have improved. The products of these day care centers are now into higher education and have become achievers,” says Eleanor.

The town also saw more infrastructure such as better roads and school houses. “We believe in the future of Pantao-Ragat,” she says.

Her husband,  former Vice Mayor Lacson Mangontara Lantud  (known locally as Sultan sa Cabasugan), who was development-oriented during his term, exposed her to the rigors of bidding and building.  Bae Eleanor takes pride in her administration’s  completion of  projects ahead of schedule, thereby saving the government millions in expenses. 

Still one of her challenges is finding livelihood projects for her constituents and making do with the lack of funding from the national government. “I want to help my people, especially the farmers so that they can improve their farming methods and earn more from their produce.  For the fresh graduates, I try to find jobs for them in  government agencies.”  

With her firm but suave approach, Bae Eleanor is looked upon as a mother rather than a politician. “I’m the only mayor who goes around without a bodyguard. I don’t want to flaunt my position.”

Her charisma is also attributed to her upbringing  as a member of  one of Mindanao’s enduring political clans, the Dimaporos. From her famous uncle, Mohammad Ali Dimaporo  and her father Sultan Naga Dimaporo, Bae Eleanor learned how they  built trust with  their constituents. “They were good listeners and they acted immediately when people sought their help. They would tell me that the people are the reason for our position and so we must love them,” says Eleanor.

As a mother of seven, Eleanor, 47, constantly reminds children of old-fashioned values such as respect and love of learning. “I tell my children that possessions will disappear but education won’t.”

In legislation, Princess Sitti Djalia T. Hataman has had ample exposure to law-making  by watching  her husband, former congressman, now ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman perform his task. But on her own, she brings her experience as an NGO worker to Congress. A former executive director of the National Commission for Muslim Filipinos, she  focuses on the real needs of inhabitants in remote Muslim communities when she is filing or supporting bills. She cites as example  her contribution to the Committee on Millennium Development Growth. By convention, hospitals  and  civil  registry offices are

e source of information for maternal mortality. However, Muslims are not accustomed to providing   facts and statistics to registry offices.

“If we rely on traditional sources, then we don’t get accurate statistics because we miss out on those who don’t register. Local government units and people’s organizations can be the source for data gathering,” she says.  

Princess Sitti is most vocal about Muslim rights.  She points out that one of the reasons for the conflict in the South is that government plans are made without consulting the locals and understanding their background. “The interventions are not what these people want; nor are they applicable to the community.”

This is why she is active in the deliberations on the Bangsamoro Basic Law. “I have been involved in the peace advocacy. This is personal to me, being part of the Bangsamoro. It’s one of the manifestations of my people’s aspirations,” she says.

Long before  the drafting of the BBL, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front  had sought independence. “The BBL is a way to peace because it holds the dreams and aspirations of a group of people who have long wanted to govern themselves, based on their history and culture yet still be a part of the Philippines.”

 Taraka Mayor Nashiba Sumagayan expresses her view on the BBL. “We support the peace process. We believe that a lasting peace means not only respecting the rights of the Muslims in Mindanao, but also putting an end to all forms of inequality and injustice.”

Aside from  the BBL, Princess Sitti’s priority  legislation is the bill against  discrimination due to  ethnicity, race and religious belief. 

Asked how women make exemplary leaders,  Representative Hataman  explains, “ A woman’s instinct makes her respond effectively.  Given a situation, she is  attuned to what can be done. Likewise, women  are more sympathetic  listeners,  which is important for  public servants.”

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